Godzilla/Gojira (1954)

Genre: Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi

Director: Ishirô Honda

Writers: Ishirô Honda, Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata

Starring: Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata, Akira Takarada

Rating:★★★½

Gojira as its original Japanese name would be is more commonly and famously known as Godzilla, a creature which has created one of the largest film franchises in history. It was in 1954 which this King Kong inspired giant monster was first seen on screen, and since then a further thirty-two productions have been made, the most recent of course is Gareth Edward’s $160million 2014 blockbuster.  Godzilla is very much a product of its time, however it is actually a lot different compared to its franchise and is more about a deeper meaning, something learnt when studying Honda’s classic within Film Studies. Its main focus is on narrative, whilst the outdated suitmation, although the contemporary usual, doesn’t transfer well to modern times, but there should be a real appreciation for this influential Japanese cinema classic.

Japan is rocked by a disturbance off their coast when a group of ships are reported missing; search parties disappear and local coastal villages are soon destroyed. The Japanese government soon learn that nuclear testing within the ocean has awoken a monster reptile from hibernation, which is now looking for revenge and mass-destruction. Godzilla, a huge, fifty metre tall beast, soon learnt to be covered in radioactive matter, terrorises central Tokyo, killing and destroying many. Meanwhile a group of scientists are debating whether they should use their scientific deadly weapon to defeat the beast, as they believe and fear it will provoke further nuclear war.

Within most “monster films” we would expect a huge focus on mass destruction and of course the majority of the film to show our monster roaming around killing, providing huge action. However Gojira is the complete opposite, with our beast getting very little screen time. The main focus is on our scientists and the emotional trauma on our victims, something highlighted by our trio of writers to convey an important message.

Gojira is a film which shows the dangers of nuclear warfare and more so science as it develops, this message coming from a country such as Japan is very important, definitely regarding their history. Godzilla, a beast of destruction, being woken by nuclear testing is of course very symbolic, as our monster itself represents a nuclear bomb, which is referenced clearly to be linked with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  It conveys how the testing with nuclear weaponry will only lead to more destruction, whilst science’s involvement within the film, also being equally important. It is science which eventually destroys the beast, which also sees a sacrifice, which symbolically presents how science now needs to destroy itself and is more so outdated, as deadlier weapons are being created and bringing harsher consequences.  It is learning this deeper meaning, although clearly obvious, which creates an appreciation towards Gojira.

As previously mentioned this is a film which is very much outdated and is a product of its time, being very hard to transfer into modern day. The acting is very poor, despite the appearance of Seven Samurai star Takashi Shimura who does produce a solid display of one of our older scientists. Momoko Kôchi and Akira Takarada play Emiko and Ogata a young couple and our main protagonists, who are planning to help destroy the beast. Their roles are very well-written however Kochi’s portrayal of Emiko is very poor, somewhat becoming laughable, whilst Takarada is fairly average.

The effects as expected are not the high-budget breath-taking display you’d expect from the latest Godzilla remake; however it is mainly suit-mation within the original. Our beast is nothing more than a man in a suit tramping about in a tiny Tokyo model-city, however again this criticism is something which occurs only due to the transition of time periods and technology. Explosions however were a little more impressive, whilst Honda’s directing was refreshing and inspiring given such the early year of release.

Gojira is a very good film, in terms of story it is somewhat a classic for sure with the under the surface meaning adding to appreciation. However the action unfortunately doesn’t match, and despite its focus on a deeper story, I would have expected more action and of course more Godzilla. If you are going to watch this original and influential film, then take into consideration the low key effects and acting may make it less enjoyable watch. However this is a piece of history within cinema, and an interesting comparison to make when looking ahead to the soon to be released big budget remake.

 

 

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A Clockwork Orange (1972)

Genre: Crime, Sci-Fi, Drama

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Anthony Burgess (novel)

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates

Rating: ★★★★★

A film from one of my favourite directors, and one of the best directors to ever embrace the cinematic world, A Clockwork Orange challenged audiences to question the need for violence in life and wowed Academy’s as it picked up a string of awards including Best Picture and Best Director.  Previously being withheld from millions, once viewed it is obvious to see the brilliance behind a film which although has an unconventional storyline, holds cinema-changing craftsmanship.

