Shin Godzilla (Movie) Review

Shin Godzilla (Movie) Review

Anime is often looked down upon by hoity-toity snobs. “It’s too melodramatic.” “It’s silly.” “Their eyes are too big.” I’ve heard riffs on those statements for years at this point. Yet few people ever try to challenge their preconceived notions enough to give it a shot. If they did, they’d see all of the advantages certain series and films have on Tinsel Town movie and television productions. One particular example that comes to mind is Neon Genesis Evangelion, which to this day is one of the most intricate, layered, and nuanced examinations of the human psyche I’ve ever witnessed.

Shin Godzilla (Movie) Review 9It’s interesting, then, that the director of that landmark series is at the helm of a Godzilla flick, Shin Godzilla. Unless, that is, you are familiar with Mr. Anno’s background in kaiju fandom and his slavish devotion to all things Ultraman and Kamen Rider. This is a man who loves big buildings getting levelled by even bigger monsters, but also devotes a significant portion of his work to thoughtful ruminations on the human condition. A thoughtful, introspective nerd, for all intents and purposes. This results, then, in his truly epic Shin Godzilla being part classic kaiju film, part intricate critique and examination of the global sociopolitical scene.

Just by doing this, he’s made a better movie with Shin Godzilla than I’ve seen come out of Hollywood in possibly a decade, with the sole exception of Mad Max: Fury Road.

The set-up of Shin Godzilla is simple enough. A giant geyser of water shoots out of the ocean surrounding Japan, and shortly thereafter, a strange reptilian creature crawls out of the water and starts terrorizing a small town. The Japanese government doesn’t do much of anything, however. Instead, they hold several board meetings talking about board meetings they need to plan, and start kicking around the idea of what ought to be done. Meanwhile, buildings are being levelled, people are dying, and whole populaces are being uprooted. By the time a smidgen of a plan is formulated, it’s too late—the strange creature has already fled back into the ocean. Then, weeks later, it comes back. Only this time it’s twice the size, bi-pedal, and capable of incinerating whole city blocks with radioactive breath.

Anno, however, doesn’t handle this the way Michael Bay or any of his many two-bit imitators would. Most of the movie isn’t focused on Godzilla smashing cities or blowing things up. Instead, it’s steeped in detailed discussions of international relation snafus and intricate depictions of scientific methods. Doddering old men stick to the rigid confines of bureaucracy. Foreign powers try to strong-arm Japan while they’re undergoing a national emergency. Female scientists suggest possible solutions about the threat, only to be dismissed by their male peers. Instead of fatigue-inducing, minutes-long bits of CGI chaos, we get sobering discussions on post-WWII Japan and long explanations about using Godzilla’s genetic make-up against it.

Shin Godzilla (Movie) Review 3While this could be fatiguing, Anno’s decades-long experience with anime prevents it from even coming close. Dialogue is punchy, close-ups are extreme, and exposition unravels in the blink of an eye. All the information that drives the plot forward is delivered concisely and at a rapid fire pace, giving the film breathing room for more philosophical discussions at several points. Discussions about pros and cons of certain governmental structures, questioning the validity of Japan’s reduced say in global affairs, and the dubious ethicality of letting foreign bodies dictate your country’s actions in emergency situations. What’s so great about these bits of philosophizing is that Anno never posits himself as someone who has an answer to any of it. He’s merely observing, poking and prodding at the state of the world and the people who run it.

Meanwhile, the cinematography of Shin Godzilla makes even the most dialogue-heavy bits of the film visually arresting. Each shot is composed like a cel of animation—interesting stills that express mood and tone even in total silence. Action sequences feel artistically composed in their depiction, with little details like vibrating shingles on roofs or close-ups on Godzilla’s eyes interspersed between buildings collapsing. Even when the focus is on pure chaos, it never feels like the tiring, cluttered trash found in low-rent productions like Avengers: Age of Ultron or Jurassic World. Every explosion feels timed and purposeful, every fallen building an exclamation point rather than background noise. It’s been a long time since a movie made me feel what was happening on screen, but Shin Godzilla managed it with every passing minute. The final shot of the film will stick with me for years to come, as will many others.

