Friday, October 24, 2014
Halloween 2014: October 23
Rebirth of Mothra (1996)
Toho cooked up big business with the nineties Godzilla series. The highest grossing film in the Heisei Era was “Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth.” Market research revealed that Mothra was the most popular kaiju among women. Obviously looking to cash in on the big bug’s popularity, after Godzilla bit the dust in 1995, Toho announced a new series of Mothra solo films. Despite Mothra having a wide appeal, the resulting “Rebirth of Mothra” films were all kid’s movies, meaning they aren't well-regarded in the kaiju fandom.
Nine year old Taiki has a difficult relationship with his younger sister, Wakaba. There mom has her hands full while their father is busy working for a land development company. That company is currently courting controversy for wanting to plow over an entire forest. After removing a strange seal from the ground, a dark fairy riding a small dragon enters their home. Named Belvera, the fairy desires the magical seal. A pair of good fairies, riding a chibi version of Mothra, appear to prevent Belvera from getting the seal. She does anyway and, with it, unleashes Desghidorah, a highly destructive kaiju. The good fairies call on the aging Mothra to save the day. Unfortunately, it’s not a enough and Mothra: Classic Variety dies. Just in time, Mothra Leo, the original Mothra’s son, hatches and heads off to save the world from Desghidorah.
“Rebirth of Mothra” also focuses heavily on the magical fairies. They appear early on and motivate the plot. Before the monsters even show up, the Elias sisters, Mola and Lora, are chattering about impending doom and unavoidable prophecies. Belvera is a fairly obnoxious villain. She’s never a real threat and treated widely as a joke. All three fairies have cutesy little steads. The good fairies ride around on Fairy Mothra. Meanwhile, Belvera rides on Garu Garu, a cute little dragon that is later revealed to be a robot, for some reason. Despite unleashing a monster that nearly destroys the Earth, Mola and Lora are very willing to forgive their bad sister. There’s a very long fight scene in the kids’ home, where the fairies fly around shooting lightening bolts at each other. It goes on forever. Since this is a “Mothra” flick, you’d expect the fairies to sing a song. However, were you expecting three songs? Each musical number stops the plot dead as the film seemingly becomes a music video.
Desghidorah, continuing the tradition of cute kids’ entertainment with seriously threatening villains, is an intimidating creation. It’s huge, char-black, shoots actual fireballs of death, and cuts a very demonic figure. Mama Mothra looks fantastic as well, the puppet brought to life convincingly. When Mothra Leo, still as a larva, approaches the dragon, the good guy seems seriously out-matched. This holds true when Desghidorah picks the caterpillar up in its jaws, nearly tearing it apart. Mama Mothra has to die, of course. She carries her child out to sea, to safety, before expiring, and sinking beneath the waves. This scene actually got me a little misty-eyed, that’s how well its done. When Mothra Leo emerges as a moth, the action kicks into high gear. There’s a lot of laser beams being traded and some impressive explosions. Mothra’s finishing move, flying a circle around Desghidorah and firing a giant blast, is impressive.
The monster fight scenes are awesome. There’s no shortage of them either, as “Rebirth of Mothra” is action-packed. It’s also runs 108 minutes, which is way too long for a kid-centric kaiju flick. Nestled among the saccharine kiddie business and the goofy fairy scenes is some worthy kaiju battles. Whether or not they’re worth the wait is up to the viewer. [6/10]
Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)
Wax dummies are creepy. They saunter right into the uncanny valley, even more-so then ventriloquist dummies or dolls. Those objects usually exaggerate the human form. Wax mannequins, meanwhile, mean to duplicate it perfectly. This makes them creepy as fuck. So it’s no shock that numerous horror films have meant to capitalize on that creepiness. “House of Wax” is obviously the most well-known example but that film is actually a remake of an even earlier film. “Mystery of the Wax Museum” was thought to be lost for thirty years before a copy emerge in the sixties, so that new generations could enjoy the originator.
In 1920s France, a proud, genius wax sculptor shows off his museum to some very appreciative critics. The man has a deep personal relationship with his artwork, talking to his sculptures as if they were people. Immediately afterwards, the museum’s investor tells him they are loosing money. In order to regain the lost funds, he plans to burn down the museum and collect on the insurance. The sculptor is horrified by this and attempts to stop it. When he can’t, he stays behind inside the museum, watching his beloved creations burn. A decade later, a new wax museum opens in New York, operated by the same man, now calling himself Mr. Igor. Though confined to a wheelchair, and with horribly burnt hands, he still directs the wax museum. Meanwhile, bodies begin to disappear from the morgue. Hotshot reporter Florence Dempsey quickly suspects the two cases might be related.
What truly keeps “Mystery of the Wax Museum” afloat and makes it so charming is its cast. Glenda Farrell plays Florence Dempsey, the fast-talking, quick-thinking reporter at the film’s center. Florence is friggin’ awesome. She’s brass, fearless, heads straight into danger, and always has a snappy one-liner up her sleeve. Farrell’s flapper-attitude might not be for everyone but I was absolutely charmed by her. Building the film around her was a wise decision since she steals the whole show. She’s certainly more interesting then Fay Wray as Charlotte, the movie’s damsel in distress. Charlotte stands around, being desired by the various men in the plot. Igor wants to encase her in wax while Jim, her fiancé, just wants to marry her. Wray at least gives her famous lungs a work-out. While Vincent Price was obviously more memorable in the remake, Lionel Atwill isn’t bad in the same part. His mad proclamations concerning his art are quite entertaining.
“House of Wax” is a smoother and better constructed then “Mystery of the Wax Museum.” Yet I’m a fan of the original and would put them on about equal footing. Mostly thanks to the unique feel early horror films have and the boundless charm of Glenda Farrell. [7/10]
Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: Trick or Treat
So here’s something I decided to watch totally on whim. After watching all the Ninja Turtles movies this summer, and binging on kaiju flicks this autumn, I wanted to give another childhood favorite a look. I completely understand anyone without a nostalgic connection to it finding the “Power Rangers” franchise completely tedious. It is really stupid and incredibly repetitive. In “Trick or Treat,” Kimberly becomes a contestant on a Halloween-themed game show, seemingly shot on the same juice bar set where half the show takes place. Resident idiot bullies Bulk and Skull are her competitor, which goes about as well as you’d expect. Anyway, that has nothing to do with the monster action of the week. Rita Repulsa sends down a creature called the Pumpkin Rapper, a pumpkin-headed monster who performs the cheesiest, worst raps you can imagine.
Like I said, “Power Rangers” can be hard to stomach from an adult perspective. The non-Ranger stuff in the juice bar is lowest common denominator, shitty kid’s stuff. Bulk and Skull are embarrassing creations. They’re supposed to be bullies but are so stupefyingly dumb, that I can’t imagine them being a threat to anyone. The non-action sequences have a cheesy moral about learning to loose with grace, which is as forced in as you’d expect. The conclusion, where Bulk and Skull loose the car they won, is mind-numbingly dumb. The Rangers sequences are a little easier to tolerate. You’ve got Japanese actors in goofy spandex beating up other goofballs in spandex. The Pumpkin Rapper is a really ridiculous creation. The suit looks pretty cool but the rap premise pushes it into true camp territory. Especially when the Rangers force the monster out by performing their own shitty rap. Disappointingly, there’s no Megazord action as the Rangers actually defeat the monsters with their guns and stuff. I have no idea how to rate “Trick or Treat.” If it wasn’t something I had a vague personal connection to, I’d probably find it totally insufferable. But then again… Jack o’Lantern monster! Shit, is this how my parents felt back in the day? [6/10]