DID YOU READ

“Godzilla” roars onto Criterion Blu-ray

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I don’t know about you, but when I hear the name “Godzilla,” certain images come to mind. I see a dude in a rubber lizard suit stomping around a Papier-mâché city. I see Japanese men and women pointing at the sky in terror while unaccented English springs awkwardly and unconvincingly from their lips. I see giant turtles and moths and three-headed flying dragons, all held aloft by visible strings. In other words: I see bad movies.

Godzilla has endured through fifty years of films, most of them — let’s face it — terrible. Fun? Sure. Entertaining? Absolutely. Art? Mmmm, not so much. But what Godzilla became and what Godzilla was created as are two very different things. All those schlocky sequels have polluted our memories of the character, whose very first movie, made in 1954 by director Ishiro Honda, was quite different than the camp spectacles that came in its wake. Now that “Godzilla” is available on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD for the first time. It hits you in the gut with the impact of a 150-foot dinosaur.

Very little of what I imagine when hear the name “Godzilla” is present in Honda’s movie. True, Godzilla himself is still a dude in a costume. But filmed in stark black and white cinematography rather than the murky, drab color stock of the later sequels, the creature takes on a surprisingly convincing ferocity. Criterion’s Blu-ray presents the film sans dubbing, so you can appreciate the Japanese cast’s terror without the impediment of horrific American voice actors. And in this earliest “Godzilla,” there’s no other giant creatures for our titular dino to fight. In fact, Honda puts more emphasis on what Godzilla represents than what he does.

If you’re just interested in monster movie havoc, the big bust-’em-up finale will satisfy your craving. But Godzilla himself doesn’t get a ton of screen time; most of his attacks are brief, and a few happen entirely off-camera. What we see instead are the people who bear the psychic and physical scars of his devastation. And since Godzilla’s appearance is directly linked to underwater hydrogen bomb tests, we can link those psychic and physical scars to those suffered by the Japanese in World War II. Premiering less than a decade after the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “Godzilla”‘s images of a city burning in atomic flames bore a special significance. So too does the incident that starts the whole storyline (inspired, Criterion’s Blu-ray tells us, by a real-life tragedy) in which a fishing boat is suddenly destroyed by an underwater explosion and a blinding flash of light. The intensity of the acting in this scene always upsets me. This isn’t camp. This isn’t Godzilla on Monster Island palling around with Godzuki. These are real people torn to shreds by a giant walking metaphor for nuclear power. This is perhaps the scariest horror movie of the atomic age.

Though the fundamental subtext of “Godzilla” couldn’t be removed from the film, the overt references to H-bombs were considered too radioactive for American audiences. So when “Godzilla” premiered stateside in 1956 as “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” it arrived 15 minutes shorter than its Japanese counterpart and stripped of nearly every direct mention of atomic bombs. That wasn’t the only concession for stateside tastes either. When “King of the Monsters” lost almost a quarter of its runtime it also gained a new hero: American journalist Steve Martin (the wild and crazy Raymond Burr), who stops off in Tokyo on his way to Cairo (from where?!?) just in time to witness Godzilla’s rampage.

Looking to boost the picture’s local appeal, “Godzilla”‘s American distributors hired Burr for a couple of days and got filmmaker and editor Terry Morse to shoot him on sets designed to mimic the original Japanese locations, with body doubles subbing in for the Japanese cast. With the none-too-deft use of cutaways, Burr was inserted into the story. “King of the Monsters” was a monster hit in the United States in the 1950s — and it remained the way most Americans, myself included, saw “Godzilla” for decades. As a kid, the Burr “Godzilla” seemed like a prototypical badly dubbed schlock monster movie. Seeing it now, it looks more deranged than silly, like a film cut by aliens who’d been told what a movie was without having actually seen one themselves.

