Lupin III: The First (2019) Review

Lupin III: The First (2019) Review

Lupin III has been an anime fixture for decades.

Somehow, someway, that lovable thief keeps popping up in films and TV series nearly every year. While you could make the argument that famed Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki made him famous in the west, the fact is, Lupin has an enduring energy about him that ensures that he’ll always be noticed. That includes this most recent, and potentially risky, foray into computer animation.

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Lupin III: The First

While traditional hand-drawn techniques have always been a surefire way to translate the characteristics of the original Monkey Punch designers (read: Monkey Punch was an artist named Kazuhiko Katō, not a company name); Toshiya Umeda and his animation team managed to somehow nail this transition, despite the move to 3DCG.

Characters are still very much fluid, perhaps more so than a lot of similar western studios (even Pixar), but the core designs also never betray the originals. Lupin is still wide-eyed and goofy; Jigen still plays it cool, and so on. These are the gentleman thieves you fell in love with originally no matter where you started in the history of Lupin media; or they’re the cast you will fall in love with after watching “The First.”

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Lupin III: The First

That said, the film itself has issues, most notably with its pacing and narrative. We’re given plenty of time to linger with Lupin himself and his new cohort Laetitia (who is embroiled in a familial secret that also involves the Nazis attempting to rise to power in the ‘60s, it’s wild!), a few of the side characters aren’t really focused on enough. Somehow, the hour and a half runtime both feels too short and overly long, in the sense that I wish certain characters had more meaningful moments and the plot was more pushed to the side.

It’s strange, because despite my problems with some of the journey, I had a smile on my face nearly the entire time. Lupin is still timelessly hilarious, and should appeal to pretty much anyone who’s looking for a character to really dig into. The animation style helps tremendously, including his signature “swimming through the air” sequence that works while hand-drawn and translates here. I can’t stress enough how much credit should go to the team, as several other CG efforts in the past few decades have looked stiff and wooden by comparison.

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Lupin III: The First

Like most Lupin III: The First films, the latest adventure is self-contained, so it’s a good way to really acclimate yourself to this world. Be prepared to check your watch a few times when it gets especially sluggish; but the juice is worth the squeeze as you’ll be laughing again in no time.

Godzilla 2014 (Movie) Review

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Ten years ago the folks at Toho decided to retire their flagship character Godzilla for decade. When the big green guy finally made his return, it was to headline a Hollywood blockbuster. We’ve been here before, of course. Back in 1998, Roland Emmerich, hot off the success of Independence Day tried to bring the big guy stateside in a horrendous blockbuster that irritatingly redesigned the iconic character and surrounded him with pointless noise and an A-list cast giving shrill one-note performances. This time however, things are different. Godzilla was handed over to director Gareth Edwards, a Brit who made the striking zero budget giant monster movie Monsters, which was laced with social commentary and delivered in a solemn tone. Edwards’ Godzilla is indeed a very serious take on the character with attempts at feeding in a little social commentary for the first time since Godzilla’s 1954 debut. That’s all nice and welcome, but where Edwards truly succeeded is in what all of the ‘98 Godzilla posters promised, but failed to deliver: scale. This is a gloriously massive blockbuster that adds physical weight and grandeur to the character through CGI like few films before. It’s not perfect, but it is gloriously well-made summer entertainment that gives Godzilla the epic comeback he deserves.

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Unlike so many blockbusters these days, Edwards’ Godzilla opens with some welcome world-building and characterization rather than action. We’re introduced to Bryan Cranston’s nuclear scientist in Japan who is forced to watch his wife die while struggling to prevent a power plant catastrophe. Flash forward 15 years, and now Cranston’s son is a grown man in the army played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who is married to Elizabeth Olsen and has a son of his own. Johnson is forced to go back to Japan when his father is arrested. He’s been living a paranoid existence struggling to prove that the accident that killed his wife had nothing to do with the nuclear power plant, but some sort of conspiracy. Turns out he’s right and we’re introduced to Ken Watanabe as a super-secret scientist who studies gigantic prehistoric monsters who live on earth. The biggest one they’ve ever known is Godzilla, who, in 1954, was secretly bombed to the bottom of the ocean by all those Cold War nuclear tests. Unfortunately, another monster bursts from the wasteland of that old Japanese power plant and then another. They look like a cross between Rodan, Mothra, and the Cloverfield monster and are smashing their way across opposite sides of the Pacific ocean. That raises our beloved Godzilla from the depths of the ocean for a good old fashioned monster mash. That’s right, contrary to what’s been suggested, this brand spanking new Godzilla movie is actually an homage to the monster-fight movies of the 60s. And all those human characters (including David Strathairn’s nuke-loving admiral and Sally Hawkins’ scientist), well they’re just caught in the middle.