Shin Godzilla (Movie) Review 10Everything is tied together by Shiro Sagisu’s masterful score. He manages to implement musical leitmotifs throughout the entire film, something completely absent from pretty much every big-budget picture these days. A familiar rhythm, itself a callback to his work on Evangelion, beats during crucial moments, with additional instruments layered on top of it depending on the situation. The rhythm and the timing of it drives home the mood, and the additional instruments add context. Further pieces of music are direct callbacks to kaiju flicks of the 50s and 60s, giving certain moments distinct old-school flair.

Shin Godzilla (Movie) Review 2There’s so much to unpack in Shin Godzilla. Its fantastic narrative, filled with interesting characters and important questions about social upheaval, governmental responsibility, and science’s role in solving natural disasters. Its beautiful cinematography, with its pitch-perfect grasp of shot composition and mise en scene. Its subdued, humanistic and deeply anti-triumphant tone. Everything in Anno’s masterpiece could have a whole essay written on it.

Yes, I did say the “m” word. Make no mistake—Shin Godzilla is very much a masterpiece, a cinematic triumph of the highest cailbre. Whatever Hollywood tells you is hot, or whatever the Academy tells you is “art,” will most likely pale in comparison to this stellar example of film craft. It’s a master class in film as an artform, and a reminder of how great the medium can be. Don’t miss it.

Godzilla: Resurgence teaser trailer releases

Godzilla: Resurgence teaser trailer releases

A new trailer has released for Toho’s first movie featuring the King of the Monsters in more than a decade, Godzilla: Resurgence. The movie will premiere in Japan this summer on July 29, and will come to North America later this year.

Godzilla: Resurgence is a reboot for the franchise and will take Godzilla back to his dark roots, making the monster into an uncontrollable force of destruction and treated like an incoming natural disaster. The new design for Godzilla makes him look grotesque, now with crusty red scales and a terrifying mouth full of teeth. It hasn’t been confirmed yet, but this looks to be the largest Godzilla to date.

Hideki Anno (Neon Genesis Evangelion) and Shinji Higuchi (Attack on Titan) will be co-directing the film together. Shiro Sagisu (Eva and Aot) will be composing the music for the film, which sounds dark and bleak for humanity’s future.

City Shrouded in Shadow Reveals Big Cameo

City Shrouded in Shadow Reveals Big Cameo

The new survival escape game, City Shrouded in Shadow, has revealed some new enlightening images that possibly include a certain giant robot.

The title is being developed by Granzella games and published by Bandai Namco.

City Shrouded in Shadow Reveals Big Cameo

Race through the stages on different vehicles or on foot as you avoid the giant shadows of the monsters threatening the city. As our protagonist, help save the heroine, Yuki Kano. You get to choose not only her starting outfits and hairstyles but your relationship to her, whether it be just friends or something more.

Of the known giants so far we have Godzilla, Ultraman and a shadow that looks suspiciously a lot like Unit-01 from Neon Genesis Evangelion.

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City Shrouded in Shadow will be available on PS4 and PS Vita.

Godzilla (PS4) Review

Godzilla (PS4) Review

On a certain level, Godzilla should be an incredibly easy concept to translate to video games. After all, who wouldn’t want to whittle away a few hours by destroying a city and fighting off giant, ridiculous kaiju as the king of the monsters? However, aside from the unofficial Godzilla classic Rampage, no one has ever quite managed to find a formula that translates the special joy of old-timey Japanese giant monster movies into the realm of videogames. This latest attempt from Atari and Bandi is filled with loving fan service and an attempt at a bizarre control scheme to give players the sense of scale associated with being Godzilla. For the first hour or so of playtime, the game tickles players with memories of their favourite Godzilla movies of the past. After that, you’ve got to deal with the horrible gameplay itself, and sadly, the novelty wears off fast.

