New Fan Edit – Godzilla: Resurrection

The time has come, folks! Time for me to embark on my own fan edit!

For my first project, I’ll be tackling a fanmix of The Return of Godzilla and its Americanized recut, Godzilla 1985. While the original Japanese version of the film is still the definitive one, I’ve always held a soft spot in my heart for Raymond Burr’s scenes in 1985, and had always wondered what the final film would have been like had he been present in the Japanese cut.

This re-edit seeks to accomplish just that, while also streamlining the slower pacing of the original cut with suggestions from 1985 to combine the best of both worlds. The film will still be highly critical of both the United States and the Soviet Union, and will work to marginalize the more humorous aspects of the added Pentagon scenes. Finally, this cut will feature a brand new opening to the film, one that seeks to definitely tie the new Godzilla to the original beast in an eerie and unforgettable way.

To read more about the project, please visit my official page on it here, and keep your eyes peeled for a trailer on YouTube and Vimeo, coming soon. Until then, enjoy my custom poster!

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Godzilla: Resurrection will be available for viewing and download this fall.

REVIEW: Shin Godzilla (2016)

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Directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi
Written by Hideaki Anno
Starring Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara, Ren Osugi (get accent mark), Akira Emoto, Kengo Kora (accent), Mikako Ichikawa, Jun Kunimura, Pierre Taki

With the success of Legendary Pictures’ Americanized reboot of Godzilla, Toho back in Japan wanted to get back into the action. While still retaining the rights deal with Warner Brothers, allowing the Monsterverse to continue, Toho set about producing a new film to be directed by Hideaki Anno, the famous creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion. If you’re a fan, than you are probably assuming right now that Godzilla goes all metaphysical, right? Eh, not quite.

An unknown accident occurs in Tokyo Bay’s Aqua Line, flooding the underwater passageway as citizens scramble to evacuate. An emergency cabinet meeting is assembled, just in time to witness a giant creature surface from Tokyo Bay and make its way across land in the heart of the city. Growing in size and mutating with each unsuccessful attack against it, the creature seems unstoppable. Government official Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) is placed in charge of a special research team to investigate ways to kill or incapacitate the beast, now dubbed “Godzilla.”

More than several kaiju and tokusatsu films have tried to establish a realistic scenario for the appearance of a giant monster; the original Godzilla and the Heisei era films The Return of Godzilla and Godzilla vs. Biollante presented the effect of the titular kaiju upon various geopolitical aspects of the world, while “foreign” monster films like the British Gorgo and Korean The Host carried an air of authenticity and spectacle to their visions of creature carnage. Shin Godzilla can easily be added to this fraternity, but its approach to the material is substantially more plausible and researched. Why? Because Shin Godzilla can be referred to as “Politicians vs. Godzilla.”

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The film begins with a brief mystery in the form of a deserted pleasure craft in Tokyo Bay before the water erupts in a large steam eruption, causing damage and flooding to the Tokyo Aqua Line highway. We as an audience are then treated to 13 minutes of dry bureaucracy. Yes, you read that right. As we are introduced to protagonist Rando Yaguchi, Deputy Cabinet Chief, we are also introduced to his world of relentless politics and red tape as Cabinet meeting after government committee after press conference seeks to establish just what is going on, and what to do about it. If this sounds incredibly boring, than I wouldn’t blame you, but I would rest easy–with the quick pace and sheer amount of subtitles you’ll be reading, I’m sure you won’t be too listless during your viewing.

Close viewing during this opening sequence will reward inquisitive viewers, however, as Anno’s intent quickly becomes apparent among every ignorant assumption and naive rush to judgment several government officials make, always rewarded with a simple, fast cut to a harsh reality check in the form of the giant monster now wading out of the bay and into metropolitan Tokyo. Again and again, even with the best of intentions, Japan’s flat-level democratic government, following the exact letter of the law, fails against the nuclear menace, resulting in one of the most salient and darkly humorous satires of government around today.

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But this is a Godzilla movie, you shout, and I soothe and calm with my analysis of the character, as this Godzilla is probably the most unique iteration on screen. First appearing quite alien to previous versions in the form of a bizarre, fish-eyed, bleeding-gilled monstrosity that can barely support its own week, it soon begins to mutate, revealing the most innovative addition to the Godzilla mythos: this Godzilla is highly adaptive, capable of mutating its body and DNA at will. Resulting in a changing creature that forms the most hideous Godzilla design yet, this film hits a home run in devising a new spin on the Big G.