[pullquote align=”right” class=”blue”]“This is a gloriously massive blockbuster that adds physical weight and grandeur to Godzilla through CGI like few films before.”[/pullquote]

The greatest success of Godzilla 2014 is how masterfully Gareth Edwards stages his monsters smash em’ ups and battles. Though the movie is mercifully not another found footage exorcise, it takes a cue from one of the best devices of that tiresome subgenre. For the most part, Edwards shoots his giant monsters from the perspective of the tiny humans surrounding him. Through handheld cameras we catch glimpses of the remarkably animated creatures in a way that viscerally communicates their scale and power. Another big influence on Edwards here is Steven Spielberg. That bearded master also shot his awe-inspiring creatures from ground level in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Jurassic Park, and War Of The Worlds. Edwards borrows liberally from the Spielberg playbook, using brilliant actors to communicate a sense of shock and horror to off screen action, employing masterful misdirection, and zeroing in on small human ways of communicating massive fantasy (in particular, the image of a pencil rolling across a desk as a massive military ship is tipped). Edwards borrows liberally, yet finds a gritty style all his own. By filtering his monsters through human perspective (and occasionally news reports), it adds scale, realism, and relatability that sells Godzilla unlike any other film before. It’s beautifully done and at the same time, Edwards is more than happy to indulge in a full-on, 45-minute, epic, city-crushing, monster-mash climax that lets the creatures take center stage and gives audiences more than enough reason to cheer and munch their popcorn. You definitely get your money’s worth in this Godzilla outing.

Where the film stumbles is in tone. Even though this is a movie hinged on a super-awesome monster fight starring God-freaking-zilla, the film is played deathly serious. In the early going with Bryan Cranston in over-the-top meltdown mode, that works. It allows Cranston to deliver a compelling character on the edge and even hint at some serious themes that are quickly dropped. The trouble is that once the monsters show up, the humans are shoved to the sideline as helpless viewers. Granted, that’s how it should be in a Godzilla movie. But when you’ve got Aaron Taylor-Johnson instructed to just be stoic for 90 minutes and the brilliant Elizabeth Olsen doing little more than crying and playing victim, it feels like a waste of talent. These actors might come off as leaps and bounds better than anyone in Godzilla 1998, but their characters aren’t much deeper, just more serious. It’s also a bit of a bummer that a movie built around a 45-minute monster fight is so gosh-darn serious. It’s ultimately silly fun and the actors should have been allowed to indulge along with the audience at least a bit. Pacific Rim may have had a similarly throwaway deadly serious human plot at the center, but at least by the time Charlie Day and Ron Pearlman shared a scene, the humans were as much fun as the monsters. That never happens here and to the film’s detriment. This is Godzilla after all, not an art film.

[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMypuYgtVPc” width=”1060″ height=”940″]Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd [/youtube]

However, I can’t pretend that complaint is much more than nit-pickery. It’s the difference between this Godzilla flick being a damn good blockbuster and a great one. Complaining about that in the context of an awesome giant monster movie is just splitting geek hairs. After all, no one shows up to a Godzilla movie to get deeply invested in the human story. The fact that there even is one to criticize is a bonus, and this is at the very least the best acted Godzilla movie ever made (sure there’s not much competition in that regard, but that’s still something!). What matters about this movie is Godzilla and the monsters, and that material is extraordinary. The skydiving sequence that caught everyone’s attention in the trailer is here and with a spectacular final POV shot saved for the final film. Every other giant monster sequence lives up to it too. In an age when CGI can deliver any filmmaker’s fantasy to the screen, it’s hard to be genuinely blown away by special effect sequences. Edwards manages to do that here because he knows that it’s not just about how good the effect is, but how powerfully you present it cinematically. He delivers a Godzilla so massive, terrifying, and iconic that it’s safe to say the big guy just made a new generation of fans. By the time the credits roll, you’ll genuinely want to see Godzilla in a sequel rather than just accepting the next one as an inevitability. That’s about all we could have asked for from this movie. Let’s just hope that when Godzilla comes back next time, he’s allowed to have a little more fun. The big guy’s earned it.

Top Five Giant Monster Movies

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This week, a certain scale-covered gentleman named Godzilla returns to the big screen, promising the joys of giant monster destruction for a whole new generation. As anyone with a pulse knows, one of the greatest joys in all of cinema is the sight of a ginormous monster beating the crap out of a city. It’s what the movies were made for and thankfully the giant robots vs. giant monsters smash em’ up Pacific Rim helped usher the genre back into the mainstream. So, if you can’t wait to see the big guy flatten out New York this weekend or come home from the flick desperate for more of the same, we thought we’d present a top five list of the Greatest Giant Monster Movies ever made for you to sample. Now, I’ll be honest and admit that I cheated and included more than five movies on this list. But hey, when you’re talking about giant monster movies, you can never have too many. Let’s dive in, shall we?

