Sunday, December 31, 2023

My Top Five Blu-rays Of 2023


It's time for another end-of-the-year best Blu-rays post. As usual, I tried to cut back on my home video purchases, and, as usual, I failed miserably. But it's my life. 

I must point out that all the choices were releases that I actually bought and watched in 2023. If you are wondering why there are no 4K releases on this list, it's because I don't have a 4K player. If you good folks want me to start writing posts on 4K discs, then I suggest you buy me a 4K player--and while you're at it, get me a 4K monitor and a region-free player too. 

Anyway, here's the list: 


Anyone who has any personal knowledge of me is well aware of the fact that Peter Cushing is my favorite all-time actor, so of course this set is going to be No. 1. There's been some internet griping about the films contained in the set, but the title isn't CUSHING STUFF THAT HAS BEEN RELEASED BEFORE MULTIPLE TIMES. I wrote a full post on this last month. 

2. LAUREL & HARDY: YEAR ONE from Flicker Alley

The beginnings of the world's most famous big-screen comedy team, with plenty of rare treats that most folks have never seen. Here's hoping there is a LAUREL & HARDY: YEAR TWO forthcoming. I wrote a post on this in September. 


I haven't written a full post on this set yet, but I intend to. Tod Slaughter was an English stage performer who had a larger-than-life acting style, and he made a number of melodramas that are considered the beginnings of the English Gothic movie genre. This set contains eight of Slaughter's films, remastered and restored, with all sorts of extras and an info-packed booklet. 


Three films from the master of classic Hollywood macabre, including a restored THE UNKNOWN with Lon Chaney, the very rare THE MYSTIC, and the notorious FREAKS, with all the expected Criterion bells & whistles. 


Two magnificently restored silent films, made and starring a true icon of the pre-talkies age. I wrote a full post on this in November. 

Saturday, December 30, 2023



I recently received another batch of discount movies from Edward R. Hamilton, and among them was a DVD of the 1973 British-Italian co-production HITLER: THE LAST TEN DAYS, with Alec Guinness in the title role. 

Any film dealing with Hitler now has to be compared with DOWNFALL, starring Bruno Ganz. DOWNFALL in my opinion is by far the best cinematic representation of the Nazi regime, and while HITLER: THE LAST TEN DAYS covers essentially the exact same material, it falls short of being either historically dramatic or notable. 

Most of the film is set (as expected) in Hitler's bunker during the waning days of the Third Reich in April 1945. This version of those events is a dreary affair, as most of the scenes have the supporting cast listening to Hitler's bizarre observations and rants. Unlike DOWNFALL, the supporting characters are barely sketched out--it's as if they are around mainly to give Hitler an audience. 

HITLER: THE LAST TEN DAYS feels more like a stage play instead of a movie, with a main element being the heavy atmosphere of the cramped and stuffy bunker facility. I realize that this is an important part of any story dealing with the last days of Hitler, but DOWNFALL was able to overcome this by showing what life was like outside in war-torn Berlin. THE LAST TEN DAYS sprinkles in a few scenes of black & white newsreel footage from time to time, but these scenes seem inserted almost at random. 

Alec Guinness is one of my favorite actors, and the very idea of him playing Adolf Hitler has to pique the interest of any film geek. I have to admit that while watching THE LAST TEN DAYS I didn't feel if I was seeing Hitler--I felt that I was seeing Alec Guinness trying to be Hitler. Guinness puts a lot of emphasis on the Fuhrer's gestures and mannerisms, but I felt he was at his best when he kept perfectly still and reduced his expression to a cold glare. Guinness' Hitler also seems far too healthy and mentally alert to be the wreck of a man trapped in a bunker while his supposedly beloved Germany goes up in flames above him. 

As with just about any British historical film made in the 1960s-70s, this has an esteemed supporting cast, with Simon Ward, Julian Glover, and Joss Ackland. Due to this being a part-Italian production, Adolfo Celi and Gabriele Ferzetti are in the cast as well. Celi in particular feels out of place here--he was one of the most well-known Italian actors, and he's dubbed by Robert Rietty, who also did Celi's voice as Largo in THUNDERBALL. Seeing Celi in this film makes one wonder if he was supposed to be a representative of Mussolini, or if SPECTRE had somehow infiltrated the German High Command. Doris Kunstsmann is a glamorous Eva Braun, and Angela Pleasence, daughter of Donald, has a cameo. 

