Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Wolverine

The regurgitation of notable comic book storylines continues with The Wolverine, a blunted retelling of Chris Claremont and Frank Miller's 1982 mini-series. Aside from the usual disgust associated with hundred million dollar movies that don't cut the original authors a credit, never mind a cheque, The Wolverine confuses and miscommunicates its own conceits. Aside from shipping Logan off to Japan, this sequel's big idea seemed to be pain, with our hero finding his healing factor nulled. In practice, the X-Man can still shrug off point-blank 10 gauge and keep swinging. A few beats of dizziness and the odd shot of pooling blood doesn't translate into a raising of stakes. Logan is still very obviously superhuman.

If anything Logan's newfound ability to be knocked unconscious seems more like a way to work basic location transitions into the story. Any time Logan collapses he's sure to wake up exactly where he needs to be. Damage, and any determination in spite of it, is a hard sell with a tween friendly rating. When Logan ends up prickled with arrows like Mifune in Throne of Blood the desperation is shrugged off. We're never given the space or detail to allow the image, or even idea, to pop. What should have been an indelible glimpse of an invincible beast-man struggling against the weight of many is instead a painless image juggle to take us into Wolverine's latest coma.

James Mangold betrays no particular interest in blockbuster histrionics, settler encounters are weak and uninvolving. The action highlight is an almost throw-away bout of bullet train surfing that manages to work in a Bondian contempt for the lives of heavies. Mangold is much more comfortable with a second act stretch that places Logan in rural Nagasaki, with distressed damsel Mariko in tow. Mariko grounds the mutant with basic lessons in decorum and civic duty, before allowing him to wander off to find the well he used to shelter her grandfather from a Plutonium bomb.

Mariko then steps in to recontextualises the hesitant Logan for a face-puncher finale. The post-coital waif sees him as something between a rock star and an animistic cave God. This starfucking further confuses Logan's bizarre romantic entanglements. He incessantly dreams of the crush he skewered, placing her in a white-out villa realm that has zero to do with any reality, or relationship, they actually shared. Logan only remembers to shag his mate's imperilled granddaughter when she makes it clear she adores him, all the while ignoring the cherry-red dervish who actually protects him. Rila Fukushima's Yukio has the thankless task of being an anime influenced little sis focus tested to get nerds drooling. It's strange that despite her obvious usefulness in a fight, the film treats Yukio in much the same way as Mariko's evil Dad - she's pigeonholed as a colourful toy to be used and discarded at whim. A slave caste stray who fights like hell for people who act all bummed out whenever she pops up.

Compared to Raleigh's tireless cheerleading of Mako in Pacific Rim, The Wolverine's gender politics are stunted and old fashioned. Why have an equal when you can nob a willowy little rich girl who reminds you of a woman who never returned your affection? The Wolverine is only truly interesting as an example of flux filmmaking. Despite the definitive article title, the film can't even match the shakey permanence of an in-continuity comic from the early 1980s. Everything hard won is discarded to limp a few steps closer to Bryan Singer's upcoming canon singularity.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla / Godzilla vs the Cosmic Monster

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla is exactly the kind of trash cinema gem I always hoped Jun Fukuda was capable of. The mid-60s juggle between Ishiro Honda and Fukuda gave the Godzilla series a kind of split personality. Honda was always much more focused on telling human stories, with the Toho kaiju as walking natural disasters. Fukuda is the opposite. His human stories are threadbare, with character and drama expressed through the monster battles. During Fukuda's run Godzilla and pals began communicating through speech bubbles and baseball hand signals, coordinating their attacks on the latest alien invader. Unfortunately, Fukuda came to the franchise when it was on the wane. His apparent interest in bloody monster battles undermined by budget cuts and the obvious use of stock footage.

Mehcagodzilla is completely different. Fukuda builds on the simple dynamics he displayed in Godzilla vs Megalon, freeing the camera up with the kind of jittery hand-held work that gets people excited about Shigehiro Ozawa's Return of the Street Fighter (released the month following this film). Instead of bumbling big bro leads, we get scientists and archaeologists teaming up with Interpol agents to battle Intergalactic gorillas who act with the louche detachment of Yakuza. These Planet of the Apes escapees have built themselves a cyborg Godzilla, complete with synthetic flesh and a shrieking roar. This false King rampages across Japan causing the kind of carnage his namesake used to before he suffered a childish face turn. This allows Mechagodzilla to have it both ways. The film can have hero and villain Godzillas, the audience allowed to both delight in the havoc and be assured it will, eventually, stop.

