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April 1, 2020

Static Age #9: Ultra Q (1965 – 1966) [Complete Series 01]

Ultra Q (1965 - 1966) [Complete Series 01] BD box art.
This Static Age is focusing on Ultra Q (1965 – 1966), ‘The classic series that launched the Ultraman franchise’ as per the back cover of Mill Creek Entertainment’s excellent Region A Blu-ray box-set [Complete Series 01], which contains of all 28 episodes in their original Japanese language (DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0) with optional English subtitles and a stunning 1080p High-Definition 1.33:1 transfer. The set also comes with a gorgeous booklet that is featuring the ‘Tsuburaya: A History’ article which is an excellent introductory piece to the series, and several guides (episode, monster, character, and technology).

Toho Studios alumni Eiji Tsuburaya, one of the legends behind celluloid monsters such as Godzilla and Mothra, jumped into the small screen in order to create a mystery/sci-fi series, but the networks to which he sold the production while still in developing stages demanded for monsters and finally monsters he did deliver. This was the most expensive Japanese television series up to that point, and it spawned spin-offs (more than any other series in the history of the medium) and merchandize that is still celebrated to this day.

‘Defeat Gomess’ is about the titular bipedal monster that unexpectedly comes out of an excavation site and is keen on destroying props and sets, until the flying monster Litra shows up and aims to stop it. ‘Goro and Goro’ takes place in Wild Monkey Research Institute which is located at the Amagi Mountains, where a mute worker accidentally feeds a monkey with some hormones that turn him into a gigantic monster and is quick to escape and visit the city in order to find his old pal. ‘The Gift from Space’ is about some Martian capsules that arrive on planet Earth and are mistaken from gifts, but they turn out to grow in spherical manner into some sort of eggs that give birth to a snail-like monster called Namegon. ‘Mammoth Flower’ tells the story of Juran, the flower that becomes gigantic and attacks the city of Tokyo, while the army wants to destroy it and the scientists to study it. ‘Peguila is Here!’ is about the titular monster and its dirty deeds in Antarctica. The comedic ‘Grow Up! Little Turtle’ is about a schoolboy that dreams of its pet turtle becoming big enough to carry him on its back; when he is kidnapped by armed bank robbers, the pet turtle does indeed grow large and saves him from the criminals. In ‘S.O.S. Mount Fuji’ the titular volcano erupts and gives new life to the monster Gorgos. In aptly titled ‘Terror of the Sweet Honey’ a group of scientists invent a special honey, the side effect of which is gigantism; when it falls on the hands of the wrong person, he uses it in order to create the Mongula monster. ‘Baron Spider’ is an awesome episode about gigantic spiders. ‘The Underground Super Express Goes West’ is about the titular new train, in which Ippei mistakes his suitcase with one that contains the M1 substance, which of course turns into a monster onboard. ‘Ballonga’ is a creature that materialized out of blob and it now feeds upon fuel and energy while threatening the streets of Tokyo.I Saw a Bird’ is about – well, a bird, named Kuro, part of the Larugeus species, that turns gigantic. ‘Garadama’ is featuring one of the most awesome monsters in the series, that was spawned by two falling meteorites, no less. Peguila returns in ‘Tokyo Ice Age’, only to find the Haneda airport completely frozen, in the middle of the summer, which is probably due to the work of the nearby nuclear reactor. In the blatantly anti-capitalist ‘Kanegon’s Cocoon’, a kid that is always thinking about money (the root of all evil?) turns into the money-eating monster. Garamon Strikes Back in – ahem! – ‘Garamon Strikes Back’ in which a mysterious man in black straight out of classic noir films steals a Tilsonite sample from the Astrophysics Research Center labs, while a bunch of Garadamas are about to crash to earth. In ‘The 1/8 Project’, Yuriko enters the facilities of a size reduction science project in order to find an interesting story, but instead she becomes the experiment’s subject and turns into a small person; is there a way back? The spectacular ‘The Rainbow’s Egg’ episode is featuring the awesome Pagos monster. The – amusingly relevant to watch now – ‘Challenge from the Year 2020’ is about a series of disappearances initiated by a mysterious blob, that had been predicted by an equally mysterious book. ‘The Primordial Amphibian Ragon’  is about the titular Jill Man-like creature that may have something to do with the sinking of the Japanese archipelago.

And now, let’s switch our focus towards some recent shows…

Gotham (2014 - 2019) - Season 5
It’s all-out war in the 5th season of creator Bruno Heller’s Gotham (2014 – 2019) as every arch villain and semi-good guys join forces or part ways against a variety of menaces that force everybody to arm themselves and their friends, or their enemies as well, or people that are both, in this tired final outing in the series. The set and costume design are top-notch (and the only time Gotham echoed Tim Burton’s excellent 1990s take on it), but the awful CGI hurt the end result a lot.

