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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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