Midnight Godzilla: Final Wars – Science Fiction
(2004, Sony Pictures) The 28th and final (to date) Japanese theatrical release featuring Godzilla from Toho Co., Ltd. pits the King of the Monsters against an array of foes from his five-decade career in a free-for-all battle for world domination. Aliens in black leather (whose leader resembles the late Lux Interior) are the real force behind the monster rally, and Godzilla is the Hail Mary pass designated by humanity, as represented by the hardy crew of the flying submarine Gotengo. Director Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus) pays homage to both the classic Toho creature rally Destroy All Monsters (1969) and the childhood fantasies of every Godzilla fan by calling up most of the monsters from the company’s sizable menagerie, from vets like Mothra and Rodan to avian robot Gigan and even the much-loathed “Zilla” from Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla (1998). And while the brawls are a well-staged mix of live-action suitmation and CGI, Kitamura weighs down the picture with too many scenes involving mutant superheroes, endless displays of wirework kung fu, smart-alecky spacemen and an unfortunate streak of goofy humor that detract from the core reason to watch Final Wars: an all-out Monster Beat Down, with Godzilla once again emerging as the baddest radioactive dinosaur on the block. As a result, it becomes a cautionary tale about leaving your schoolyard daydreams where they are best served: locked away a dusty corner of your mind. Sony’s Blu-ray presentation partners Final Wars with its immediate predecessor, Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S., in which Godzilla squares off against his giant cyborg double, Mechagodzilla. Trailers and a brief featurette that details several fights are also included.
2 a.m. Hard Times – Action/Drama
(1975, Sony Choice Collection) Like nearly all of writer-director Walter Hill’s movies (48 Hours, Streets of Fire, The Warriors, etc.), Hard Times is a mix of almost-genuine grit and Golden Age Hollywood sheen that somehow gels in largely satisfying ways. Charles Bronson is top-billed as a Depression Era drifter who rises to the top of the bare-knuckles fighting circuit with the help of James Coburn’s fast-talking manager. The Louisiana locations look appropriately beautiful and worn, and the brawls are expertly choreographed, but they’re a Tinseltown version of fighting; Bronson is bloodied but unbowed, even after facing a Complete Beast like Bob Tessier, when he should be spitting out teeth by the handful. So the real payoff from Hard Times is watching a bunch of pros like Bronson, Coburn and the great Strother Martin (as a dope-addicted cutman with family ties to Edgar Allan Poe!) work simple magic in their scenes together. Also starring Jill (Mrs. Charles Bronson) Ireland as a local married woman who takes up with his taciturn drifter, and such familiar faces as Bruce Glover (Crispin’s dad), Brion James, Frank McRae and stuntmen/actors Bob Minor and Max Kleven, all woven into the background.
4 a.m. The Bamboo Saucer – Action/Thriller
(Olive Films, 1968) A staple of late show broadcasts for years, The Bamboo Saucer is an endearingly outdated mix of Cold War action and low-wattage science fiction, with American and Soviet forces putting aside their differences to track down reports of a UFO in Red China. The trek to the saucer is a long slog, filled with a drippy romance between pilot John Ericson and frosty Russian Lois Nettleton and lots of peeled fisheyes from government man Dan Duryea, but when all parties finally reach the saucer, the picture switches to Flash Gordon mode for an impromptu trip through a threadbare interpretation of our galaxy. The abrupt tonal shifts, pulpy characters and charmingly budget-strapped effects lend a twinge of the twilight state to The Bamboo Saucer – is James Hong’s Chinese guide really named Sam Archibald? Did Bob Hastings actually open that panel door with his electric razor? That can’t be Jupiter and Mars – can it? This cough-syrup quality mints the picture as textbook middle-of-the-night material
6 a.m. Dan Curtis’ Dracula – Horror
(MPI, 1973) Jack Palance plays a love-struck Dracula, pining for his centuries-old flame in this very loose but atmospheric take on Bram Stoker’s ur-vampire text for veteran TV horror producer Dan Curtis (Trilogy of Terror). Viewers familiar with the Francis Ford Coppola-directed Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) will note that Curtis’s version, as penned by Richard Matheson, covered the same reincarnation/lost-love angle (itself cribbed from Barnabas Collins’ storyline from Curtis’ Dark Shadows series) two decades prior and pulled it off with greater aplomb, due largely to Palance’s powerful presence as the Count. Curtis and Matheson also do a fine job of boiling down Stoker’s novel to its salient points, eliminating numerous supporting players and merging the core of the book with the new tragic-romantic angle without much conflict. As TV-movie takes on Dracula go, this one compares well to one of the best – Louis Jordan’s turn for Great Performances in 1977. The Blu-ray includes interviews with the late Curtis and Palance (culled from the MPI DVD edition) as well as outtakes and some grisly moments that were featured in the theatrical release of the film.