In the 3rd season of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018 – ongoing), the titular teenage witch (the alarmingly gorgeous Kiernan Shipka) is now the leader of hell (after inheriting the place from her father, the Dark Lord, in the previous season), but her newly found power is not enough to help her overcome a variety of mortal and immortal struggles such as school problems and competition from other demons and such. And if all that is not enough, somewhere along the middle of the season, a bunch of uninvited Pagan believers show up and threaten the existence of our beloved Satanists in this time and place. Created by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the series are full of Satanism and feminism and other isms that make the world a better place, and as such it should be cherished.

Doctor Who (2005 - ongoing) - Season 3
The 3rd season of Doctor Who (2005 – ongoing) finds the eponymous alien protagonist (the immensely sexy David Tennant) with a new sidekick in the form of medical student Martha Jones (the beautiful Freema Agyeman), and together they will fight all sorts of monstrous menaces and the Daleks, of course. In ‘The Shakespeare Code’ the leading duo gets to meet the legendary British author (Dean Lennox Kelly), who turns out to be a womanizer. ‘Gridlock’ finds the leading duo against clawed space monsters that resemble crabs. ‘Daleks in Manhattan’ and ‘Evolution of the Daleks’ takes place in 1930s Depression era New York when the Daleks are involved with the construction of the Empire State Building; the episodic duo is also featuring some exceptionally stylish period stage dancing, led by the gorgeous Miranda Raison, as well as future Spider-Man Andrew Garfield in the role of Frank. ‘The Lazarus Experiment’ is a spectacular episode about the titular doctor (Mark Gatiss) who is using a de-aging machine that aside from making him younger also turns him into a spider-like monster underneath. ‘Human Nature’ and ‘The Family of Blood’ are two very interesting episodes about The Doctor goes back in time to 1913, where as a human he falls in love with a nurse (Jessica Hynes) while he also has to battle against a mob of scary-looking scarecrows. The season finale is quite amazing as well.

And finally, please allow me to speak a word or two about some recent mainstream films…

Rambo: Last Blood (2019) poster
Rambo: Last Blood (2019), directed by Andrian Grunberg, is following the last (as per the title) adventure of Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), which finds him in Mexico, looking for his kidnapped protégé girl (Yvette Monreal), whom the local drug cartels turned into a heroin-shooting junkie prostitute. Of course he manages to free the young woman (and killing a few johns in the process), but she soon dies in her arms. With the gangsters now looking for him, Rambo is transforming his secluded barn into a warzone field in which he will slaughter an army of Mexican baddies in many inventive ways. Boring at times, and exciting at others, and even occasionally racist, the white gunman that republican America loves has seen better days as this is the weakest opus in the franchise. It’s a pity though, as the pitch sounded promising.

Jumanji: The Next Level (2019), directed by Jake Kasdan, is yet another sequel in which the titular game (this time a video game, rather than the original’s board game) sucks in a bunch of players that are subjected to all sorts of comedic adventures in its jungle. Many stars are cast (Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black, as well as the leggy Karen Gillan) but the screenplay is too weak, resulting in a boring product. However, it went on to gross $790.9 million on a $132 million budget, so unfortunately we should expect more of the same.

Doctor Sleep (2019) poster
Doctor Sleep (2019), directed by one of the best directors of the last decade, Mike Flanagan (who also penned the screenplay, based on Stephen King’s novel), is following the adventures of the adult Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) who is trying to protect people that can do ‘The Shining’ from the immortal gypsies of ‘The True Knot’ that feed upon them. The extended version that I watched was 3 hours long, making it one of the longest horror movies ever (if not the longest). It is a bit of a problematic film, mainly because the villains are not that interesting and we do spend a lot of time with them seeing them talk to each other. However, thanks to the talents of Flanagan the scares are creepy enough to give you shivers.

Yet another mediocre entry in a franchise that is much too tired by this stage, director J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019) has some of the best CGI you are likely to see (and how could it not with such a mammoth budget?) but not much else, and the less said about it the better. Daisy Ridley is a doll, but she still can’t salvage the end result.

The Nightingale (2019) poster
Set in 1825 (and in the Tasmanian area in particular), writer/director Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale (2018) is a ‘rape and revenge’ art-house drama unlike anything you have seen before. The female lead, an Irish convict (the immensely beautiful Aisling Franciosi), is gang raped in front of her husband and baby child by a group of British soldiers (led by Sam Claflin) that then proceed to kill both her man and their baby, leaving her for dead as well. She then hires black man (Baykali Ganambarr) to guide her through the forest wilderness in order to track down the soldiers and extract revenge. Art horror at its best, both feminist and anti-racist, this epic (exceeding the 2 hour mark) is one of this year’s most important releases.

Director Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020), featuring a title that gives a certain Ray Dennis Steckler feature a run for its own, is another superhero film that takes the R-rated approach combining violence with inappropriate humor. The plot concerns – of course – Harley Quinn (the ever so beautiful Margot Robbie) who in order to save her life from the evil Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor, looking great as a villain) agrees to find him a diamond that he lost. Featuring the best costume design I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie (the aforementioned female lead and male lead wear stunning rock star-like pieces), this essentially a chase movie that is suffering from a boring first half but gets redeemed by an exciting second one.

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