Saturday, January 22, 2011

Weekend Movies, Part I

As much as I love movies, it often takes me a lot of effort to finally decide to watch one. The problem is that when I finally choose to see a movie I like to devote my full attention to it; I don't often want to commit two hours of my evening to any one thing. However, sometimes I get the urge to watch a cluster of movies.

War of the Gargantuas (1966)
I've seen a lot of weird kaiju movies over the years, but this film and its predecessor, Frankenstein Conquers the World, a.k.a. Frankenstein vs. Baragon (1965), are some of the weirdest by far.

As we all know from Frankenstein vs. Baragon, the undying heart of Frankenstein (the monster, not the doctor) was delivered by the Germans to Japan in the waning days of World War II. The heart was irradiated while it was being examined in Hiroshima and eventually regenerated the monster. Although the now mutated monster grew to an enormous size (about 100 feet tall; smaller than Godzilla's 200+ feet, but still pretty big), the creature was basically friendly. However, the military still considered it dangerous because it was blamed for the depredations of the underground-dwelling Baragon.

Now we have War of the Gargantuas, which was called Frankenstein's Monsters: Sanda versus Gaira in Japan. The more human, loincloth-wearing Frankenstein from the previous film has been replaced by a hairy, ape-like animal. Although it appears that several main characters from the first movie show up in Gargantuas (including the American scientist running a laboratory in Japan; what's a gaijin doing in my kaiju eiga?), the characters' names have been changed. It's almost as if the filmmakers wanted to make a sequel but were ashamed of the movie of which they were making a sequel.

Anyway, as is mandatory in any kaiju film, ships at sea are being attacked by a large, green monster (called Gaira in the Japanese version). Gaira isn't just interested in sinking the ships, he's also eating the crews. Doctor Paul Stewart and his staff are brought in to investigate since they had been studying a so-called gargantua (Frankenstein?) in their lab prior to its escape several years before. Stewart claims that their gargantua was harmless and begins to believe that there are two creatures when reports of a monster start to surface in the mountains.

During one of Gaira's forays on land, it's attacked and almost killed(!) by an unusually effective Japanese Army. Just as they have him on the ropes, Gaira is saved by a larger brown gargantua (Sanda, who's apparently supposed to be Frankenstein from the previous film). When samples of both monsters' cells are compared, it's theorized that Gaira was most likely produced when some of Sanda's tissue ended up in the ocean and grew into a new monster.

Although friendly towards each other at first, Sanda doesn't approve of Gaira's propensity towards eating people and the two begin the titular "war of the gargantuas". This fight ends up in Tokyo (of course), which is required to be destroyed in nearly all kaiju films. Fittingly, the ending of Gargantuas makes as little sense as that of Frankenstein.

Every minute the human actors are on screen is deathly boring and Netflix only has the American release of the film available for instant viewing (I hate dubbed films), but the city-smashing nearly compensates for it. This is a movie for serious daikaiju fans only.

Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)
This direct-to-video animated movie is similar to the popular Batman: The Animated Series but with a degree of violence that you could never get away with in children's programming. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the opening scene where the Joker beats a captive Robin (the second one, Jason Todd) with a crowbar. Todd is killed in a subsequent explosion and Batman blames himself for his death.

Several years later a masked vigilante called the Red Hood appears in Gotham City. In contrast to Bruce Wayne's Batman, who has sworn to fight crime but will never take a life, the Red Hood leaves a trail of bodies. Reasoning that no one can ever fully eliminate crime, the Red Hood tries to control and limit it by using terror to take over one of Gotham's criminal syndicates.

In desperation, an opposing syndicate under the crime lord Black Mask breaks the Joker out of Arkham Asylum in exchange for the elimination of the Red Hood. Ironically, the Joker was the original Red Hood and had been in that disguise when he was knocked into the vat at the Ace Chemical Plant. I'm sure I'm not spoiling anything when I say that Batman intervenes in the showdown between the Red Hood and the Joker.

The animation is good, the voice acting is solid, and the storyline is interesting. I've become used to more reality-based Batman stories thanks to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, so it took a while to get used to a few of the more fantastic elements of the story (e.g., Ra's al Ghul's Lazarus Pit). Either way, Batman: Under the Red Hood is a worthwhile film for any superhero fan.

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