Sunday, February 28, 2021

Scary Godmother (2003-05) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

When I was a kid, I disliked many things aimed at my age demographic. Bananas in Pyjamas? Pass! How about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre! Mary Poppins? More like Evil Dead! This isn't to say I hated all kids media, but for many things I was quick to dismiss them as childish. I had this assumption about Scary Godmother when I saw the ads, but after I caught it on TV one day I was entranced, and took back every negative thought I ever had!...

One Halloween night, mean boy Jimmy and his three friends Katie Darryl and Bert decide to ditch his young cousin Hannah, so they can go trick or treating more efficiently on their own. They come up with a plan to scare her away by sending her alone into the 'Spook house', but things go wrong when she doesn't come out. As the trio wait impatiently for their plan to succeed, the deathly frightened Hannah soon meets her Scary Godmother, and realises the creatures of the night are nothing to be afraid of...

Scary Godmother is a delightful watch. Brisk at only 45 minutes, packed with plenty of entertaining setpieces and comedy moments. It can be a bit hyper at times, and one or two scenes are a little confusing, but theses are minor issues in an otherwise highly enjoyable film.

Onto the characters. Hannah is such a cutiepie! She's endearing, loveable, and has such a nice approach with everyone she meets. Scary Godmother on the other hand is the manic and fun-loving aunt you wish you could have. Never obnoxious, she carries the movie greatly, introducing us all to a world that should exist, if only the real world wasn't so boring.

Jimmy is the most villainous of the cast, and amusingly unlikeable. Not a moment goes by when you don't want to slap him, but he's never genuinely frustrating. As for his three friends, I like the way they're written. They're not bad kids, and quite likeable in some ways, but between their cowing to Jimmy, and kinda dismissive attitude at times, you can see how they'd go along with this plan, and you do look forward to seeing them punished at least a little. What I found most adorable of all was the romance between Katie and Darryl. It was so sweet! I was hoping we'd get to see a kiss, but not quite. *sighs*

The monsters are great! From the campy skeleton in the closet Skully Pettibone, hungry werewolf Max, the amusingly droll vampire family, the gruff yet friendly Bug-a-Boo, and more, they're lots of fun, and no two are alike.

The animation in Scary Godmother is charming. While some nowadays say it's terrible and unsettling, I think it holds up perfectly well. The 3D models are well designed, and move fluidly, always with life in their faces (or DEATH, as it were! Mwuhahaha!), and even their eyes manage to avoid being lifeless or creepy, as often happened with other 3D animations back in the day (or even now). The environments are created with an illustrated fashion, and it's a really cool effect. The two styles mix awesomely, creating some nifty visuals.

The directing is very good, and has lots of flair, with my favourite moment being the 'spinning' moment. It really shows off how good the integration is between characters and their location, and shows that the director wasn't just being lazy because he got a cartoon gig. There's a variety of other neat moments all throughout, and great visuals.

The cast all do a fine job, from the kids to the monsters. A couple of performances might be a bit too over the top for some, but there's nothing bad at least. The music is great too, with many super groovy tracks! We get   all with a Halloween ring to them.

Two years later, Scary Godmother received a sequel, The Revenge of Jimmy, and it's likewise lots of fun! It continues the story without rehashing anything, and it's got a really enjoyable structure, and captures the spirit of Halloween perfectly. If ever anything goes wrong with your Halloween and it seems like things are done for, don't fret, because there's always a way to fix it, or always an alternative. A great message to share. The characters are loads of fun. Hannah has grown as a protagonist, and is older and more assured, while still an adorable and sweet-natured girl. The trio of kids are nicer this time round, and hang out almost exclusively with Hannah, though everyone is still friendly towards Jimmy, despite his consistent/constant attempts to destroy Halloween. The jokes continue to earn laughs, and there's a decent mix of laughs for the kids and adults alike.

