Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989, Omori Kazuki)

Godzilla vs. Biollante is an odd Godzilla movie. It’s got some cool devices–there’re these Godzilla alarm system, which do a great deal to establish the film’s believability–even if the computer readouts are impossibly old. Stylistically, both in its approach to visually explaining settings and in its music, Biollante really reminds me of Star Trek II. The comparison starts at the beginning of the film and I was still thinking about it at the end. However, though there are a lot of good things about Biollante, it’s excruciatingly boring.

The good stuff is actually a lot of the characters and their actors. There’s the gung ho army commando who’s been out to pasture, played by Minegishi Tôru. Minegishi is a joy to watch. He approaches it with a sense of measured comedy. He never quite looks at the camera and winks, but you’re never sure he’s not going to do it. On the flip–in one of the film’s greatest successes–is the young colonel who’s got the huge responsibility of dealing with Godzilla, played by Takashima Masanobu. While the film’s not interested in being believable beyond it’s own setting, Masanobu makes the character real, which is quite a feat, given how few lines of dialogue the character actually speaks. There’s a similar juxtaposition with the scientists, though only the younger one, played by Kitamura Kunihiko, the ostensible lead, is actually good. The older one is a mad scientist, which is a reasonable segue into the next paragraph.

The bad stuff is mostly–besides how boring it all is to watch–how goofy Godzilla vs. Biollante gets in order to fill a hundred minutes. There’s the ominous Middle Eastern state–which is actually really funny at times, unintentionally I’m sure–the ominous, but better than the Arabs, American corporation, and then there’s the mad scientist. The mad scientist scenes are actually out of a 1950s sci-fi, with thunder and lighting and everything. The film’s effective moments are, not surprisingly, when it deals with either characters or people’s reaction to Godzilla. The special effects are a little slight in parts and the miniature city just doesn’t work, but there are a few great shots in that city scene.

Coming after the 1984 Godzilla, Biollante is a disappointment to be sure, but it does have some “real” scenes in it. Not goofy giant rubber monsters fighting each other, but real scenes of human struggle. It also has the scene where all the people run through the city. I wonder if it’s a status thing for the extras, who must just be regular people there are so many… “Did you see me evacuating the city? Did you see me? I was carrying the giant cactus.”

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Omori Kazuki; screenplay by Omori, based on a story by Kobayashi Shinichirô; director of photography, Kato Katsuhiro; edited by Ikeda Michiko; music by Sugiyama Kôichi; production designer, Ikuno Juichi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Mitamura Kunihiko (Kirishima Kazuhito), Tanaka Yoshiko (Okouchi Asuka), Takashima Masanobu (Major Kuroki Sho), Takahashi Koji (Dr. Shiragami), Minegishi Tôru (Lieutenant Gondo Goro), Odaka Megumi (Saegusa Miki), Nagashima Toshiyuki (Director Yamamoto Seiichi), Kaneda Ryunosuke (Azuka’s Father), Yuge Yasunori (Prime Minister), Kuga Yoshiko (Prime Minister’s Wife) and Sawaguchi Yasuko (Shiragami Erika).


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The Black Windmill (1974, Don Siegel)

The Black Windmill features Michael Caine and John Vernon shooting it out with Uzis. I’m sorry, I’m wrong. They’re shooting it out with MAC-10s. It’s an absurdity worthy of Siegel’s directorial protege Clint Eastwood–actually, Eastwood might have been paying homage to Siegel’s choice of lunacy here in Blood Work (when the serial killer happened to have an M-16 handy). Without Eastwood the star, however, Siegel is lost. The Black Windmill is excruciatingly boring. Something about the way it’s shot makes it unpleasant to watch. It’s too muddy and Siegel’s out of place shooting in London. He feels like he’s shooting a tourist film, not something natural.

Shockingly, the film does offer one of Michael Caine’s finest performances. Really. The script occasionally fails him, especially when it comes to the story between him and his wife (played by Janet Suzman, who fluctuates). It’s too short on the character relationship and too heavy on the bad intrigue. There are some nice performances in the film–Donald Pleasence is great as Caine’s suspicious, clumsy, neat-nick boss. Joss Ackland shows up for a few minutes and is real good. John Vernon is terrible. I once tried watching this film… ten years ago, probably, and Vernon’s scenes probably made me turn it off. He does accents (poorly) and then he’s just in the film far too long. John Vernon is fine, so long as he’s not around too long. He’s around way too long in The Black Windmill.

Some of Siegel’s work–just the shot construction–is really nice. The action scenes are mostly crap, just because he’s so out of his element, but he takes a sensitivity to the actual relationship between Caine and Suzman–Caine’s a spy whose son is kidnapped (it makes no sense, which is why I didn’t bother bringing it up earlier)–and it’s a sensitively I’m not used to seeing from Siegel. It’s a sparse sensitivity, but I would have loved to have seen more. Instead, there’s three or four chase scenes and a shootout. With John Vernon and Michael Caine and machine pistols….