Alex is a young boy, a member of a futuristic Britain, a much changed world. His main interests are ultra-violence, rape and Ludwig Van Beethoven of course. Rolling about with his three “droogs” Pete, Georgie and Dim he adventures on another night of mugging and raping, but when he faces a challenging woman after breaking into her house, he is arrested for murder and is imprisoned. Once inside he soon learns his life will be nothing but following orders and ending each sentence with “Sir”, but when hearing about a new experiment which could reduce his sentence he volunteers himself. The study attempts to brainwash convicts into detesting any form of violence, and once completed Alex is released into the mean streets he once created and ruled; his morals may have forcibly changed but others haven’t.

A Clockwork Orange is a rollercoaster of a film, with excitement and action in every sequence, something that Kubrick delivers excellently. The scenes of violence and rape are not as shocking as some explain, however what is problematic is how as an audience we are encouraged to side with Alex, and therefore break the rules in the film’s society as well as our own. Kubrick seems to question the need for violence in society, what you take from the film is down to your own mind-set and outlooks; however A Clockwork Orange is known as a film which seems to question individual’s morals and beliefs, making it somewhat unique.

The film is witty, and clever with the dialogue something I find brilliant. It makes the film fun, although it shouldn’t be given the plot, I find it really is. The futuristic world created is likewise the same, and both together seem to create interest and awe.

The acting is something which should be credited and for me Malcolm McDowell’s portrayal as Alex is fantastic and is one of my favourite. The deliverance of every line and syllable creates emotion, and every step and movement seems to be natural and exciting. Kubrick’s direction throughout really shows to full extent his talents, and why his breakthrough in cinema was so influential. The range of shots, the selection of shots and certain scenes are great. The way the camera pans in Mr and Mrs Alexander’s house was innovative whilst the close ups on Alex’s eyes in the testing scenes are rather disturbing, and that’s surprising considering the film itself.

The soundtrack is an interesting choice, the mixture of “Ol’ Ludwig Van” with violence summarises A Clockwork Orange perfectly, something with so much craft, making an unconventional masterpiece. However my favourite would be Singin’ in the Rain along with its inclusion within the film and certain scenes, in the mugging and rape scene as Alex starts to beat Mr Alexander it is clever and fun, a real highlight in the film. It’s a moment that you seem to find hard to remove from ya Gulliver!

A Clockwork Orange is a classic and a film which is part of history, another piece added by the fantastic Stanley Kubrick. Its unconventional, but that’s it likability, its unique, fun and exciting but at the same time it can shock its audience and eventually leave them with a few questions. I can’t find fault in Kubrick’s creation, maybe due to its uniqueness there is not much you can compare with, however every element seems to work and the end product is nothing short from flawless.

 

 

The Human Race (2014)

Genre: Action, Horror, Sci-fi

Director: Paul Hough

Writers: Paul Hough

Starring: Paul McCarthy-Boyington, Eddie McGee, Trista Robinson

Rating: ★½

The Human Race has just entered UK Cinemas and this is something very much to my surprise; after viewing this low-budget mess of a film not so long ago I was very unimpressed and somewhat annoyed at Paul Hough’s creation. A fun and interesting concept is tangled within a very unorganised and unstructured plot, coming across very unentertaining and confusing, whilst performances and direction are again something that isn’t creditable.

The story centres on a group of 80 people, they find themselves standing on an unconventional race track but clueless to how they arrived. They have been plucked out of normal life and routine and now find themselves with those from all walks of life, young and old, homeless and upper-class, athletic and disabled. A voice in their heads speaks, a voice heard by each individual within their own language, it delivers simple clear rules and instructions “If you are lapped twice, you die. If you step off the path, you die. If you touch the grass, you will die. Race… or die.” Panic, terror and humour sets in but as a member falls onto the grass their head explodes ruling out any doubts, it seems that they all have to race till death and there will be only one victor.

The concept itself is something that is very strong and even reading that brief summary the film sounds inviting and action-packed but how the story is approached ruins all creditability. Our first main character in whom we follow for the opening scenes is wiped out, killed and exploded within the first seconds of the race, from then onwards we follow and recap the lives of a few more competitors and a final set of racers seem to emerge. At the forefront are two friends, Justin and Eddie (Paul McCarthy-Boyington, Eddie McGee) one is a likable children’s worker, the other an ex-veteran, alongside them are a deaf French pair who had previously been jogging before being transported to this undisclosed location. However as the voice counts down as another competitor dies our characters stories and plot lines seem to vanish, leading up to an absolute ridiculous ending which is unexplainable, wasteful and annoying to watch due to its confirmation to the fact you’ve wasted over an hour watching this film.