Though “King of the Monsters” was designed for the mainstream, it plays like an experimental film. The Japanese “Godzilla”‘s straightforward narrative gets contorted and distorted to accomodate Burr’s voiceover (and to eliminate the pesky atomic nightmare material). In perhaps the single worst example in movie history of telling rather than showing, Burr narrates almost everything: dialogue, character development, even some of Godzilla’s attacks. Sometimes he even gets his facts wrong — he says that the sole survivor of Godzilla’s fishing boat attacks died of his injuries, but that character shows up again a short time later on Odo Island. Throughout, Burr’s voiceover and on camera demeanor are shockingly disinterested. The man is witnessing the rebirth of a creature that just spent a couple million years under the Pacific Ocean. You’d think he could at least feign surprise. As he watches Godzilla raze Tokyo, his face barely registers any emotion. Later, his good friend — the man he supposedly came to Japan to see — dies; Burr looks like he’s stifling a yawn. Burr flattens “Godzilla”‘s drama more effectively than Godzilla flattens Tokyo.

Burr’s inexplicably disinterested performance reinforces his outsider status in the story, but it also forms the basis for the only case I think can be made for “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” Because Morse didn’t have the budget to bring over Honda’s Japanese cast, Burr’s character couldn’t really affect the narrative in any significant way. Hence he just stands on the sidelines and watches the action. That makes Steve Martin a bad hero and a weirdly appropriate protagonist for a movie about nuclear horror. Burr’s impotence suggests humanity’s impotence in the face of atomic weapons. Science gave us the power to destroy ourselves; all we can do now is bear witness to that destruction. On a textual level, Burr is a joke. On a subtextual level, his helplessness is absolutely perfect.

The new “Godzilla” Criterion is just about perfect as well. You get both versions of the film as well as two versions of Godzilla scholar David Kalat’s commentary track, which are loaded with interesting details about both productions. The supplements include new interviews with actors Akira Takarada and Haruo Nakajima, a featurette on the special effects, and an essay by J. Hoberman. It’s enough to make you think of something new the next time you hear the name “Godzilla.”

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Forget Oscar

Find Your Spirit Animal

The Spirit Awards are LIVE this Saturday at 2p PT/5p ET.

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In just a few precious days, the greatest, most epic, most star-studded awards ceremony of the year comes to IFC.

And please, we’re definitely not talking about the Oscars. We’re talking about the Spirit Awards. Hosted by iconic comedy duo Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, it’s a relatively under-the-radar awards show with serious cred. And if the past is any indicator, we’re in for a wild night.

If you feel like doing your homework, you can find a full list of nominees and performance excerpts here. It reads like a who’s who of everyone that matters – those larger-than-life personalities with status that borders on mythological. Our celebrity spirit animals, if you will.

This isn’t hyperbole. Literally everyone who takes the stage at the awards show is spirit animal material. Let’s see if we can help you find yours…

Do you

Live in someone else’s shadow despite shining like the sun? Do you inexplicably vandalize your pretty-boy good looks with a sloppy-joe man bun and a repellent pubic-hair beard? Do you think sounding stoned and sounding thoughtful are kinda the same thing?

Congratulations, your spirit animal is Casey Affleck.

He’s the self-canonized patron saint of anyone who’s got the goods but doesn’t give a damn.

Do you

Have mid-length hair and exude a certain feminine masculinity that is universally appealing? Are you drawn to situations that promise little to nothing in the way of grooming or hygiene as a transparently self-conscious attempt to conceal your radiant inner glow? Does that fail miserably?

Way to go, your spirit animal is Viggo Mortensen.

He’s the yoga teacher of actors, in that what should make him super nasty only increases his curb appeal.

Do you

Get zero recognition for work that everyone knows is unrivaled? Do you inspire greatness in others yet get shortchanged when it comes to your own acclaim? Are you a goddam B-52 bomber in an industry of biplanes?

Bingo, your spirit animal is Annette Bening.

What does it take for this artist to win an Oscar? Honestly now, if her performance in 20th Century Women doesn’t earn her every award on the planet, consider it proof that the Universe truly is a cold dark void absent of reason or compassion.

Do you

Walk into a room full of strangers and walk out with a room full of friends? Have you been hiding under the radar just waiting for the right moment to leap out into the spotlight and stay there FOREVER? Do you possess the almost messianic ability to elevate Shia LaBeouf’s on-screen charisma?

