Project G-Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster (1964)

Alternate Title: The one where Godzilla gets lasered in the dick.

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The Godzillaverse has a revolving cast of monsters in it, but there are a bunch that show up with consistency.  You get four of the main ones appearing all together for the first time this film, with the monster who’s widely considered Godzilla’s greatest rival getting the big introduction.  Heck, he’s even supplanted Godzilla in the title here!  So you know he’s got to be a big deal!

So with the introduction of King Ghidorah and with bringing Rodan in to the Godzilla canon, this movie establishes a couple of set pieces and the way things work that other films in the series will continue on with.  This is also the most pulp sci-fiish of the Godzilla films we’ve seen yet, also establishing a new trend for the series.

And, it’s also where the movie wades knee deep into the goofiness the old Godzilla films where known for.  Which, it’s been moving in this direction.  This isn’t out of nowhere.  King Kong vs. Godzilla had a lot of parody and cartoonish moments.  But this takes it a step further.  Some parts here are just downright slapstick.  And there’s no going back from that.  Kids were making up a big share of the movie market in Japan at this time, and apparently, they don’t go for big, deep, metaphorical critiques on the nature of war like adults do.  Go figure.

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The film centers around a brother-sister duo.  Media Girl is part of the production team behind one of those History Channel shows about aliens and weird conspiracy theories that my own sister spends too much energy on.  Detective Bland is, well, a bland detective.  The princess of the Ruffle Kingdom is coming to Japan for some reason or other, and Detective Bland is assigned to be her security.  Also, it’s January, but there’s a freak heat wave going on so it’s like 80 degrees out.  This never actually matters, but hey, global warming is bad, okay?

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Unfortunately for the Princess, her uncle wants her dead for political reasons.  These guys are the worst dressed.  Absolutely the worst.  Look at that picture up there.  Imagine a whole country of them.  So they put a bomb on her plane as it’s heading towards Japan.  Princess is watching a meteor shower from the plane, when she starts hearing a voice telling her to get out.  So she apparently bails from a plane in flight, just as it blows up.  Did she make it out in time?  Who knows?!  I do, because I watched the movie.

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Project G-Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Alternate Title: The start of the shared universe

So, you know how the Marvel Cinematic Universe is kind of a thing?  Notable in that all the stories impact each other, and the characters intersect much in the same way they do in comics?  Toho’s announced that, starting whenever they start making these movies in sequence again, they’re wanting to use a similar model for Godzilla films.  Which is a little strange to me.  Because they totally did that already.  40-some years before the Marvel films started having Agent Coulson hanging around.

So, there was a big gap in between the second and third Godzilla films.  Of like seven years or so.  But Toho wasn’t done with giant monsters in that meanwhile.  In fact, they made a whole bunch of kaiju films after Godzilla gave that genre a jump start.  And King Kong vs. Godzilla, being the most successful film in the Godzilla franchise, it made a buck or two.  And Mr. Toho, he thought to himself, “I sure like having dollars.  Maybe I should make another movie so I can get another dollar.”  But how do you follow up on a clash of two of cinema’s greatest titans, crossing over from disparate universes?  Well, you just do it again.  Except you go back into one of the worlds you already own, so you don’t have to pay those crazy huge King Kong licensing fees.  And wouldn’t you know it, you just had a really successful and well-received movie just a few years before.  Maybe you could cross that over with your marquee guy.

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And that’s how we ended up with Mothra vs. Godzilla, a sequel to both 1961’s Mothra and 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla.  And in so doing, Tojo tied all their Kaiju films of the era together into one continuous universe.  You start seeing monsters cross over in each others films, Godzilla himself gets a few recurring enemies that started in other movies, and you’ll even get a few films centered not on individual monsters but the people living within them, such as Destroy All Monsters, which we’ll be getting to in a few of these posts.

This is also regarded as one of the best movies of the Showa era, thus proving this was a concept with some real mileage.  So no wonder they’d get some mileage out of it.

Note that this is not Godzilla vs. Mothra.  That is a very different movie.  Yes, the Godzilla franchise sucks at titles.  Kind of an easy way of remembering it is that this move was made when Godzilla was undisputedly the bad guy.  So Mothra, the heroine, gets top billing.  As opposed to Godzilla vs Mothra, which was made when Godzilla was only sometimes the bad guy, so you could still cheer for him.  So he gets top billing then.  See, simple.

