Category Archives: 2000s

The Grudge (2004)

*. I’ve re-watched The Grudge a lot over the years. I think perhaps in part because I have so much trouble keeping the story straight. The non-linear narrative is only one complicating factor. There’s also the fact that Ju-on: The Grudge was actually the third movie in what had become a horror franchise. So there’s quite a lot of back story that is only brushed at here in a pretty superficial way. Then there’s also the fact that the characters of Matthew Williams and Peter Kirk, played by William Mapother and Bill Pullman, look so much alike. And finally let’s throw in how Kayako is insane, leaving Peter (and us) struggling to understand exactly what is going on with her, and why he kills himself.
*. But in the documentary “A Powerful Rage” included with the DVD star Sarah Michelle Gellar says she was drawn to the material because it demands intelligence of the audience. So I take that as a challenge. I mean, has watching so many less-complicated movies made me too stupid to follow this one?
*. Usually I manage to get things straight by the end. Of course there are parts of the story to balk at. The first of these has to do with figuring out just what kind of a ghost Kayako is. Just like her shadowy appearance she seems kind of amorphous. Is she liquid or a gas? Her locus of power is the house she died in, but she can travel anywhere in a pinch. She can also teleport from place to place, but most of the time has to crawl around on the floor. Mainly, I think, so she can look scary.
*. Perhaps the biggest thing about her to flag though, at least for a Western audience, is that she kills indiscriminately. “It never forgives. It never forgets.” That was one of the film’s tag lines. But Kayako kills people who have done her no wrong and who she has no memory of. This is one of the themes of J-horror that seemed most alien at the time, but that American audiences would soon be embracing. We were used to monsters who killed sexually promiscuous teenagers or just plain assholes. But here you only have to be in the wrong place at the wrong time to get iced. I think it says something about our evolving sense of justice that we adapted to this point of view so readily.
*. I should say that, given the general rules of the curse (screenwriter Stephen Susco: “If you go in the house, you’re doomed”), the real estate agent here must not be liking his chances. Poor John Cho didn’t get off so easy in the 2020 reset (or sidequel, or whatever you want to call it).
*. Another J-horror theme that was something a bit new was the revenge of the submissive/repressed woman. Not rape-revenge, because Kayako isn’t raped. Indeed her fantasy is to engage in an affair. She wants to break free. Was this something Western audiences identified with? Perhaps not as much.
*. “It is said in Japan . . .” I wonder if this is total bullshit. I suspect it is. I don’t think people in Japan are any more likely to believe in such stories as people living in any other country. Japan certainly has a long tradition of ghost tales, but the way Kayako behaves and is motivated seems new. Someone should make a horror movie where a police officer in a parka says “It is said in Canada . . .” before giving us some line about the Wendigo.
*. I like this version of The Grudge. In fact it may be favourite Western J-horror. Though the fragmented narrative is hard to follow it allows for a series of excellent mini-climaxes before the end, instead of having to wait, as in The Ring, for a big reveal. So I’ll totally disagree with Roger Ebert’s dismissal of the film’s pace and structure: “I eventually lost all patience. The movie may have some subterranean level on which the story strands connect and make sense, but it eluded me. The fragmented time structure is a nuisance, not a style.” Neither a nuisance nor a style, I would say.
*. The suspense is well handled in scenes that don’t blow us away with gore. Instead Kayako seems to mainly scare people to death, with scenes ending on a scream (or Toshio’s mouth hanging open, or the reveal of Yoko’s missing jaw, which both provide the same visual cue for screaming). This makes for some great chills, as seeing people being scared is itself scary. It’s silly that Susan wants to jump in bed and cover up her head to get away from Kayako, but it’s one of those things that knock us back down the stairs into childhood (as Stephen King would say). On the other hand, the way some characters become catatonic strikes me as less effective.
*. One thing I don’t much care for are the performances. Gellar is just OK. Jason Behr’s character is kind of pointless, and is even made to appear a bit ridiculous at the end, which is not at all how the original plays its final act. Some of the problem may have been due to director Takashi Shimizu not knowing English. The script, however, also leaves some of the characters with not much to work with. Behr and Pullman in particular seem a bit lost, left to wander around in a daze.
*. Wardrobe. I think most of the time if you don’t notice it, it’s doing its job. So why does Maria Kirk look so glammed up when Karen goes to visit her? That dress is really making a statement. I mean, I guess she’s planning on going out later, but I don’t recall there being any explanation for it and it just seems really odd. Especially in the middle of the day.
*. J-horror, at least the Western taste for it, didn’t last long. I’d call this movie its peak, at least among English-language productions. The sequels and sidequel would mark a falling off, just as the rest of the Ring franchise would prove to be. Nevertheless they were on to something here and Hollywood did at least manage to go carpetbagging for a couple of respectable remakes. That’s pretty good, and as much as we could have hoped for.

Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)

*. Is J-horror over now? And, if so, can we say, looking back, that it ever amounted to much?
*. I think most Western audiences know of J-horror only through its two greatest exemplars: Ringu (1998) and Ju-on: The Grudge (2002). Both movies were remade by Hollywood (as The Ring and The Grudge respectively), and both were only instalments in what turned into long-running horror franchises in both countries. Indeed, in the case of Ju-on: The Grudge we’re talking about the third feature in a series that actually began with a couple of shorts (Katasumi and 4444444444), though it was the first instalment to receive a theatrical release.
*. Outside of these two franchises the translation to English-language productions has been thin. Dark Water (2005) was good. One Missed Call (2008) wasn’t. Nothing to get that excited, or frightened, by. Since then Hollywood has gone back to making Godzilla Japan’s number-one entertainment export.
*. This being the third Ju-on movie, I think most people coming to it at the time probably already knew something of the back story or (as we like to style these things now) mythology. That would help, as none of it is explained here. But even if they were up to speed the narrative is so random they probably felt some confusion. There’s certainly more a sense of something episodic in this movie than was the case with the American remake, though it does hold together in a loose fashion. If you’re just coming to it cold, however, I think you’d likely be lost. I know I was, even having seen The Grudge several times.
*. Watching this movie alongside The Grudge I had much the same feeling as watching Ringu and The Ring. Some of the effects here are really crude. Kayako’s ghostly form hovering over the old lady looks especially bad. Hollywood was able to help things along in this department, as well as putting together a somewhat tighter ship in terms of the script (the opposite of what Gore Verbinski did with Ringu). I think the remake is a scarier movie. But, even with the language barrier, I much prefer the performances in Ju-on and think the presentation has a kind of honest simplicity about it that works. Kayako’s head looming out of the bathroom stall looks awful, but still manages to be terrifying.

*. Overall, I think this is an excellent movie. Some of the parts don’t fit all that well, especially the Izumi chapter. This adds to the episodic character of the story that I’ve mentioned. But it also has a strong sense of personal style, as in the delightful nod to Fuseli’s “Nightmare,” or the final montage of empty streets. But to return to my initial question, was J-horror really anything special? If Ju-on: The Grudge is one of its greatest achievements, and I think it is, it seems fair to ask.
*. I think J-horror was good, and important. Despite being derivative in some regards (even of itself, including some straight steals in this movie from Ringu), several of the qualities that would become typical of J-horror were necessary and new. Among these I’d flag the monstrous women (empowered? rising up against male oppression?), the importance of technology as a spiritual medium (these aren’t your grandparents’ ghosts, they can even use cell phones!), and the destruction of the innocent.
*. Hollywood would pick up on all of this, without doing much that was interesting with any of it. Despite having their pick of the crop, I don’t think the American version of J-horror was very successful. For some reason the male leads in both The Ring and The Grudge strike me as particularly weak, as though the producers didn’t know what to do with movies where men were secondary. Note, for example, that Rika doesn’t have a boyfriend in this film, and returns to the haunted house to save her female friend. Was that just not going to fly in the U.S.?
*. The real thing here however is that even twenty years and many films later this still holds up as great entertainment, with a handful of unforgettable moments. Rough around the edges to be sure, but nevertheless it’s proven durable.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

*. It’s a skit. There’s a perfunctory story about the champ taking a fall and having to achieve redemption. There are various characters who are just quick sketches, including Ricky Bobby himself. From this a series of gags are strung. Not physical gags so much, but the crude humour of people behaving stupidly or in a vulgar manner.
*. I say that without being censorious. I thought the foul-mouthed Bobby kids were fun. I just mention it because that’s really all there is to say. Talladega Nights isn’t a satire of anything or a movie that’s making any kind of bigger point.
*. Sacha Baron Cohen. Damn. Could they have given him a single funny line, or did they just think that having a gay NASCAR driver with a French accent would be enough? Given how he’s presented in the third act (his husband missing, his motivation in racing Ricky complicated) it seems as though the writers didn’t have any clear idea of what to do with him. Maybe they just figured he’d improvise.
*. The DVD comes with a lot of funny extras. Even the commentary with director Adam McKay and “friends” is done as a feature-length comedy track. Indeed, I found it just as funny as the movie itself. Which is to say, not hilarious but worth a smile or two. That said, the whole effort — movie, commentary, extras — is just a collection of random funny people saying and doing occasionally funny things. Also there are cars racing around a track and crashing. I thought it was OK, but I won’t be bothering with it again. It will live on in a couple of memes.

