Giant Monsters From My Childhood

This one can be filed under “So bad, it’s good.”

Recently I was thinking about my childhood influences. Long before there was ever a “Power Rangers”, I was watching Japanese Giant Monster TV Shows. These definitely had a hand in my love of B-movies. And well, there’s also the obvious, the name of my website.

In the late 1970s, when I was three or four, a local TV station in Detroit used to show “Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot” and “Ultra Man” back-to-back. I loved them and watched them everyday. (Though I’ll admit that the swirly colors at the beginning of “Ultra Man” scared me for some reason.)

These shows were actually made ten years earlier and were a direct response to the popularity of all the Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra movies. They featured the formula that is familiar to fans of Japanese Giant Monster TV Shows of any era. A team of good guys (often young and possibly with a kid) fight a constant battle against a team of bad guys (possibly from outer space). Both sides make use of Giant Monsters (read “guys in rubber suits stomping on models”) to battle each other for control of Earth. The good guys either have control of Giant Monsters / Robots or they turn into them, while the bad guys usually just pull the strings of their enormous minions from afar.

I decided to see if I could track these shows down. I found that NovaRose sells both series on DVD. Their prices are great and the quality is quite good for 1960s TV shows with rather low production value to begin with. (I can’t really comment on the legality of these DVDs. I don’t know and I didn’t ask. I know for a fact that neither show is actually sold on DVD or VHS in the US. But that doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t own the rights. It’s up to you. I will say though that the guys at NovaRose are very nice and very helpful.)

Since the DVDs arrived in the mail today, I decided to sit down tonight and watch the first episode of each.

They’re definitely dated, and if you thought the special effects were cheap in 1950s Godzilla movies, these are extra cheap. But they’re a hell of a lot of fun. I smiled and laughed my way through both “Johnny Sokko” and “Ultra Man”.

Johnny Sokko is a young boy who just happens to get shipwrecked with Jerry Mano, an agent of Unicorn (the good guys), on an island controlled by the Gargoyle Gang (the bad guys) and Emperor Guillotine (the evil alien from outer space) when their evil Giant Monster sinks the ship the two are on. Got it so far?

Giant Robot

Johnny and Jerry discover that Guillotine and the Gargoyles are trying to build a Giant Robot to destroy the world. Luckily Johnny takes control of the robot and saves the day. Super cool.

Johnny and Jerry get a helping hand.

“Ultra Man” on the other hand is an entirely different kind of story. Science Patrol (the good guys) flys around in cool rocket planes protecting Earth from bad guys. When an evil meteorite with an evil Giant Monster inside crashes on Earth, Hayata of the Science Patrol crashes into a good meteorite with his rocket plane and is merged with the good Giant Monster, Ultra Man. Then the two Giant Monsters fight. (Ok, maybe it’s not so different.)

I did notice that with “Ultra Man” it’s actually geared towards older viewers. Something that my four year old brain could never understand. In fact I discovered that it’s actually a show secretly meant for fetishists. If nothing else you have the swell uniforms that Science Patrol gets to run around in:

Science Patrol in their swell uniforms.

But the real proof is in the blatant use of rubber-suited monster porn that is all over this show:

Ultra Man and the Giant Monster get get enough of each other.

I don’t know why my mother ever let me watch it. I can’t wait to watch the rest of the shows!

Fun With High Definition Television

I wound up in Long Beach today at my aunt and uncle’s place fixing the setup on their new Panasonic 60″ LCD Projection TV. It’s a gorgeous set. And huge! The guys who delivered it didn’t take the time to, or know how to, or whatever, do the little things like auto-program the channels. I did another nice picture calibration with my Avia DVD just like I did for Cameron.

This set has a built-in High Definition (HD) decoder. So in addition to hooking it up to their DirecTV, non-HD for now, I also hooked it up to their roof antenna. I never realized how many digital stations are broadcasting now. Or at least here in Los Angeles. There’s tons! Now only a few are actually broadcasting in HD. The major networks really only do HD for Primetime and major sporting events on the weekends. KCET, a local PBS station, has a 24 hour HD channel. It looks fantastic.