When the two Godzillas first meet it is in the smoke choked industrial arena of Yoshimitsu Banno - the Godzilla vs Hedorah director's indelibly apocalyptic idea of kaiju combat slowly transforming into the rule, rather than the exception. Fukuda also works hard to unite the usually disparate human and monster worlds. Following Honda's departure the mismatch between the two plains of existence became more pronounced, doubly so when you factor in creature effects on loan from completely different creative teams. Fukuda uses rear projection screens and firebars to stress the devastating reality of being near two rampaging titans. Tiny humans are also superimposed into scale environments, creating a consistent sense of space. Well paced and full of pulpy violence, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla feels like a complete film experience, rather than a sugar-hyped child flicking between TV stations.

Jaws by Francesco Francavilla


Kavinsky - Wayfarer

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Batman Returns

Second time round, Tim Burton succeeds by simply not trying to please anyone but himself. Batman Returns is Burton's kitsch Christmas aesthetic amped up into infinity. Everything is overbearing, enormous and expressionistic. Returns' locations have nothing in common with reality, the universe apparently existing within a massive snow globe.

Michael Keaton barely shows his face for much of the first hour. He's a background spectre, filed away whilst we are treated to the canon diverging origins of the various super-villains. Rather than undermine the character it gives him a mythic, supernatural quality. We first see him alone, bathed in the Bat-Signal, slumbering in his Gothic castle-mansion. Returns' Batman is a vampire justice-god, sleeping deep in his ancient fortress until he is needed. It's a significant and welcome step up from the confused thug of the first film. His tenuous relationship with the Gotham police and his casual use of deadly force also lend him an air of absolute danger.

Danny DeVito's Penguin is a vile, ooze slobbering deformity, lousy with amoral circus muscle. Like the Joker, this villainous character is the splintered reflection of a hero trait - Bruce Wayne's loss taken hideous, violent shape. Indeed Wayne initially feels pity for him, hoping Penguin can achieve the kind of parental stability denied to himself. Catwoman is often the female opposite of Batman, equally skilled and of a similar intelligence. In Returns she is also driven by the need for vengeance. Michelle Phieffer's damaged counterpart is a much better fit for this Batman than the Vicki Vale cypher - Catwoman already shares his kink for dressing up and lashing out. She can also look after herself. 

These two comic book villains are fuelled by slights, seeking validation. The real evil then is Christopher Walken's Max Schrek. His primary motivating factor is nothing but greed. He doesn't need an emotional equalizer. Walken plays him with panache, a shark in a suit. He's pale and unmoving, a dead eyed seeker constantly looking for leverage. Shot through with pain, loss, and bad decisions, Batman Returns is a beautiful, romantic take on the Dark Knight Detective. 

Extracted, edited and expanded from this piece.


A hysterical, nightmarish version of the Dark Knight. Tim Burton's film is a violent and macabre comedy, blessed with an insistent, thundering score by Danny Elfman. Michael Keaton plays Batman as the typical Burton hero - isolated and childish, but with an inkling of sweetness. Kim Basinger's Vicki Vale is an overbearing stalker one minute, a pedestal blonde the next. They are a dreadfully mismatched couple, Wayne seeking her simply because she is desirable. She is a trophy to him, to be coveted and fought over. In terms of brain space, Wayne seems far more interested in the enemy he creates. Jack Nicholson's Joker is terrifying, a cruel mobster transformed into a flippant libertine. His violence manifesting as an avant garde experiment.