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Further building on the design is co-director and special effects artist Shinji Higuchi’s work in creating Godzilla, this time done almost completely with CG effects. A clear break from tokusatsu tradition, to be sure, but the end result is incredibly convincing, due to the effects team’s efforts to keep Godzilla as stiff and suit-like as possible, which ironically gave the design a lifelike quality that accurately conveyed size and power. Their finest work probably comes at the halfway point in the film when Godzilla is bombed by American B-2 bombers, enraging the beast and prompting his first use of his destructive atomic beam.

Most of these scenes are accompanied by an equally-unusual sound design, employing a mixture of classical Toho sound effects and Akira Ifukube music with new sounds and music cues. When I first saw the film in theaters during its short American run, I was unimpressed and even bothered by the use of the old sounds and music, feeling that their limited dynamics were out of place. Now I’m convinced it was the fault of the cinema’s speaker system, as the blu-ray’s uncommon 3.1 mix produces a deep fidelity and bass I do not recall encountering before. In short, Shin Godzilla should highly please fans of the classic films with regards to their ears.

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After the mounting destruction of the first half, Godzilla falls into a long hibernation, and Rando’s research team reforms to discover a way to defeat him before a UN coalition employs nuclear weapons to resolve the situation. After systematically deconstructing the helplessness of Japan’s democracy to handle the crisis, Anno’s film then abruptly turns about face, giving Rando and his nerds the reigns to save the day with democracy. They bend only the rules they cannot follow to the letter, and break none, showing that even below the layers upon layers of tape, the right men and women with the right combination of ambition, compassion, and courage can prevail and make this world a better one.

Now I know that sounds very different from what is expected from a serious Godzilla movie, but fret not–the final scene brings one final revelation, one I won’t reveal here. Let’s just say that Godzilla’s origins as Nature’s reaction to the ravages of the human race are preserved in full with this film, and while Shin Godzilla requires an open mind and a quick eye for subtitles, to the right viewer, it is a real gem of modern tokusatsu. With Shin Godzilla, Anno has shown what humans can be capable of when working together toward a noble goal…but nature is patient, and she never forgets our crimes.

REVIEW: The Wolverine (2013)

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Directed by James Mangold
Written by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank
Starring Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Svetlana Kodchenkova, Brian Tee, Hal Yamanouchi, Will Yun Lee, Famke Janssen

Fox’s X-Men franchise is a strange beast. Nowhere near as polished as Marvel Studios’ MCU but certainly in better shape than Warner Brothers’ DC franchise, it endures ups and downs all over the spectrum. Coming hot off the heels of a generally-well excepted soft-reboot with X-Men: First Class and picking up for the absolutely dreadful X-Men Origins: Wolverine, James Mangold’s The Wolverine proves to be one of the better parts of the X-Series, and a preview of the mastery Mangold would bring to the character of Wolverine four years later with Logan.

Logan (Hugh Jackman) has been living a desolate life following the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) at his hands. One night, he is approached by a Japanese girl named Yuriko (Rila Fukushima), skilled with the katana and bearing the mutant ability to sense one’s oncoming death. Yuriko has come to take Logan back to Japan to see her master, tech billionaire Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), who is dying and wished to repay an old debt to the X-Man. Soon enough, Logan is swept up in a conspiracy against Yashida’s family. Vulnerable for the first time and pushed to his physical and emotional limits, he confronts not only lethal samurai steel but also his inner struggle against his own near-immortality.

As if seeking to outdo its predecessors in as little time as possible, The Wolverine begins memorably with the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Yeah, that Nagasaki. Logan watches from a locked-up well in a Japanese POW camp as the B-29 “Bockscar” flies ominously overhead while Japanese officers commit seppuku in the face of defeat. But one chooses to live, and Logan saves him in a pulse-pounding sequence, shielding him from the blast with a steel door and his own body. Far outshining even X2‘s opening sequence, The Wolverine starts with a hell of a bang–literally.