You guessed it (or not), your spirit animal is 100% Sasha Lane.

If you haven’t seen American Honey, then you haven’t heard of her. She came out of the blue with a performance both subtle and powerful, and now she’s going to be in all the movies from this moment on. Or she should be, at any rate.

Don’t see your spirit animal there? Worry not. There are many more nominees to choose from, and you can see them all (yes, including Shia LaBeouf) during the Independent Spirit Awards, this Saturday at 2pm PT/5pm ET only on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia Keeps Road Rage In Park

Get a lesson in parking etiquette on a new Portlandia.

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It’s the most American form of cause and effect: Park like a monster, receive a passive-aggressive note.

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This unofficial rule of the road is critical to keeping the great big wheel of car-related Karma in balance. And naturally, Portlandia’s Kath and Dave have elevated it to an awkward, awkward art form in Car Notes, the Portlandia web series presented by Subaru.

If you’ve somehow missed the memo about Car Notes until now, you can catch up on every installment online, on the IFC app, and on demand. You can even have a little taste right here:

If your interest is piqued – great news for you! A special Car Notes sketch makes an appearance in the latest episode of Portlandia, and you can catch up on it now right here.

Watch all-new Portlandia Thursdays at 10P on IFC.

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Naked and Hungry

Two New Ways to Threeway

IFC's Comedy Crib gets sensual in time for Valentine's Day.

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This week, two scandalous new digital series debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib.
Ménage à Trois invites people to participate in a real-life couple’s fantasy boudoir. And The Filling is Mutual follows two saucy chefs who invite comedians to make food inspired by their routines. Each show crosses some major boundaries in sexy and/or delicious ways, and each are impossible to describe in detail without arousing some awkward physical cravings. Which is why it’s best to hear it directly from the minds behind the madness…

Ménage à Trois

According to Diana Kolsky and Murf Meyer, the two extremely versatile constants in the ever-shifting à trois, “MàT is a sensually psychedelic late night variety show exploring matters of hearts, parts and every goddamn thing in between…PS, any nudes will be 100% tasteful.”

This sexy brainchild includes sketches, music, and props that would put Pee-wee’s Playhouse to shame. But how could this fantastical new twist on the vanilla-sex variety show format have come to be?

“We met in a UCB improv class taught by Chris Gethard. It was clear that we both humped to the beat of our own drum; our souls and tongues intermingled at the bar after class, so we dove in head first.”

Sign me up, but promise to go slow. This tricycle is going to need training wheels.

The Filling is Mutual

Comedians Jen Saunderson and Jenny Zigrino became best friends after meeting in the restroom at the Gotham Comedy Club, which explains their super-comfortable dynamic when cooking with their favorite comedians. “We talk about comedy, sex, menses, the obnoxiousness of Christina Aguilera all while eating food that most would push off their New Year’s resolution.”

The hook of cooking food based off of comedy routines is so perfect and so personal. It made us wonder about what dishes Jen & Jenny would pair with some big name comedy staples, like…

Bill Murray?
“Oh, that’s easy Meatballs with Lingonberry Space Jam it’d be great, but then we’d have to Oh, that’s easy Meatballs with Lingonberry Space Jam it’d be great, but then we’d have to… Oh, that’s easy Meatballs with Lingonberry Space Jam it’d be great, but then we’d have to avoid doing any kind of silly Groundhog Day reference.” 

Bridget Everett?
“Cream Balls… Sea Salt encrusted Chocolate Ganache Covered Ice Cream Ball that melt cream when you bite into them.” 

Nick Kroll & John Mulaney? 
“I’d make George and Gil black and white cookies from scratch and just as we open the oven to put the cookie in we’d prank ’em with an obnoxious amount of tuna!!!”

Carrie Brownstein & Fred Armisen? 
“Definitely a raw cacao “safe word” brownie. Cacao!”

Just perfect.

See both new series in their entirety on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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