“Shin Godzilla”

shin_godzilla_us_posterIt’s difficult to make 31 movies about a single character without repeating yourself a few times, and Godzilla is one of those characters. Whether he’s the hero or the villain, an intelligent creature or a mindless beast, the basic elements of a Godzilla movie have remained the same for the most part over the last 52 years. That’s why when a movie like “Shin Godzilla” is added to this long-running series, it’s something special. Like its star monster, “Shin Godzilla,” manages to take a familiar form but still be something unusual and unique.

On its surface, there isn’t anything about “Shin Godzilla” that hasn’t been seen before in any other Japanese monster movie. Godzilla emerges from the ocean, stomps on Tokyo, and it’s up to a brave coalition of scientists, military and civil servants to put an end to his rampage. Where the movie deviates from the rest of the series is in how the threat of Godzilla evolves over the course of the movie, its more grounded setting, and how it uses Godzilla as an allegory for real-world events. It’s a strange Godzilla movie, but it’s definitely a Godzilla movie through and through. Continue reading

“Gnaw: Food of the Gods II”

affiche2You really have to hand it to “Gnaw: Food of the Gods II.” Most giant-rat movies would be content to feature a handful of people being chewed to death by radioactive rodents and call it a day. But “Gnaw” is one of those B-movies that uses its monsters merely as a starting-off point and builds from there. Yes, plenty of giant rats nibble on plenty of throats, but that doesn’t include the amoral scientist who is turned into walking cream of mushroom soup, the dream sequence where the hero turns into a giant while having sex, the synchronized swim meet that turns into a literal bloodbath or the 10-foot-tall 10-year-old who kicks off the movie’s plot.

The best place to begin talking about “Gnaw” is its hero, an unusually buff geneticist who is trying to find a cure for an experimental growth hormone used by one of his colleagues. The hormone is responsible for the gigantic fourth-grader’s unnatural size and aggression. (“I’d like you to meet my colleague,” the kid’s doctor says. “I’d like you to get the fuck out of my room!” the kid retorts.) Our hero, Neil, takes the hormone back to the lab, where he does science in a montage that feels like a training montage from a karate movie. Neil gets so STOKED about science that he even gives an enthusiastic fist pump at his computer. Continue reading

“KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park”

mv5botqxzti0ytitnjq3os00odkxlwfkn2qtmzg5mje5njbln2uzxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntc4njg5mja-_v1_I don’t mean it as an insult when I say that KISS is the ultimate triumph of style over substance. Musically, there isn’t much to distinguish them from Van Halen, Aerosmith, Boston, or any other arena-rock staple of the late 70s, but none of those other bands have had their own action figures or lunchboxes or credit cards. KISS combined the blunt, dick-swinging machismo of their music with a fire-breathing stage show and a look straight out of a Halloween party, creating something 13-year-old boys of any age could love. Their style elevated them from a rock band into comic-book characters. In other words, it’s hard to imagine another band that could have inspired the 1978 TV movie “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.” Who else but KISS would even attempt to make something that aspired to be “A Hard Day’s Night” crossed with “Star Wars?” Who else but KISS could survive its reputation as one of the worst movies ever made? Continue reading

“Class of 1999”

220px-class_of_1999The first thing you see in “Class of 1999” is a computer screen spelling out the dire state of American urban public schools in the not-too-distant future of 1999. The next thing you see is Stacy Keach’s snow-white mullet, which looks like someone bleached a Davy Crockett coonskin cap. All we needed to see to know the movie takes place in a bleak dystopian future was Keach’s hair, so that’s one storytelling misstep right off the bat. Continue reading

“Dead End Drive-In”

Dead_end_drive_in_posterMesopotamia may be the cradle of civilization, but Australia is the birthplace of the apocalypse. Ever since George Miller unleashed “The Road Warrior” on an unsuspecting public in 1981, its feral, stripped-down version of post-Armageddon life has been the go-to setting when movies take place at the end of the world. “Post-apocalyptic” has become synonymous with rusting DIY war machines and dusty leather bondage gear, thanks to the Aussies. That’s why it’s surprising and refreshing to find a movie like “Dead End Drive-In,” another Ozploitation production that shares a lot of elements with the world of Mad Max but nevertheless has something very different to say about what it would mean to live during the end of the world. Continue reading

“Sharknado: The Fourth Awakens”

Sharknado-The-4th-Awakens-posterI should be the ideal audience for “Sharknado: The Fourth Awakens.” I find a truly bad movie to be as much of a fascinating miracle as a truly good one, just for different reasons. I can excuse all kinds of bad filmmaking if the movie gives me something memorable that says something about who or what brought that movie into being. I have sat through “Samurai Cop” and “MAC and Me” and “Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare.” I have seen “Miami Connection” more times than “The Philadelphia Story.” I have sought out and received Tommy Wiseau’s autograph.

But there’s a difference between gonzo outsider art like “Miami Connection” or an audacious failure like “Jupiter Ascending,” and a lazy, pandering mess like “Sharknado: The Fourth Awakens.” Ever since the first movie, the “Sharknado” series has been sold as a ready-made entry into the “so bad it’s good” canon, but with each successive movie it proves more emphatically that there is no limit to “bad” before a movie boomerangs back to “good,” and that simply keeping its foot on the gas is no substitute for knowing where the hell it’s going in the first place. Continue reading

“Ghostbusters” (2016)

ghostbusters_ver6The original “Ghostbusters” is a movie that could only happen once, which ironically means Hollywood has been trying to make it happen again for decades. “Ghostbusters” is one of the best movies of the 1980s – certainly one of the most financially successful – and that’s only because exactly everything about it happened exactly the way it did. As crass and capitalistic Hollywood can be, the studio machines still can’t follow the same blueprints and produce a successful movie every time.

That’s not to say that the new “Ghostbusters” is a bad movie, by any means. It just isn’t the original “Ghostbusters,” which is a criticism you also can level against 99.9999999999 percent of movies. Even though the new movie doesn’t share the same alchemic spark that made the original so beloved, however, it’s nowhere near the flaming disaster that certain segments of the Internet wanted it to be. Continue reading