The story perks up a bit when famed pilot Hanna Reitsch (Diane Cilento) arrives with General von Greim (Eric Porter). This leads to a strange sub-plot in which Reitsch is jealous of Eva Braun. This diversion isn't enough to give the film momentum, as the viewer merely waits for Hitler to come to his well-known end. 

Despite being mostly filmed in England, HITLER: THE LAST TEN DAYS was directed (and co-written) by Italian Ennio De Concini, a man who has his name on the writing credits of a number of notable European productions. It's not a bad attempt to portray the last days of the Third Reich, but unfortunately a number of scenes border on being unintentionally funny, especially the ones showing the relationship between Hitler and Eva Braun. (This is a problem that any movie and TV show portraying Hitler has to deal with--it's something Mel Brooks understood quite well.) Despite his mammoth talents, I don't think Alec Guinness was particularly suited for the role of Adolf Hitler. 

Sunday, December 24, 2023



This is another of the many crime-mystery movies Terence Fisher directed for Hammer in the early 1950s. MANTRAP (known in the U.S. as MAN IN HIDING), released in 1953, has the advantage of a fine cast including Paul Henreid, Lois Maxwell, and Kay Kendall. 

The story literally begins with a man on the run, as one Mervyn Speight (Kieron Moore) escapes from prison and makes his way to London. Speight's wife Thelma (Lois Maxwell) fears that he's looking for her--after her husband was sent to prison for murder she changed her name and started a relationship with another man. An old friend of Speight's convinces lawyer Hugo Bishop (Paul Henreid) to look into the case. Intrigued, Hugo makes contact with Speight and Thelma, and decides to find out the truth. 

MANTRAP is somewhat livelier than the usual Hammer crime dramas made during this period. The notable cast helps, along with a storyline that has enough elements to keep the viewer interested (Terence Fisher was actually credited as co-screenwriter on this picture, along with Paul Tabori). 

Paul Henreid makes Hugo Bishop a breezy and urbane character--it's the type of role that would have been perfect for William Powell in the 1930s. Kay Kendall plays Hugo's secretary/girlfriend, and the two have such a rapport that you get the feeling that Terence Fisher would have been much happier to just focus on them. 

Lois Maxwell of course will always be remembered as the definitive Miss Moneypenny of the James Bond film series, but she was a very striking and talented actress who does very well with the role of Thelma, a woman constantly (and understandably) on edge. Kieron Moore, with his dark brooding looks, is perfect as a man on the run after being convicted for a crime he didn't commit. Hammer fanatics will be happy to know that MANTRAP happens to be the first film that Barbara Shelley appeared in for the company, although she's only onscreen for a few seconds, and she's billed in the credits under her birth name, Barbara Kowin. (She can be seen at the very beginning of a fashion show that Lois Maxwell is attending.) 

The interior scenes for MANTRAP were filmed at Bray Studios, but there's plenty of location shooting in London as well, opening up the story a bit. There's a number of red herrings in MANTRAP, but I did manage to pick out who was the real murderer, although that was more of a lucky guess than any insight on my part. 

MANTRAP is a better-than-average entry among the film noir-type productions made by Hammer and Terence Fisher before the company and the director went down the English Gothic route in the latter part of the 1950s. 

Sunday, December 17, 2023

TENDER DRACULA On Blu-ray From Severin


So it's finally come to this. The most notorious title in Severin's CUSHING CURIOSITIES Blu-ray box set is the 1974 French film TENDER DRACULA, also known as LA GRANDE TROUILLE. 

TENDER DRACULA is known among Peter Cushing fans for being the strangest, and possibly the worst, movie in the actor's entire career. I had tried watching this film on YouTube a couple times, and I either fell asleep or gave up completely on it. Did finally watching it all the way through in a restored and remastered version cause me to rethink my thoughts about it? a matter of fact it just made me wonder even more why it was made in the first place. 

The film's set-up (I hesitate to define anything in this story as an actual plot) involves two screenwriters (Bernard Menez and Stephane Shandor) and two young women (Miou-Miou and and Nathalie Courval) traveling to the castle of a horror actor named MacGregor (Peter Cushing) in order to convince him to keep working in the genre that made him famous. What happens next is totally inexplicable, as a series of bizarre incidents occurs. 

Nothing in this movie makes any sense, even if you accept the excuse that it's French. MacGregor keeps making statements about "the death of horror", yet he dresses like the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula, he every so often sports fangs, and he lives in a spooky old castle with a torture chamber. MacGregor's wife (Alida Valli) acts even weirder than he does, and most of the four visitors are supposedly killed and brought back to life. The two women even break into song at various times. 

