Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mixed Messages and Facebook Politics

Mixed Messages
While a high school student in southern California, I saw the following poster in a number of my classrooms:

Of course, the poster is misleading. As someone with a BS and an MS in mechanical engineering who was fortunate enough to get a good job in the nuclear industry right out of school, I think I can safely say that my higher education has been more financially rewarding than the educations many of my high school friends received. However, I have a modest home in eastern Idaho with a minivan and a little red hand-me-down Nissan in the garage rather than the mansion and the cars seen here. The poster might be accurate for highly paid athletes, lawyers, CEOs, or Hollywood plastic surgeons. My personal opinion is that they can have it; I'm not willing or able to do the things necessary to live like that nor do I begrudge them the right to earn such a living.

Anyway, the accuracy of the poster is irrelevant. My point is that teachers hung the image in their classrooms to motivate us to obtain a college education. However, the political lean of Californian teachers in general and many of my teachers in particular was to the Left, which has been saying some rather inflammatory things recently about the kind of people who actually live the sort of life depicted in the picture. I have to wonder; if my higher education had actually earned me the lifestyle those teachers were implicitly promising (i.e., a cliff-side mansion and a stable of luxury cars), how many of them would now be accusing me of being "a @#$%*& one percenter" and "a rich fat cat who doesn't pay his fair share"? Isn't it inconsistent to believe that hard work and education will make someone rich while simultaneously claiming that those who actually do become rich must have done so unfairly by taking advantage of the so-called "99%"?

Facebook and Politics
Let me start by saying that Facebook is a lousy place to have a political discussion. The format and casual atmosphere just don't lend themselves to lengthy and well-reasoned arguments. Another problem is the fact that everybody who may read your posts is, theoretically, a friend. And believe it or not, you may just happen to have a friend who doesn't share your point of view.

Now, I'm not saying that people shouldn't express their political views on Facebook (I sure do). However, it would be prudent to make your point civilly and in a way that doesn't vilify or insult those with contrary views. Statements that begin with "how stupid do Republicans have to be to believe..." or "all Liberals are a bunch of..." may not go over very well. By making blanket accusations or by indulging in name calling or ad hominem attacks you may very well have called one or more friends idiots, bigots, racists, etc. Sharing inflammatory images, quotes, or memes can have similar consequences.

Remember that, although all the comments to your potentially offensive statements may consist of "right on!" or "can't agree more", it is not necessarily the case that all your friends agree with you. Those you've just insulted may simply want to avoid conflict with someone they still want to consider a friend. I don't know how many times I've found myself shaking my head at a comment made by a friend who has unknowingly said something unfair and unkind about me, many of my friends, or my family by making general declarations about all Republicans, Conservatives, Christians, Mormons, etc. Those few times I've chosen to respond were met by disbelief; they couldn't even imagine that they knew someone who believed such things. Facebook seems to have a way of creating echo chambers.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Gamera vs. Mystery Science Theater 3000

The other night I watched Gamera vs. Zigra, thus finishing off Volume XXI of Mystery Science Theater 3000; a.k.a., MST3K vs. Gamera. I must say, as much as I like kaiju movies, this was a long slog. It seems pretty appropriate that even Joel and the 'bots were celebrating the fact that it was the last Gamera movie they had to watch.

MST3K vs. Gamera vs. the audience

Gamera (1965)
I saw this one years ago without the help of Joel and the 'bots. A nuclear weapon from a downed bomber awakens the giant fire-breathing turtle GAMERA!, from the polar ice. Like 90% of all self-respecting monsters, he makes a beeline for Japan. Unlike some of his more famous cousins, and despite the fact that he's a turtle, Gamera doesn't make the trip underwater. Instead, he pulls his limbs and head into his shell and emits four jets of flame. His shell spins as he flies through the air, causing people to misidentify him as a flying saucer.