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Project G-Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Memorable Title: The cheap cash-in that’s more than just a cheap cash-in

Just a lead in, when I was originally planning this series, I was just going to be going over the films I had managed to acquire, and the Showa series of Godzilla films was going to end up being incomplete.  Thanks to Red Metal pointing me to where, when, and how I could buy the complete Showa series on the cheap, we get to have all the Godzilla movies here.  So shout out to him for making this all possible.

The OG Godzilla film was a pretty big risk for Toho.  Big, expensive, ambitious, in a largely unknown genre.  And, as it turns out, with some of the other high expense movies they were making at the time, Toho was gambling with their very existence.  Either those films turned a profit, or Toho was bankrupting itself out of existence.  And, in the type of example that would be glorified in the average business textbook, their risk payed off.  Godzilla was a big success.  So was the Seven Samurai, for that matter, which was another film they had in production at the time, but we’re not going to talk about that right now.  Godzilla made it big, baby!

And what do you do when you have a huge success?  You do another business textbook thing, and you reinvest.  You strike while the iron’s hot!  You take all that goodwill and interest and you hit when it’s at its peak!  What, the director of the original is already committed to other projects?  Who cares?!  We’ve got directors lined up out the door!  And you want what kind of budget!?  No, no, of course not, we just barely escaped bankruptcy!  We made the original at a time that we needed to escape bankruptcy, that’s why it had the giant budget it did!  Yes, there is a massive difference between the two situations.  Don’t ask questions, just go make the movie.

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And so they did.  Starting pre-production just weeks after the release of the original Godzilla, Godzilla Raids Again is the traditional tag-along sequel, made to capitalize on the success of the original, capture its momentum, and share in its success, with speed of release being more important than quality.  It brought back much of the creatives of the original Godzilla, with one notable exception.  OG director Ishiro Honda was already wrist deep in his next project, leaving Motoyushi Oda to take the helm on this one.  The rest of the crew was largely the same, with Tomoyuki Tanaka producing, Eiji Tsuburaya directing the special effects, and Haruo Nakajima taking the place of the big G inside the suit.  And rapid-fire sequel though it is, it does bring in a development that would change the Godzilla franchise forever.  So, you know how giant monsters are metal as hell, right?  What if you had, get this, two of them!  Blowing your mind right?  And they hate each other!  Kickass monster battles, man!

The movie ostensibly has its protagonist, but the way it rolls out, it really seems to have two dudes in the leading role.  And the film opens with both of them in action.  You have Planebro and a character I don’t even need to make up a memorable nickname for because the movie did it for me, Mr. Groom, doing their day jobs as aerial spotters for a fishing company in Osaka.  After Godzilla struck Tokyo in the original movie, that city’s still pretty ruined, so Osaka has become the center of Japanese civilization.  Mr. Groom’s seaplane suffers a major malfunction and he has to make an emergency landing near some island.  Planebro rolls in for the rescue, and the two of them pal around on the island for a few minutes until SUDDENLY!  There’s Godzilla!  And some other giant monster!  And they’re beating the hell out of each other!  And then they fall into the ocean.  Planebro and Mr. Groom wisely decide to get the hell out of there.

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Project G-Godzilla (1954)

We’re going to be doing things a little differently with this one than I’m planning on doing with all the rest.  There’s reasons for this, of course.  I never do things without reason.  Even if that reason is just ‘because I feel like it’.

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In this case however, frankly, the original Godzilla is a little bit different.  It’s incredibly different in tone from what the series would become, or even the rest of the genre it helped found.  Although it’s considered a Showa era film, it has continuity and repurcussions among all the rest of the Godzilla films of every era.  And really, this movie is a lot more serious, haunting, and downright reverent for its subject matter than what’s to come in this series.  So I’ll be treating this one different than the rest of what’s to come.  Usually, we’ll review in bulk, but here, Godzilla stands alone.  I’m planning on snarking up the place, but this film deserves more than that.  So let’s go.

