The Great Gamera Marathon

For about the past week, I have been away on a much-needed vacation. For a pasty nerd of my particular variety, “vacation” means that I spent a week watching shitty movies at a beach-adjacent location while drinking fruity things. Hey, it works for me.

Anyway, the specific goal of this trip was to watch through the entire Gamera franchise with some friends, which proved to be quite a task. By the end of the trip, we had cut our way through all 8 Showa-era Gamera films, but elected to give a pass on the Heisei-era features (for now).

I have mentioned before that I grew up on Showa-era Toho kaiju features (Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, et al). Being a little kaiju snob as a kid, I never gave the knock-off Daiei-produced Gamera flicks a second glance outside of the realm of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Honestly, now that I have watched all 8 original Showa Gamera flicks, I kind of regret that position.

Most of the Gamera movies are abysmally paced and crammed with crappy child actors, but the actual kaiju fighting is all amazingly over-the-top. I laughed my ass off when Gamera started playing his theme song on Zigra’s back spines after defeating him, heartily chuckled at his gymnastic stunts in Gamera vs Guiron, and sang along every time that damned catchy theme song came on.

Speaking of which, that theme song is pure, uncut magic.

So, let’s break it down the original 8-feature Gamera series by film, shall we?

Gamera

To my surprise, this was poorly paced and incredibly boring to sit through. It was clearly trying too hard to knock-off Godzilla, and the filmmakers weren’t having any fun with their ridiculous creature. I did like the slow “revelation” of Gamera’s flying abilities, and the beginning of the “friend of all children” concept. I personally enjoy the dubbed version better than the subtitled version, if for no other reason than the abysmal work done for Kenny, the central child character. It really is quite astounding. The Mystery Science Theater 3000 riff of this one is an absolute must-see.

Gamera vs. Barugon

This one is still more grounded (read: less fun) than the later entries, and not quite to the level of a pure kid’s movie. That said, I like the monster design of Barugon: as an ice-elemental beast, he makes for an interesting foil to Gamera. I also kind of like that a good number of the Gamera adversaries are quadropeds, a trend started by Barugon. It is a nice distinction from the by-and-large bipedal Toho monsters. Also, Barugon has that lovely rainbow. You just have to love that.

Gamera vs. Gyaos

 

I do love me some Gyaos. My favorite monster in the Toho universe is Rodan, and I feel like Gyaos is the closest analog for the Daiei troupe. He is kind of like a paper mache Rodan with some extra powers to make up for the inconvenience. Unfortunately, one of those powers involves armpit gas ducts. It is also kind of interesting to see a kaiju aerial battle, something else that isn’t seen much in Toho. Even Rodan and Ghidorah did most of their scuffling on the ground. This is a pretty fun Gamera flick, but the series doesn’t really hit its stride until Viras if you ask me. I honestly don’t recall much about the plot from this movie, which should speak volumes for its quality.

Gamera vs Viras

The version of Gamera vs Viras I saw included a fantastic clip show of the previous movies that essentially boiled them down to the most entertaining parts. That significantly contributed to this being one of the most watchable and ridiculous of the Gamera movies. The aliens under Viras kidnap children, blackmail Gamera, and eventually take over Gamera’s mind using vague alien science, before having their plot ultimately foiled by meddling kids. The eventual Viras fight is pretty memorable in its own right due to Gamera using the squid monster like a Jet Ski, and eventually killing him with a bizarre spinning top attack. I can’t recommend this one highly enough, honestly.

Gamera vs Guiron

Gamera goes to space to fight a space-shark with a giant Bowie knife for a head. That’s should be all you need to know about this brilliant work of cinema, but in case you need some extra motivation, check out Gamera’s mad gymnastics skills. You know what? Just note everything that happens in this clip.

Did you catch the Gamera athletics? The dancing? Guiron’s head shurikens? This movie is pure glory.

Also, Guiron may have the best kaiju death ever. Gamera literally shoves a missile through his head. I’m a little surprised that he didn’t blow into spaceshark chunks, but I suppose this is technically a children’s film.

Last but not least, “Gamera vs. Guiron” brings us the Gamera theme song from space, which inspired the legendary MST3k lampooning. I would actually go so far as to say that the riff of this movie is one of the best in the entire MST3k catalog, and is a must-see for fans.