The acting is at times shocking, it comes across very unnatural and robotic somewhat dated too, it really doesn’t shout out 2014. In some respects the criticisms can be swayed to the script and poor writing, something that obviously didn’t give the actors and actresses much to work with. The deaf pair are completely annoying, their previous recap story is believable someone heartfelt however within the race what unfolds is truly horrible with even an unnecessary and slightly weird necrophilia rape scene taking up the screen. To accompany the overall concept on the list of positives the effects weren’t amazing but when heads start exploding in numbers it looked fun and provided some rare (very rare) entertainment.

This although a review of The Human Race is also a warning, I was annoyed I watched and experienced this master-class in being a terrible film but if I had paid to see this in the cinema I would simply… step on the grass. A fun concept and some equally entertaining head explosions and effects don’t unfortunately for Peter Hough balance out a really poorly developed film, one which is neither enjoyable nor easily watchable.

Her (2014)

Genre: Comedy, Sci-fi, Romance

Director: Spike Jonze

Writer: Spike Jonze

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson

Rating:★★★★★

Her is certainly one of the most connecting films I have watched in recent years making me experience a bundle of emotions from sadness to inspiration. The story along with the script, characters and acting is a real credit to the amazing writing and visual direction by director and writer Spike Jonze who has really created something special. It’s hard to find faults in one of this year’s big Oscar films and it certainly deserves its reputation and plaudits and in some respects deserves more as Joaquin Phoenix gives a simply great performance as the lead character along with the rest of cast.

Set in a futuristic time, technology is thriving and as a civilisation we are thriving with it. We follow Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) a New Yorker and letter writer who amazes us along with everyone else with his compassion, charm and romance however to our surprise we find that he is actually a lonely man in the final stages of a harsh divorce. Spending his nights choosing between the dilemma of internet porn and video games Theodore is hooked when he sees an advertisement for a new operating system OS1 labelled “It’s not just an operating system, it’s a consciousness”. Upon installing his newly purchased OS1 he is matched up with Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), the voice behind his system, a programmed conscious who can evolve just like Theodore himself. Being his only and new founded company Samantha becomes more than an operating system for Theodore and the two together fall in love.

It is amazing to watch how an operating system voice with only audible presence can have a huge impact and connection to not only Theodore but us as an audience. However after falling in love and forming a relationship the obvious problems form as Samantha is only a voice but there is more than it first seems which causes harm for our main characters. Despite Samantha’s pure and high intelligence helping Theodore in his work and everyday life, he still finds conflict within himself, finding himself mostly withdrawn at times and alongside the ongoing divorce he gets pulled down. As for Samantha finding and discovering new things and feelings isn’t always good and the popularity of OS1 and relationships seem to grow and grow along with the operating system’s intelligence proving to be a disastrous thing.

Spike Jonze has written possibly one my favourite scripts of all time and one of the most diverse screenplays. The whole concept in itself is unique and this unconventional romance is somewhat refreshing and certainly pleasant. At times I was in tears due to the witty and hilarious comedy, by far one of the most entertaining scenes this year to watch is Theodore’s encounter with a lost alien whilst playing a video game. On the other hand at times there was some real emotional pain and heart-felt sadness when you could see the despair in Theodore and even the sorrow in Samantha’s voice as the story closes. It was too inspirational, showing sometimes the message of just doing what makes you happy or as Theodore’s friend Amy says “you know what, just fuck it”. It was a story that slowly grew on me than eventually took over and became amazing, the only flaws are the slightly perverted moments but those can easily be overlooked. It was also inspirational as one day I hope to be able to write a screenplay or script with such emotional impact and connection with the audience as Her achieves.

The cast give fantastic performances and for me a big surprise was how the role of Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore was overlooked by the Oscar committee as it was truly great. Instantly we felt for our protagonist, we felt his harsh and deepest emotions and when happiness approach him it approached us, and that was due to a combination of excellent writing but even better acting. Scarlet Johansson although only a voice was brilliant, I think it needs to be pointed out that it must be harder to communicate emotion with only tone available yet it was completely believable. Amy Adams too as Theodore’s friend Amy was very believable, apparently Jonze made the actors spend forced time together in a locked room to make them all form a connection. It was an idea that really worked as the dialogue and delivery was so real it felt like it wasn’t even acting.