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But oh-boy, what fun the game can be early on. Things kick off with a tutorial level in black and white backed by the iconic score of the 1954 classic that kicked off the career of the big green guy. For someone who adores good ol’ Godzilla, it’s pretty much impossible not to feel your face contort into a big dopey smile. Sure, the controls are a bit wonky; you have to turn with the shoulder buttons for some reason (didn’t dual analogue sticks put an end to that?), and there are only a couple of clunky attacks available. But it looks good, sounds amazing, and the clunkiness of the controls does make you feel a bit like a big lumbering monster. At that point, I just hoped that the attack options and monster speed would improve as the game went on and I enjoyed the nostalgic magic.

Unfortunately, there was to be no evolution to the controls. Nope, they are that clunky and the monsters do move that slowly throughout. It’s clear the designers were going for a fresh control approach in an attempt to impart a sense of lumbering scale, but it gets tedious rather quickly, as does the game as a whole. There’s a very simple formula to the main story mode; you trudge through a generic city as Godzilla, smash everything in your way, fight another monster through awkward spam attacks, destroy some important landmark, and move on. That really is it; and it’ll all be over in a few hours. There’s backtracking involved to collect items to unlock the final boss battle, as well as a vast array of playable classic kaiju, but that repetition only adds to the games tedium, rather than inspiring replay value.

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The story is pretty rough, but then again the Godzilla series was never exactly renowned for it’s complex narratives. In fact, the silly tale, ludicrous dialogue, and wooden voice acting only adds to the nostalgia value for Godzilla fans. Toss in pretty well every conceivable classic Godzilla monster from Mothra and Gamera to Mechagodzilla and you’ve got a game littered with fan service that was clearly made by people who love the property. In a way, that’s what makes it so frustrating; so much of it feels right and delivers shivers of nostalgia that I constantly tried to convince myself that I was enjoying the experience more than I actually was. The designers made fantastic use of their acquired brand; they simply failed to create a compelling game to contain it. This includes the visuals. Sure, you’ll see all those monsters in HD, but the generic and repetitive cityscapes and inexplicably clean urban explosions don’t just feel like a delayed PS3 game; at times the blocky graphics look like something from the PS2 era. That’s a real shame, especially since every conceivable classic sound effect has been included. Close your eyes and it sounds like the Godzilla game of your dreams. Open them and the illusion is shattered.

Aside from the main story mode, there are a handful of other side games to beef up the experience. You can strip away the story entirely for God Of Destruction Mode, allowing you to mow down the same boring cities as any other monster in the game. You can choose to be a monster like Mothra defending a city from Godzilla’s attack. Or you can participate in online multiplayer fights with up to three monsters of your choice. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make much of a difference which classic kaiju you command; they all have the same frustratingly limited controls. They all move using that same awkward control stick/shoulder button combo, and they all have a light attack, heavy attack, and shooting attack that can only be awkwardly combined in so many ways. Even after playing the game for a few hours, my attack strategy remained the same: just smash the attack buttons as often as possible while awkwardly repositioning the camera and hope for the best. Yep, it’s that clunky. If you get tired of struggling through the tedious gameplay and just want to look at all the kaiju you’ve collected, you can set them up in city dioramas and take pictures, so… that’s kind of fun, right? I know, I know…I’m stretching…

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I really wanted to love this new Godzilla game. Every time a developer tries to take another swing at delivering a game worthy of the king of the monsters, I slide it into my console and hope for the best, and I’m let down every time. Somehow building a game around Godzilla and his rubber suit buddies trading punches and crushing buildings has proven to be an impossible task for generations of designers. This latest addition to the dubious Godzilla video game legacy definitely deserves points for the depth and care of the fan service that brings countless familiar Godzilla sights and sounds to your PS4. The people who delivered the basic look and sounds of this thing clearly love the property. It’s just a shame that the game itself is dragged down by such irritating controls and tedious gameplay that the audio/visual novelty wears off almost instantly. Sadly, this is yet another failure to add to your stack of abandoned Godzilla games. Guess it’s time to go play Rampage again. Sigh…