The digital stations work like this: Channel 2 out here is CBS. Digital CBS comes in on channel 2.1. NBC on channel 4. Digital NBC on 4.1. But there’s quite a bit of spectrum allocated for each “channel” so stations can actually have multiple digital broadcasts on one “channel”. ABC has a digital channel 7.1 which mirrors the analog broadcast, but it also has channel 7.2 with a completely different program.

The aforementioned KCET is channel 28. Channel 28.1 is their HD show which is different from the analog signal. The digital version is actually on 28.2. In fact I found a few channels like 58, another PBS station, which actually have 4 digital broadcasts on one “channel”. And in case you don’t know, a non-HD digital broadcast is called Standard Definition (SD). Actually some of the channels like the major networks came in listed as DT (Digital Television) which I took to mean that sometimes the broadcast in SD and sometimes in HD. But I could be wrong.

In any case, it was pretty cool stuff.

So May This Strife Of Men And Gods Be Done With

This just in from Reuters:

Homer’s ancient Greek poem “The Iliad,” … has been compressed for a new generation too lazy to see the film let alone read….

Book Two is reduced to just 24 words of ‘messenger speak’, losing some of the lyricism of the original….

The translation, designed to publicize Microsoft’s messenger product, is not written in Homer’s dactylic hexameters but it does use ’emoticons’ — little faces or images — to emphasize intense moments.

In other news:

Warner Brothers has just admitted that this “emoticon” version was the basis for its movie, “Troy”.

A Prayer To A Supreme Being

Dear God, Baby Jesus, or which ever higher power has executive control over Tom Cruise’s movies:

Please make him stop.

I finally watched Dances With Bravehearted NinjasThe Last Samurai” last night. I know, I’m late. I was kind of busy in December.

Anyway, we need you to make him stop. It’s bad enough that he has to use the patented Tom-Cruise-Is-Really-Emotional-And-Here’s-A-Close-Up-To-Prove-It shot in every other scene. Not to mention the “plucky American gets beat down again and again but keeps getting back up until everyone gains some respect for him” scene. But what’s really infuriating is that somehow we are supposed to believe that the Japanese cannot possibly appreciate their own rich cultural heritage until Tom Cruise explains it to them by handing over an ancient sword.

And speaking of that, how come a thousand samurai can get blown up with cannons, and riddled with Gatlin gun fire, and only Tom Cruise is able to survive? And he just has a slight limp? What’s up with that? I think you’ll agree that this kind of thing can’t go on.

If that’s not enough for you, don’t forget that he gets to kill a proud warrior from a family that has defended Japan’s honor for a thousand years, and within like a month is raising that man’s children as his own, and playing “hide the katana” with that man’s wife.

Please for all of us. Oh, and we’ll be talking later about that “strict” translation of Homer’s ancient Greek in “Troy.”


Good things always come in threes, right? Today I saw an amazing documentary, and it’s weird how well it fits in with the two documentaries that I had meetings about last week. I caught a matinee of “Mayor Of The Sunset Strip” appropriately enough at the Sunset 5. Wow! Just awesome.

This film is a film about Rodney Bingenheimer, a legend in the LA music scene. Rodney started out as a superfan of the bands of the mid to late 60s. (I’m going to stay away from the term “groupie” even though it is used in the film. I was a superfan of a few bands in my time, and it really takes some dedication. There’s a great book about what it’s like to be a superfan, “Bye Bye Baby: My Tragic Love Affair With The Bay City Rollers” by Caroline Sullivan. But I digress…) Eventually he wound up playing Davy Jones’ double for the Monkees TV show.

From there he hung out and got to know every band and artist that was ever anybody–The Beatles, The Doors, Sonny & Cher, The Mamas & The Papas, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley. Everybody. Watching this documentary, seeing the photos and the films of Rodney with all of these classic bands makes you think he’s some kind of real-life Zelig. He introduced David Bowie to America. He opened his own club on the Sunset Strip in the early 70s where all the rock stars would party. The Runaways. The New York Dolls. Iggy Pop. Alice Cooper.

Finally in the mid-70s he wound up with his own radio show on KROQ. He became THE guy to break all the hot bands of the day. Every band from The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and Blondie to The Go Go’s, The Smiths, and Dramarama got their start (at least in the U.S.) because Rodney played their songs on his radio show. Even more recently bands like Oasis and Coldplay got the nod from Mr. Bingenheimer and have gone on to be huge.

