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“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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.