This Batman is an aggressive but awkward phantom with zero moral underpinning. Indeed, the end clash is more like the meeting of two rather nasty bullies than a heroic triumph. Batman physically and verbally pounds his adversary, obviously quite enjoying it. Wayne is distant and possibly even mentally unhinged. A leaf through Jack Napier's crime file is capped by a dreamy flashback in which Wayne recalls a version of his parents' murder. The sequence has a needling sense of manipulation to it and, perhaps, even self-justification. This may not even be Bruce's actual memory, just ammunition to get the job done. Not afraid to examine the superhero psyche as damaged rather than courageous, Burton's film is pretty subversive for a summer money machine. Miraculously, Burton even out-does himself with his kinky sequel Batman Returns.

Extracted, edited and expanded from this piece.

Batman Year 100 by Louie Joyce


Friday, 26 July 2013

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Godzilla vs Megalon

Stock footage overload! After thirty minutes of reasonably diverting espionage, Godzilla vs Megalon goes bananas, cuing up the armed response footage used to welcome a rampaging Gigan in the previous film. It wasn't even new then. This will be (at least) the third time we've seen the massing techno-tanks on loan from Destroy All Monsters. I've lost count. War of the Gargantuas' maser batteries get another showing too, last seen putting the boot in on friendly kaiju Anguirus in Godzilla vs Gigan. It's one thing to feel like you're seeing similar beats replayed, but quite another to be literally watching the exact same piece of footage being replayed over and over.

This salvage operation hits a new low during a jet fighter attack on an out-of-control Megalon - the creature swings his distinctive drill fists at the buzzing aircraft but connects, in close-up, with Gigan's curved scythe hands. It's a shame as Megalon is Jun Fukuda's most consistent work since Son of Godzilla. The central conceit of a young boy, his two Dads (the very best of friends, no doubt) and their pet robot at war with subterranean Swedish breeze blocks is at least novel. Fukuda also stages one or two amusing car stunts between all the collages. It's as if the director has had a big fizzy drink and remembered that people often look exciting when filmed in motion and from strange angles. Megalon is in no way competent, but certainly a step up from the anti-adventure seen in the Gigan entry.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Godzilla vs Gigan / Godzilla on Monster Island

Godzilla vs Gigan would've been significantly more exciting if I hadn't spent the last couple of weeks marathoning my way through the Big G's adventures. Without a fresh knowledge of the other films in the series I might not have noticed the sheer volume of recycled footage used to prop up a slight entry primarily concerned with the plight of an unemployable mangaka. Godzilla vs Gigan is a chimeric mess, full of mismatched footage and ideas on loan from better films. There isn't even much consistency between the repurposed shots and Jun Fukuda's newly crafted footage.

When King Ghidorah and Gigan arrive at the 45 minute mark to put an alien peace plan into motion - that's harmony through eradication rather than something wishy-washy like an infinite clean energy resource - the film starts cutting wildly between two completely distinct flavours of apocalypse. The King Ghidorah scenes, lifted from Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, are set during the day and centre on the concrete shattering demolition typical of the Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya instalments. Although spectacular, the destruction has a detached, horrifying weight to it, born as it is from a hovering monster that can spit lightning at will. This disconnection essential for a directorial team who never celebrated the annihilation they depicted.

Gigan's inserts are completely different, perhaps symptomatic of a creature that can't touch anything without slashing at it. The cyborg knife-bot hurls itself around an industrial sea front, hacking away at buildings while framed by flames and inky, polluted smoke. Despite the fact that these concurrent sequences are shown to take place at completely different times of day, a generous soul might contextualise this disparity as Fukuda matching the violence to each character's personality. Like his 1970s stablemate Hedorah, Gigan is an aggressive techno-nightmare intent on harm. His nighttime tantrum certainly helps to sell the unrestrained, childish glee the monster feels levelling cities, but it ends up giving the film a garbled voice. Gigan's cruelty mixes poorly with the horror of Honda's images.

Ostensibly designed to babysit children, Fukuda still can't resist trying to one-up the harsher spots Yoshimitsu Banno and Teruyoshi Nakano introduced in the previous film - Gigan's attacks on Godzilla and Anguirus feature the kind of arterial blood spurts usually associated with samurai fight flicks. Alarming, but ultimately perfunctory, these attention grabbers are just another inconsistency in a film that can't settle on a distinct tone. Godzilla vs Gigan isn't out-and-out terrible, the introduction of a kaiju that looks like a cross between a chicken and a chainsaw held my attention, however it is exactly the kind of the film people describe when sneering at tokusatsu cinema. It's cheap, artistically primitive, and grinds to a halt anytime a human being is forced in front of the camera.