Godzilla (1954)

Memorable Title: The OG Godzilla

Before we start proper, I should mention, I am horrible with names.  I’m especially horrible with names that aren’t in one of the languages I speak.  And I’m super horrible with names that only come up a few times over the course of my run with a film.  So, as will be common with these reviews, I’ll only call people by the names I remember.  If I don’t remember a name, I’m making one up.

Anyways, we’ll lead with a synopsis.  At least, as best I can remember, some time after watching the film and with a drink in hand now.  The film opens with a vaguely seen monster wrecking some boat near some island.  Another boat goes there to check it out, and the monster wrecks that too, leaving few survivors, including, if I’m remembering correctly, Some Guy.  Some Guy will be important later.  In any case, the monster proceeds to also wreck a fishing boat because it’s there, and it turns out that even when he’s not out wrecking boats, he’s still eating all the fish near an island.  This is important enough to get a film crew in the area to investigate.  They learn that the island used to sacrifice it’s nubile maidens to a sea monster named “Godzilla” in exchange for a good harvest of fish.  Godzilla decides to crush the island that night, reporters see, then everyone goes to Tokyo to ask them to do something about the giant monster breaking all the stuff.

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The government sends a mission to the island, consisting of, among others, Dr. Dinosaur, Some Guy, and for some reason the Dr.’s daughter, Daft Tart.  Seeing them off is Dr. Serizawa.  Dude’s a scientist and is really married to his job, but it’s an open relationship, so he’s also engaged to Daft Tart.  Daft Tart and Some Guy are schtupping on the fly, but Serizawa knows about it and is cool with it, because again, open relationship.  Anyways, the mission heads there, takes a look at some footprints.  Dr. Dinosaur notices some extinct creature living in the footprint, notices that it’s radioactive as all hell, and also notices that a bunch of kids have gotten a fatal dose of radiation in them.  The group continues exploring until they spot Godzilla in broad daylight, screaming at them from over a hill.  Dr. Dinosaur takes his knowledge back to Tokyo, presenting that Godzilla’s this still-living dinosaur who had been residing in an evolutionarily and biologically isolated underwater pocket until he was mutated by an errant H-bomb test.  This leads to a bit of furor as some insist that Godzilla’s existence should be hidden to prevent panic and protect Japan’s international relations, while others insist everyone has a right to know.  Either way, everyone agrees that the big giant thing that has killed tons of people should probably not be alive to kill a bunch of other people, except for Dr. Dinosaur who wants to keep the big guy alive so he can do science stuff on him.

Government sends a bunch of ships out to sea to go bomb Godzilla.  They fail to do any serious damage.  This will be a theme in future movies.  They do, however, manage to lead Godzilla back to Japan, where he destroys a train and some other stuff before heading back to the ocean.  Government gets with Dr. Dinosaur about what to do about Godzilla, who tells them that Godzilla is unkillable and also don’t shine lights at him.  Dr. Serizawa shows Daft Tart what he’s been working on, the Oxygen Destroyer, which…. destroys oxygen.  Good name, I guess.  Literally eliminates oxygen molecules from whatever it comes into contact with.  Serizawa is a WW2 vet, saw the impact of the atomic bombings, and is absolutely distraught that he’s created the world’s next great super-weapon.  He resolves to keep his discovery an absolute secret until he’s found a peaceful, truly helpful application to it, worried that if anyone else finds out about it, it’s just going to be used to kill.

 

Japan builds a giant electric fence around the country, thinking that it will stop Godzilla if he ever attacks.  Godzilla attacks.  It bothers him for a second, but then he unleashes something nobody ever expected, his atomic breath, to melt his way through it.  He then lays siege to Tokyo.

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Absolute siege.  I feel I can’t understate it enough.  By the modern day, we’ve seen Godzilla go on a rampage tons of times.  Even compared to that, the destruction he inflicts on Tokyo in this film is absolutely brutal.  And you see it all from the people affected by it.  Those fleeing.  Those hiding.  Those who can go no more, and know that they’re going die.  Moreover, the military is absolutely ineffective against him.  There is nothing they can do that is not futile.  Yet they keep trying, because they have to, and they die by the ton for it.  A big theme in this film is the consequences of the atomic bombing, and you see it heavily here.