Godzilla 2014 (Movie) Review

Godzilla 2014 (Movie) Review

Ten years ago the folks at Toho decided to retire their flagship character Godzilla for decade. When the big green guy finally made his return, it was to headline a Hollywood blockbuster. We’ve been here before, of course. Back in 1998, Roland Emmerich, hot off the success of Independence Day tried to bring the big guy stateside in a horrendous blockbuster that irritatingly redesigned the iconic character and surrounded him with pointless noise and an A-list cast giving shrill one-note performances. This time however, things are different. Godzilla was handed over to director Gareth Edwards, a Brit who made the striking zero budget giant monster movie Monsters, which was laced with social commentary and delivered in a solemn tone. Edwards’ Godzilla is indeed a very serious take on the character with attempts at feeding in a little social commentary for the first time since Godzilla’s 1954 debut. That’s all nice and welcome, but where Edwards truly succeeded is in what all of the ‘98 Godzilla posters promised, but failed to deliver: scale. This is a gloriously massive blockbuster that adds physical weight and grandeur to the character through CGI like few films before. It’s not perfect, but it is gloriously well-made summer entertainment that gives Godzilla the epic comeback he deserves.

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Unlike so many blockbusters these days, Edwards’ Godzilla opens with some welcome world-building and characterization rather than action. We’re introduced to Bryan Cranston’s nuclear scientist in Japan who is forced to watch his wife die while struggling to prevent a power plant catastrophe. Flash forward 15 years, and now Cranston’s son is a grown man in the army played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who is married to Elizabeth Olsen and has a son of his own. Johnson is forced to go back to Japan when his father is arrested. He’s been living a paranoid existence struggling to prove that the accident that killed his wife had nothing to do with the nuclear power plant, but some sort of conspiracy. Turns out he’s right and we’re introduced to Ken Watanabe as a super-secret scientist who studies gigantic prehistoric monsters who live on earth. The biggest one they’ve ever known is Godzilla, who, in 1954, was secretly bombed to the bottom of the ocean by all those Cold War nuclear tests. Unfortunately, another monster bursts from the wasteland of that old Japanese power plant and then another. They look like a cross between Rodan, Mothra, and the Cloverfield monster and are smashing their way across opposite sides of the Pacific ocean. That raises our beloved Godzilla from the depths of the ocean for a good old fashioned monster mash. That’s right, contrary to what’s been suggested, this brand spanking new Godzilla movie is actually an homage to the monster-fight movies of the 60s. And all those human characters (including David Strathairn’s nuke-loving admiral and Sally Hawkins’ scientist), well they’re just caught in the middle.

“This is a gloriously massive blockbuster that adds physical weight and grandeur to Godzilla through CGI like few films before.”

The greatest success of Godzilla 2014 is how masterfully Gareth Edwards stages his monsters smash em’ ups and battles. Though the movie is mercifully not another found footage exorcise, it takes a cue from one of the best devices of that tiresome subgenre. For the most part, Edwards shoots his giant monsters from the perspective of the tiny humans surrounding him. Through handheld cameras we catch glimpses of the remarkably animated creatures in a way that viscerally communicates their scale and power. Another big influence on Edwards here is Steven Spielberg. That bearded master also shot his awe-inspiring creatures from ground level in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Jurassic Park, and War Of The Worlds. Edwards borrows liberally from the Spielberg playbook, using brilliant actors to communicate a sense of shock and horror to off screen action, employing masterful misdirection, and zeroing in on small human ways of communicating massive fantasy (in particular, the image of a pencil rolling across a desk as a massive military ship is tipped). Edwards borrows liberally, yet finds a gritty style all his own. By filtering his monsters through human perspective (and occasionally news reports), it adds scale, realism, and relatability that sells Godzilla unlike any other film before. It’s beautifully done and at the same time, Edwards is more than happy to indulge in a full-on, 45-minute, epic, city-crushing, monster-mash climax that lets the creatures take center stage and gives audiences more than enough reason to cheer and munch their popcorn. You definitely get your money’s worth in this Godzilla outing.