Gamera vs Jiger

Boy, is this a weird one. First off, this is one of the strangest advertisements of all time. Essentially, a good chunk of this movie is dedicated to promoting the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka. For the life of me, I have no idea why anyone thought a kaiju movie would be an appropriate venue for doing that.

Adding further to the weirdness of this film is an extensive segment in which children take a submarine inside Gamera to save him from a parasite, “The Fantastic Voyage” style. The entire ordeal is quite surreal, but winds up slowing down the movie too much if you ask me.

this is how Gamera reacts to parasites

When Gamera is actually conscious, the fights with Jiger are only ok. Jiger has some odd nuclear attacks that are poorly explained, as well as spear like projectiles that are used to impale Gamera on a number of occasions.

…what the hell?

Once Gamera recovers from the Jiger parasite though, he pretty quickly stabs Jiger prime in the head with a magical talisman thing. That part is pretty awesome, but overall the movie is definitely a lesser Gamera entry.

 

Gamera vs Zigra

This movie, like “Gamera vs Jiger”, has yet another unprecedented real world tie in, and with a message to boot! Sea World is featured prominently throughout this movie, a whole 12 years before the organization made the even worse cinematic decision of getting in bed with “Jaws 3-D”, and 42 years before it was eviscerated by the documentary film “Blackfish”. Sea World should probably just avoid movies in general in the future (if it has one).

Anyway, this movie has a very strong environmental, save-the-oceans message that feels pretty shoehorned into the story. The evil aliens under Zigra are expert aquatic predators who hunt land animals in the same way that we fish, and intend to capture and consume Earth’s entire human population. So, I guess that means the lesson is that we should take care of the oceans, or else they will eat us in retribution.

Zigra himself is actually one of the better adversaries that Gamera faces. He is the intelligent overlord of the invading aliens instead of a simple wild beast, which I found pretty cool. Unfortunately, lighting issues make all of the underwater battles unintelligible, which is a real shame, because that means that nearly all of the fighting in the movie is visual nonsense. Once the fight does move to land and the audience finally gets a good look at Zigra’s beaked, sturgeon-shark form, the battle is all but over. At least the fight ends with Gamera playing the first six notes of his theme song on Zigra’s spine, which is one of the best moments of the franchise if you ask me. For that alone, this is a recommend for me. Be warned: the rest of the movie is very slow and child-heavy, though.

Gamera: Super Monster

“Gamera: Super Monster” is barely a movie. Made in 1980, a mighty 9 years stood between “Gamera vs. Zigra” and this film. During that time, Daiei Films went bankrupt, causing the series to go dormant. “Gamera: Super Monster” is thus a loosely thrown-together clip show of the previous Gamera movies, with no new Gamera footage at all. Basically, this was a way for publishing company Tokuma Shoten to make a quick buck off of the acquired property of Gamera.

What “Gamera: Super Monster” does have is a team of magical superwomen from outer space, and a cobbled together plot that makes negative sense. Also, the movie commits two grave sacrileges: 1) It replaces the Gamera theme with a far less amazing Gamera march, and 2) Gamera dies by crashing into a Star Destroyer from “Star Wars”.

You might think that a clip show of all of the monster fights of the previous films would be a great way to conclude the Showa-era Gamera series, and that a heroic sacrifice by our beloved jet-powered turtle monster is a perfect cherry on top. Well, that might be true if it were done with any kind of competence. However, this being Gamera, that wasn’t the case. The clip show from “Gamera vs Viras” was way better than any of the weirdly placed, re-purposed battles in this film. Even worse, because there is no new Gamera footage, our hero is killed off by an implied collision and a cheap, shitty explosion special effect. That is not good enough. Not at all.

One potential positive of this movie is that it cleared the way for the later Gamera Heisei series of films. Though, honestly, I see this movie as more akin to the Paul McGann Doctor Who TV Movie: it was an attempt to reach a new audience with an old property, but it came at the wrong time and from the wrong direction.

—-

So, that is it for the Showa-era Gamera movies. It was an absolute blast to burn through them all, even though it slowed down dramatically at times. Overall, it is something that I can recommend to any bad movie fanatics or general kaiju fans. I know that I have found a new appreciation for that ridiculous giant turtle beast from the experience.