The day after, every single place that can care for the injured is absolutely flooded with the wounded survivors.  Daft Tart sees this, and tells Some Guy about Dr. Serizawa’s new potential superweapon.  They confront Serizawa about it, expressing the need to kill Godzilla before he does this again.  Serizawa begins destroying his work at this, leading to a confrontation with Some Guy in which Some Guy gets bloodied, and Serizawa hates himself for the violence.  Then he watches TV, sees what’s going on, and agrees to turn his invention into a weapon, but still destroys all his work so it can never be replicated.

Even with the knowledge that the Oxygen Destroyer is going to wreck the local ecosystem, the government’s behind the plan.  Some Guy and Dr. Serizawa head out to sea, where the military has tracked Godzilla.  Contrary to his previous appearances, here, Godzilla is completely peaceful, and makes no move against the two.  Serizawa plants the Oxygen Destroyer, sends Some Guy back up, then severs his own ties to the ship and his oxygen line, taking the only surviving knowledge of how to create the Oxygen Destroyer with him and keeping it from being unleashed on the world.  The Oxygen Destroyer goes off, and strips Godzilla to the bone.  With Godzilla dead, and Serizawa with it, those above have a bittersweet moment, remembering the heroic scientist and the potentially tragic beast, while also realizing that, if the world keeps on the path it’s on, more Godzillas may well be created.

And let the credits roll.

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Godzilla could have just been another of the stupid fun monster bash movies that I’ve gotten so hooked on, exactly what the series became.  The original film, though, is far, far deeper than that.  You can’t enjoy this film the same way you enjoy the rest of the Godzilla movies.  Overall Godzilla fans may not enjoy this film, and fans of this film may not enjoy the rest of the franchise.  It’s very, very different.  In particular, it’s the themes of this film and the mindset of the people who made it that makes this special.  This is a film about war, about destruction, and about the atomic bomb created by the survivors and veterans of World War II who were witness to its most devastating events and lived through the aftermath.  This type of film could only have come from this creative team and at this time, and it offers a unique perspective into the mentality of the Japanese populace in the years they spent recovering from the end of World War II.

I don’t see any way around this.  Let’s set the scene here.  Pre-WW2, Japan was one of the most vicious, cruel, and inhumane nations on the planet.  World War 2 was the cap for them on at least 30 years of continuous aggressive action and numerous war crimes against China, Korea, Russia, and beyond.  Active and expansive slavery, comfort women, the Rape of Nanking, the Asian Holocaust, the list of horrors that they committed goes on and on.  As the war turned against them, they turned against their own citizens as well, committing to the use of kamikaze pilots long after they ceased being any sort of effective, aggressively encouraging families in soon-to-be Ally-controlled territories to commit suicide in order to keep their populace from finding out that life under Allied occupation is not near as horrible as they’ve been saying, or press-ganging millions of their civilians into military service, arming them with suicide weaponry, and telling them to make their deaths count.  Nazi Germany may be getting the most focus for WW2 horrors, but Imperial Japan was right there with them.

And the atomic bombs hit them so hard they turned into a nation of pacifists.

Granted, there was a lot more involved in their societal change than just that.  Saying it that way makes for a way more dramatic picture, though.  And it’s really hard to understate the impact the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on Japan.  The film Godzilla gives you a bit of a glimpse of it, though, wrapped up in a much more palatable fantasy horror shell.  Yes, you’re watching a movie about a giant monster terrifying Japan.  But, the monster Godzilla is the atomic bomb.  And that takes things to a deeper level here.

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Director Ishiro Honda, if memory serves, was in the Japanese military during World War II, and returned to see the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima.  He drew from those images in creating Godzilla, and I imagine a fair bit of the feelings of the time, too.  The military is helpless against Godzilla, much like they were against Fat Man and Little Boy.  The aftermath of Godzilla’s rampage sees hospitals overcrowded, medical staff overwhelmed, and even the immediate survivors aren’t safe, as radiation poisoning grabs hold.  As was common following the atomic bomb.  Godzilla, who, as the film points out, was mutated by the H-bomb himself, has skin that’s scarred and warped much like that of real-world survivors of the atomic bombings was.  It is not subtle in its metaphors.