Friday, 19 July 2013

The Terminator by Kilian Eng


Godzilla vs Hedorah / Godzilla vs the Smog Monster

The first Godzilla film of the 1970s is a macabre, psychedelic freakout with the Big G matched against a sentient space contaminant who takes bong hits off heavy industry smokestacks. Yoshimitsu Banno's sole contribution (thus far, the writer-director has a producer credit on Legendary Pictures' upcoming remake) to the Godzilla franchise is a wildly atypical entry, structured like a fever dream. Non-diegetic comments and animated digressions bleed into the film, framing it as a kind of psychic explosion experienced by Ken, a young boy with a sixth sense style ability to track the monsters' movements and motivations.

As an aside, I wonder if Godzilla vs Hedorah is the Japanese monster movie Steven Spielberg pays lip service to when describing his pre-special effects disaster idea of Jaws? Hedorah's early aquatic mode is shot in much the same way - a pitch black shape that blocks out the sun from the ocean floor, and a speeding blur of surf-churning aggression when seen above the waves. The beat and tempo of an early diving scene is also a fair match for the chaotic hopelessness felt throughout Spielberg's career defining feature.

Godzilla vs Hedorah takes the usual perversions of science angle and adds in a kind of tie-dye animism, casting Godzilla as a titanic champion of the natural world. Cheered on by a Japanese youth movement, his enemy is a malevolent toxic sludge that seeks to choke the life out of everything it touches. More than a match for our hero, Hedorah is easily the most evil kaiju so far. The majority of the beasts featured in the Godzilla series are oblivious to their horrifying effect on mankind, Hedorah revels in it. He cackles as he crushes, transforming into a oozing bio-jet to spray acidic gas clouds on crowds of innocent people, melting them to the bone.

New special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano instantly asserts a distinct, terrifying vision for the ongoing series. Hedorah's fights with Godzilla are shot at night in smoky, pollution choked environments that emphasise the blacks on the cobalt grey monsters. Both creatures look fantastic - the smog hiding the usual sins associated with Godzilla's suit. Unlike the last few Ishiro Honda films, there is no underlining sense of optimism. Victory in Godzilla vs Hedorah is hard won, with thousands dead and Godzilla himself bloody and half blind. Yoshimitsu Banno bucks a ten film trend, making Godzilla a gasping underdog, overwhelmed by an enemy that resembles the oily, landscape sweeping waves of the Tohoku tsunami. Godzilla vs Hedorah is a queasy sense assault that can proudly sit alongside series greats like Godzilla and Invasion of Astro-Monster.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Pacific Rim

Guillermo del Toro is a tinkerer, a writer-director obsessed with how things work on an impulse level. His body of work is a kind of rolling genre thesis, with del Toro approaching each film as a well worn conceit, breaking it down to see what he can add and subtract without the whole losing shape. Cronos gave vampires shame, Blade II offered a leather jacket ubermensch a string of equals, while the Hellboy films grounded group superheroics in the disaffected camaraderie of a circus troupe.

Pacific Rim takes a slightly different formal tact. Instead of character inflections, del Toro and Travis Beacham provide monster movies with the kind of socio-political context and permanence usually seen in the war films of the 1950s and 60s. Films less concerned with an overarching ideological thesis and more about moment-to-moment effects on the individual. Politically and economically the world of Pacific Rim is crippled. The world's leaders have given up engaging with the Kaiju invasion, preferring to hide behind massive concrete walls. As far as employment goes the only legal game in town seems to be heavy industry, to be paid in microwave meals. The sole people making money are a criminal class that sweep in and strip mine monsters the second they fall. Mankind is locked into an extinction war and running on dregs.