Along with some gore effects, there's also a lot of nudity in TENDER DRACULA, but it appears to exist just as a way to get the audience's attention. I assume that all the eccentric stuff in this film is supposed to "mean" something, and I'm not sophisticated enough to understand it--personally I find it to be meaningless. 

The biggest mystery about TENDER DRACULA is why Peter Cushing agreed to be in it in the first place. You could say that he must have been intrigued by the script--but was there even a script to begin with?? Cushing looks great in his Lugosi-like getup, but for some reason he shouts a lot of his dialogue, and he gives some very (for him) broad reactions to what is going on around him. For all the Cushing fans who wished that the actor had been able to really do something different--you can't get any more different than this. 

Severin has presented this film in the best manner possible. Both picture and sound quality are excellent (the movie is in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio). What this proves is that the movie isn't technically bad--most of the shooting locations and sets are atmospheric. If anything, this makes the film even more disappointing--something much more better could have been made out of the resources at hand. 

There is an English and a French voice track available on this Blu-ray. The English track features the actual voices of Peter Cushing and Alida Valli, while the rest of the cast gets some mediocre overdubs. I haven't listened to the French dialogue track yet. Would the French track help the movie make more sense? I doubt it. 

The extras include two short interviews with director Pierre Grunstein and actor Bernard Menez. Both men spend more time talking about their personal careers than TENDER DRACULA, and if you're hoping they will somehow explain what the movie is about, they don't. (Bernard Menez, by the way, co-starred with Christopher Lee in another French horror farce, DRACULA AND SON--which means he can always say he acted with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.) 

There's also a new audio commentary with Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons. The two men get way more enjoyment out of TENDER DRACULA than the average person would, and Rigby gets to show off his facility with the French language. An original trailer for the film is also included. (This disc is Region A.) 

Is TENDER DRACULA the worst film Peter Cushing acted in? I haven't seen HITLER'S SON, or A TOUCH OF THE SUN, so at this present moment I can't fully say that it is--but it's definitely one of the worst. Some might defend it as a unique European erotic fantasy, but I just see it as a project that was ridiculous just for the sake of being ridiculous. Does it deserve to be given the high-class treatment on home video that was provided by Severin? I never thought TENDER DRACULA would ever get any type of decent home video release at all, and I give credit to Severin for not taking the easy route and just re-releasing one of Cushing's better known Hammer or Amicus titles. Every major Peter Cushing fan should at least see TENDER DRACULA at least once, that way they can truly declare, "Yes, it really is that bad." 

Sunday, December 10, 2023

BLOODSUCKERS On Blu-ray From Severin


Included in Severin's CUSHING CURIOSITIES Blu-ray box set is BLOODSUCKERS, one of the weirdest English Gothic entries ever made. 

BLOODSUCKERS is also known as INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED, and it also has an alternate title of FREEDOM SEEKER. There's a number of different versions of this movie on the internet, and Severin claims that the one on this disc is the longest available. The fact that this production has different titles and versions does not bode well--and BLOODSUCKERS, or whatever you call it, is a mess. 

The movie is based on a novel by Simon Raven called DOCTORS WEAR SCARLET (and that was considered as a title for the movie as well). A rising young Oxford scholar named Richard Fountain (Patrick Mower) has disappeared while doing research in Greece, and due to his upper-class connections, an official effort is made to find him. Richard appears to have been taken over by a mysterious cult that might be practicing a modern form of vampirism--and after his friends bring him back to Oxford, Richard himself starts showing strange and disturbing habits. 

BLOODSUCKERS had several behind-the-scenes problems during its making, and director Robert Hartford-Davis was fired before the end of production. The result is that while the movie has some fine visuals (the cinematographer was Desmond Dickinson) it makes very little sense. Did Richard willingly join this cult, or is he being controlled? Does the sultry Chriseis (Imogen Hassall), who has Richard under her thrall, really have supernatural powers, or is it all due to drugs? Why is Richard so angry at his future father-in-law, Oxford provost Dr. Walter Goodrich (Peter Cushing)? 

This may be the longest version of BLOODSUCKERS, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's the best one. The version of the film on this disc has a orgy sequence that lasts nearly ten minutes. It goes on, and on, and on.....and instead of being titillating and provocative, it's just tawdry and ridiculous. Apparently it was shot in an attempt to fill the running time out, and to attract the youth market, but the film would have been much better if it had been cut out altogether. 