Where the film stumbles is in tone. Even though this is a movie hinged on a super-awesome monster fight starring God-freaking-zilla, the film is played deathly serious. In the early going with Bryan Cranston in over-the-top meltdown mode, that works. It allows Cranston to deliver a compelling character on the edge and even hint at some serious themes that are quickly dropped. The trouble is that once the monsters show up, the humans are shoved to the sideline as helpless viewers. Granted, that’s how it should be in a Godzilla movie. But when you’ve got Aaron Taylor-Johnson instructed to just be stoic for 90 minutes and the brilliant Elizabeth Olsen doing little more than crying and playing victim, it feels like a waste of talent. These actors might come off as leaps and bounds better than anyone in Godzilla 1998, but their characters aren’t much deeper, just more serious. It’s also a bit of a bummer that a movie built around a 45-minute monster fight is so gosh-darn serious. It’s ultimately silly fun and the actors should have been allowed to indulge along with the audience at least a bit. Pacific Rim may have had a similarly throwaway deadly serious human plot at the center, but at least by the time Charlie Day and Ron Pearlman shared a scene, the humans were as much fun as the monsters. That never happens here and to the film’s detriment. This is Godzilla after all, not an art film.

However, I can’t pretend that complaint is much more than nit-pickery. It’s the difference between this Godzilla flick being a damn good blockbuster and a great one. Complaining about that in the context of an awesome giant monster movie is just splitting geek hairs. After all, no one shows up to a Godzilla movie to get deeply invested in the human story. The fact that there even is one to criticize is a bonus, and this is at the very least the best acted Godzilla movie ever made (sure there’s not much competition in that regard, but that’s still something!). What matters about this movie is Godzilla and the monsters, and that material is extraordinary. The skydiving sequence that caught everyone’s attention in the trailer is here and with a spectacular final POV shot saved for the final film. Every other giant monster sequence lives up to it too. In an age when CGI can deliver any filmmaker’s fantasy to the screen, it’s hard to be genuinely blown away by special effect sequences. Edwards manages to do that here because he knows that it’s not just about how good the effect is, but how powerfully you present it cinematically. He delivers a Godzilla so massive, terrifying, and iconic that it’s safe to say the big guy just made a new generation of fans. By the time the credits roll, you’ll genuinely want to see Godzilla in a sequel rather than just accepting the next one as an inevitability. That’s about all we could have asked for from this movie. Let’s just hope that when Godzilla comes back next time, he’s allowed to have a little more fun. The big guy’s earned it.

CGMPodcast Episode 108 – Here Comes Godzilla

CGMPodcast Episode 108 - Here Comes Godzilla

On this week’s CGM podcast, Microsoft is the big topic as they drop the biggest 180 of the year with a suite of policy reversals that turn the Xbox One and Xbox Live into a PS4 and PSN. The latest Walking Dead episode debuts, and its more great story but slightly less game, and finally, Godzilla proves that he is, now and forever more, King Of The Freakin’ Monsters.

Top Five Giant Monster Movies

Top Five Giant Monster Movies

This week, a certain scale-covered gentleman named Godzilla returns to the big screen, promising the joys of giant monster destruction for a whole new generation. As anyone with a pulse knows, one of the greatest joys in all of cinema is the sight of a ginormous monster beating the crap out of a city. It’s what the movies were made for and thankfully the giant robots vs. giant monsters smash em’ up Pacific Rim helped usher the genre back into the mainstream. So, if you can’t wait to see the big guy flatten out New York this weekend or come home from the flick desperate for more of the same, we thought we’d present a top five list of the Greatest Giant Monster Movies ever made for you to sample. Now, I’ll be honest and admit that I cheated and included more than five movies on this list. But hey, when you’re talking about giant monster movies, you can never have too many. Let’s dive in, shall we?

 

5) Big Man Japan (2007)

If nothing else, Big Man Japan is easily the weirdest giant monstermovie ever made and in this genre, that’s really saying something. Japanese comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto writes, directs, and stars in this deeply strange comedy about a boring middle aged man in Japan whose job is to grow super-sized and fight monsters when required. Shot as a mock-documentary style, the movie combines deadpan banal comedy with giant CGI monster battles in a manner that simply has to be seen to be believed. The film is pitched somewhere between The Office and Cloverfield, but somehow works perfectly. Though he’s barely known outside of Japan, Matsumoto has one of the most wonderfully cracked creative minds in comedy right now and his movies desperately deserve a wider audience. Treat yourself to Big Man Japan, I guarantee you won’t regret it.