Of course, this isn't the totality of the Pacific Rim experience. The majority of the film is a quarterback narrative sprinkled with city levelling fisticuffs, but the total war idea informs the film's heft and movement. Pacific Rim is just a little bit more desperate than your average alien invasion film. Its characters that little bit more likely to die without fanfare. Humanity has spent years getting hammered and, aside from the indomitable Idris Elba and his ace Jaeger pilots, getting comfortable with the idea of defeat. Pacific Rim is then Godzilla by way of Battle of Britain. Ishiro Honda's patented kaiju eiga mission movie grounded in blitz think and finite resources. Del Toro might be holding back - fights peak at a delirious mid-point and the Kaiju could do with wilder colour palettes and more individual voices - but Pacific Rim is a blockbuster that proceeds from one specific, cultivated idea rather than a thousand clashing trailer images.


By the sounds of it, Capcom are strip mining the less than successful Street Fighter X Tekken for updates assets in the next version of Street Fighter IV. Due next year, Ultra Street Fighter IV is to feature fan feedback gameplay adjustments, as well as six stages and four characters ripped straight from 2012's cross-over. Joining Ryu and the gang are Mad Gear alumni Poison, Hugo and Rolento, as well as the hyper-limber Elena from Street Fighter III. We are also promised a mystery fifth fighter, apparently making their Street Fighter series debut. Capcom Twitter feeds have already discounted Asura (from Asura's Wrath) and Mega Man but, so far, there's been no mention of a certain Mayor Mike Haggar.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

All Monsters Attack / Godzilla's Revenge

Conceptually, All Monsters Attack is unique. Instead of being a typical in-universe Godzilla film, it's set in our world and focuses on the series' audience. It's a Children's Film Foundation version of social realism, focusing on the plight of lonely, latchkey children. Considering Ishiro Honda's taste for grounding his work in issues stripped from the headlines, I wonder how much of the film represents his own particular tastes? Destroy All Monsters, ended with a note of finality, so it's tempting to see this film as a stepping stone for the director. Perhaps he'd had enough of giant monsters?

All Monsters Attack works best in its early passages, detailing the environment young Ichiro is forced to grow up in. This Tokyo is completely unlike the space-age metropolis seen in other sci-fi slanted Honda films, it's dense with machinery and completely polluted. Ichiro's world is basic and functional, strewn with derelict buildings and people. His parents love him, but their blue collar jobs demand they spend all their time away from him. When not running from local hoodlums, Ichiro spends his days plonked in front of a home made computer dreaming of Godzilla and Monster Island.

This is where the film come unstuck - the kaiju footage is primarily recycled sequences from the two rubbish Jun Fukuda sequels. Entire battles are played out in full, boring detail, laced with lame cut-aways of Ichiro and a human sized Minilla cheering the super parent on. The only new, suit action addition to the film is Gabara, an ugly reptilian cat monster that represents the hardships Ichiro must endure. Experimental, but hopelessly padded, All Monsters Attack is notable for having one of the least patronising messages I've ever seen in a kid's film: self reliance and an unshakable personal identity is more important than simply being 'good'.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Destroy All Monsters

Ishiro Honda returns to the Godzilla fold with Destroy All Monsters, a wonderfully plastic pulp adventure in the vein of Invasion of Astro-Monster. It is the year 1999, mankind enjoys daily rocket missions to the Moon, safe in the knowledge that Earth's monsters have been confined to an archipelago named Monsterland. When communications with the island's control centre are suddenly severed, intergalactic badass Captain Katsuo Yamabe (Akira Kubo) is sent to investigate. He soon discovers that Monsterland's science team has been brainwashed and the kaiju are now under alien control.Unlike the sustained mash the title would seem to suggest, Destroy All Monsters revolves around Captain Yamabe's efforts to put a hurt on the silicon-based punks who have designs on Earth.

Yamabe is all action. He jets about the cosmos in the Moonlight SY-3, a chromed space rocket that'd make the Thunderbirds jealous. Similarly, when he discovers his girlfriend has been mind zapped by the covetous aliens he immediately attacks her in front of a crowd of UN delegates, tearing a pair of hypnotic metal studs out of her ears. This no-nonsense approach to storytelling is everywhere in the film. Contrary to the previous two Jun Fukuda films, these creatures are not simply capering merchandise. Honda, it seems, prefers to continue presenting them as amoral Old Gods, blind to humanity's suffering. In the all-action finale Godzilla and pals don't turn against the alien Kilaaks to make amends for their unbridled destruction of Earth's cities. They do it because mankind has simply managed to seize control of the alien devices that had been directing them. Honda clearly doesn't see the Big G as the pop culture hero that Toho were trying to push. The King of Monsters will always be the living embodiment of atomic indifference to him.