There's also a sequence where a Van Helsing-like academic played by Edward Woodward explains how vampirism is something of a sexual fetish. This sequence feels as if it's from a different movie, and also appears to be another attempt to pad out the running time. 

One big problem with BLOODSUCKERS is that the viewer just isn't engaged enough in Richard Fountain and his situation. For most of the film Richard is in a dazed state, so the viewer doesn't get to know him, and his big speech at the end where he calls out all his Oxford colleagues as dangerous hypocrites seems to come out of left field. It's hard to sympathize with Richard's "rebellion" against his upper-class life--this is a guy who is being groomed for an important position at an esteemed institution, and he's expected to marry a beautiful young woman, played by Madeleine Hinde. (Patrick Mower played another upper-class young man being ensnared in an evil cult in the much, much better Hammer classic THE DEVIL RIDES OUT.) 

BLOODSUCKERS does have a cast worthy of attention to English Gothic fans, with Cushing, Mower, Woodward, Alex Davion, Patrick Macnee, and Imogen Hassall. Valerie Van Ost (who also appeared in the Peter Cushing films CORRUPTION and THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA) can be seen in the background of most of the Oxford scenes (in all honestly she would have been much better as Richard's girlfriend). 

Peter Cushing doesn't have a lot of screen time (a common occurrence in the CUSHING CURIOSITIES box set). Even with only a few scenes, Cushing is still able to put over the idea that his Dr. Goodrich is a self-satisfied person that wants things done his way, but one gets the feeling that there was more to his character that somehow didn't get into the film. You would think that after Cushing had worked with Hartford-Davis on the notorious CORRUPTION, he'd have known better about BLOODSUCKERS. 

BLOODSUCKERS does look impressive on this Severin all-region Blu-ray--it's much more colorful and sharper than any of the versions of the film on YouTube. Severin gives this film a number of extras, including a new audio commentary with Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons. The two men compare the movie to the novel upon which it was based, and they go into the life and career of Robert Hartford-Davis and the state of English genre cinema at the time the film was made. 

Also included are short new interviews with Robert Hartford-Davis' daughter, who chats about her father's life and claims that Peter Cushing adored him; actress Francoise Pascal, who only appeared in the orgy segment, and who states that this sequence was more realistic than viewers realize; and sound recordist Tony Dawe, who worked on the production. 

There's also a featurette where genre expert John Hamilton gives an excellent and thorough examination of Robert Hartford-Davis' early career and the making of BLOODSUCKERS. A 1961 short film called STRANGER IN THE CITY, written & directed by Hartford-Davis, is also on this disc. The short, in black & white and without dialogue, is about a day in the life of various folks in London, and it has a couple of elements of interest to English Gothic fans: one of the main characters in it is played by Hammer regular Sydney Bromley, and at one point a young woman checks out a front-of-theater display for the Baker-Berman film JACK THE RIPPER. A trailer and a title sequence with the FREEDOM SEEKER moniker are also included. 

BLOODSUCKERS is another rare Peter Cushing title that Severin has gone out its way to showcase. The makers of it deserve credit for trying to do something contemporary and different with the vampire genre, but unfortunately those filmmakers didn't seem to know what they really wanted. The movie does have nice Oxford and Cyprus locations, and a notable cast, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, even for a horror film. 

Saturday, December 9, 2023



This is the first part of a major production adapting Dumas' famed novel. There have been several Three Musketeers films over the years, and this new one has the advantage of being filmed in France, and featuring a French cast & crew. 

Richard Lester's two Musketeer films in the 1970s had the same concept as this one does--breaking the novel down into two parts. D'ARTAGNAN actually ends at about the same point as Lester's first Three Musketeers movie did. but the approaches to the material between the two productions are very different. 

D'ARTAGNAN is a faithful and realistic version of the legendary tale, following the young, earnest D'Artagnan (Francois Civil) as he travels to Paris to seek his goal of becoming one of the King's musketeers. D'Artagnan almost immediately insults--and then befriends--three accomplished musketeers: Athos (Vincent Cassel), Aramis (Romain Duris), and Porthos (Pio Marmai). The four become involved in various conspiracies dealing with the Queen of France and the conflict between French Catholics and Protestants. Behind it all is the scheming Cardinal Richelieu (Eric Ruf) and a mysterious femme fatale called Milady de Winter (Eva Green). 