To finish, Scary Godmother is a wonderfully ooky watch, especially for kids! If you have any who want something gruesome, macabre, and terrifying, I suppose you could show them an R-rated move (goodness knows I would've been happy with that as a wee one), but if you insist on something family friendly, this is the perfect choice!...

Phantom Investigators (2002) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

It's that time of year again for my good friend Emily Intravia's annual blogathon-The Shortening   for storytime! When I was a child, we were in a golden age of television, even if we didn't quite realise it at the time (sometimes you don't appreciate things as much as you should until later on, when you reflect upon how things were, what they're like now, etc). One show that I've always fondly remembered from this time is the unsung Phantom Investigators!...

Every day there's a ghost or spectre of some kind terrorising innocent kids, and it's up to the four Phantom Investigators, Daemona Prune, Jericho, Casey, and Kira, to solve each case before it's too late, saving the world as well as satisfying their customers.  From demonic possession

Phantom Investigators was a short-lived series that came and went without much fanfare, but those of us who saw it never forgot. I only saw a bare handful of episodes as a kid, yet what I saw really stuck with me. For years I searched for it, without success. It's never had a VHS or DVD release, nor did I have any luck finding it online. Until recently! And I was finally able to see the series in its entirety. Hell, see it at all for the first time in 18 years!

This is a highly enjoyable series. Fun, spooky, and well written, each episode   full of creativity. From the design and ideas of some of the monsters, to the ways the team beat them, the show is extremely imaginative. It's also light on cringyness that can be present in some kids shows, which is a relief.

What also sets Phantom Investigators apart from other shows of its kind is the edge it has. Don't get me wrong, it's still a lighthearted kids show, but it doesn't shy away from darker elements, or genuinely effective bits of horror. Even though they're in the confines of a G-rated series, they don't feel held back or watered down. This attitude of never talking down to its audience really says a lot about its quality, and will endear it to young and old as a result.

My least favourite episode has gotta be The Stall of Doom, not because it's bad, but because the characters are so snippy to each-other all of a sudden! I know it's part of the episode's overall message, bu still, it's annoying! My favourite episodes meanwhile are a toss-up between three. First is Haunted Dreams, which manages to be creepy in the same vein as A Nightmare of Elm Street, in a way I'm surprised a [kids series was allowed to show. Then there's Ghosts on Film, which is a love letter to old B-movies, as well as a neat story to boot. But my personal favourite has got to be the finale-Secrets Exposed, which entranced young Christopher, who thought for sure this show was just some stupid childish guff, when instead it turned out to be a surprisingly mature and layered] program! I so wanted to see what happened next after that ending phone call...

The characters are a nicely diverse bunch, each with their own unique traits. Daemona was my favourite, both in visuals and personality. I wish I coulda had a friend like her as a kid! Supernatural helpers Jinxy and Wad might be annoying to some, but they grew on me, and are good comic relief (especially in one episode with a hilariously Australian ghost koala).

The animation is the most unique thing about this series. A combination of both stop-motion, puppetry, and live action, it's unlike most other shows. This may sound like a completely disparate combination, but it works very well. The flat cut-out characters integrate nicely with the environments and the live action actors.

The acting here is fun all round. The leading actors do great, and special props to Courtney Vineys as Daemona  The live action performers can get a bit goofy, but not obnoxiously so, for the most part. My favourite of the bunch was = as friendly ghost janitor Mustapha.

The music is a lot of fun, helping build an atmosphere of supernatural fun. It's always neat to listen to.

Phantom Investigators is a real diamond in the rough, and well worth checking out. It's a shame it never got a second season, and an even greater shame that it's never even seen a legitimate release, because this is a series that deserves all the attention in the world. If you're eager for spooky fun, look no further!...

Friday, February 26, 2021

Sergeant Deadhead (1965)

At a military camp, hijinxs are constantly afoot, with the amiable but clumsy Sgt. Deadhead always making some sort of trouble, and causing yet another delay to his upcoming wedding to Airman Lucy Turner. After a breakout from the stockade, he ends up in a shuttle by mistake, part of a top secret launch. Deadhead is ok, but the journey into man's last unknown frontier turns his brain inside out, and he's a different man when he comes back down, leading to all kinds of new mayhem...