Summertime by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Son of Godzilla

Who is Godzilla? What drives him? The eighth film in the series peels back his calloused radioactive hide to reveal a brusk but ultimately attentive father. Brought to Sollgel Island by the distressed brain waves of an embryonic offspring, Godzilla arrives just after a radioactive storm has mutated the local arthropod population up to convenient grappling height. Son of Godzilla's big idea is a monster ecosystem, with Godzilla and his son sitting on top of the food chain.

The film's human characters, a science team, a reporter and a shipwrecked girl, can do little other than hide in caves and hope they don't attract the titanic predators. When not clobbering praying mantis puppets, Godzilla spends his time mildly irritated by his infant son Minilla. He resents the child's dependency and inability to conjure up his own atomic breath. It's easy to side with Godzilla. Minilla is an ugly little troll, his face forever frozen in a state of dull alarm. The film at least seems to understand this reservation - hurled boulders are never far from the child's face.

Kano by Warwick Fraser-Coombe


Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Transformers NO MERCY by !TheBoo

Godzilla vs the Sea Monster / Ebirah, Horror of the Deep

Jun Fukuda's first stab at Godzilla is a minor effort, notable for a teeny bop plot that resembles an easy breezy Elvis movie. When country bumpkin Ryota hears his brother has been lost at sea he commandeers a Hollywood producer's sail boat to go in search of him, bringing along two bickering sock hoppers and a laconic safe-cracker. After a run in with Ebirah, a monstrously proportioned lobster, the gang wash up on an island controlled by the Red Bamboo, an evil criminal organisation who command a nuclear option. Whilst planning their escape the gang run into Dayo, an Infant Island native who has been kidnapped to toil for the terrorists. Unable to contact Mothra, the kids must make do with a drowsy Godzilla.

Bright and colourful, but ultimately dull, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep marks the point were Godzilla ceased to be a state-of-the-art techno terror. Although embellished with the usual ecological undertones, Fukuda's film appears designed to appeal specifically to children - the main character is a manic teen out to rescue his big bro, while the film's kaiju scenes pinball back and forth between playground scuffles and alarming mutilation. Godzilla's enemies are a disinteresting bunch too. Instead of prehistoric titans resurrected for the atomic age we're stuck with a boring crustacean and an oversized condor. Akira Ifukube's monster march is also gone, replaced by antwacky surf rock. Following on from three consistently excellent Ishiro Honda entries, Fukuda's film can't help but disappoint. What's surprising though is the faint whiff of contempt. Godzilla isn't presented as a terrifying destructive force, instead he's a silly dinosaur who dances to electric rockabilly while jets crash into him.


Earth Defense Force 4 has been out for nearly a week in Japan, so naturally YouTube is full of gameplay clips. Here's GameEmpireHD putting the airborne Wing Diver class to work. Aside from the frame rate chugging enemy count, it's heartening to see the series return to short, hectic levels. Vicious Cycle Software's side-story Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon experimented with longer stages and cover-shooter objectives, ending up with a dilute game with little of its predecessor's charm. Sandlot's true sequel is, thankfully, back to basics. EDF4 is due everywhere else in early February, retitled Earth Defense Force 2025.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013


This five minute hype reel for Grand Theft Auto V does a nice job of detailing what sets the series apart from the whippersnapper copycats. Whereas something like the later Saints Row games often feels like you're playing with a sandbox set in a 90s debug cheat mode, GTA has never lost sight of Michael Mann's methodical, electronic cool. While beating cat-headed generics to death with an oversized purple dildo has its fans, I think I'd rather have three Uncle Nobheads planning a multi-disciplined diamond heist instead.

