Friday, January 31, 2014

Worth Mentioning - Ravishing a Universe for Love

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

While Cody gets devastated by drama, Tokyo is devastated by another kaiju.

SHORT TERM 12 (2013)

Short Term 12 is not the twelfth entry in a series, but rather the name of the location at which it's set - a shelter for kids who are in the foster care system for a variety of reasons. The story centers on shelter employee Grace as she tries to maintain a safe, stable environment for the kids under the care of her and her co-workers, while also dealing with some huge issues in her personal life.

Grace understands the kids she's working with because she was in their place once herself; she had a very troubled childhood, and details on her past begin to come out when she starts to bond with a recent arrival, a teenage girl named Jayden who is going through a similar situation.

The interactions between Grace, Jayden, and Grace's boyfriend/co-worker Mason are what drives most of the plot, but there are some interesting, sometimes heartbreaking, subplots with others at Short Term 12 as well.

Written and directed by newcomer Destin Cretton, Short Term 12 is a very laid-back, sedate low budget independent drama that keeps a very even pace and tone through its running time. It deals with some heavy subject matter, but in a very dry manner, it never escalates to melodrama or hysteria.

The cast all do great in their roles, with Brie Larson of The Spectacular Now, Rampart, and 21 Jump Street taking the lead as Grace. I've been a fan of Larson's for a few years now, and she continues to impress with this film.

If you're in the mood for a strong drama with very indie sensibilities, Short Term 12 is well worth watching.

HER (2013)

Set in a not-too-distant future when high-waisted pants are back en vogue and the world is slightly more technologically advanced, Her stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly, a terribly lonely man who works for a website company that crafts "handwritten" letters to people based on information provided by the sender. This very odd job has Theodore writing things as varied as thank you letters to romantic correspondences and even letters from parents to their children. He has a romantic mind and can imagine the lives of the people he's writing to and for so clearly that he fills the letters with beautiful emotion. But in his personal life, he has trouble expressing his own feelings... and that's why he's currently in the midst of a divorce from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). The only people he seems to have any interaction with in the world are his supervisor at work (Chris Pratt) and his friend Amy (Amy Adams), who lives in the same apartment building.

Then one day Samantha comes into his life.

In this future, phones and computers are advanced to a stage where we hardly even need screens except when absolutely necessary to view something, otherwise we can just stick an earbud in and navigate the internet, e-mails, voicemail, all through voice-commanded operating systems that notify us of everything, play audio for us or read things to us. When Theodore upgrades to the latest and greatest operating system on the market, he chooses a female voice and the system is customized precisely for him. The result is Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

Being an A.I. O.S., Samantha isn't like the usual robotic, emotionless voices that guided Theodore through life previously. She is capable of emotion, she has a personality. She actually cares for him... And the more Theodore talks to her, the more he feels for her. He falls in love with her, and embarks on a relationship with this bodyless program.

Directed by Spike Jonze from his screenplay, for which he recently won a Golden Globe and has been nominated for an Academy Award, Her is an amazing, touching, devastating movie. Despite the slightly sci-fi concept, it is very true and real. Some may not be able to wrap their heads around the idea of a man falling for an operating system, there was a guy sitting behind me in the theatre that the movie clearly flew over the head of, as I heard him repeatedly whispering, "This is weird." But as technology advances, I'm sure things like this will happen... and even looking beyond that premise, if you can't relate to Her emotionally, then you and I have had very different life experiences.

This movie reached me on a deeply emotional level. I could relate to so much that it was showing me. The loneliness of Theodore, the relationship he has with Samantha, the complications they go through. Put aside the fact that she's an operating system, and this is essentially the story of a long distance relationship. At their core, the challenges Theodore and Samantha face and the issues they go through are the same that most couples experience. Don't just write the story off as "a man in love with his computer", it's the story of a man in love. An imperfect man trying to make his way through a confusing world. It's a story that Spike Jonze tells beautifully. It may be science fiction, but it's one of the most emotionally real movies I've seen.

MOTHRA (1961)

The initial idea for the creation of the giant monster Mothra was hatched from the same place Godzilla was born out of seven years earlier - the mind of producer Tomoyuki Tanaka. After concieving the basic concept, Tanaka took it to author Shinichiro Nakamura to have it expanded into a story. In turn, Nakamura brought in Takehiko Fukunaga and Yoshie Hotta to co-write with him a novel called The Luminous Fairies and Mothra, a three part story that was serialized in a magazine, each of the three parts, or three acts, written by a different author. From there, a writer named Shinichi Sekizawa adapted the story into a screenplay to be turned into a feature film by director Ishirô Honda, the man who also first brought Godzilla and Rodan to the screen.