The film returns to the present day, giving us a Logan severely broken by the events of 2006’s The Last Stand, continuously dreaming of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). Hugh Jackman delves into the meatiest material he has been given for Wolverine yet, and is treated well by Bomback’s and Frank’s screenplay, which opts for a slower, more contemplative approach. The story provides new and interesting situations for Wolverine, taking advantage of the concept of an immortal man and the kind of legacy he would leave in his wake. This wide, philosophical ground with Logan’s connection to Yashida, and later in the budding relationship between Logan and Mariko (Tao Okamoto), the screenwriters show off a much better and more nuanced understanding of the Wolverine character than anybody before them in Hollywood.

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How lucky for them that James Mangold sat in the director’s chair for this installment. Outwardly a run-of-the-mill filmmaker, Mangold is probably Hollywood’s most unassuming auteur, gravitating toward more loner-type heroes inhabiting rich worlds shot with the flair of a softer David Fincher. The Wolverine is tailor-made to Mangold’s style, and he delights in both the neo-noir neon of Tokyo and the simple splendor of modern-day Nagasaki as Logan and Mariko flee across the countryside. Mangold’s eye is breath of fresh air to this franchise, long stunted by cold, bland locations and generic cinematography. The Wolverine brings beauty to the X-Series.

This beauty extends to the action sequences, which are shot lucidly by Ross Emery and edited in a fast-paced but easy to follow style by Michael McCusker. The duel between Logan and Shingen is especially noteworthy, as both warriors slice and dice each other up by blue moonlight, always moving but never out of focus or cut confusingly. Say goodbye to the goofy fights of the previous trilogy; The Wolverine delivers the action goods.

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There are a few hiccups however. While Rila Fukushima’s Yukio character is a fascinating gem, ripe with drama due to her upbringing and unique mutant ability, she is sidelined by the Logan-Mariko love thread, and seemingly disappears from the narrative save to rescue Logan before his duel with Shingen. It really is a shame because Rila conveys as much shielded emotion as Okamoto’s Mariko, but also can handle herselfin action scenes. Will Yun Lee’s Harada fares worse, who seems to switch sides several times with a flimsy reason for doing so. These aren’t enough to sink the picture, but they are worth noting as disappointments.

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Where the film unfortunately falls short enough to matter is its third act. Feeling distinctly overlong and stuffed with too many characters with their own muddled motivations, the climactic battle of The Wolverine is simply in dire need of at least a trim, if not a complete rewrite. For a film based on the classic Chris Clairemont and Frank Miller graphic novel, itself a decidedly-low-tech story, to start injecting giant samurai mechs and reptilian mutants into the mix is simply not that smart of a move. It really makes one wonder how Darren Aronofsky, the original director, would have closed this story.

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Thankfully, however, the picture manages to overcome its limitations enough to become a memorable part of the cinematic X-Men canon. It is a beautiful, moody, and lush comic book movie with shades of existential angst which always should have been present with the Wolverine character. It serves up interesting and sympathetic supporting characters and is a fine example of Hollywood samurai action. Along with Days of Future Past and Logan, The Wolverine could be credited with delivering a tragic new heart to Fox’s superhero franchise, and that is its greatest strength when compared to the MCU offerings.

NOTE: The Wolverine is available in two versions: the theatrical version, rated PG-13, and an unrated cut which extends the runtime by 12 minutes. These additions are concentrated in several first act interactions between Logan and Yukio, new scenes involving Shingen, and a massive extension of the fight with the Black Clan ninjas. While the unrated cut makes some of the relationships a bit clearer, it robs the film of a bit of the mystery elements of the plot against Mariko, and while the ninja fight is bloodier, it doesn’t reach Logan level. I prefer the theatrical cut.

REVIEW: Ghost in the Shell (1995)

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Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Written by Kazunori Ito, Based on the Manga by Masamune Shirow
Starring the voices of Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Tamio Oki

Usually whenever classic and essential anime is discussed, two titles take center stage: Akira, and Ghost in the Shell. While I have seen the former several times and enjoy it a lot, Ghost has eluded me for all this time. Well, I have finally taken the time to view the original film, and it doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it surprises.

The year is 2029. The world has become intensively information oriented and humans are ever-connected to the network through their readily-available cybernetic enhancements. Crime has evolved as well, allowing hackers to take control over other people’s very minds. Major Motoko Kusanagi (Atsuko Tanaka), a cyborg policewoman working for Japan’s omnipresent Section 9, tracks one such hacker, a mysterious and powerful individual known only as the Puppet Master.