Given that the initial American version of this film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, cut out some “anti-American” scenes, the Japanese Godzilla has picked up a bit of a reputation.  However, I didn’t really see much in the way of anti-Americanism in the original version I watched.  Granted, my copy of it is by Criterion, whom I know retranslated the subtitles from earlier versions, but given their reputation for maintaining movies in their original format, I would think it would be more accurate.  In any case, I just didn’t see it here.  It is strongly against H-bomb testing, and frankly, given that this came out shortly after the Lucky Dragon incident, I can’t blame them for that, but anything that’s really targeted at America is only by extended implication.  Hell, it’s at least as anti-Japanese government as it is anti-American, as you see some mindset to leave people vulnerable and keep Godzilla hidden in order to protect their own interests, and they lead the assault against Godzilla that ends up leading him back to them and provoking even worse devastation.  It is against the advancements of the new biggest, baddest weapons and the use of science to kill people in general, as seen in basically everything to do with Dr. Serizawa.  Even then, though, it doesn’t make a flat statement against them.  I don’t necessarily know if this was the intended statement or not, but there did hit a threshold in this movie where it was necessary to use the new big, bad superweapon to keep the nation from being wiped out, even when that did have lingering effects.  The message ends up being more “only use the superweapons in the direst peril, and even then take care that they don’t develop further” rather than a simple “atomic bombs=BAD!”

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As far as the quality of the movie, well, I know I enjoy my films very differently than your average consumer.  I had a very fine time with it, however.  It’s typical in Godzilla films to have a long time building up tension before Big G appears while they develop the human interest side of things, and that’s definitely the case here.  It’s a very different tension here than you usually see, though, building up fear and danger rather than the thrill of impending chaos.  Several of the characters have a surprising amount of nuance, moreso than was typical for this time period.  And I really have to applaud it for making you feel its themes.  This film has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and it would have been very easy for it to end up basically screaming what the developers really thought at you without any hope for absorption, as so many attempts at “thoughtful” media end up doing.  But this film doesn’t do that.  Godzilla exhibits a high level of “show, don’t tell” that makes its themes, blunt as they are, way more impactful, and really promotes an understanding of them.  This is a monster movie at its core, sure.  But it’s a monster movie that makes you think, and it’s one that has lingered with me well beyond when I finished watching it.

Lessons Learned: I Rule

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Note: This is not my festival. Purely a flavor image.

Last year, I put out a post reflecting on the work I had done for a recently completed film festival.  Then I left the film commission I had been managing.  With that, I thought I was finally out of the game.  Both the festival and the commission were a lot of time, and a lot of stress, and I had never really had the passion for film that’s pretty much required to thrive in the industry.  I had left that behind me, happily so, and moved on with my life.

But just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

I have a hard time saying no to people who need my help.  And the festival it seemed, was not quite ready to stand without me.  Still, I was adamant that I was not going to be as involved as I was last year, basically working another job towards the end of it.  And that was fine.  Last year, we had a problem with having way too few people involved to cover everything, the year before we had way too many to get anything done efficiently, this year, we seemed to hit the sweet spot.  We had few enough people there that we weren’t bogged down in multi-hour long meetings revisiting the same things we did in the last several, but enough of a team that nobody was really overworked.  As opposed to last year, when I managed the money, did most of the fundraising, led the marketing, as well as all the other odd jobs on my plate, this year, I limited my main activities to just handling the finances.  I helped out with other stuff as well, but that was all I was really in charge of, dedicated to.  Everyone else had their own areas, but there were enough people going around, that everything went smoothly.

Until the day before the festival.

And that’s when everything went bottoms up.  First our festival director had a situation suddenly come up, and he couldn’t make it to anything.  Then another member of our committee had an emergency, and she couldn’t make it either.  Leaving our decision-making group cut by half, leaving only myself and our programming director.

But you know what?  We handled it.  We were in a situation where both of us were having to completely adjust what we were doing on the fly, and we made it work.  We had volunteers to help us, some of which were pushed into roles a little bit above their heads, and we both had to take a lot more ownership of the festival and its activities, but we made it work.  I learned things about myself, too.  I learned I do pretty great at quick, casual presentations, given that I had to keep ad-libbing things in introducing or closing out the films, which is one thing I hadn’t been expecting to be charged with.  I learned that I’m able to pretend I know something about a subject matter when talking it over with an expert enough to hold a good public discussion with my only knowledge being the twenty minute film I just finished watching.  And I reaffirmed that people just really enjoy looking at me.  Good times.