Gamera is really neat

Gamera is filled with meat

We all love you Gamera

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IMDb Bottom 100: Miss Castaway and the Island Girls

Miss Castaway and the Island Girls

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I admittedly did no research ahead of watching “Miss Castaway and the Island Girls” for the first time, so I wasn’t quite sure of what to expect going in. I can say that the last thing that I anticipated was a low-budget “Movie Movie” with a plot involving Noah’s Ark, Michael Jackson, the Tim Burton “Planet of the Apes”, and a giant prehistoric bipedal pig.
castaway3I have talked and written at length before about the weaknesses of the “Movie Movie” genre in my reviews of “Epic Movie” and “Disaster Movie”, both also on the IMDb Bottom 100. I won’t retread that ground, other than to point out that this style of movie has no longevity for future audiences due to their reliance on references and current pop cultural references. “Miss Castaway” definitely suffers from this in a huge way, given most of the ‘humor’ is derived from lampooning movies like “Castaway” and “Miss Congeniality”, which are barely on the cultural radar nowadays. However, that is a weakness of all of these movies, and there are plenty of issues unique to “Miss Castaway” that the big budget sister films like “Epic Movie” and “Disaster Movie” were able to evade.

First off, “Miss Castaway” is a cheap movie, and that is a fact that shows itself at every turn. Any time CGI is used (which is far too often), it looks like it was scraped out of the bottom of a barrel. Check out this clip featuring “Jurassic Pork”, one of the handful of CGI creatures in the movie.

Also, check out this dodo bird / alien thing. Doesn’t it look fantastic?
castaway4As you would expect, all of the acting and writing is abysmal. The acting is about what you should expect from any spoof movie, but the line deliveries are particularly stilted and wooden. Then again, there is no way to seriously deliver half of the lines in this script. For most of the movie, I was wondering if the writers had ever heard a human being talk before. In some ways, “Miss Castaway” dialogue feels like an alien race is trying to communicate with the audience, but their only knowledge of our planet, culture, and language is through movies circa 2004.

The plot feels like a clumsy patchwork to drive the characters from one reference to the next. It progressively devolves into incoherence, and it doesn’t make much sense to start with. I believe there are secret agents from the Vatican on board the crashed airplane who were hunting for Noah’s Ark, and were charged with saving it from humanoid Ape creatures who want to destroy humanity? There are also aliens involved at some point? It lost me about halfway through. I think Michael Jackson was in league with the Pope though.

castaway1Honestly, there isn’t much else to say about “Miss Castaway”. It is a cheap spoof movie that fails to be funny on paper, and is executed incredibly poorly. It is hard to compare Movie Movies to other kinds of movies, as they are kind of unique beasts. In comparison to the other Movie Movies on the IMDb Bottom 100, I can at least say that “Miss Castaway” is less low-brow that “Epic Movie” and “Disaster Movie”. It is far from high-brow, but I don’t recall much. if any, poop or bodily fluid humor, which puts it a notch above “Epic” and “Disaster” at least. However, the incredibly poor effects work probably puts “Castaway” right back down on their level. So, I guess it is pretty close to a draw? That is actually saying something for a movie with a fraction of their budgets, though.

In general, I don’t see any reason to recommend this movie. The plot is bafflingly stupid, the acting and writing are bad, and the effects are horrendous. If there were any actual humor to be had in the writing, the effects, acting, and plot might have been overcome. However, that was not the case. I advise avoiding this one, unless you have a burning need to see miserable CGI.

IMDb Bottom 100: The Hillz

The Hillz

hillz

“The Hillz” has been perhaps my least favorite film from the IMDb Bottom 100 thus far. It isn’t the worst of the list (though it is certainly high up there) in terms of film-making incompetence, but the writing, dialogue, and general tone of the film are all incredibly revolting. The sheer vapidness of the screenplay puts a thin coating on top of the immense quantities of sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and pretty much every other shitty quality a thing can have. I would venture to say that absolutely anyone could be offended by something in this movie. One particular sequence that comes to mind is the ‘humorous’ story of “Monster Head”, in which a transexual prostitute is murdered mid-fellatio by one of the central characters. Lol.

hillz2
Even the actors are looking for other things to do

“The Hillz” presents the audience with an incredibly forgettable and thoroughly reprehensible cast of characters, including a dull college baseball star lead who is infatuated with an inconsistently-written Paris Hilton who plays his best frenemy and perplexing love interest. He also has a group of close friends who he smokes crack with on occasion, and who operate a criminal empire comprised of robbing Beverly Hills mansions at house parties and executing people for $80 debts.

hillz5
Smoking crack with the buds

The one saving grace in regards to the character cast of “The Hillz” is that they are mostly corpses by the time the story comes to its abrupt conclusion. I don’t want to assume that this ending was karmic repayment for their general shittiness, because the movie never particularly gave me the sense that they did anything wrong in the storytelling (they very obviously did, but I only know that because I have some sense of right/wrong, not because the movie conveyed it).