There's something about black and white
that makes a monster movie classier

Once in Japan, Gamera goes on the usual rampage, although he inexplicably saves a boy who falls from a lighthouse that the big turtle happens to be destroying at the time. Throughout the rest of the film the boy will try to convince the authorities that Gamera is good and a 'friend of children', notwithstanding the fact that the monster seems pretty content to destroy anything he comes across. Realizing that Gamera is attracted by flame and appears to consume it, the authorities use fire to lure him towards a giant platform that just so happens to be the top portion of a rocket destined for Mars. Once on the platform, the clamshell doors trap him inside and the rocket takes off for the Red Planet.

I seem to remember this movie being better the first time I saw it. It's not necessarily a bad movie in comparison to some of its peers (e.g., Godzilla's Revenge), but it's not particularly good, either. Unfortunately, it's significantly better than its sequels.

Most Ridiculous Moment:
The movie is mediocre rather than hysterically bad, so it's hard to find one. I'd have to say that Gamera's rescue of the boy is ridiculous when you consider that he's trying to destroy Japan in every other scene.

Gamera vs. Barugon (1966)
This really should have been called Barugon (with a five minute cameo by Gamera). The movie starts decently enough when an asteroid breaks open Gamera's rocket prison, allowing him to return to Earth. The big reptile destroys a dam and then disappears. Gamera screen time thus far: approximately two minutes.

Get your Gamera fix now; you won't be seeing much of him

In the meantime, a murderous treasure seeker steals a gem from an exotic island and brings it to Japan. The gem turns out to be an egg containing the fast-growing BARUGON! (not to be confused with Toho's Baragon). Barugon is a dog-like monster with a skyscraper smashing tongue and the power to shoot a destructive rainbow ray(!) out of his back. As is always the case in a kaiju movie, the appearance of a new monster attracts the attention of our "hero". Gamera briefly wrestles with Barugon, is defeated when his enemy uses some sort of freeze spray, and ends up in an icy coma until the movie's climax. Gamera screen time to this point: approximately three minutes.

Barugon turns out to be one of the lamest kaiju I've ever seen; it turns out that he's weakened by water and his rampages can be cut short by seeding nearby clouds. The resulting rain puts him into some sort of hibernation. When efforts to lure the monster to a lake to drown him fail, the Japanese defense forces use a giant mirror to reflect the creature's rainbow ray (*snicker*) back onto his own hide. This too fails so it's up to Gamera to wake up and to drag Barugon into the lake himself. Gamera screen time before the blessed words "The End" appear: approximately five minutes.

As far as the human storyline goes, Gamera vs. Barugon may the best of the Gamera movies (this doesn't mean a whole lot, actually). But Barugon is a lousy and uninteresting kaiju and five minutes of the titular monster isn't enough to save the movie.

Most Ridiculous Moment:
A deadly rainbow ray? This has to be the lamest giant monster power ever.

Gamera vs. Gaos (1967)
This was probably the second best of the Gamera films. It was also the first film in which Gamera was clearly the hero. Not only does he save children, but he even tries to avoid damaging anything (lame).

It's a bat! Or a pterodactyl! Or... something

A highway construction crew is in the middle of a dispute with local farmers when a giant bat-like creature starts causing trouble. The monster, GAOS!, produces a sonic laser capable of cutting even Gamera's tough hide. Gaos has a serious weakness, though; the creature is entirely nocturnal and will actually suffer physical harm if exposed to sunlight for too long.

Discovering that Gaos has a taste for human blood, a plan is hatched to mount a fountain that sprays synthetic blood on top of a spinning building at a nearby amusement park. The idea is that Gaos will be attracted to the fake blood and will then get dizzy while sitting on the spinning building. The hope is that he won't be able to return to his cave before sunrise. Of course this idea is stupid, so it's up to Gamera to save Japan by fighting the monstrous bat until the sun comes up and the creature self-destructs.

After the lame Barugon, Gaos is actually a pretty nifty monster. The costume isn't great, but the monster is threatening and can do serious damage to Gamera. The problem with the movie is that we've got a giant fire-breathing turtle fighting a giant bat that shoots sonic beams and drinks human blood and yet the movie seems to think that we care about a land dispute between a highway construction company and a bunch of farmers. To add insult to injury, while the construction crew foreman is watchable enough, his assistants are a couple of unfunny morons.