I also learned I’m really good at marketing.  Last year, I took over most of our marketing activities.  Our attendance doubled.  I figured I couldn’t claim responsibility for all that at the time.  This year, I left the marketing to others.  Our attendance halved, back down to what it was before I got involved.  It still might be too soon to claim that’s all me, but I think that’s enough evidence to determine that I was at least partially responsible for the boost.

So yeah.  That’s what’s been going on in my life.  Just got through a really rough weekend.  Have a number of strenuous times ahead of me, so posting might be a little slow, by the way.  But still, I learned through it all.  I really need to respect myself more.  So does everyone else.  After all, as this weekend proved, I rule.

Random Thoughts on Avengers: Age of Ultron

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I had the opportunity to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron last night, a whole four hours before it was officially supposed to be released.  I know, I know, it’s galling, such a thing.  Releasing movies early ranks among the level of software pirates, parking meter tricksters, and spree murderers on the scale of ethical lapses.  As you all know, I am a just and righteous man, so I was just going to stay home.  Unfortunately, I hang out with the wrong crowd, and my so-called friends kidnapped me and forced me to watch it.  How vile!  I am absolutely aghast that they would force me to counteract my morals like that.

But, while I’m at it, I figured I’d at least put my thoughts down on the film.  Not so much a review, no, with a film release this big, you can get those anywhere, and I like to think that people come to Lost to the Aether for something a bit different.  And also, they come here because I am so smart, handsome, and interesting.  Anyways, if you want the bottom line, I enjoyed it a little less than I did the first film, but it’s still a good movie.  Beyond that, well, here are some completely random and unconnected reflections I have on the movie.

  • So, a big change in the way the film delivers its story, whereas the first movie was all about the individuals coming together as a group, then the big, bad, world invasion, the second film breaks things down to a human level.  It’s more about how each character is as a human.  The first act sees a good amount of the team just goofing around with each other.  It’s a film about personalities, rather than the group as a cohesive whole.  The central conflict comes about because of a few character’s personal choices, the film goes out of its way to round out some of the characters who haven’t gotten much spotlight on them, and everyone gets their little moments to let their guard down and show who they are.  It’s a more human-level experience, that I think really works for the sequel.
  • Unfortunately, this is tempered by the characters still being really flat.  I think that just comes from the age we’re in.  Big budget films need international markets to find success, and deep, complex characters are a lot more difficult to effectively translate between languages and cultures.  Still makes for a worse experience overall, no matter how necessary it is.
  • Hawkeye has himself a long-term relationship.  I’m pretty sure that only came about to remove him as a candidate for Black Widow, after all the teases in the first film.
  • Instead, Widow’s with the Hulk.  I never bought their relationship.  Their actors are really lacking in chemistry.
  • For that matter, I don’t really jive with the way they handled the Black Widow in this film.  The past movies she’s been in, like the Winter Soldier, Iron Man 2, the First Avenger, she really added to it.  She had her own unique part in the conflict, she dealt with things in a unique way, and she actively contributed to the plot.  Moreover, she was distinct.  Irreplaceable.  In this film, Black Widow’s just here to be the woman.  She has two scenes offering some brief glimpses into her backstory, sure, but other than that, her point in the movie is the play the traditional feminine roles.  She’s the matching girlfriend, the emotional support, and the damsel in distress.  Her character has degenerated.  She was once a distinct figure in her own right, now she’s just the Smurfette of the crew.
  • I’ve never read an Ultron story.  I have no idea what his personality’s like.  I’m pretty sure it’s not like this.  But that’s not a bad thing.  It would have been pretty easy to have him be the big generic death robot.  Having him like evil Iron Man adds a bit more to the character.
  • I don’t think you can call something an ‘Age’ when it’s pretty much wrapped up within the week or so this film covers.
  • There’s deaths in the film.  I won’t say who or when or how, but yeah, people die.  The movie gets absolutely no mileage out of it.
  • And you know, I never thought I’d be complaining about this, but I think I’m just getting tired of the Whedonistic snark.  It’s all nice and funny when you sprinkle the dialogue with clever quips.  When everyone’s doing it, and they do it anytime anyone does anything?  It gets a little old.
  • The creators did some nice work in building some leads for future movies.  And not just the next Avengers, either.  I’m pretty sure we saw the creation of a villain for the upcoming Black Panther, for instance, and I didn’t even notice until I slept on it.

