Tuesday, March 18, 2014



It would appear as though we have yet another Godzilla flick looming on the horizon. Yes, it is another Americanized attempt to recapture the energy and brand-name charm that fueled the original, perennial Japanese juggernaut that has thus far spawned at least two very underwhelming state side knock offs ( New World Pictures' hefty overhaul of 'The Return of Godzilla', rechristened 'Godzilla 1985' and the weak kneed 1998 eponymous effort by uber schlockmiester Roland Emmerich that seemed to find some odd, blockbuster leading man cred in Matthew Broderick). With still another group of ambitious souls so willing to take the burden upon themselves to make a serious bid at a high scale and truly worthy resurrection of the big screen presence of that most universally renowned of lumbering, heavily destructive creatures, I feel a tad motivated to take a glance back at the old school days of goofy, Japanese spectacles devoted to the art of big rubber abominations  causing a mad variety of disorder and, most paramount, knocking into and toppling a multitude of miniature model cities and the like.  

I fondly recall having my share of affectionate reactions to many of the 'Zilla epics I caught at random on cable television in my youth, not to mention that Saturday morning variant that unspooled in the late 70s (anyone remember the ridiculous 'Godzooky'?) and continue to be drawn to the more modern projects that seek to keep the 'big monster' or, 'Kaiju' as them Japanese folks call it, genre alive and well like big Guillermo del Toro's vivid monsters vs. robots opus 'Pacific Rim' (that one Beastie Boys video, 'Intergalactic' had it going on too).

So, in keeping close with this theme of big bastards wrecking stuff, it seems all too fitting to lend some quality column space to a perfect tie-in of sorts to this impending Godzilla entry as well as all the wonderful rubber monster fun stuffs so many of us have come to adore. 'Ultra Q' is an often goofy and quite charming little monochrome T.V. oddity born in Japan in January of 1966 as both a cash in on the booming Godzilla/Gamera (the flying turtle) craze of the era as well as the popularity of American anthology programs like 'The Twilight Zone' and 'Outer Limits'. The basic, on running premise is established almost straight away as an overly ambitious newspaper reporter/staff photographer and two foolhardy pilots (embodied by Hiroko Sakurai, Kenji Sahara and Yasuhiko Saijou respectively) rush to investigate a strange occurrence at an underground mine which leads to the discovery of a menacing lizard (a resourcefully reconfigured costume used in a previous Godzilla production) that our protagonists must find a way to thwart for the betterment of mankind. In succeeding entries in this series, the trio, with some help from time to time from a Professor Ichinotani (Ureo Egawa) find themselves at odds with all manner of startling oddities that threaten to upturn the fabric of their surrounding normalcy.

Thus the viewer is graced with a veritable menagerie of living, raging abstractions, creatures and fabrications equal parts menacing and completely absurd. Beings culled forth to fulfill the 'Ultra Q' roll call for mysterious villainy include (yet are hardly limited to) an aggro beasty born of volcanic rock, a big, dopy looking ape man, a freaky acorn-like monster that bounces around (a personal fave and the cover boy for this series' DVD reissue set), a massive snail with laser beam eyes and a big, bloated, loopy looking walrus that lurks in cloud formations. Each passing episode proves packed with great camp surprises and enough clever plotting to suffice the slight 25 minutes allotted to each of the 28 total separate scenarios.

'Ultra Q' was created by a man named Eiji Tsuburaya, who served as a veteran visual effects director at several Japanese production companies, the most famous of which, Toho Studios, assigned him to labor on many of the great 'Kaiju' productions including those incorporating both King Kong and Godzilla. Tsuburaya's initial desire for 'Ultra Q' ( initially entitled 'Unbalance') was for it to go in a more brooding and mysterious direction much in the Twilight Zone vein of things until the show's backer, The Tokyo Broadcasting System, pushed for the inclusion of all the curious monsters. 'Ultra Q' was to be the first in a long line of 'Ultra' series that continues to this very day although the most overly popular, 'Ultraman', was the first to be exported to other territories. No matter, the fine people at Shout! Factory have made the concerted effort to corral the whole of this 'Ultra Q' puppy into one fine and handy, 5 disc DVD package so we simple American fools can soak it up ourselves. The show looks as good as it can for being some 50 odd years old and many of its romping creations may just prove unavoidably addictive to the true cult cinema fanatic. One of the most expensive television undertakings in its native land in its time, 'Ultra Q' may have aged in the direction of visually quaint but that does not discredit its place in the history of fantastic storytelling. Recommended to those who dig their monsters with a solid dose of infectious tackiness. More info here-http://www.shoutfactory.com/product/ultra-q-complete-series

THE LAST 5 FILMS I'VE SEEN (as of 3/19/2014)