All of the actors are absolutely miserable in this movie, with the notable exception of the fellow playing the gang leader with a notably violent temper (the one who killed “Monster Head”). The character is one of the most horrid I’ve seen put to screen, but the actor really does his best to sell it. That is more than can be said for anyone else on screen throughout the run-time of this movie.

hillz4
He was doing his damnedest

The editing in “The Hillz” definitely goes a long way towards setting it apart from the herd. This movie would have been horrible based on the writing and acting alone, but the astoundingly incompetent transitions are mind-blowing. I think that this movie was edited in Windows Movie Maker, and the editor just used random transitions available in the program. There is at least one instance where a star transition is used, and those always look awful.

One thing that is worth pointing out about this movie is that, despite the trailer and all of the marketing materials, Paris Hilton does not feature prominently in the movie. She doesn’t have any relevance to the primary plot, and sort of floats around the edges of the movie as a source of frustration for the main character. I honestly don’t much care about deceiving people who would watch a movie solely for Paris Hilton, so that marketing deception is a pretty minor gripe in my book.

Last I checked, “The Hillz” was just about to fall out of the IMDb Bottom 100, which really does surprise me. This is more incompetent and offensive overall than either “Pledge This!” or “The Hottie and the Nottie”, two other Paris Hilton movies that tend to hover around the top 10 on the list. My guess is that this is primarily due to the relative lack of exposure of “The Hillz” in comparison to either “Pledge This!” or “The Hottie and the Nottie”, because I can’t believe that anyone would objectively regard those as worse movies than this piece of work. There are only a handful of IMDb Bottom 100 movies that I think of as mechanically worse than “The Hillz” (“Ben and Arthur”, “The Maize”, and “Birdemic” immediately come to mind), but none are as thoroughly offensively written as it. In the words of the late Roger Ebert: I hated, hated, hated this movie.

If you are interested in reading more about “The Hillz”, check out this review from the Something Awful forums.

 

 

IMDb Bottom 100: Torque

Torque

torque

“Torque” is basically a “Fast and the Furious” movie with all of the dials turned up to 11, and with motorcycles instead of cars. That pretty much covers the basic summary of this movie. The film takes place in what I assume is a fantasy realm with looser physical laws more akin to the Loony Toons universe than our own, at least judging from the ludicrous opening sequence.

Something that I neglected to mention in the video review up top is the plethora of product placement scattered throughout this movie. The sheer quantity and brazenness of the advertisements make Michael Bay movies look subtle. For one particularly notable instance, there is a climactic bike duel that prominently features billboard backdrops of Pepsi and Mountain Dew. It is impossible to be more blatant with product placement than in this scene (or if it is, I’ve never seen an example of it).

I would be doing a disservice to everything good in the world to not at least mention the absolutely ridiculous special effects in this movie. I think they can be best described as “overzealous”. Just check out this final fight scene from the movie, and tell me they didn’t go completely overboard with the effects.

I had to re-watch that scene so many times to figure out what exactly happened. Everything is so distorted and frenetic that it is nearly impossible to make out the details of what is actually going on. That takes some real talent to make your pinnacle action scene so action-packed that the movie loses coherency.

Oh yes, there are also actors in “Torque”. They don’t matter all that much, but they are present. Most notably, Adam Scott of “Parks and Recreation” and “Party Down” plays one of the primary antagonists: a dirty special agent who is tracking down the film’s “hero”. To say that Scott’s performance is absolutely ridiculous doesn’t go nearly far enough: I am shocked that he ever got acting work ever again. Other notables in the cast include Ice Cube, who does his typical role of scowling and being angry at things, and Dane Cook, who is mercifully absent for the vast majority of the movie.

Torque_dane_cook
thank goodness

There is interestingly a fair amount of controversy around “Torque” in the bad movie community, specifically in regards to the film’s earnestness. Is “Torque” an honestly made bad movie? There seem to be lots of people who think that Torque was made intentionally over the top as a self-parody on the genre. I can see some slight nods to this in the movie, but I don’t think they are quite frequent or blatant enough to convince me that this movie was an intentional farce. My personal opinion is that the filmmakers realized that the movie was going too far over the top, and the humor was an attempt to try and ground it in some way. If you ask me, the nods and winks actually did the movie a disservice. I know I would have enjoyed the movie more as a bad movie if it didn’t try to feign parody, and just owned the identity as a ridiculous action movie.