And, that’s about all I got right now.  ‘Till next time.

Lessons Learned from the Film Commission

So!  I ran a film commission for a while, before I finally left it a few weeks ago.  In celebration of that, I thought I’d share a few random stories of that time.  Sounds simple enough, let’s go!

So, one of the first bits of filming activity we brought to the area was one of those tv shows recreating real world crimes.  In this case, we were lucky enough that the local police department got really interested in the project, and sent their SWAT team out on an official “training exercise” that consisted of doing whatever we needed to get some good shots for the show.  Ostensibly, they were just taking the opportunity to train up on how they’d react to the same situation the production company was recreating, but they let the director dictate what they were doing, had a bunch of actors mixed up with the real cops, and generally prioritized doing stuff that looked good on film ahead of any practical matters.  Your tax dollars at work.  Anyways, we had them in formation, tactically surrounding the restaurant we were set at, looking very serious with all their serious SWAT gear.  And we had to deal with people interrupting us constantly.  Basic sense is that when you come across people heavily armed and ready to throw down, you got the other way.  Instead, possibly because of the cameras showing this wasn’t dire, we had to deal with a huge amount of people just stopping to look, trying to spark up conversation with the police in formation and lurking around the building, or walking in front of leveled weapons.  The worst part came when we had a SWAT sniper set up on the roof across the street from the restaurant, firing at the imaginary perpetrator within.  Now, this was a very real officer, firing a very real rifle, albeit with fake bullets, into a restaurant window, and yet we still had people trying to cross through the line of fire.  No sense of self-preservation

I don’t know who researches things for films, but they’re a lot better at finding things within my own community than anyone I know.  We have a business that trains dogs to help people survive the apocalypse.  We have an actual business set up to discover old treasures lost by the French.  There are a lot more professional ghost hunters in the area than I thought possible.  We have someone here who specializes in making castles out of whatever he can find in the landfill.  None of which I would have known about if someone didn’t call me asking about putting them in some tv show or other.  And if those are lurking, hidden, in my community, just think of what might be in your hometown.

You know all those reality shows, like America’s Next Top Model or whatever, where they air auditions to get into the competition, and it seems like half of those going in for auditions are just so absolutely insane that they almost have to be putting on an act?  Well… yeah.  Turns out that the prospect of being on screen brings out a lot of people like that.  We had a major motion picture coming to the area, and were helping a casting company put on the casting call for local extras.  The casting director was wanting to make it a fun experience for everyone involved, meaning she hired circus performers and brought in some live alligators, but they also had a public stage, where they encouraged hopefuls to hope up and perform whatever came to their heads.  That stage caused me brain damage.  For every one person that performed something worth watching, there were ten putting on an utterly bland performance, and fifty so bad that I tried to eat my own face.  And at least half of the performances were bad Monty Python ripoffs.  Stupid parrots, stupid lumberjacks, stupid spam diners, all that stage did was make me weep for my lost innocence.

People trying to get in front of the camera can be pretty desperate.  I imagine that’s especially true in areas like mine where there are only a handful of paid acting opportunities a year.  How people handle that desperation varies greatly.  At the top are those who are simply proactive about it, making sure I have their resumes in case anyone asks about a position they fit or volunteering with the film commission in order to keep themselves connected with what’s going on.  At the bottom… well, once I had a woman offer to sleep with me in exchange for help getting a minimum wage extra part with no actual guarantee of screentime.  At least, I think that’s what her intention was.  It’s possible she just chose the absolute worst time to come on to me.  But even on top of that, there were those who waited in line for hours at the aforementioned casting call when they clearly didn’t meet the requirements of the roles we’d been posting everywhere.  There were those who went so far as to stake out my office to try and get phone numbers of people working on the film.  There were those who attempted to fake their ethnicities to try and land a role.  Film is a tough, tough industry to get into, especially when you’re looking to get in front of the camera.  That said, there’s a line there, and plenty of people who are willing to go way beyond it.

