Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Frasierquest 5.18: Bad Dog

Bulldog strikes a heroic pose


Daphne: My life suddenly seems long, measured in muffins.

After a couple of undercooked episodes, Season 5 returns to form with "Bad Dog", which as its title suggests revolves around the exploits of Bob "Bulldog" Briscoe. Of all the show's major character, Bulldog is probably the biggest contrast to Frasier himself. Martin is a slob and a curmudgeon, but he shares his son's strong ethical sense; Roz is more worldly, but she's his closest friend. Bulldog, at least much of the time, is just a jerk; he has his moments of decency (especially later on), but for the most part he pops up because he makes a good adversary, without the scruples that restrict the rest of the group.  "Bad Dog" shows him at his most shameless, presenting a formidable challenge to Frasier's ideas about human decency, and wraps this around the SeaBees, the writers' annual opportunity to mock the awards shows which have been so very good to them.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Random Movie Report: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II poster
Poster via WrongSideoftheArt.com

It's easy to see why Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is  a fan favorite. Not only is it probably the slickest and most technically accomplished of the Heisei Godzilla films, it's also the only film in the franchise to not only pit Godzilla against humanity, but to make humanity the villain. Sure, in the original Godzilla he's a kind of punishment for our use of nuclear weapons, and Godzilla vs. Hedorah is about manmade industrial pollution, but in stories like that the audience is expected to empathize with the humans struggling to overcome their own folly, because we are dealing with Major Problems that all of us must reckon with. Here, humanity just makes some bad decisions with the monsters as the injured parties, so we can finally stop pretending and cheer for some miniature cities to get squashed. Sometimes we just have it coming.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Tabletop: How D&D Fifth Edition Can Be Truly Modular (Or Something Like That)

The edition wars summed up in one image.


I've been looking at the previews for the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons, and was worried that I was starting to get truly edition-warriory about the whole thing. The more and more the gaming press and the developers themselves treat Fourth Edition as the redheaded stepchild of the family, the more I've been inclined to see it as a misunderstood masterpiece, the Community to Pathfinder's Big Bang Theory. I've been increasingly skeptical of every single teaser being released, and while there is some material here that bears watching, it was the newer, more lethal monster entries that pushed me beyond skepticism, past dismissal, and into some weird academic thinkspace.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Random Movie Report: Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth

Japanese poster for Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth

The most commercially successful entry of the Heisei Godzilla series, Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth is also its weakest; not a bad movie, but less than the sum of its parts. Once again, Toho went to Godzilla's past and resurrected one of his most durable foes, reinventing the giant flying insect as a mystical Earth god(dess?) engaged in an eternal struggle to protect the planet. With Takao Okawara taking over the director's spot, the film feels a little unsteady, but does manage to introduce a few new things in amongst references to classic kaiju films and American blockbusters.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Random Movie Report: The Manster

Manster DVD cover


The story of Jekyll and Hyde is one of the classic horror tales, one of hubris and the inescapable animalistic nature lurking in the calmest of men. There have been many attempts at this material, but only one quite so bold as to set the whole thing in Japan and posit Mr. Hyde as a second head growing out of Jekyll's shoulders. Hence The Manster, a gleefully insane, sometimes weirdly adult, and generally not-ineffective take on the classic story. Of the many monster movies pervading American drive-ins and matinees in the late 50s, this has a distinctive character, which carries it through its slower moments.

Random Movie Report: Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah poster

In some ways Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah is a return to tradition for the series. After Godzilla vs. Biollante failed at the box office, Toho decided that their next Godzilla movie needed to pit the monster against a classic enemy with name recognition of his own; hence, four-time Godzilla opponent King Ghidorah returned to continue the pair's epic rivalry. But this is pretty much where tradition ends, as King Ghidorah is one of the most radical and unusual entries in the series, featuring geopolitical subtext, a downright loopy take on time travel, and a surprisingly long dearth of Godzilla himself. It's the Godzilla film that got mentioned on The McLaughlin Group, and watching it is like taking a trip back to a time when Japan seemed poised to conquer the world.

Friday, May 23, 2014

In Theaters: Godzilla (2014)

Godzilla poster

Godzilla is a film that feels well overdue. There was, of course, one past attempt at making an American take on the character, and while I'll always have a soft spot for it, the filmmakers basically dodged a lot of the inherent challenge by making their monster less grandiose, less powerful, and theoretically more plausible as a result. After that didn't quite work, Toho brought back the "proper" Godzilla for a series of films that, while sometimes good, never had much of a reason for being other than reasserting tradition. Godzilla has been dormant for ten years, falling out of favor even in his native Japan, and so making a true, traditional Godzilla film for American audiences used to seeing him as a camp figure seemed like a long shot.

Gareth Edwards, director of Monsters, is at the helm for what turns out to be a slow, methodical burn of a monster movie. Godzilla eases the audience into the concept of a giant radioactive dinosaur who fights other giant radioactive monsters, knocking over skyscrapers in the process. People have complained that the King of the Monsters doesn't get enough screentime, and to be sure there's a lot of teasing involved, but the payoff is worth it. It's both a fantastic reintroduction to the kaiju eiga genre, and a film about reckoning with forces greater than ourselves.