Thursday, 4 July 2013


Nabbed from VG Cuts

White Tiger

The few Russian war films that I've seen haven't been particularly interested in presenting their Great Patriotic War as a boy's own duck hunt. Instead they seem more inclined to address it as dour, psychological state imposed on them by outside forces. White Tiger is no exception. The film tracks the response to a ghostly Tiger tank that appears out of nowhere to wreck havoc with the Soviet advance on Berlin. The titular Nazi phantom specifically creates its own cosmic opposite when it ambushes a Russian tank column. A nameless man is pulled from the wreckage of his vehicle covered in third-degree burns. He recovers at a supernatural rate, then is placed in a special forces unit tasked with hunting down the mysterious tank.

In many respects, White Tiger is shot like a monster movie. When engaged in battle the feature tanks churn up the earth beneath them and expel massive, guttural clouds of smoke. They crash through buildings and splinter trees like they are nothing. Each tank is also given a personality. The Nazi tank is framed as an opportunist predator, taken to stalking through thick bush to ambush its prey. Like its namesake, it is also able to move around soundlessly with a stated preference for attacking from the rear. The Tiger is presented as the clear aggressor, while the nameless man's heavily customised T-34 gets to be harassed and heroic. The Soviet tank is shot in ways that accentuate its robust, rounded body. Angles are low and intimate, where the Tiger is kept at arms length. As the film progresses it becomes increasingly metaphysical with each machine representing deathless, nationalist symbols of war. Although the story doesn't quite keep up with these developments, the mise en scene has long since keyed us into these ideas.

Marshal Law by Kevin O'Neill

Lifted from Steven Cook's Secret Oranges

Dragon's Claws by Geoff Senior

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Invasion of Astro-Monster / Monster Zero

Invasion of Astro-Monster is barely even a Godzilla film. Produced in the middle of an electrifying run of science-fiction stompers by Ishiro Honda, Astro-Monster instead revolves around the duplicitous residents of Planet X. In year of the future 196X, the World Space Agency sends a Tintin rocket off to explore one of Jupiter's newly discovered satellites. On the arrival the super rugged astronauts are rescued from a rampaging King Ghidorah by an underground society of faintly mechanical pixies. Desperate to rid themselves of the golden space dragon, the Xians offer humanity a cure for cancer if they'll loan them Godzilla and Rodan, Earth's mightiest monsters.

Unlike the trepidatious Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, Astro-Monster imagines a near future ruled by Japan. Although the space mission is fronted by an organisation called The World Space Agency, the delegates convened to discuss and make decisions on the operation are entirely Japanese. When the time comes to debate whether or not Planet X can be trusted, it is a kimono clad lady representing the world's housewives who has the casting vote. Looks like Japan is a benevolent overlord then. They even allow an American to tag along on the space mission for old times' sake.

Astro-Monster is also unusual in that the human story is much more engaging than the monster element. Typically for this series anything after the sixty minute mark is an agitated count down to the Big G's climatic appearance. Here, he barely matters. The humans are able to see off the Xians by amplifying an ornate rape alarm constructed by the boyfriend of the lead astronaut's sister. The ear piercing screech proving fatal to Xians, much like Indian Love Call's effect on the red planet punks from Mars Attacks!. Godzilla and Rodan are only really necessary to chase off King Ghidorah, a task they're not even particularly successful with.

Astro-Monster features production design indebted to the cavernous, concrete palaces of Ken Adam's SPECTRE lairs. The Xians favour architectural brutality and European colonial pomp, a kind of corrupt opposite to the functional, industrialist landscapes glimpsed in this modern Japan. Perhaps the Xians are intended to represent a different post-war path for the country? Planet X is governed by terse, Godlike computer signals, and self-expression is punishable by death. Their misogynistic stance on women also stands in stark contrast to the constitutional deference of this film's hero Japan.

So far, the Godzilla series has seemed to be about a country's national identity struggling and transforming after a seismic, nuclear blow to their confidence. The first two films were about the immediate aftershock, King Kong vs Godzilla and Mothra vs Godzilla talked about an emerging cultural shifts - does Japan look to America or its own past for guidance? Ghidorah proposed Japan as a median, calming influence on Russia and America. Astro-Monster sees the country charting a hopeful, inclusionist future by defining who they are not.