Insomnia (2002)

*. I mentioned in my notes on Erik Skjoldbjærg’s Insomnia that it had grown on me since the first time I saw it. Returning to Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia had the opposite effect. It didn’t make much of an impression on me when I first saw it and this time around I thought nothing of it at all.
*. You pretty much have to begin by making comparisons. Al Pacino is a total fish out of water playing an L.A. detective sent to remote Alaska to investigate a homicide. I had a really hard time buying that. Yes, in the first film Jonas was Swedish and working in Norway, making him an outsider as well, but here it seems especially weird.
*. Much more is made of the relationship between the detective, Will Dormer, and the killer, Walter Finch (Robin Williams). With such big stars in the leading roles they naturally wanted more interaction. But more is less.
*. For starters, there is none of the repressed sexuality that I saw fueling the two men in the first movie. Here Finch doesn’t seem sexual at all, or perhaps a bit gay. It’s hard to tell. Meanwhile, Dormer doesn’t come on to the high school girl but rather she makes a brief attempt at seducing him that goes absolutely nowhere. The hotel clerk apparently goes to bed with him as a pity fuck at the end but I thought that was just plain stupid and clearly didn’t mean anything. Except that she was wearing a cross and I suppose coming at that point in the story, after hearing his confession, it was meant to represent a kind of atonement. Or something.
*. That the film totally ignores this element of repression makes what screenwriter Hillary Seitz says on the DVD commentary so surprising: “for me this is a remake of the subtext from the Norwegian movie, it’s all that juicy stuff that was such an undercurrent in a very Scandinavian movie where it’s basically unsaid the entire time but you know it’s there, it’s crackling under the surface, that’s what I took to remake because I thought that was so fascinating.” But that juicy stuff is precisely what is excised here!

*. Instead of this angle, Seitz seems more interested in the question of Dormer’s culpability in the murder of Hap. Was it an accident, or an accident on purpose? I have to say I found this an inessential point in the original — I assumed, as I did here, that it was an honest mistake, and I don’t see where, as per Christopher Nolan, the scene in this film “sustains multiple interpretations.” As a result, I didn’t see the point in playing it up so much, culminating in an awkward scene at the end where Ellie doesn’t go after Walter but instead insists on getting a rambling, incoherent confession out of Will. The film would have been much better without that.
*. In furtherance of this problematizing of the shooting there is more background this time out, giving Dormer a motive for wanting to kill his partner. But where the first film left you guessing if there were something else going on, the extra information here only comes across as inadequate. We can understand Will being relieved that Hap won’t be able to testify against him, but can we really believe that he killed him to keep him silent? Another example of more being less.
*. Yet another example: In this film I found myself questioning why Kay’s friend was so reluctant to tell the police about the victim’s relationship with an older man. Why was that such a big secret? That’s something I might have asked about the original as well, but it never crossed my mind.
*. One more: Ellie is tipped off in Walter’s cabin by the sight of Kay’s dress, a moment that I’m sure is meant to recall Starling’s sight of the death moth at the end of The Silence of the Lambs. Only the dress didn’t register with me at all. How did Ellie recognize it? What was really going on here? I’m afraid I missed something, perhaps as a direct result of the movie trying to put too much in.
*. I’m guessing that the name “Dormer” was meant to make us think of sleep. The town’s name of Nightmute is even less subtle. We are not in the land of subtlety or understatement, as we were in the Norwegian original.
*. Critics liked seeing Robin Williams being cast against type as a psycho (a role he’d follow up immediately with One Hour Photo). I guess he’s OK, though he comes across as more just odd and distracted than dangerous. In my initial notes I had also scribbled something about whether he was playing a bit gay. I’m still not sure. According to Seitz “Walter has a bit of a crush on Will,” but that’s mainly down to his police envy and I’m not sure if it was meant in any kind of a sexual way.
*. By the way, why, on the DVD commentary, does Seitz refer to Walter as a loser? A loner, yes, but he’s an author of a series of crime novels, some of which have even received a hardcover publication. Wouldn’t that make him something of a local celebrity? Or is every single man a loser by definition?
*. Dormer, meanwhile, just seems dazed and sleepy. Actually, he looks like Al Pacino playing someone who is dazed and sleepy. I think this is very poor performance. Maybe one of his worst. And I was preparing my notes on Cruising the same week I was writing this movie up.
*. Hilary Swank fills out the leads playing a bright-eyed young detective. She’s a lot less interesting than the mature Hilde in the original, and again there is no hint of any romantic opening there for Dormer. Instead she is there to perform an annoying plot function and then be sent off a sadder and a wiser woman, having learned a moral lesson. I felt sorry for Swank. Oh well. She’d win an Oscar a couple of years later.
*. It’s nowhere near as interesting a movie to look at, opting for a postcard Alaska (actually Squamish, British Columbia except for some of the aerial shots). The light motif isn’t worked at all, with magnified aural cues and rough editing cuts made to do the work of representing Dormer’s condition. Again, less successfully than it was handled in the original.
*. We aren’t spared a Hollywood ending of sacrifice and salvation against an epic background. The very thing Skjoldbjærg had set out to avoid in his film. Again the ambiguity and reticence of the original is dispensed with and we get a keyed-up exchange between the dying Dormer and his student Ellie. Though I doubt Nolan had a lot of choice. When you get down to it, this is a movie that even judged on its own terms plays pretty slack and doesn’t register as very accomplished at all. But for Nolan it was a step toward a lot of bigger if not necessarily better things. He’d shown he could, and would, follow the rules, which is the kind of product you need on your CV need to fall upward in the movie biz.