5) Big Man Japan (2007)

Top Five Giant Monster Movies
Big Man Japan (2007)

If nothing else, Big Man Japan is easily the weirdest giant monstermovie ever made and in this genre, that’s really saying something. Japanese comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto writes, directs, and stars in this deeply strange comedy about a boring middle aged man in Japan whose job is to grow super-sized and fight monsters when required. Shot as a mock-documentary style, the movie combines deadpan banal comedy with giant CGI monster battles in a manner that simply has to be seen to be believed. The film is pitched somewhere between The Office and Cloverfield, but somehow works perfectly. Though he’s barely known outside of Japan, Matsumoto has one of the most wonderfully cracked creative minds in comedy right now and his movies desperately deserve a wider audience. Treat yourself to Big Man Japan, I guarantee you won’t regret it.

4) The Host (2006)

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The Host (2006)

Back in 2006, Joon-ho Bong was an art house darling who scored critical accolades worldwide for his debut Memories Of A Murder. So, it’s safe to say that audiences were a bit confused when the Korean writer/director decided to follow it up with a giant monster movie. At least that was true until audiences finally saw The Host. Though the movie is one hell of a monster romp filled with wonderful effects and creature design from Peter Jackson’s team at Weta, it’s also a very clever satire of American imperialism and industrial pollution as well as a genuinely touching family drama. Equal parts thrilling, hilarious, and heart-warming, The Host is a giant monster movie that makes the genre look good. For once the filmmaker seemed to care about crafting his human characters even more than his thrilling monster set pieces and the result was an instant monster movie classic.

3) Destroy All Monsters (1968)/Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

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Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Let’s face it, if you’re going to watch a giant monster movie, the only thing that could possibly make it better is the presence of multiple giant monsters duking it out together rather than a single, solitary monster. Thankfully, there are many such movies and these are the very best. 1968’s Destroy All Monsters was one of the many attempts at a final Godzilla movie; however, much like James Bond the guy just keeps coming back. Led by director Isiro Honda, the entire original Godzilla team came together for this flat out battle royale that saw the big guy take on no less than 11 monsters in the biggest budgeted Godzilla movie of the time (which, in the world of rubber suited monster movies from the 60s, doesn’t really mean much to be honest). There’s not much in the way of plot, but there’s no denying that the nonstop monster-mashing offers probably the most purely enjoyable kaiju movie of the 60s.

Almost 40 years later, the folks at Toho decided to do another big budget Godzilla finale and this time hired kaiju-superfan and Versus director Ryuhei Kitamura to supervise. Kitamura went out of his way to include every single damn kaiju that Toho ever created and even infused the human plot with gunfights and wire-fu to ensure not a second of screen time past without some element of ridiculous entertainment. There’s no denying that Godzilla: Final Wars is overkill, but there’s also no denying that the monster-movie geek inside you will cheer throughout in slack-jawed disbelief that someone made a Godzilla movie this completely insane. Plus, Final Wars has a scene where the original Godzilla blows up the 1998 Hollywood Godzilla and if that’s not worth the price of admission alone, then I don’t know what is!

2) Jurassic Park (1993)

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Jurassic Park (1993)

It’s Jurassic Park. You know it. You love it. There’s nothing more to be said about these clever girls.

1) King Kong (1933)/Godzilla (1954)

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Godzilla (1954)

Look, I know it’s cheating but there’s no way to choose between the two and you can’t make me. The original King Kong and Godzilla aren’t just the most important giant monster movies ever made, they also continue to be the best. The 1933 King Kong offers a giddy rush of entertainment. It’s the first summer blockbuster and in many ways Hollywood is still trying to match King Kong’s perfect mix of showboating effects entertainment and heart. The film is defined by Willis O’Brien’s astounding stop motion animation of Kong. Not only did O’Brien guide Kong through a spectacular fight with a T-Rex, but he also injected the puppet with a surprising amount of character. There’s something tragic and perverted about the original King Kong that few monster movies since can match. The film has also aged exquisitely, with all of the old-timey acting and dialogue adding delightful campy comedy to what is undeniably one of the most entertaining movies ever made.

Then there’s the original Godzilla, a movie that is far different from the reputation it spawned. Godzilla is not a cultural mascot here, but a creature spawned from nuclear radiation. He’s a big walking metaphor for Japan’s post-WWII nuclear scars and paranoia. Watched in the original Japanese Gojira cut, the film plays out as a surprisingly thoughtful piece of work, with as much screen time dedicated to scientists contemplating the nature and effects of nuclear war as there is city stomping. The rubber suit effects also hold up surprisingly well, delivering a handful of genuinely frightening sequences. Then there’s the American cut (Godzilla, King Of The Monsters!) that is filled with horrible dubbing, an awkwardly inserted Raymond Burr playing a new American protagonist, and endless unintentional laughs. So, thanks to there being two versions of the 1954 Godzilla, it is somehow both the most serious and unsettling Godzilla movie ever made and the beginning of badly dubbed Japanese monster movie camp. That’s quite a legacy. Let’s just hope that the new Hollywood version honors the Japanese cut and not the Americanized version.