He is truly an amazing individual, and director George Hickenlooper has done a fantastic job of capturing Rodney’s humanity and charm. A great documentary is informative, funny, passionate, and poignant, all at once, and “Mayor Of The Sunset Strip” is no exception. For me it ranks up there with other documentaries like “American Movie“. Even though the subjects are quirky people, they are so endearing that you can’t help falling in love with them.

I’ll Have A Pepsi To Go With My Zombie

In my last post I talked a little bit about some of my thoughts on zombie movies. It brought back a lot of memories of the year that my friends and I spent putting the few issues of Right Turn Clyde that ever saw the light of day (or the glow of a monitor). Those were fun times figuring out what would be the next snarky comment about Hollywood. I might have put together the website but MNKE was the driving force behind that effort. And without the four of us who wrote most of the articles and tracked down the photos and got the interviews, I don’t think it can exist again. At least not like it did.

But it doesn’t mean that I can’t write my reviews of TV and movies. It’s just not as easy to be satirical without hiding behind the persona of Shorty LaBrea. So I’m starting up this Movies & TV section so that I can post my thoughts and reviews. And since I first started with that post about running zombies and I resolved to watch some more recent movies, why don’t a start with the movie I watched last night:

28 Days Later. Directed by Danny Boyle.

This is the zombie movie with a twist. Animal rights activists unwittingly unleash infected chimps on the population at large spreading a disease called Rage. This genetically engineered virus is transmitted by blood and saliva and is so contagious that a single drop in the mouth, eye, or an open cut will turn a person in about 30 seconds into a blood-thirsty insane maniac who will run around tearing any living thing it finds to shreds. Our protagonist, Jim, wakes up 28 days after the start of the outbreak from a coma to a nearly deserted London, and tries to figure out how to survive.

This movie was damn scary. Thankfully Danny Boyle didn’t fill it with the “gotcha” surprises that you often find in cheap horror films. You know when things suddenly jump out at you complete with a huge music sting. The first time it’s just the cat that was startled in the dark room but the next time it’s the killer. Those moments are cheap thrills that always make me jump out of my skin but then it’s over. Danny did a great job of sustaining the “what’s going to happen next” tension for long periods of time and I often found myself with a stranglehold on the remote.

The difference with this movie is that these are not traditional zombies. These are not the reanimated corpses of dead single-minded bent on eating the flesh of the living. These are people driven mad by a disease. They still want to eat people but since they are not already dead, they can die of “natural” causes. The proper way to dispatch a zombie according to the mythology that has built up in films is to either burn them up, dissolve them in acid, or destroy their head. Anything less and they’ll keep coming after you. Danny’s Rage-zombies are still people. There’s nothing supernatural about them. They are not the undead. If you fill them with enough bullets, they’ll die. Since the disease seems to effect them to the point that they are unable to comprehend that they can walk into the nearest 7-11 for six pack and a bag of chips, they eventually starve to death.

Over the years zombie movies have been used as a method of social commentary. Dan O’Bannon looked at disenfranchised youth railing against the “let’s just nuke the commies” attitude of the Reagen era in Return of the Living Dead. Probably most famously, George Romero used zombies wandering around in a mall in Dawn of the Dead to comment on America’s mindless consumerism. Danny Boyle uses 28 Days Later to answer the question, What makes us human? When watching this movie it is important to think about who has truly lost their soul: the infected people who no longer have the free will to do anything but feast the rest of man, or the soldiers who exploit their strength with guns and a fortified base to get whatever they want.

Mr. Boyle’s apocalyptic tale brought to mind a few of of other great science fiction movies: The excellent Australian film, The Quiet Earth, where a man wakes up one day to find that he is the only human alive and he must deal with the loneliness. And the Charlton Heston’s 1971 classic, The Omega Man. Instead of informing the world of the contents of Soylent Green or leading the humans in an uprising against their ape masters, this time Chuck as the sole survivor of humanity has to fight off an army of plague-created vampires. (The original novel is I Am Legend, and has spawned a few movie versions including a great Italian one from 1964 starring Vincent Price called The Last Man On Earth.) And who could forget the valley girls and Commander Chakotay menaced by comet-produced zombies in Night of the Comet.