Jonze’s direction too was great along with the cinematography, a flurry of scenery shots of New York’s skyline and coast beaches hogged the screen and it was awe-inspiring. The shots were mainly long and simple but so beautifully crafted as it created a warm glow and feeling. At times it was the simplicity which made the emotion stand out the most.  Along with Best Motion Picture, Original Screenplay and Production Design, Her achieved two nominations for its achievement in score and music something I found joy in. Not only are the scenes where a happy Theodore and Samantha sing together made up created songs pleasant to watch, but it is pleasant to listen to with such a beautifully lyrical song made. The “Moon Song” is something to listen out for within the film.

Her is hard to fault, maybe the perverted scenes were unnecessary but at times it did show us Theodore’s character and his struggle, however it is something that can’t and really shouldn’t bring down this film at all.  Jonze’s creation is a real treat to experience, leaving you somewhat sad not only due to the story but that the film ended and with it the experience and our time with Theodore and Samantha who we bond with an amazing amount. It is a film worth-while to watch and one worth the huge reputation and praise; it is Her’s ability to be outstanding in so many aspects that makes this film complete and something real special. Easily watchable, entertaining, inspiring and emotional it is a film which is firmly making its way as a modern great alongside a personal favourite.

Dark Skies (2013)

Genre: Sci-fi, Horror

Director: Scott Stewart

Writers: Scott Stewart

Staring: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo

Rating: ★★★★

It’s not very often sci-fi films attempt to horrify their audiences, I can’t think of many successful attempts in fact since M. Night Shyamalan’s 2001 Signs and its that film coincidently that Dark Skies plays very much to. Films focusing on “aliens” all have the potential to be frightening due to the real life possibly of their existence, well for some, however it’s making them believable within the film that decides its success. Dark Skies does this with intelligence, using the slow burning approach and showing the protagonists at the end. For me the Dark Skies is a suspense, thrilling sci-fi horror with a great storyline, cast and crew.

Throughout the film we follow the Barrett family, peacefully living life in the suburbs they are then shadowed by a series of disturbing events that eventually leads them to find out a deadly force is after them. The family as a whole is already experiencing their own individual problems but those that won’t compare to what awaits for them. Lacey and Daniel (Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton) the parents and head of the household are both struggling with their jobs and have a money issue causing conflict in their relationship, whereas their kids Sam and Jesse (Kadan Rockett, Dakota Goyo) are struggling to fit in and make friends. The family is slowly drifting apart, something that they have to change especially to survive.

As previously mentioned a series of unexplained disturbing events occur, I shall not reveal those but allow for yourself to be surprised and entertained. Somewhat desperate and obviously terrified Lacey and Daniel seek help in form of a specialist, Edwin Pollard a researcher who follows those haunted by this deadly force. He explains how “the grays” have taken over and are preying on the Barret family, it is then the most terrifying thought for an audience occurs as he explains “people think of aliens as these beings invading our planet in some great cataclysm, destroying monuments and our natural resources. Bits it’s not like that at all. The invasion already happened”. It gives you shivers and from this point on the film breaks free and the action you come to expect happens all in a thrilling, amazing and simply brilliant final half hour.

The storyline can be viewed as bland or plain and predictable it’s easy to see why, however the twist in this film steers Dark Skies away from those negative labels. Scott Stewart writer and director plays homage to Signs (2001), although there’s no tin foil hat scene there is the typical “last supper” and small connections such as kids drawings, and the story of their first Fourth of July. Is this pure laziness? A lack of original ideas? For me Stewart has highlighted the success of Signs and is simply trying to replicate that, just like those play homage to such classics.

The acting was good, something you’d come to expect from a big release. Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton make for a believable portrayal of parents, worrying as a mother and being the “let off” as a dad. However I do feel if this film missed a trick or a key element it’s that stereotypical sci-fi eery score that makes those hairs stand up on the back of your neck. The special effects were also decent however making our protagonists very un-detailed is slightly disappointing as it could have been the difference between this film being a classic and just a cinema release.

In the whole Dark Skies is a great film and a good horror, when compared to those released around the same time it certainly wins. It’s possibly for me my favourite film with Extratestorials since Signs however it doesn’t quite beat it. If you’re looking for a very watchable film that has some scares and will keep you entertained then it’s certainly one to watch. This could possibly be one of my favourite films of this year, and in my view it’s simply great although flaws and room for improvement it’s certainly more than worth viewing.