Most Ridiculous Moment:
Watching a giant monster getting dizzy on a spinning building is pretty ridiculous. This is also the first movie where we see Gamera fly with only his leg rockets firing.

Gamera vs. Guiron (1969)
I've already discussed this movie in detail. Two boys are whisked away to another planet called Terra where they find two space women planning to take over the Earth. The aliens' knife-headed monster, GUIRON!, ends up fighting Gamera.

He slices, he dices... oh, I've already done that joke, haven't I?

This movie is probably the most absurd of the five that were mocked on MST3K. Not only is Gamera's rival silly looking, but the human subplot is just goofy thanks to the brain eating alien women. This is much more entertaining than land disputes. Oddly enough, this actually makes Gamera vs. Guiron the best one since there's plenty to laugh at. Any b-movie fan will tell you that the worst sin a movie can commit is to be boring. It's far better that a film be utterly ridiculous.

Most Ridiculous Moment:
This is a hard choice. The Guiron costume is probably the silliest I've seen in a long time and ranks pretty high on the list. However, the most absurd part has to be when Gamera actually uses a large pipe running between two buildings as a horizontal bar and performs some gymnastics. That the filmmakers ever thought this was a good idea is mind-boggling.

Gamera vs. Zigra (1971)
An alien space ship attacks a moon base while massive earthquakes rock various portions of the Earth. It turns out that ZIGRA! is responsible for these seemingly unrelated events. Zigra (in the form of a space ship) soon addresses the earth using a mind-controlled moon base astronaut as his spokesperson. It turns out Zigra can speak for himself, so I guess the only reason to introduce the astronaut character is because the woman playing her is attractive (and is the best thing about this movie). Two children find out Zigra's plan (given Zigra's actions, I thought it was pretty obvious) and Zigra sends the astronaut to capture the children.

Spoiler: swordfish don't fight too well standing on their tails

Gamera, friend of children, doesn't take kindly to this and attacks Zigra, who turns into a giant blade-covered swordfish. The two kaiju end up fighting underwater (which, inexplicably, has no effect on Gamera's flaming breath). Zigra finally zaps Gamera with a ray that puts him into a coma and takes him out of the movie for a while (this sure seems to happen a lot to the big turtle). Gamera is eventually revived by a lightning storm and goes after Zigra again. He pulls the big fish out of the water and finishes the fight with his fiery breath.

Gamera vs. Zigra is the weakest film since Gamera vs. Barugon. The human story centers around the two children and their respective fathers who work as marine biologists at a theme park called Sea World. Mostly we're subjected to a few heavy-handed pro-environment messages (this movie came out the same year as Godzilla vs. Hedorah, a.k.a., Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster) and the antics of Sea World's dolphin trainer. The film's most pointless subplot involves a dispute between the trainer and a hotel manager who both want a local fisherman's meager catch to feed either dolphins or hotel guests, respectively. This scene, which is in a movie that could have been giving us giant monster action instead, goes on for several minutes and may actually be longer than some of the fight scenes.

Most Ridiculous Moment:
Hands down, this is the "xylophone scene". After pulling Zigra from the water and knocking him down, Gamera picks up a rock and starts bonking Zigra's blade-like dorsal fins, each of which makes a different sound. Gamera then plays the Gamera theme song on Zigra's back.

Final Thoughts:
Joel and the 'bots usually took a movie's absurdities in stride and simply made fun of them. However, while watching the Gamera films there were more than a few instances in which the Satellite of Love's crew could do little more than shout "oh, come on!" I've seen a lot of giant monster movies over the years, but the Gamera movies are probably some of the worst. Does that mean I'll never watch them again? Of course not; I'm the guy who has watched The Creeping Terror (1964) on three separate occasions! I have just that much self-loathing.


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