Tag Archives: The Great Monster Varan

Sum Up | 2018 in Review

I didn’t have any big plans for The Stop Button in 2018 other than blogathons and whatever came up. Comics Fondle I was reading all of Love and Rockets, which took more than 2018. But Stop Button… well, marathon training. It was going to take up a lot of time.

Of the 157 feature films… the three best films I watched were Seven Samurai, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Best Years of Our Lives. I’d seen all those films before (though it’d been a long time on each of them); the best films I saw for the first time were Get Out, Frances Ha, Sunset Blvd., Only Angels Have Wings, and Jour de fête. No order on any of these lists.

BestWorst
Seven SamuraiGuardians of the Galaxy 2
2001: A Space OdysseyGreat Monster Varan
The Best Years of Our LivesThe Incredible Hulk Returns

However, when it comes to the worst films I watched this year? I’ll give it to Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which I truly loathed, Great Monster Varan, which broke the cardinal rule of kaiju–it was boring–and The Incredible Hulk Returns, which I remembered from childhood and felt great shame. Not for the “Incredible Hulk” TV show, but for that first TV movie. I haven’t been able bring myself to watch the other two yet.

Speaking of superheroes… most of the recent movies I watched were comic book movies. Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Thor 3, Ant-Man 2, Avengers 4, Venom, Aquaman, (ugh) Guardians 2, also Darkman, which I’d watched since starting the blog for the Alan Smithee Podcast but never written about. And the long-anticipated Superman: The Movie: The Extended Version, which is a mess but rather informative about how narrative editing works for a film. Also the second “Hulk” TV pilot movie. Oh, and two Superman serials, one Dick Tracy one, one Batman one.

Best comic book movies I watched were Black Panther and Avengers 4.

Sequels I watched a bunch. Five total Puppetmaster movies (one and the four sequels). Westworld and Futureworld. Star Wars: Episode 8. Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (the first Leone Western I’ve written about). Mission: Impossible 6 and 5. Magic Mike 2 (haven’t seen the first). Die Hard 3 (after meaning to watch it again for, you know, a decade). Creed II (it might be the only Stallone movie on the blog this year, which is something). And then some Halloween movies. I watched the Joe Chappelle travesty again, then the crappy Rob Zombie ones in their theatrical cuts for the Sum Up post I really didn’t want to do. After seeing H40, I decided to scrap that post. Not worth editing, even though I had it fully drafted. That one killed Sum Up enthusiasm even more than Godzilla Showa.

Then there were the sequel serials. The aforementioned Batman and Superman ones. Also Flash Gordon 2. I also watched Judex, which is actually good (the first actually good serial I’d seen in ages), The Clutching Hand, which was godawful and stopped me watching serials, The Phantom Creeps, which was godawful but no Clutching Hand, and Dick Tracy, which was godawful but no Phantom Creeps. When I tried to keep the interest with Flash Gordon 2 and it disappointed… well. I can’t do the serials for a while. I think I might have watched the first chapter of The Shadow and not even posted it because the serial was such a noodle.

As usual, there was more horror than one would think. The Puppetmaster series, House, DeepStar Six, Shadow of the Vampire, Stepford Wives, Babadook, Quiet Place, Let Me In, Sleepwalkers, The Descent, The Witch. Some major disappointments; I expected too much from House and Six though. Those two are on me. The biggest surprise was probably that one good Puppetmaster movie.

Foreign movies I didn’t watch anywhere near as many as I always mean to watch. Worse, the two Bergman’s disappointed (to various degrees)–Autumn Sonata and Through a Glass Darkly. Aforementioned Jour de Fete was excellent. And Delicatessen held up. I’d been meaning to watch it again.

My highly anticipated first viewings not including the aforementioned “best of”) were Giant, Blade Runner 2, The Gay Falcon, The Other Side of the Wind, Lonelyhearts, The Cheap Detective, Sometimes a Great Notion, Quiet Place, The Witch, and–to some degree–All That Heaven Allows. Most disappointing is of course Other Side of the Wind, but worst is Gay Falcon.

Highly anticipated repeat viewings (also not including the aforementioned “best of”). Goodfellas, Delicatessen, Street Smart, Naked Alibi, Vivacious Lady, You Can’t Take It With You, Die Hard 3. Goodfellas was kind of a shock but also inevitable (whereas Naked Alibi and Street Smart were just inevitable). Vivacious Lady was a pleasant surprise.

Now, of those forty-four short films, the big focus was the “Peanuts” television specials. I managed to keep going on those ones even after it became clear it was going to be rough at times. I made the only video I made this year because of one. It’s Snoopy but Wicker Man, get it?

I also watched all of Cheryl Dunye’s early short films, which was awesome. Around twenty years after first reading about Dear Diary I finally saw it and, wow, no. The Edison Frankenstein is great though. I also finally finished up the forties Superman cartoons; most of them are bad. I’d been meaning to watch those cartoons since I started writing about shorts; they really weren’t worth the wait.