I think a large part of that desperation comes from the fact that for as powerful and far-reaching the film industry is, it’s actually quite small.  One of our advisors was a former prop master who retired in the nineties, yet even so any time we had a feature film in our or one of the surrounding areas, he knew at least a couple people who were working on the production.  For all the work Hollywood produces, and for all the people trying to make it in the industry, they only really use a small pool of workers, and if you spend any time working behind the scenes you’ll end up seeing a lot of the same faces over and over again.

Because of the way the film industry works, and in part because of the prevalence of film commissions like mine, it seems films rarely are actually shot where they’re set.  I live in a part of the country that’s been romanticized in a lot of older pop culture, and I’ve gotten a lot of interest in recreating rustic scenes in the style of older material.  Thing is, though, locations tend to be chosen based on the financials of the situation more than anything else.  Film is big business, so a lot of states and countries offer incentives to spend their money out there, basically paying back a chunk of the production budget they spend in the region.  My state, not so much.  There’ve been more than a few films coming out set in my section of the country, but actually shot in Canada.  We, in turn, have doubled for places like California, Montana, and the Midwest, when production companies found it economical for us to do so.

When I first started out, I always thought that films were meticulously planned out, with everything following a rigid structure decided on by the highest authorities with little room for flexibility.  Since then, I’ve found that things are never quite as solid as that.  Any film production, even the smallest of indie stuff, still has a lot of moving parts involved, and because of that, things go wrong constantly.  Weather turns against you, you don’t have the resources you thought you would, what worked out on paper just doesn’t fit on screen, random acts of God, whatever.  Productions do plan things out as much as they can, yes, but it seems that once you’re filming, operations are far more about rolling with whatever comes along and trying to make something good out of it than anything else.  Flexibility is key; it seems that there’s always a hundred different details that you didn’t expect, and the main thing that seperates a good production from a bad one is how they handle it.

I’ve found that, by and large, people working in the industry are quite friendly and helpful while they’re working with you, but have a tendency to absolutely forget about you once their job’s done.  I’ve had people go out of their way to get me the information I requested from them, go above and beyond to help me make sure they’re leaving a good impression for their industry on their community, and be incredibly flexible to help make my job easier.  Those same people often make promises to get something to the film industry as thanks for our help, almost always either a thanks in the credits or a copy of the finished work, and that has never happened.  It’s easy to be cynical about that, thinking that they were only helpful while they wanted my help then kicked me to the curb when they didn’t need me anymore, but I think it’s something more innocent than that.  As mentioned above, the film industry is surprisingly small, and oftentimes, you’re only employed for the duration of one production, before the whole team is disbanded.  A lot of people find jobs in the industry through personal referrals, and to get that, you need to have impressed on someone that you’re pleasant to work with.  Hence, they’ve gotten in the habit of being helpful.  However, since the industry tends to drop people from their jobs as soon as the production is finished, they’ve just gotten in the  mindset that once filming is over, they’re just done with it, no more involvement from them, and they put everything they’ve had to do aside to focus on the next project.  Even if it does leave your humble regional film commission director in the lurch.

The exception to the above that I’ve experienced at least are those people successful enough in the industry to become household names.  Now, I’ve only interacted with a few of them, so I can’t quite claim to have gotten a representative sample, but by and large, those with recognizable names have been quite helpful to me.  The big thing that kept the film commission going had been raffling, auctioning, or otherwise selling off autographed memorabilia.  And the ‘hey could you sign some stuff so we can make money off of it’ conversation was always way easier than I thought it would be.  They were always really helpful in getting me in contact with their staff, having stuff through the mail on time, and generally were always easy to work with to get us what we needed, even after they’d left the area long behind.  Again, I think this plays into the fact that you need to be pleasant to work with to keep getting called back, so those who really make it in the industry would need to be remarkably easy to work with.  On the other hand, never give an actor/actress a pen.  You will never see it again.