Sergeant Deadhead is an AIP Musical-comedy that came in the wake of the Beach Party series, and was all set to kickstart a new wave of military comedies, so the studio hoped. This never really came to pass, and it's unsurprising. If the kids have just gotten a dozen beach movies within 3 years, they're not gonna be keen to watch the exact same thing just with a different coat of paint. But that was then, in the moment. Looking back now, it is a shame we didn't get more of these. If Sgt. Deadhead is anything to go by, we could've had at least a few more to go round!

The story is a fun one, and is never dull or slow. It is a bit confusing at times though. The film suffers from uneven elements. Certain characters appear infrequently (the monkey included!), songs are infrequent, and the whole personality change is suddenly dropped, with the twin stuff suddenly dominating the plot.

The movie focuses a lot on the then current topic of space travel. For the most part, the movie is fairly grounded, as far as goofy comedies go, but any sense of reality leaves once they get into space, and we see how space travel effects living things, mentally turning mice into cats and humans into monkeys. I mean, obviously, it's science, people! This whole approach is entertaining, fitting pretty well, though is dropped too quickly to make much impact.

Sergeant Deadhead is often lumped in together with the Beach Party series, and was even advertised in the credits of How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, but isn't connected. It's got the same tone of course (although with extra salaciousness), and many of the same actors, but it's otherwise totally different, standing on its own well enough. It was originally slated to get a sequel, Sergeant Deadhead Goes to Mars, but this never happened. This may come as a shame to some, and a relief to others.

The humour in the film is mixed. Overall, it's perfectly fine. Plenty of laughs, and innocent enough as you'd expect from a 60s comedy. Other jokes don't land as well, and some may come across as cringy, depending on your point of view. The 'towel salute' scene is a great example. Some might get a cackle out of it, while others may think it verges on the = [gratuitous], and the joke may have worked perfectly well without going quite as far as it does.


The acting here is a highlight. Frankie Avalon and Deborah Walley deliver fun and likeable performances. Not enough is done with the personality shift or 'twin' for Avalon to really have a chance to cut loose, but he's clearly able to have at least a little bit of fun. Eve Arden is perhaps he best performer in the film! She's witty, funny, and a master of pained expressions. Fred Clark is entertaining as the perpetually exasperated General, while Cesar Romero and the others serve similar purposes, and are an enjoyable presence.

Harvey Lembeck and John Ashley both have supporting roles as fellow prisoners in the stockade, and they're both good. Lembeck is basically acting as Eric von Zipper again, albeit referring to others by their actual names, rather than "YOU STUPIDS!". 'Teen' heart-throb Ashley meanwhile is against type as a nerd. I've read some harsh critiques that say he totally sinks the movie, but it's hardly that bad! For a start he doesn't appear nearly enough to cause such drastic issues. Also, he's played fairly straight. It's not like Ashley plays the role really obnoxiously, he's just John Ashley in nerdy glasses and that's it.

And lastly, Buster Keaton has a trademark role here just as he did in many other films in the AIP teen cycle. He delivers a few laughs with his famous slapstick charm, and appears consistently enough at first, but he too suddenly vanishes after the half hour mark.

As I mentioned, the songs here are few and far between, with the longest gap between numbers being 40 minutes! As for how they rank, some are alright, some are pleasant, and others are hilarious. My favourite was by far The One That Got Away, sung by Eve Arden. A fab comic song, it has great witty lyrics too,   "I thought I had him, right on the hook, but then he took, another look", and other lines too perfect to reveal. The choreography is all neat, especially the creative torchlight song.

Onto the effects, they're pretty fun, and almost cartoony in a way. The rocket launch is a bit dodgy though. Not only is it obviously not the same rocket we see before, it's not even in colour! I suppose this is intended as a joke, and it's certainly obvious enough to come across as one, though whether it comes off as funny or just cheap depends.