Ghost was a part of the Nineties wave of anime flicks, a veritable golden age of Japanese animation which spawned most of the Studio Ghibli family films such as Princess Mononoke and Pom Poko. On the other side of the spectrum, adult animation saw a resurgence, many of the films being adaptations of manga, or graphic novels. Both Akira and Ghost were popular manga in the late ’80s, and heavily influenced by the cyberpunk movement stretching back to William Gibson’s work and the film Blade Runner, so when Akira earned a feature film in 1988, it must have been inevitable that Ghost would get one. These are where the similarities end.

Whereas Akira is a more hard-pumping action film, Ghost opts for a slow-burn approach, focusing on the suspense of the hunt for the Puppet Master and the philosophical grey area of the film’s setting. To be honest, I was surprised by this, having only heard of this franchise in the past and remembering the action-heavy trailers of the new live-action effort. Don’t take it to mean I was disappointed by this, I rather enjoyed the more quiet form of this work, just be forewarned if you saw the new one first and are expecting endless gunfights and fisticuffs.

Much of the film is a haunting affair; one particular group of scenes extends for about ten minutes, focusing on Motoko’s shaky sense of identity within herself. She is nothing more than an organic brain encased in a high-tech shell, connecting her to a simultaneously feminine and de-sexualized body. If that wasn’t enough to make her question what was left of her humanity, she also contends with another surreal fact of this post-post-modern world in that her brain is also linked forever to the network; her own thoughts are just as easily accessed by her partner Batou (Akio Otsuka) as his are to her. Imagine the inside of your head, the last true vestige of privacy, not only being laid bare to another, but that this arrangement is the new status quo of reality. Scary stuff.

This particular scene is book-ended by two long sequences of motion, weaving slowly through a poor district of the futuristic city as an ancient Japanese wedding song drones. This juxtaposition of both old and new is but one example of how well Ghost handles its surreal and memorable narrative. Usually when a science fiction film is composed mostly of dialogue and creeping montages, it gets boring pretty fast; Ghost handles its pace incredibly well, never reaching a yawn-worthy drag or unbearable preachy-ness.

Conversations always serve a purpose, some advancing the plot and posing mind-bending questions at the same time. Seemingly-irrevelent occurrences with the story almost always give way to disturbing revelations. I, for one, don’t think I will be forgetting soon the look of a supporting character’s face when told that the daughter he longs so much to be reunited with is nothing but a false memory, a face of pure heartwrenching disbelief. I doubt a live actor could ever accomplish what the character model does in that moment. And when there is action, it is meticulously animated to precise choreographic momentum.

Ghost in the Shell was enough of a success to spawn several more productions over the years, including two more films and an anime series, and of course, the American remake. Now, there is another version of this original film known as Ghost in the Shell 2.0, which replaces much of the original animation with CGI imagery, cuts several scenes, and redubs a few voices. I have yet to watch this version, so when I do, I will update this review accordingly.

Akira is still amazing and retains a high status within my favorite films, but Ghost in the Shell has quickly risen to match it. It’s a film that sticks in your mind for days, possibly even weeks, with its unique look into a post-human world where our already ubiquitous social technology has become part of our very body image, and it’s an engaging mystery to boot. Akira is often compared to Blade Runner, but I think Ghost is the closer relative of that classic film, and as such, earns my highest recommendation.

REVIEW: Godzilla (2014)

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Directed by Gareth Edwards
Written by Max Borenstein and David Callaham
Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston

If you don’t already know, than you will soon find out just how much of a tokusatsu and kaiju film fanatic I am; just the fact that I refer to those films by their actual subgenre terms and not just as “Godzilla” movies should begin to account for that. With this known, hear me on this: Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is the redemption American filmmakers and audiences have been seeking since the first fumble Roland Emmerich’s film made with the Big G’s legacy. It’s probably even the best Godzilla film since the original 1954 classic. It certainly is the only one that feels like it belongs in the same class.