Species: The Awakening (2007)

*. No number in the title, but this is Species IV. It was originally going to be called Species: Quattro, perhaps because it’s set partly in Mexico and was a U.S-Mexican co-production. As for The Awakening, I’m not sure what is being awakened here. Miranda isn’t waking up but dying, and the film itself seems more like a final chapter or epilogue to the series. At least it hasn’t been followed up (yet) with any further sequels.
*. Not a movie that I think many people saw when it came out (like Species III it premiered on the Sci Fi channel), and not one that I think many people think highly of today. But without wanting to just be perverse, I think it should be rated the most successful entry in the franchise.
*. I don’t mean that it’s the best Species movie. It was, however, done on a fraction of the budget of the first two films and without any of the star power. Ben Cross? Not a name I’d heard for a long time. It took a second for me to remember he was one of the runners in Chariots of Fire (1981). He’s been in a few things after that, none of them standing out very much. But I had seen him in Paperhouse (1988) — a film I’d mostly forgotten about, though I do have vague memories of thinking it was pretty good. He also played Spock’s father Sarek in the 2009 reboot of Star Trek.
*. What I mean by calling The Awakening the most successful Species movie is that it does a respectable job of the one thing that the other movies should have taken as their bread and butter: SF monster action. Again I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for saying this is very well handled, but there are several decent scenes in this movie where we get to see the aliens in action. In one Tom (Cross) is pursued by an evil flying nun and in another he has to go one-on-one against an alien cab driver. Then there’s a showdown between Miranda (Helena Mattsson) and Azura at the end that, again while not exceptional, is at least a decent slugfest. In the previous movies there was nothing as good.
*. The story takes the basic idea in a slightly different direction. Tom and an old colleague spliced Miranda together out of human and alien DNA. Tom went on to raise Miranda on his own (claiming to be her uncle) while his colleague . . . started a genetic chop-shop in a Mexican slum. When Miranda nears the end of her natural life cycle Tom has to hunt his old friend down to see if he can fix her up.
*. It’s not an idea that stands up to close inspection. I love how the reborn Miranda slimes her way out of her cocoon only to have perfect hair and makeup a few minutes later. Or maybe perfect hair and makeup are alien camouflage. Meanwhile, one of the few connecting points to the earlier films has Miranda able to absorb the contents of a book just by placing her hands on it (something that Sara did with a book on the rules of chess in Species III). And yet despite her vast knowledge (she holds “advanced degrees in biochemistry, comparative literature, and classics”) she has no self-awareness. Apparently she has never even questioned these abilities.
*. The movie is also coloured in the sickly blue-green aquarium tones that for some reason became very popular in SF movies around this time. Have we seen the last of them? They don’t seem quite as prevalent these days but I wouldn’t count them out.
*. In short, it’s cheap and silly but throws in some OK action sequences that are enough to make it, in my opinion, just as interesting as the other Species films. I certainly found it a big step up from Species III, and given what they had to work with I thought it did as good a job as Species or Species II. Looking back, this is a series that never made much out of its promising basic premise. None of these movies is particularly sexy or scary or funny or thrilling. I feel a little nervous about saying it, but a reboot wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Species III (2004)