Overall, Sergeant Deadhead is a decent enough watch, certainly entertaining for those who enjoy good ol' 60s musicals. It's not the best, but also not the worst either. I mean it! Compared to Dr. Goldfoot, this is the Sistine Chapel of AIP teen flicks! So if you're in the mood for a quick wholesome military comedy, and you've run out of Enlisted episodes, this will definitely fix your appetite...

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Asterix and the Vikings (2006)

Over the years, the Asterix comics have received their fair share of adaptions. Usually straight from France, since the only other market really big enough to do it is America, and they've never read a European comic before in their lives. Some of these are live action, and some are animated, including a couple of great 3D outings in recent years. Another recent effort was the 2D animated Asterix and the Vikings...

Asterix and his friend Obelix are living their day to day life in their Gaulish village, hunting boar, and punching Romans, when they are entrusted by chief Vitalstatistix to train his nephew in how to become a man. The young Justforkix is a weedy vegetarian, unwilling to learn and completely useless in all things combat, much to the duo's frustration. But things take a turn when a band of Vikings come ashore. Under the mistaken impression that fear literally gives you wings, they seek the 'Champion of fear', and think they've found it in Justforkix...

Asterix and the Vikings is a decent adaption of the source material, and entertains solidly enough. I was wary going in, because it gave off warning signs of being a cringy modern update. While there are a few modern touches here and there, including some Americanisations (some courtesy of the U.S. dub), and these are as out-of-place as you can imagine, the film is still a reasonably faithful adaption of the series. It adds in new stuff, eliminates other things for time, or to fit this new version of the story, etc, but never feels like it's a bad effort.

The story is fairly decent, and never boring. There's always something going on, and the comedy is effective. Where it really made me laugh was the ending, which uses Cacofonix's 'musical skills' in a hilarious and perfectly fitting way. The climax is suitably action-packed, even if it does feel like it ends three times already, yet still keeps going.

The characters here are an entertaining bunch. Asterix and Obelix are fun leads. Not only are they a great duo as usual, but they also share a good dynamic here, with how they train and manage their new pupil. Justforkix is a mixed character. He starts out as a whingey dickhead, but is likeable on other scenes, and gradually endears himself. Save for the odd scene where you feel like ringing his neck, of course. The Viking chief's daughter Abba is cute as a button, and spunky, sharing good chemistry with Justforkix.

The villains are an amusing bunch, from the scheming seer Cryptograf, his idiot hulk of a son Olaf, and the angry and impatient chief Timandahaf.

One touch I didn't like was the obnoxious forced 90s girl power message. The kind where you think "I agree completely, but could you try being more subtle?". On the other end of the spectrum though, there's some really biting commentary later on, which felt like a great counterpoint.

The animation here is spectacular! The characters are all realised perfectly, as if pulled straight from the comics, but the settings are where the movie really excels. Everything from the Gaulish village to the snowy Northern lands look beautiful, and there's a level of effort in the little things I really appreciate, like the way snow falls.

The general soundtrack here is pretty good. But the most out-of-place element in the film has to be the modern pop songs crowbarred in. From an Eye of the Tiger montage, to recitals of Get Down on It and Superfreak. Some of these scenes kinda work when you get into the flow of them (and most of that is probably down to the songs themselves), but it is really weird having such modern songs in what's supposed to be a period film. The Celine Dion track that plays over the credits fares a bit better, and is pretty decent.

Since I saw the American dub, I can't speak for how the original French actors did, but the  voices are pretty good. Paul Giamatti is a decent Asterix, while Brad Garrett captures Obelix's personality pretty well. Sean Astin is good as Justforkix, never coming off as too whiny, though he comes close. Some other voice acting alumni feature here, from Dee Bradley Baker (though how he voices a dog and pigeon is anyone's guess), to John DiMaggio, Grey DeLisle, etc.