1/4

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Don Siegel; screenplay by Leigh Vance, based on a novel by Clive Egleton; director of photography, Outsama Rawl; edited by Antony Gibbs; music by Roy Budd; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Caine (Maj. John Tarrant), Joseph O’Conor (Sir Edward Julyan), Donald Pleasence (Cedric Harper), John Vernon (McKee), Janet Suzman (Alex Tarrant), Delphine Seyrig (Ceil Burrows) and Joss Ackland (Chief Superintendent Wray).


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The Car (1977, Elliot Silverstein)

Sitting and watching The Car in 2006, it was amusing to know what Universal studio executives were saying about the film some thirty years ago… “It’s like Jaws, but with a car.” At first, I thought the movie was some kind of Duel remake, but then the Jaws comparisons became obvious, but not obvious in any sort of interesting way, not any sort of amusing way. Instead–in between scenes of the demonic (literally) car–the movie’s filled with some really lame melodrama and some really lame performances. R.G. Armstrong, who I thought was good for some reason, is terrible as a wife-beating husband. The only amusing role he plays in the film is when it turns around and heroizes him. John Marley is laughably bad, Ronny Cox is on the lousy side of mediocre, and lead James Brolin’s most interesting contribution is his unmoving hair helmet. John Rubinstein is good in his one scene and Kathleen Lloyd–who I watched the movie for in the first place–varies in degree, getting quite appealing at some points… usually when she isn’t acting alongside Brolin.

The film’s almost indescribable to those who haven’t seen it and I wonder if it didn’t sustain my interest just as a relic. Universal pictures from the 1970s have some distinct common elements and I kept recognizing them throughout The Car. Not the bad acting or the visually stymied direction from Elliot Silverstein, but the setpieces. Somehow, they were all familiar, like Universal had gotten a formula from The Birds and just kept on using it. The writing is horrendous too, with the aforementioned bad melodrama, but also the stupidity of the film’s situation. I kept waiting for it to get freaky or interesting (like what if someone got in the driver-less, devil car or what if the guy who kept Clark Kenting during the car’s appearances had something to do with it), but it never did. The resolution, which looks like it was filmed on someone’s front lawn in parts, is ludicrous. It’s unbelievable it passed studio muster, though the film might have just been a B-picture, though I always thought Brolin was actually a movie star in the late 1970s. I’m most upset about Kathleen Lloyd, who’s only been in a handful of movies and one of them had to be this piece of–somehow perplexing enough to be watchable–crap.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Elliot Silverstein; written by Lane Slate, Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack, from a story by Butler and Shyrack; director of photography, Gerald Hirschfeld; edited by Michael McCroskey; music by Leonard Rosenman; produced by Silverstein and Marvin Birdt; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring James Brolin (Wade Parent), Kathleen Lloyd (Lauren), John Marley (Everett), R.G. Armstrong (Amos), John Rubinstein (John Morris) and Ronny Cox (Luke).


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This is Spinal Tap (1984, Rob Reiner)

To be fair, I haven’t seen Spinal Tap in fifteen years, so when I say I remember it being funnier… well, I’m sure I used to think Caddyshack was funnier too. Funny even.

Spinal Tap achieved, in the late 1990s, a mythic reputation among film and DVD geeks for a couple reasons. First, I suppose, was Waiting for Guffman. Second, and more specific, was the Criterion Collection DVD release, which became rare as many of those early Criterion DVDs became rare. I didn’t have the Criterion–though, at one point, I think I might have had a copy of the in-character audio commentary–and I never watched it during this period. Getting around to it now was because the fiancée had never seen it and, like I said, I remembered it being funnier.

The film’s greatest deficit, both acting-wise and creatively, is obviously Rob Reiner. His direction is insipid, which–from the technical angle–could be explained by his character’s lack of talent, but the direction of actors isn’t any good either, so that excuse is out. His acting is something even worse and he weighs down every scene he’s in. Unfortunately, Reiner’s not the only problem. While Spinal Tap is really funny during the first half hour or so, once the film gets itself a narrative, it crumbles. Long, unfunny scenes, meant to tell a story, make the film feel like it’s three hours instead of eighty-two minutes.

Some of the cameos are incredibly successful–Bruno Kirby’s for instance–but others are just too short. Fred Willard needed a few more seconds. Spinal Tap is almost a success, stressing the ‘almost.’ The rest of the fault has to fall on the band focus. Christopher Guest is the best, but doesn’t get as much screen-time as Michael McKean, who is the worst. June Chadwick, as McKean’s girlfriend, is boring and predictable (both her performance and the character). Harry Shearer isn’t in the film anywhere near enough and it never feels like he has a relationship with the other band members.

In short, it works as a joke, not a movie.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Reiner; written by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Reiner; director of photography, Peter Smokler; edited by Robert Leighton, Kent Beyda and Kim Secrist; music and lyrics by Guest, McKean, Shearer and Reiner; produced by Karen Murphy; released by Embassy Pictures.

Starring Rob Reiner (Marty DiBerti), Michael McKean (David St. Hubbins), Christopher Guest (Nigel Tufnel), Harry Shearer (Derek Smalls), R.J. Parnell (Mick Shrimpton), David Kaff (Viv Savage), Tony Hendra (Ian Faith), Bruno Kirby (Tommy Pischedda) and June Chadwick (Jeanine Pettibone).


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