Best shorts are Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend, Greetings from Africa, Meshes of the Afternoon, What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? Almost in order of publication, which I should’ve been doing from the start for the best of lists. Next year.

I think the decade with most films written about is the fifties, which seems weird because I didn’t think at all about focusing on it. Just happened.

A month into 2019, it certainly seems like I’m going to keep going with blogathons to “schedule” Stop Button. I’ve got a bunch of short films I’m interested in but the only thing really connecting them is that interest. No scheduling themes for the foreseeable future, other than long form posts. Next month I’m doing an Eleanor Parker post about the Oscars. Then I think I’m alternating monthly between Stop Button and Comics Fondle.

The 2019 blogathon schedule has some movies I’m really looking forward to writing about finally: Primrose Path and Incredible Shrinking Man being the standouts so far. I remember loving both those films. Long ago.

And scheduling a weekly group movie night has lead to some long dreaded repeats (Unbreakable) but also excellent ones (Sugarland). Films I’ve already got scheduled I’m really looking forward to watching (or watching again)–Sorry To Bother You, Mighty Quinn, Crooklyn, To Die For, Lizzie, Duel.

Good fodder.

Given I’m not training for a marathon again, I hope this summer I do something more focused–there’s a lot more Bergman in the box set, there’s Aki Kaurismäki, there’s still Buster Keaton (if just the shorts), there’s those restored Hal Hartleys, there’s plenty. There’s too much.

So I’m keeping my 2019 Stop Button ambitions just as low as 2018’s, only without the marathon excuse. But am confident I’ll see some good things. Maybe even Sixth Sense again, because I have to know.

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The Great Monster Varan (1958, Honda Ishirô)

The only thing more tedious and lethargic than the first half of Varan is the second half of Varan. The first half has a motley crew of lepidopterologists awakening a giant monster. The second half has these lepidopterologists consulting with the military to destroy said monster.

Not sure why the military thinks a bunch of butterfly scientists will have good ideas about how to kill a giant monster. Eventually Hirata Akihiko shows up with the solution. Hirata killed the original Godzilla, which is only appropriate in Varan, since the monster has the exact same roar as Godzilla. Varan is done on the cheap. The real cheap.

The film has its share of behind-the-scenes drama. It was originally for television–a coproduction between Toho and an American company, but then the American company went bankrupt. So the two-part TV movie became a single eighty-six minute feature, in “TohoPanScope,” which had them cropping the television framing. I suppose that cropping is why a lot of director Honda’s shots are so bad. Even still, it doesn’t explain away the bad acting or godawful pace.

Or the lousy giant monster suit, which always seems in danger of coming apart onscreen.

There are numerous… well, they’re not exactly plot holes but narrative skips. Like when there’s a forest fire all of a sudden, or how–in the second half–the military attacks have nothing to do with what the Secretary of Defense orders. It makes sense as the Secretary of Defense (Yamada Minosuke) is utterly out of his depth. Yamada’s acting is bad, the script is bad, but even so, when he listens intently to the ideas of chief lepidopterologist Senda Koreya, there’s no plausible reason for Yamada to be listening to Senda. Senda’s writing is probably better, but his performance is so much worse. It’s a risible performance amid some decidedly unimpressive ones. Senda comes up with the solution at the last minute for saving the day, which is another of the film’s narrative skips. He all of a sudden remembers something–which the film doesn’t actually show, but should’ve–as the deus ex.

The first half makes Nomura Kôzô the hero for a while. He’s the intrepid lepidopterologist who dares to return to the giant monster’s territory after it kills two of his colleagues. He brings along Sonoda Ayumi; she’s a reporter and sister of one of the dead lepidopterologists. Varan has so little character establishing, her job is never important. There’s some stuff with newspapers reporting the monster, but it’s before she even shows up.

Bad editing from Taira Kazuji, piddly photography from Koizumi Hajime–though, really, who knows how Varan is really supposed to look (Toho apparently destroyed the original aspect ratio version of the film). But what remains isn’t adequately, much less impressively, photographed. The constant use of stock footage makes the experience even worse.

Ifukube Akira’s score is bad. Though he revised some of the music for later Toho kaiju movies to far better effect. Taira doesn’t really cut with the music in mind. Or sound. Maybe it’s because there are supposed to be commercial breaks. Seeing Varan cut into with commercials might help the overall viewing experience.

It’s an awful film. Especially when it refuses to end; the second half just goes on and on and on. There’s one single good miniature effects shot–and one good composite shot–but otherwise all the effects are bad. I suppose some of the matte backgrounds at the beginning are good. They aren’t godawful at least.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; screenplay by Sekizawa Shin’ichi, based on a story by Kuronuma Ken; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Taira Kazuji; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Shimizu Kiyoshi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nomura Kôzô (Kenji), Sonoda Ayumi (Yuriko), Senda Koreya (Dr. Sugimoto), Matsuo Fumindo (Horiguchi), Hirata Akihiko (Dr. Fujimora), Murakami Fuyuki (Dr. Majima), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Katsumoto), Yamada Minosuke (Secretary of Defense), and Sera Akira (High Priest).


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