Asterix and the Vikings never really led to much in the way of a continuation, with the series' future being helmed elsewhere, but as a standalone adaption, this is a fairly good one, and sure to please fans of the comics.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)

When a mysterious object in unearthed on faraway Infant Island, a light-fingered archaeologist and his = ex-wife are sent on a retrieval mission by the Japanese government, and a = corporation. They discover the object is in fact a giant egg, and the = inhabitants of the island tell them the story of Mothra, Earth's guardian. These mystical beings can sense a disturbance in the Earth's natural order, and know that the monstrous cosmic equaliser Battra is coming. Also entering the fray is Godzilla, who may prove enough of a foe for both guardians to team up against...

Godzilla vs. Mothra is yet another winner in this long-running series. Beginning life as a standalone Mothra script, it instead became the follow-up to 1991's Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, replacing the three-headed monster when studio heads decided it'd be better to bring back a different classic = rather than dip into the same well twice in a row (plus, Mothra was more popular with women, so the people have spoken, and what they want is giant butterflies!).

The tone here moves away from hard science fiction and into a more fantasy-oriented territory, and in a very effective way. It knows to introduce just enough magical elements without going overboard and turning everything into Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter. What we get is a lighthearted entry in the series, with enough seriousness to keep it grounded, but enough = and funny dialogue to keep things from ever getting too grim.

The film also has an Indiana Jones vibe for the first act, which lends a fun style to the film! If you're searching for a way to make a Kaiju film's human plot engaging, you can't go wrong with a good old archaeological adventure! It fits very well with the tone of the film, and the series overall, too.
What I like about Japanese cinema is how they could take inspiration from the cinema of other countries while still retaining their Japanese core. If you look at a modern Russian film for example, they're just lazily copying the west. But here it's not the case. Even Kaiju themselves were inspired by U.S. b-movies such as The Beast from 10,000 Fathoms, yet they were always quintessentially homegrown.

This reimagines many elements of the classic Showa series, with a new Mothra, return to Infant Island, and the fairy twins, now known as the Cosmos (strange name, but I guess it makes more sense in Japanese?). The Heisei series always strove to nail a good balance, which is why they were never too dark or too goofy. These were films daring enough to be =, but also not so self-serious that we couldn't be given tiny fairy women who = by singing to a giant butterfly.

The biggest new element is Battra, Mothra's dark counterpart. Not evil per se, Battra is an extremist monster sent by the Earth itself to eradicate civilisations when they get a bit too high and mighty with how they treat the environment. She makes for a cool new part to Mothra's mythos (try saying that when you're drunk!), and is a great addition.

The pace here is a fairly quick one, and even though the movie could have easily lost 10-20 minutes, it's never overlong or boring, and everything happens in the right = for the most part, barring a confusing moment here and there (like how Takuya gets ahold of the fairy twins).

The characters in Godzilla vs. Mothra are a [highlight]. Takuya and Masako are a high point. Making for a likeable and [engaging] duo, they have a fun banter, that's hostile enough to be =, while not being so much that it's unpleasant to watch. You can definitely see the spark and chemistry they have, and it is believable that they'd get back together after this adventure.

Their temporary sidekick is corporate lackey Ando, and he's a little inconsistent. He undergoes a positive change surprisingly early, and it was pleasant for such a character see reason right from the get-go, for a change But then he suddenly kidnaps the fairy twins for his evil boss, and we see his true motivations. Yet he's still acting understanding and =. What he says and what he does never gel much, making his character feel uneven. As for the main villain (the corporation head), he's a hoot. It's funny seeing how he bemoans to the heavens how this can be happening to him, then when a subordinate flatly tells him why, he suddenly changes his tune back again to his self-righteous =.