 

4) The Host (2006)

Back in 2006, Joon-ho Bong was an art house darling who scored critical accolades worldwide for his debut Memories Of A Murder. So, it’s safe to say that audiences were a bit confused when the Korean writer/director decided to follow it up with a giant monster movie. At least that was true until audiences finally saw The Host. Though the movie is one hell of a monster romp filled with wonderful effects and creature design from Peter Jackson’s team at Weta, it’s also a very clever satire of American imperialism and industrial pollution as well as a genuinely touching family drama. Equal parts thrilling, hilarious, and heart-warming, The Host is a giant monster movie that makes the genre look good. For once the filmmaker seemed to care about crafting his human characters even more than his thrilling monster set pieces and the result was an instant monster movie classic.

 

3) Destroy All Monsters (1968)/Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Let’s face it, if you’re going to watch a giant monster movie, the only thing that could possibly make it better is the presence of multiple giant monsters duking it out together rather than a single, solitary monster. Thankfully, there are many such movies and these are the very best. 1968’s Destroy All Monsters was one of the many attempts at a final Godzilla movie; however, much like James Bond the guy just keeps coming back. Led by director Isiro Honda, the entire original Godzilla team came together for this flat out battle royale that saw the big guy take on no less than 11 monsters in the biggest budgeted Godzilla movie of the time (which, in the world of rubber suited monster movies from the 60s, doesn’t really mean much to be honest). There’s not much in the way of plot, but there’s no denying that the nonstop monster-mashing offers probably the most purely enjoyable kaiju movie of the 60s.

Almost 40 years later, the folks at Toho decided to do another big budget Godzilla finale and this time hired kaiju-superfan and Versus director Ryuhei Kitamura to supervise. Kitamura went out of his way to include every single damn kaiju that Toho ever created and even infused the human plot with gunfights and wire-fu to ensure not a second of screen time past without some element of ridiculous entertainment. There’s no denying that Godzilla: Final Wars is overkill, but there’s also no denying that the monster-movie geek inside you will cheer throughout in slack-jawed disbelief that someone made a Godzilla movie this completely insane. Plus, Final Wars has a scene where the original Godzilla blows up the 1998 Hollywood Godzilla and if that’s not worth the price of admission alone, then I don’t know what is!

 

2) Jurassic Park (1993)

It’s Jurassic Park. You know it. You love it. There’s nothing more to be said about these clever girls.

 

1)King Kong (1933)/Godzilla (1954)

Look, I know it’s cheating but there’s no way to choose between the two and you can’t make me. The original King Kong and Godzilla aren’t just the most important giant monster movies ever made, they also continue to be the best. The 1933 King Kong offers a giddy rush of entertainment. It’s the first summer blockbuster and in many ways Hollywood is still trying to match King Kong’s perfect mix of showboating effects entertainment and heart. The film is defined by Willis O’Brien’s astounding stop motion animation of Kong. Not only did O’Brien guide Kong through a spectacular fight with a T-Rex, but he also injected the puppet with a surprising amount of character. There’s something tragic and perverted about the original King Kong that few monster movies since can match. The film has also aged exquisitely, with all of the old-timey acting and dialogue adding delightful campy comedy to what is undeniably one of the most entertaining movies ever made.

Then there’s the original Godzilla, a movie that is far different from the reputation it spawned. Godzilla is not a cultural mascot here, but a creature spawned from nuclear radiation. He’s a big walking metaphor for Japan’s post-WWII nuclear scars and paranoia. Watched in the original Japanese Gojira cut, the film plays out as a surprisingly thoughtful piece of work, with as much screen time dedicated to scientists contemplating the nature and effects of nuclear war as there is city stomping. The rubber suit effects also hold up surprisingly well, delivering a handful of genuinely frightening sequences. Then there’s the American cut (Godzilla, King Of The Monsters!) that is filled with horrible dubbing, an awkwardly inserted Raymond Burr playing a new American protagonist, and endless unintentional laughs. So, thanks to there being two versions of the 1954 Godzilla, it is somehow both the most serious and unsettling Godzilla movie ever made and the beginning of badly dubbed Japanese monster movie camp. That’s quite a legacy. Let’s just hope that the new Hollywood version honors the Japanese cut and not the Americanized version.