*. As the title splashes cheaply across the screen we realize we’re in another world. I don’t mean in terms of the plot (that is, we’re not starting off on Mars here, as we did in Species II), but with regard to the quality of the filmmaking. After Species II tanked at the box office it’s clear that the producers were no longer willing to spend any money on this franchise. So while the first two movies had budgets of around $35 million each and theatrical releases, this one was done for far less (director Brad Turner says “probably an eighth” of what the others had to work with) and premiered on the Sci Fi channel.
*. How many good, or even just watchable, original movies have there been on Syfy (as it’s now called)? Dog Soldiers back in 2002 was OK. Leprechaun Returns was, in my lonely opinion, the best of the Leprechaun films. Aside from that I’ve got nothing. When the Sharknado franchise is your main claim to fame you know where you rank. Still, at least they’re making movies. That’s something.
*. I hope Natasha Henstridge, who showed up for one day of filming, got paid for her cameo at the beginning here, where she gives birth to Sara (the next generation of Species creature). This film is a direct sequel to Species II, picking up in the ambulance where that film left off and even throwing in a montage of clips with some exposition in voiceover from the earlier movies. Though I have to think that if you’d seen those movies you wouldn’t need this refresher, and that if you hadn’t seen them you wouldn’t be likely to be here.
*. While the first two movies were far from classics they did have a kind of quirky charm in their different ways. Species III isn’t nearly as much fun. It feels awkwardly put together (the character of the half-breed Amelia, for example, is introduced far too late) and it wasn’t long before I’d lost all interest in what was going on.
*. Some of the practical effects are OK to watch. The Sil creature is slightly redesigned and made into something simpler. There’s a younger cast to bring the franchise more in line with what was always its natural demographic.
*. I keep coming back, however, to that clunkiness I mentioned. The way obvious plot points keep having to be vocalized. (Example: the scene where Dr. Abbot gives Sara her name from off of a Sara Lee cake box. “You don’t have a name,” he says. Then, looking at the box, “Sara. Yes, Sara.”) The clichés like the chess game by the fireplace for our two attractive young leads to get to know one another a little better. The items that are introduced that we know are just being highlighted for us because they’re going to be used later. This is all clunky as hell.
*. Not a total write-off, at least if you’re not expecting much from the third entry in a series that was never that great to begin with. But really you’d have to be a completist to want to bother.

Next Floor (2008)

*. An early short by Denis Villeneuve, before his career took of with a string of critical hits (Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049). Of his later work only Enemy strikes me as a work of real genius, though I’ll admit he has a unique look, which is something that isn’t easy to achieve in the current environment, especially directing SF-Fantasy fare.
*. The set-up is pure allegory. A table full of society types are stuffing their faces full of exotic dishes. Then, when they grow too heavy, they crash through the floor to the next level of the empty building they’re in, table and all. The maitre d’ calls in “next floor” and the waiters and musicians and other attendants scramble downstairs to set things up again. But the same cartoon descent is repeated over and over.

*. The colours and the appearance of the food recalls nothing so much as the painting “The Gross Clinic” by Thomas Eakins. But while repellent, most of the entrées do look edible. It’s just that they’re grotesquely supersized and the way the diners are eating is made to seem even more disgusting than the sight of people eating normally looks. The assembled guests are an off-putting bunch as well, even before they’re turned into statuary by the accumulating plaster of their violent relocations. Clearly we’re meant to be on the side of the hired help, at least until the final shot.
*. The allegory I mentioned is pretty clear. We’re in Buñuel territory here, with a modern retelling of The Exterminating Angel. The diners are the haute bourgeoisie, or capitalists more generally, and they are literally digging their own graves in the abandoned building. Yes, the system is collapsing due to its own contradictions. The most glaring contradiction being that they are eating themselves out of house and home: consuming to such excess (not just in terms of the volume of the food they’re served, but the endangered species on the menu) that it all becomes a suicidal race to the bottom.