When it comes right down to it, I feel like I can recommend “Torque” for what it is: dumb action. If you want to see over the top explosions and ridiculous content, this is a movie to check out. Just don’t expect anything more than that.

“Torque” isn’t in the IMDb Bottom 100 any more, which isn’t terribly shocking. The movie is silly, but the production values are good, and the semi-popular opinion that it is a self-parody has gained it some levity from audiences I think. I personally see this as a genuinely bad movie, but not so bad that it necessarily merits a spot in IMDb’s basement.

If you would like to hear more about the good, the bad, and the ugly of “Torque”, I highly recommend checking out the Bad Movie Fiends Podcast episode on the movie.

IMDb Bottom 100: McHale’s Navy

McHale’s Navy

mchale

Watching “McHale’s Navy” gave me a whole lot of flashbacks to “Car 54, Where Are You?”: A television show treasured by an older generation is remade as a film with new actors and a new direction to lure in the younger folks, and the result is something that no one enjoys and doesn’t manage to be funny for anyone.  I will say that “McHale’s Navy” is almost unarguably better than “Car 54”, and has more in the way of redeeming value. It is even relatively watchable, there just aren’t any laughs to be had. It is structured and paced well enough like a typical comedy movie, but someone forgot to include the funny parts.

Tim Curry and Bruce Campbell almost save the movie with their presences alone. However, Campbell is in a bit role with minimal screen-time (and according to Campbell, often wasn’t given direction at all). Curry is likewise significantly hamstrung by his villain character’s writing. He does what he can, but there was no way that the role could be saved without serious re-writing. At the very least, Curry is always entertaining to watch as he chews up the scenery, regardless of how bad his writing is.

On the flip side, Dean Stockwell and David Alan Grier are unforgivably grating in their character portrayals. Grier specifically plays one of the most aggravatingly annoying characters ever to grace a screen, and is some of the worst comic relief I have ever sat through. The rest of the cast is utterly forgettable, including Tom Arnold as McHale himself. He just isn’t quite charming enough, and the rest of the characters aren’t fleshed out in the slightest. I seem to recall one character who was primarily defined by the fact he slept in a tree. Don’t ask me his name, I couldn’t remember any of them outside of McHale, and that’s only due to the title and how often it is spoken throughout the movie.

The direction and editing was mostly run-of-the-mill, outside of some reused shots during the boat battle scenes. I suppose they were pulled off well enough, but I didn’t find either of the showdowns particularly interesting. There wasn’t quite enough suspense to give any of the actions significant gravity.

The only moment in the whole film that actually grabbed my attention was a throwaway scene when Tim Curry’s character is so frustrated that he shoots one of his minions in the head. The execution is played off in a very cartoony manner that felt incredibly jarring, particularly as the body limply falls over one of the other characters. Despite the lack of graphic content, the killing felt incredibly dark and out of place. Given that the scene had no plot relevance that I can recall, I am surprised that it made the final cut of the film.

“McHale’s Navy” is no longer in the IMDb Bottom 100, which doesn’t particularly surprise me. It isn’t funny, but it is more or less a semi-competently put together film. A lot of the acting is bad and the tone doesn’t work, but the key issue with the film breaks down to the very concept itself: no one wanted this movie. I doubt that loyal fans of the show were clamoring for a reboot, especially not on the big screen. I also seriously doubt that the mainstream movie-going audience of 1997 had any interest in a remake of an ancient TV show that was hardly a blip on their cultural radars. Even with an outstanding script, cast, and masterful direction, I don’t think this concept would have resonated at the box office. In truth, it was mediocre-to-abysmal in every arena, which would have doomed even a good concept at the box office.

“McHale’s Navy” isn’t a movie I can recommend for fun watching. Failed comedies are hard to squeeze laughs out of, even from a critical perspective. If you want a weird bad movie experience involving a boat, check out fellow IMDb Bottom 100 entry “Going Overboard”. That feature is damn surreal. Or, you could check out Jason Vorhees terrorizing a boat in “Friday the 13th Part VIII”. Either way, it’ll be a better time than “McHale’s Navy”.