SHIN GODZILLA: Japan’s Newest Godzilla Movie—and One of the Best!

15 Oct

SHIN GODZILLA (2016), co-directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi (who also supervised the special effects), is the first new Godzilla movie to be made by the Japanese since GODZILLA FINAL WARS in 2004 and was released to theaters in Japan in July 2016 and given a limited release in the U.S. in October. (In some listings the film is referred to by its English release title, GODZILLA RESURGENCE.) Coming two years after Hollywood’s most recent attempt to duplicate the success of Godzilla (see my piece of May 25, 2014), this film takes the Godzilla franchise in a completely new and different direction, setting it in the current political landscape of contemporary Tokyo and functioning as if Japan has never seen a giant monster before. How would the Japanese government and its bureaucrats and various ministries react to the appearance of an actual giant monster in Tokyo? What would it take to get the Prime Minister to make timely decisions and get the various departments to work together? This is not an atypical scene from the movie:

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Happy Birthday, Angela Mao–Kung Fu Diva Supreme

20 Sep

Within the last two years, some of the best Hong Kong movies starring Angela Mao Ying have come out on DVD from Shout Factory, remastered, with cleaned-up soundtracks and new subtitles. My earlier VHS and DVD copies had all sorts of problems, so I’ve been wanting to sit down and watch these new editions and thought I’d use the occasion of her 66th birthday today, September 20th, to offer a write-up on them. I watched what I consider her four best films for this piece: HAPKIDO (1972), WHEN TAEKWONDO STRIKES (1973), THE TOURNAMENT (1974), and BROKEN OATH (1977). I didn’t have time for the fifth of her top five, LADY WHIRLWIND  (1972)

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Star Trek 50th Anniversary – Memories

8 Sep

Today, September 8, 2016, marks the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of “Star Trek” on NBC-TV. 25 years ago, in 1991, all the original cast members were still alive to celebrate the 25th anniversary, as was the show’s creator and executive producer, Gene Roddenberry, who died in October 1991, the month following the anniversary. At the time I wondered how many cast members would make it to the 50th. Well, the 50th is here and we’ve got William Shatner (Captain James T. Kirk), Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura), George Takei (Sulu) and Walter Koenig (Chekov) still with us. Shatner and Koenig were at a Star Trek convention in New York this past weekend and Takei remains quite active, having recently appeared in “Allegiance,” a Broadway musical based on his childhood experiences in World War II internment camps for Japanese-Americans. Nichols has been quite busy acting in TV and films, according to her IMDB filmography. Plus, many guest stars from the show are still around, including Teri Garr, Kim Darby, Sally Kellerman, Gary Lockwood, Skip Homeier, Barbara Luna, Joan Collins, Robert Walker Jr., and many more. From the original cast, DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy) died in 1999; James Doohan (Scotty) died in 2005; Majel Barrett (Nurse Christine Chapel) died in 2008; and Grace Lee Whitney (Yeoman Janice Rand) and Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock) both died in 2015.

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Japan Journal, Part 7: Eiga Story 1965

11 Aug

One of the things I picked up during my trip to Tokyo that I wanted to share with readers is a Japanese film magazine from 1965 called Eiga Story, found at a flea market table in Ueno Park amidst tons of other old film magazines and comics. On the cover is a photo of Hayley Mills, who’d been a child star in Disney movies (e.g. POLLYANNA and THE PARENT TRAP), and had finally graduated to teenage roles at the time, getting her first screen kiss that year in THE TRUTH ABOUT SPRING. I opened the magazine on the spot and was happy to see excellent-looking color spreads devoted to popular Hollywood films and stars of the time with b&w entries devoted to numerous releases in Japan of Hollywood and European films. Since I was going to films regularly in 1965 and had even seen some of these films during their initial release, I was curious to see what Hollywood films got the most hype during their release in Japan.

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Pokémon: The Animated Series Still Going Strong after 19 Seasons

22 Jul

In reading and hearing about all the fuss in recent weeks over the game Pokémon Go that is bringing players outside into the real world where they get to interact with other people and explore territory in their own neighborhoods, I was somewhat dismayed that there was virtually no mention of the Pokémon animated TV show, which is now in its 19th season and still airs new episodes once a week on the Cartoon Network. I should know because I watch the show every week and still consider it one of the finest animated series for children ever made. I was first introduced to the show in 1999, not long after it began airing on a local broadcast station and appearing in VHS volumes on video store shelves. I was doing freelance reviewing for a website designed as a consumer guide for children’s videos and since I was the resident anime expert among the site’s stable of reviewers, I was assigned the new anime shows then popping up, including the new phenomenon, Pokémon.

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THE LEGEND OF TARZAN and Hollywood’s View of Africa

12 Jul

I went to see THE LEGEND OF TARZAN out of curiosity about how Hollywood would make a Tarzan movie in the 2010s, particularly one with as high a budget as this one (a reported $180 million). It’s a politically correct version with Tarzan and Jane portrayed as great friends of the indigenous people of the Congo and all the wildlife there and great enemies of the colonial power, Belgium, which is making life miserable for the natives in the late 1800s.

Much of the film depends on computer-generated special effects, with every animal being computer-created and many of the humans and picturesque backgrounds as well. This is, I believe, the first Tarzan movie where none of the animals were actual living beings. (I make this distinction because GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES, 1984, used actors to play the ape characters.) I could never be sure when a shot was filmed on location or whether it was created in the computer. (IMDB tells us that the “aerial jungle scenes” were shot in Gabon, so I’m guessing everything else was done in a studio or the computer.) When Tarzan swings on vines through the jungle in this film, it’s all computer-created—and looks it! No Johnny Weissmuller (or stunt double) actually swinging on a vine on an MGM jungle set.

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A Twilight Zone Album

27 Jun

My first exposure to the popular anthology series, “The Twilight Zone” (1959-1964), was on a Friday night in the fall of 1964 when a local channel (probably WCBS) ran three episodes back-to-back. I was hooked. The first episode that night was “King Nine Will Not Return,” about a World War II bomber pilot (Robert Cummings) who has crashed in the desert and can’t find any members of his crew. The episode had a twist ending of the sort that made the series famous and I remember being very excited by it. The second episode was “The Man in the Bottle,” about a pawnbroker (Luther Adler) who unleashes a rather sinister-looking genie (Joseph Ruskin) from an old bottle and is granted four wishes, each of which has unpleasant ramifications, including one that turns him into Hitler, quite a memorable image less than 20 years after the end of World War II. The third episode, “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room,” had Joe Mantell playing Jackie Rhoades, a small-time crook given orders by the mob who faces his reflection in a hotel mirror telling him to stand up for himself. All three episodes were written by series host Rod Serling (pictured above). In each case, it was the writing of the episodes and the focus on character, supplemented by the imaginative situations in which they each find themselves, that impressed me the most. I don’t believe I’d ever seen a TV show quite like it up to this time, at least not at an age to appreciate it. I became a Rod Serling fan from that night on.

Robert Cummings in a production still from “King Nine Will Not Return”:

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