*. Growing social inequality has led to a unsustainable state of affairs, but what happens isn’t revolution. The waiters aren’t rising up against the diners here. Instead they are content to continue playing their part, giving the upper classes enough rope (or food) to hang themselves. That this is deliberate is indicated by the cold eye the maitre d’ casts on the serial catastrophe. He knows what’s going on, and is prepared to let it happen.
*. I’m not sure how political such a message is. Are the lower classes to remain passive and simply allow their social superiors to destroy themselves? This question is made more complicated by the accusatory glare of the maitre d’ that the film ends with. For me this asks “Whose side are you on?” And which side is really worse? Is it better to be an enabler than to be one of the destroyers? Isn’t an enabler a destroyer too? Questions very much for our time.

Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

*. Since Godzilla first stomped Tokyo back in 1954’s Gojira, 2004 was the legendary monster’s fiftieth anniversary. To the credit of Toho Studios they decided to celebrate by throwing a party: a sort of kaiju celebrity roast with a line-up of all-stars: Gigan, Anguirus, Rodan, Mothra, King Caesar, Zilla (the much-maligned, as he is again here, dinosaur from Hollywood’s 1998 Godzilla), Ebirah, Hedorah (the Smog Monster), King Ghidorah and the giant bugs and spiders whose names I never bothered to learn. In fact pretty much everyone shows up, including the faeries from Infant Island and, as bad guys, the Xiliens.
*. I think the only one who didn’t get an invite was Mechagodzilla, which was fine by me since I was getting tired of him. Even Minilla shows up, and . . . isn’t quite as irritating as I thought he’d be.
*. Providing a brief plot synopsis is impossible. Basically the Xiliens are plotting to take over the Earth so they can feed on our mitochondria. Instead of just wiping us out with their obviously superior technology they figure it would be more fun to destroy civilization first by unleashing the kaiju on various cities (Shanghai, Sydney, Paris, etc.). You-know-who (“the most destructive weapon on Earth”) is our last chance to stop them.
*. That’s not the complicated part. The complicated part has to do with the human story. Or really superhuman story, since our heroes on the Earth Defence Force are mutants with superhuman powers. Their top gun is Ozaki, who can fight on a motorbike like Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible II and do all kinds of Matrix-style martial-arts moves when battling the Xilien leader (named, simply, X).

*. I was getting ready to say something snarky and dismissive about Don Frye, a former MMA fighter who I don’t think would make many studio Z-lists, but he’s actually well cast here as a gruff Cap’n Steampunk. Also very good is Kazuki Kitamura as X, who goes into fits every time Godzilla throws down another of his kaiju champions. In such a role you might as well ham it up, and he certainly does.

*. But did we need so much going on? You’d better enjoy seeing Godzilla getting buried in ice (a scene recalling the end of Godzilla Raids Again). It’s going to be a long time — over an hour! — before you see him again. That gives you some idea of how much effort they put into the human/superhuman story here.
*. Whether you approve or not will depend on taste. Director Ryuhei Kitamura wanted this movie to be more a throwback to the Godzilla movies of the ’70s (the Showa Era), with less CGI and more men slogging it out in rubber suits. That part works pretty well, but the human story is more directly derived from The Matrix, especially with Ozaki going full Neo at the end. So this part of the movie flags a bit because there’s no way to do those kind of fight scenes in-camera.
*. Kitamura thought of Final Wars as a kind of “Best of” album and at least that’s how the second half plays. Reviews were mixed. I found it to be mostly noisy, mindless fun. I did appreciate the throwback elements, but thought the human story suffered from effects overload and a not very original or interesting alien plot. In short, it’s a party flick. It also marks the end of the Millennium series, and really the end of Godzilla as we knew him. It would be another ten years before Shin Godzilla would kick things off again, and take things in a new direction. Tradition be damned, CGI here we come!

Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)

*. Unlike the other Godzilla movies of the Millennium series, Tokyo S.O.S. is a direct sequel to the previous film, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. It pretty much picks up where that one left off, with Mechagodzilla in shop getting repairs done so he’ll be able to fight Godzilla when he (inevitably) comes back.
*. Realizing that this isn’t a new plot in any way, things are complicated a bit with the return of the faeries (or Shobijin) from Infant Island. They’re upset that this version of Mechagodzilla was made out of the old Godzilla’s bones. The bones need to be returned to the ocean. If that’s done, then Mothra will fight to defend Japan from Godzilla.
*. This doesn’t make much sense, as Mothra comes to Japan to fight Godzilla anyway, even teaming up with Mechagodzilla. Furthermore, given how these things play out I think Mechagodzilla offers somewhat better odds at taking out Godzilla than Mothra, who only seems capable of dying a tragic death as she dissolves into golden pixie dust. For some reason Mothra’s larvae always seem to do a better job at handling the big guy. Luckily they come to help out too.