1. Birth of the Living Dead. (First Run Features)- Again with the little movie that started all of this 'Warm Bodies', Zombie Walk, 'Walking Dead' hyperbole. George A. Romero and several of his legendary, debut feature's stout admirers (including producer Gale Anne Hurd and indie madman Larry Fessenden, who helped pull this documentary together) wax historic and delve into yet another intricate analysis of 'Night of the Living Dead', its' genesis and subsequent, lasting impact (positive and otherwise) on the horror community and pop culture in general. Plenty of note is made of the prevalent political and social upheaval at the time of this film's conception (the late 60s) and how said factors may/may not have injected influence into the project. The most compelling factor contained within this documentary, for me at least, are the nuts and bolts details of the piecing together of a grassroots, independent (before being 'Independent' was cool) feature film against all the expected odds and shortcomings that these sort of things almost naturally come into contact with. Not at all a landmark accomplishment but 'Birth of the Living Dead' should appease most film nerds and N.O.T.L.D. completests

2. Wicked Blood. (eOne Entertainment)- Serviceable criminal antics and melodramatics set in Baton Rouge for maximum Southern seasoning. A bright young lass (that little mrs. sunshine herself, Abigail Breslin) sets to the task of double dealing her way out of a suffocating familial drug dealing operation lorded over with a firm certainty by her stone serious uncle (Sean Bean). The plot proper involves many of the usual devices and beats suited to this sort of pot boiling endeavor. There's a rival drug dealer (James Purefoy) holding a significant secret, a knuckleheaded henchman (Jake-pale imitation of Gary-Busey), the dedicated dope cooker (Lew Temple, often shown getting high on his own supply) and the requisite number of shots of people pointing guns at one another. Nothing much here to dub as astonishing, but it might just do the time killing, rainy day movie rental trick.


3. Unidentified. (Dark Sky Films)- A gaggle of solid 'bros' do the getaway trek to sin city deluxe, Las Vegas. Along the way, the far and away most out of place of the bunch, a goon with a YouTube fixation (Eric Artell) convinces the group to detour into an abandoned testing site where some predictably unnerving events unfold leading to a slowly manifesting, other worldly stain on the remainder of their vacation. Once in Vegas the lads set forth to drink, rabble and (near fatally) gamble their way into oblivion. This flick works to a fair degree in spite of its adhering to the oh-so played out modern day convention of the 'found footage' technique (the above mentioned nerd character never goes anywhere with out his digital camera, never mind the real life fact that most casinos, strip clubs and such frown intensely on such trinkets). There are a handful of stand out scenes and gags that carried the whole above its many less inspired moments (the underground poker gig, run by a shady figure with, let's say, an odd personality quirk comes as a sort of welcome shock) and its closing stretch is surprisingly engaging as the film ditches most of the goofy ingredients for a legitimate measure of suspense. Directed by Jason R. Miller, who put in time on several projects by Adam Green, the 'Hatchet' guy, if that's any help.

4. Old Boy. (Film District)- Yo Spike!  What gives with this nice looking yet fully needless reworking of the much cherished Park chan-Wook adapt of the equally celebrated manga by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi? I mean, I guess it comes as an intriguing surprise initially that the director of potent cinema like 'Do the Right Thing', 'Clockers' and the ever mighty 'Malcolm X' would think to tackle such a tricky piece of pulpy storytelling. The end result, however, is only somewhat above the level of a scaled down, slapped together imitation.

Yes, I hear the producers pushed poor Spike Lee into forsaking his reportedly more intricate and in depth, 140 minute initial cut for the more compact, nearly 40 minute lighter version now commonly available. Then why did they so glibly toss the film to theaters with minimal promotion so it would die an easy death?  Seems like this take on an imprisoned man abruptly released to solve the mystery of his incarceration was never deemed too worthy of anyone's adulation. Better luck on the next one (the Kickstarter funded 'Da Sweet Blood of Jesus'), 'cus I still think you got game. Oh and Sam Jackson's in it, his first film with Spike since 'Jungle Fever', so expect some serious profanity.

5. The Last Days on Mars. (Magnet Releasing)- Stop me please, if you've heard this one before; a group of scientists and other assorted space travelers at work on the surface of the so-called 'red planet' are about to wind down their stint and punch their ticket back to Mother Earth. One member of the exploratory posse makes a convenient, last minute discovery on a slide at his lab station that may be suggestive of something resembling life out there under the Martian landscape. Further investigating slowly but surly leads to, guess what?, bad news and genre servicing bursts of suspense and terror mostly incorporating lots of bickering souls attempting to outlast peers who have come under the fatal spell of some form of viral force that reduces decent human folk into blood thirsty, raging zombie types. Yup, that's about all folks. Joins an inexplicably growing body of admittedly competent and fairly well cast films (see 'Europa Report' for further recent example) that basically work to drag the 'Alien' formula down to a smaller scale, lower budgeted and faintly artsy level. Not awful but not awfully necessary either.


Any feedback? Hit me up, killpeoplenamedrichard@yahoo.com