The Films of Ryûhei Kitamura
Heat After Dark
Down to Hell
Godzilla: Final Wars (December 8/05)
Godzilla: Final Wars has been directed by acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Ryuhei Kitamura, best known for wildly over-the-top action flicks such as Versus and Azumi. But it becomes clear almost immediately that Kitamura is absolutely the wrong choice for the material, as he infuses Godzilla: Final Wars with exactly the same sort of kinetic restlessness that has become his trademark. Far more problematic, however, is the lack of screen time reserved for Godzilla himself; he's in about a quarter of this two-hour film, with the rest devoted to an entirely superfluous storyline involving aliens and mutants (no, really). As has been widely reported, Godzilla: Final Wars eventually features the green giant going up against all his former enemies - though to get to that point, one has to sit through an interminable opening hour that couldn't possibly be more dull. When the various monsters from Godzilla's past (including Rodan, Gigan, and even Roland Emmerich's Godzilla) begin simultaneously wreaking havoc, all seems hopeless - until a group of seemingly friendly aliens effortlessly take care of the problem moments after arriving on the scene. As it turns out, the aliens are - in fact - even more dangerous than the monsters, leaving the surviving humans with little choice but to revive Godzilla and send him on an abomination-killing rampage. Given that Godzilla is almost entirely absent from at least half of Godzilla: Final Wars, it's certainly possible for the viewer to forget that they're even watching a Godzilla movie. Kitamura seems far more interested in imbuing the film with wildly over-the-top action sequences and Matrix-inspired shenanigans than offering up anything resembling a traditional Godzilla flick, which lends the proceedings a dated, unrelentingly tedious vibe.Having said that, the battles - when they finally arrive - are admittedly quite entertaining, though they invariably wind up overstaying their welcome by going on far longer than necessary (however, it's hard not to get a kick out of the sequence that finds the old-school Godzilla dispatching the American Godzilla with a flick of the tail). But Kitamura's inexplicable need to revel in excess (there's a space battle, for crying out loud) will undoubtedly alienate Godzilla neophytes and most likely irritate even the most die-hard fans of the legendary creature.
The Midnight Meat Train (June 22/18)
Initially intriguing yet ultimately atrocious, The Midnight Meat Train follows Bradley Cooper's Leon, an aspiring photographer, as he begins pursuing a mysterious figure (Vinnie Jones' Mahogany) responsible for deaths of multiple people aboard the New York City subway system - with the movie detailing Leon's progressively obsessive endeavors and the impact his dangerous pursuits eventually have on his girlfriend (Leslie Bibb's Maya) and close confidant (Roger Bart's Jurgis). There's little doubt that The Midnight Meat Train, before it goes completely off the rails (so to speak), boasts an eye-catching and appreciatively violent vibe that's fairly difficult to resist, as filmmaker Ryûhei Kitamura, working from Jeff Buhler's screenplay, delivers a go-for-broke exercise in over-the-top style that benefits from a typically engaging turn from star Cooper. It does, however, become increasingly clear that there's just not enough material here to sustain a 100 minute narrative, with the movie suffering from an increasingly repetitive midsection that grows more and more infuriating as time progresses. The revelation that the film's screenplay has been adapted from a Clive Barker short story is certainly not a surprising one, and Buhler's wheel-spinning efforts at prolonging the thin plot paves the way for a series of padded-out and entirely needless sequences (including a pointless interlude revolving around Maya and Jurgis' exploits within Jones' sinister character's abode). By the time the admittedly stirring climax rolls around, The Midnight Meat Train has certainly confirmed its place as a completely misbegotten effort that could've only worked as an interlude within a horror anthology.