*. The reappearance of the faeries signals that Tokyo S.O.S. is a throwback to some of the more fanciful Godzilla movies of the Showa period. Mechagodzilla even gives Godzilla a giant judo flip in their big fight. And the end, which has the hero (a mechanic named Chujo) jumping out of Mechagodzilla while his friend ejects from a jet flying below him in order to catch him in his lap, is one of the silliest moments in the entire franchise.
*. The lightness, however, helps make up for the fact that this is very much more of the same. There’s even the exact same plot device of the hero having to enter into the downed Mechagodzilla at the end in order to bring it back to life for a final battle. The exact same thing was done in the previous movie, which is too soon for such repetition.
*. I guess I’d rate this slightly higher than Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. The fights are a bit more exciting, and there are a few nice touches, albeit very quick. The mines going off in Tokyo Bay, for example, marking Godzilla’s approach. Or the vapour trails that fill the sky when a host of rockets are launched. I really admired that shot, but then had to laugh when so many of the rockets, presumably “locked on target,” go splashing into the water without even hitting Godzilla. I mean, I know he’s indestructible, but you’d think he’d be hard to miss.
*. In any event, this was all marking time waiting for the next entry, which would be a 50th birthday party for our favourite giant lizard. With everyone invited!

Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002)

*. A Godzilla movie that was generally well received but which I found disappointing.
*. It feels tired. This was, I believe, Mechagodzilla’s fourth outing (after Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, Terror of Mechagodzilla, and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II), though as per usual in the Millennium Godzilla movies it’s a standalone entry that doesn’t take into account any previous movies other than the original Gojira (way back in 1954). What this means is that this Mechagodzilla, named Kiryu, is something a bit different, being a “bio-robot” that is part machine and part clone made out of the bones of the original Godzilla that was killed at the end of Gojira.
*. That’s something sort of new, and the reveal of Godzilla’s bones is the movie’s one good moment. The rest is just all of the usual stuff. Crowds of people running through the streets as Godzilla looms up behind them. Jets and tanks firing rockets at Godzilla that do nothing at all. The jointure of the scientific and military establishments to come up with some way of defeating Godzilla. Hints at a love affair, but nothing more than hints. A cute kid. The long shots showing the monsters squaring off against each other. The giant tussle, with the protagonists slamming through office buildings.
*. Of course you can say that this was Toho’s twenty-sixth Godzilla movie so there wasn’t much chance they’d be doing anything new, even if originality was their aim (which I’m sure it wasn’t). Point taken. But even so, this isn’t even a very interesting Mechagodzilla movie. Once again he’s been kitted out with an array of weapons that are totally useless (rockets, “masers”, etc.). Except for the new Absolute-Zero Gun which fires out of his chest. This puts whatever it hits into a deep freeze that then causes it to shatter into atoms. At least that’s the idea. It works well on buildings. Does it work on Godzilla? Ha!
*. What’s especially awkward is the way Kiryu has to be operated by remote control from a squad of jets that hover just above it. Couldn’t they do this from their home base? That’s where everyone else is. I do like the JXSDF baseball caps though. Better than the G-Grabbers swag from Godzilla vs. Megaguirus.
*. It’s at least a change of tone from the previous movie, Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. That film was more into the supernatural where this one at least throws some fancy scientific talk into the air (like Kyru’s “computer DNA”). Even the idea that Kyru’s racial memory can be triggered by hearing Godzilla’s roar is kind of plausible. I mean, for a Godzilla movie.
*. Godzilla himself (or itself) has slimmed down a bit, and has pupils in his eyes again, but for some reason seems far more static. There are a number of shots where he appears to be a model rather than a man in a suit. Especially when he just stands still, not even moving his arms, as rockets are fired at him. Maybe they did use a model in those scenes. I guess it would have been safer.
*. The ending didn’t make any sense to me, but basically they were setting things up for the next movie, Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S., which would be a direct sequel/rematch. Which I would have thought a bit redundant at this point, but I guess they needed the championship rounds to settle things.