The fairy twins are a sweet pair. Wise beyond humanity's=, and part of a greater metaphysical tapestry (or something), yet are not so = that they're unwilling to help us. They're more than happy to help save the world, and they take all = [setbacks] in their stride. The rest of the cast is =, namely the = adorable daughter, who plays a nice part. Last up is recurring psychic Miki Saegusa, who barely appears and does almost nothing of note. Even though I've seen half the Heisei series and I know he she is, I still had no idea who she was here until I read it online.

Onto the monsters. Godzilla here isn't bad so much as he is grumpy. His personality in this film can best be summed up with a comment I read on youtube-"I kinda feel bad for Godzilla, he just wanted to sleep but got beaten up by two moths". Unfortunately the big G doesn't appear that much. He takes almost half the movie to show up, then falls into a volcano with Battra and [neither of them show up again until the last act.

Mothra gets much more focus, and she is a =  A more benevolent monster, she still causes her fair share of property destruction, but it's not her fault, she's big! Japan should make its streets wider if it keeps being attacked my giant monsters.

Mothra hatches pretty early on, and spends much of the movie in her larval form, before finally emerging as a glorious colourful butterfly. While I wish she would have transformed sooner, it never feels like too much time has passed, and the moment is built up well, with weight behind it when it comes.

And lastly, Battra is a good new opponent, with an interesting story and motivation. She appears a little too = though, and her (his?) relationship with Mothra is lacking. The two never even really fight or even interact much. She only fought Godzilla once, disappeared for half the movie, then suddenly turned good 5 minutes before the end, making the team-up feel a bit rushed and unbelievable.

Some accuse Godzilla vs. Mothra as being too preachy and on-the-nose with its environmental message, and I can see why, but I respectfully disagree. There's a fair amount of = dialogue, but I felt it worked. Sometimes it's ok to be unsubtle, and this is one of those times/an example. Everything they say is correct after all, and points people should learn. Some of the dialogue does veer into being too on the nose though, like the whole exchange during Godzilla's emergence. ()

One random thing I found amusing is how quickly characters know things. For example, the military officials only just learned of Battra's existence 5 minutes ago, but already they say things like "Sir, Battra is approaching fast!" Even the daughter already knows of the Cosmos twins,  On that note, it's hard for even the hardest heart to not melt when she calls the friendly monster "Mothra-san".

The fight scenes here are great fun. The opponents and their attacks feel distinct. The underwater battle is great, complete with stylish drowned sound effects and roars. The climax is a great one, with lots of enjoyable moments. According to the crew, it was originally intended to be more creative, set in the ruins of an ancient civilisation, but money and time didn't allow it. While this is a shame, it's hard to feel we were shortchanged when we get such a fun final fight anyway.

The effects in Godzilla vs  Mothra are fantastic. The = both big and small are integrated perfectly into the action, and no effect looks amiss or disappointing, from laser blasts, giant cocoons, levelled buildings, and more.

Godzilla looks great as usual, and is such a well designed costume that not only does he hold up in close-ups, he looks fantastic in them! Mothra is cute and = as a larva, and bright and majestic in he main form, and it's great seeing this particular kaiju on a Heisei era budget. Her eyes are especially expressive, and compare well with those of her dark half. Battra's design is more demonic, with enough insect traits.

The direction here by Takeo Okawara is spectacular! Not only are the monster fights shot well, but many other moments are visually distinctive too, namely the Indiana Jones style elements, and everything involving the fairy twins. The location work is great too, with superb =.

Musical titan Akira Ikifube returns once again to score the series =. The score is a mix of old, new, and remixed tracks, and it's a joy to listen to. The familiar beats   while the new ones are rousing. My favourite = are the Mothra songs, which are reimagined very well.

The actors are all good here. Tetsuya Bessho and Satomi Kobayashi are great leads, while Keiko Imamura and Sayaka Osawa excel as the new twins of Mothra. Everyone else does fine, with no dull performances at all, even if some are underused.

Godzilla vs. Mothra may not be a perfect film, but it's still a more than serviceable Godzilla entry, giving lots of enjoyment to everyone.