In 1999, the Janjira nuclear plant in Japan is mysteriously destroyed with most hands lost including supervisor Joe Brody’s (Bryan Cranston) wife, Sandra. Years later, Joe’s son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a US Navy ordnance disposal officer, must go to Japan to help his estranged father who obsessively searches for the truth of the incident. In doing so, father and son discover the disaster’s secret cause on the wreck’s very grounds. This enables them to witness the reawakening of a terrible threat to all of Humanity, which is made all the worse with a second secret revival elsewhere of an even greater threat. And yet, this new enemy of civilization may be its only hope. And its name is Godzilla.

Edwards probably had the toughest job imaginable ahead of him when he accepted the job directing this film. Having only directed one film beforehand, even if it was the critically acclaimed Monsters, this must not have instilled a lot of confidence in the fanbase. Boy, were they wrong. Everything about his gargantuan vision is perfectly suited to the King of the Monsters, and in many ways improves upon what Ishiro Honda and Tomoyuki Tanaka envisioned for their God of Destruction over 60 years ago.

However, to talk to the average moviegoer who claims to have “watched Godzirra movies back in the day,” you’d think this movie was a sin against God. “There’s not enough Godzilla!” “It’s boring and pretentious!” “Not enough monster fighting!” These are the usual complaints I heard from behind the concession counter when this film was still in theaters.And sorry, but all of these arguments betray a lack of true love for the titular creature and what he represents. Godzilla is best understood not through the prism of the seemingly-countless Vs. series of films from 1956 on (and don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of entertainment to be had there), but through the dark iris of 1954’s Gojira.

As expanded upon in The Long Take’s excellent comparison video, Edwards’ Godzilla opens the story with a disaster related to the headlines of the time: the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown becomes the Janjira tragedy. And then the new film branches off: while Tanaka’s Godzilla was always a response to unchecked nuclear testing and aggression, the title monster having been awakened and severely scarred by a nuclear bomb, Edwards’ Godzilla is impervious to the bomb, indeed, to all human attempts to destroy him. The new Godzilla represents the entirety of nature’s response to mankind’s stupidity and arrogance, effortlessly swatting away the best of our weapons and soldiers in his single-minded quest to destroy this film version’s nuclear allegory, the MUTOs.

With this, the writers achieved a distancing from the old anti-nuke allegory in a perfect way that doesn’t negate those fears; it expands upon them, bringing every human action against Mother Earth into sharp, uncompromising focus. From there, all the nitty-gritty narrative plot points become borrowed from the best of the unmade Godzilla films. The MUTOs are discovered within the carcass of another Godzilla-like creature, just like in Jan de Bont’s 1994 script. The MUTOs themselves are constantly evolving; another lifting from Godzilla vs the Gryphon. The final battle takes place in San Francisco–hello, Godzilla 3D. It’s as if the filmmakers wanted to reward us for waiting through the deaths of all of those promising projects by giving them a chance to shine through this one.

And then Edwards takes over, drawing out the suspense of the main set pieces Spielberg-style, keeping the camera fixed on a human-eye vantage point. Whether watching Godzilla stomp his enemy from an hovering helicopter shot or the male MUTO swooping over from a 40th-story window, not a single shot aimed at the monster is not in documentary style. There were a few moments where I felt like I was watching a Jurassic Park sequel.

And now comes one of the bigger complaints, and one that is hard to ignore: the human characters. Everyone gives a great performance, from Strathairn’s by-the-book command to Cranston’s tortured, obsessive search for the truth. The problem is that they all don’t do much. All of their actions contribute to the greater calamities that propel the plot along to the final confrontation. Ford is the only one who accomplishes anything worthwhile, but in the end, still fails in his mission. But I say this isn’t a failing of the screenplay, but a main feature. Looking back to the original film, the exact same problems exist: too many people who do nothing but watch, slack-jawed, in terror of the monster. Only one, Dr. Serizawa, is the man of action, defeating the beast in the end. Ford is now that character, but is infinitely more relatable as a soldier and a father–another aspect of American cinema.

I could go on and on, but I trust my point is made, or at least begun. Godzilla is more than the majority of its predecessors. It is the first successful reboot, from any country or filmmaker, of the original film. There are a handful in the Japanese series that are worthy followups, but none captures both the fear and wonder of the unknown, and the sheer power of Allmother Nature like this one. Like the incredible, bone-rattling roar of the Big G himself, Godzilla makes a mighty impression.