The film begins with the crew of the shipping boat Genyo-Maru II living out a nightmare scenario: caught in a powerful typhoon, the boat is being swept toward the uninhabited Infant Island, which the country of Rolisica uses as a nuclear bomb testing site. The ship runs aground, splitting apart and sinking... And when the four survivors are rescued and taken back to the Japanese mainland, they're kept at the hospital to be observed for radiation sickness. It's reminiscent of the real life radiation contamination of the fishing boat Lucky Dragon 5 in March of 1954, an event that was part of the inspiration behind the making of Gojira. However, doctors are shocked to discover that the Genyo-Maru II survivors have no trace of contamination.

When questioned about their experience on Infant Island, the survivors speculate that it was the red juice they were given by the island's natives that cleansed the radiation from their systems... Natives? Rolisica verified that the island was uninhabited before they began their nuclear testing there.

A multinational expedition is put together to go to Infant Island and explore its secrets. There, the hazmat suit wearing group discovers mutated plants that produce the red juice the fishermen drank, as well as plants that attack and drink blood. They also find that the island is indeed inhabited by a tribe of natives... and two tiny "fairies", the Shobijin; telepathic songstress twins (played by twin sister musical duo The Peanuts, Emi and Yumi Itō - whose names translate to Sun and Moon) who stand at just one foot tall.

Immediately upon seeing the Shobijin, conscienceless Rolisican showman Clark Nelson attempts to kidnap them, to take them back to the mainland and exploit them for profit. When others in the expedition demand that he leave the Shobijin alone, he does... Only to return to Infant Island later with his heavily armed henchmen. The Shobijin are captured, and many natives are mowed down by machine gun fire in the process.


Seeking vengeance for what has been done to them, and to have the Shobijin returned to their island, the natives call upon the legendary monster Mothra, which the expedition had learned of through interpreting cave writings found on the island. A huge egg is revealed within the Infant Island jungle... and from inside hatches a massive larva.

As Nelson forces the Shobijin to wow Japanese audiences in his Secret Fairies stage show, the Shobijin perform their song "Mosura No Uta" ("Mothra's Song"), which is actually a telepathic message calling out to the monster. Drawn to them, the Mothra larva makes its way to mainland Japan, destroying everything in its path. A creature that knows no right or wrong, it moves forward only on the instinct to rescue the Shobijin and take them back to Infant Island.

Nelson attempts to escape the wrath of Mothra by flying the Shobijin off to Rolisica... but his victory is shortlived when the larva cocoons itself at the base of the Tokyo Tower and, despite being blasted with atomic heat rays provided by Rolisica, emerges as a beautiful but enormous moth. The flaps of its wings generate so much power and wind that vehicles are sent flying through the air and buildings crumble... and the moth flies off to seek out the Shobijin in the Rolisican city of New Kirk City.

The fictitious country of Rolisica was designed to be a mash-up of Russia and America, and New Kirk City is a mixture of several different American cities - Los Angeles, Santa Monica, San Francisco, and Manhattan.

As with the Godzilla films and Rodan, the special effects for Mothra were created by Eiji Tsuburaya. In its larval caterpillar form, the creature was almost 23 feet long, requiring at least five people to be inside of it and operating it. Indeed, Godzilla performers Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka were among those inside Mothra.

When Mothra attacks, it does so within an awesomely large model landscape, which is very impressively shot. There are even aerial shots of the models with vehicles driving along the streets. The monster is also effectively composited into the backgrounds of scenes with the actors.

As is apparent in the plot description, nearly thirty years later monster movies were still taking cues from 1933's King Kong. You have Infant Island and its natives, essentially Kong's Skull Island and its natives. You have a man taking an island inhabitant from its home to star in a stage show - Kong in the earlier film, the Shobijin here. And, of course, you have the mass destruction that results from this poor decision.

Mothra ended up being the second most successful monster for Toho Studios behind Godzilla, a fact which I have never understood. The creature doesn't do all that much for me. It's a caterpillar that shoots silk, then it's a moth that beats its wings. I think there are plenty of interesting monsters to place between Godzilla and Mothra in a ranking. But it was thanks to the success of this movie that Godzilla returned to theatres the following year, after a seven year sabbatical.

Despite not understanding Mothra's appeal, I find its first solo film to be an entertaining one. It has a slightly different approach than the kaiju movies that preceded it, this film has more of a fantasy/fairy tale slant than its more horrific predecessors, as well as a more comedic tone. In fact, one of its lead characters is played by Frankie Sakai, who was a popular comedian in Japan at the time and had a Laurel and Hardy-esque cinematic partnership with Ichirô Arishima (who is not in Mothra).


No comments:

Post a Comment