All in all, 28 Days Later is a exciting, thought-provoking movie to watch. The DVD has three alternate endings which are interesting, if only to find out, what if…

Runnin’ Zombies

I was over at Wil Wheaton’s site reading about his twisted views on life. He recently went to see Dawn of the Dead and posed the question, “When did zombies start to run?”

Well that just so happens to be something I know a little bit about. Now I definitely haven’t seen every movie on the planet and especially in the last year, there are quite a few films I haven’t yet watched, but I do like my B horror films. (I know what you’re thinking, “How can I make movies and not watch them?” I can’t explain it. I eventually do. It just sometimes takes a while.)

I have yet to go see this new version of Dawn of the Dead. It looks pretty fun. Unfortunately it’s going to have a hard time competing with the original–at least in my book. I still remember the first time I saw George Romero’s second zombie movie. I was in junior high spending the night at my friend Josh Marcus’ house. It scared the crap out of me but I loved it. I thought the idea of living in a mall with a small group of friends was so cool. Crawling around the ventilation ducts. Making false walls. Playing with anything you wanted. It seemed like a great adventure.

Several people posted in Wil’s Comments that 28 Days Later had running zombies. Here’s where I’m going to have to step up and admit that I haven’t watched that one yet either. I know, I know. Well now I’m resolved to do it–I’m going to pick up the DVD today, watch it tonight, and I might catch a matinee of DotD tomorrow.

Apart from all that, I do know that the punk rock classic Return of the Living Dead has a few “rushing” zombies. They can pick up the pace a bit over a short distance. But overall they’re still mostly the mindless, shambling, brain-eating undead.

The first true “running” zombies appear in the sequel, Return of the Living Dead Part 2. Now this isn’t a strict sequel like “the continuing adventures of the poor saps that made all through the night of horror and were finally able to see the sunrise of a new day.” And it isn’t a sequel like Evil Dead II–“Here’s the movie I would have made the first time if I had the money.” It’s more of a “remember how funny those two guys who got sick and slowly turned into zombies were in the first one? Let’s get those actors back and have them do the same thing only as different characters. And oh yeah, more zombies.”

RotLD2 has lots and lots of zombies running through a Levittown-like suburbia. And I do mean running. It struck me the first time I saw it. It was definitely unusual because the typical zombie moans a lot and looks like it’s just as likely to fall on its face as take another step–but it doesn’t stop, it’ll crawl after you if it has to, and that’s what’s so scary. The more I thought about the running zombies in Part 2, the more I realized they were even scarier. You still have the mindless persistence. They’re still going to do everything they can to get you. But now you can’t outpace them with a light jog. You better be ready to sprint because they sure are.

Return of the Living Dead is one my all-time favorite movies. Several years ago, before I bought a DVD player, I always said I was holding out for The Warriors and RotLD to get released. Of course I didn’t end up waiting THAT long. But if I was going to recommend one zombie movie to watch it would be that one. You’ve got the punk rock kids hanging out in the cemetery, the split dogs coming back to life in the medical supply company, “More brains” from gooey guy with no skin, “Send more paramedics” from the midget zombie, all kinds of great stuff. It’s a classic.

Part 2 is worth seeing just to see where the running started, but other then that it’s not all that good. Part 3 however, is pretty awesome. It’s kind of a Romeo and Juliet where he’s alive and she’s dead. “Honey, I love you so much- DEAR GOD! Are you eating that man’s brain! That is DISGUSTING! Oh, but I do so love you.” She loves him too, and she hates the fact that she wants to eat brains, but the temptation is so strong that it can be hard to resist. So of course she resorts to doing what any sane, still-in-love-with-your-boyfriend zombie would do: stick lots of pointy things into her flesh. The pain temporarily relieves the brain lust. We’ve all seen punks with the safety pins and metal studs sticking out of their jackets. (Some of us might have even had own jackets like that.) She looks the same only all the bits of metal are directly in her skin. Frankly it’s cool… and maybe a little hot… ok, I must stop.