This version is a fairly straightforward adaptation, a bit more serious than most, with a somewhat grimy-looking early 17th Century Paris. The movie has impressive costumes and settings, energetic camerawork, and plenty of atmospheric photography, and director Martin Bourboulon keeps things hopping--the only time the story slows down a tad is when D'Artagnan woos the demure Constance (Lyna Khoudri). The action scenes have a loose, helter-skelter attitude about them, and there's none of the outlandish elements one would expect from a Hollywood telling of the tale. One thing that makes this THE THREE MUSKETEERS stand out is that it pays more attention to the religious battles in France during the period of the story, an element most other adaptations stay away from. 

Francois Civil is quite good as the impetuous D'Artagnan, and the Three Musketeers themselves are given very distinct personalities. Eva Green, a longtime favorite of yours truly, is perfect as Milady. Her magnificent screen presence allows her to command every scene she is in, even if she doesn't have any dialogue. 

Speaking of the dialogue.....the version of this film available to rent on Vudu has English credit titles and an English dub voice track. I wish I had been able to watch it in the original French with English subtitles (the main reason this movie is notable is that it is a truly French version of a classic French story, after all). The English dub is decently done, but most of the voices sound plain, especially the one for Cardinal Richelieu. 

I had hoped that THE THREE MUSKETEERS: D'ARTAGNAN would get a theatrical release in the area that I live in, but so far no such luck. The film was released throughout the world last year, and the story's second part, THE THREE MUSKETEERS: MILADY, is in theaters overseas right now. I would really love to see D'ARTAGNAN on the big screen, with the original French voice track someday....but even at home through streaming this is an impressive adventure, and much better than the brand-name American popcorn movies made recently. 

Monday, December 4, 2023

THE MAN WHO FINALLY DIED On Blu-ray From Severin


THE MAN WHO FINALLY DIED (1963) shares a disc along with SUSPECT in Severin's CUSHING CURIOSITIES Blu-ray box set. 

The movie is based on a British TV serial, and both projects were directed by Quentin Lawrence. A man who calls himself Joe Newman (Stanley Baker) arrives in a town in Bavaria, Germany. Newman was born in the town, but he left as a child when his mother took him to England. Joe's father served in the German military in WWII, and Newman is seeking information on him. No one in the town, however, wants to give him any straight answers--including his father's friend Dr. von Brecht (Peter Cushing). Joe finds out his father's identity is being used in an international plot. 

THE MAN WHO FINALLY DIED is a black & white mystery with a few noir elements. Much of the story consists of an impatient Stanley Baker trying to find out what really happened to his father while nearly every person in the town puts obstacles in his way. It's a very talky film, and the revelation of what is actually going on isn't exactly earth-shattering. After seeing the climax, one realizes that if one of the characters had just taken Joe Newman aside and calmly explained the entire situation, a lot of trouble would have been avoided (and the movie would have been about five minutes long). 

Stanley Baker is decent enough as Joe Newman, but the character isn't very engaging, and he has a bad temper (although it has to be said his anger here is justified). Peter Cushing doesn't have a lot to do, and honestly his role here isn't as good as the one he had in SUSPECT. The main thing that can be said about Cushing's Dr. von Brecht is that he's very suspicious--but everybody in this movie acts suspicious, including Stanley Baker. 

The movie is helped by a fine supporting cast, including Niall MacGinnis, Eric Portman, Mai Zettering, and Nigel Green. Quentin Lawrence (who also directed Peter Cushing in one of his best roles in CASH ON DEMAND) does what he can to open up the story and make it cinematic, but it's obvious this production was not filmed in Germany. (As a matter of fact, the exteriors of good old Oakley Court are used in a couple scenes.) 

Severin presents THE MAN WHO FINALLY DIED in an excellent-looking 2.35:1 widescreen transfer. The only extra is a new audio commentary with Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw. The duo spend most of their time talking about Stanley Baker's acting career, and how the movie compares with other British films and TV shows of the period. It's a conversation worth listening to. 

I had never seen THE MAN WHO FINALLY DIED, and while it is a competently made feature, there aren't enough interesting moments in it to cover the 100 minute running time. It is a rare title for most Peter Cushing fans, and it's good that the company decided to include it in its Cushing Blu-ray box set. 

Sunday, December 3, 2023

SUSPECT (AKA THE RISK) On Blu-ray From Severin


The 1960 film SUSPECT (also known as THE RISK) is included on Severin's CUSHING CURIOSITIES Blu-ray box set. The movie shares the same disc with THE MAN WHO FINALLY DIED. 

SUSPECT is a very effective low-budget realistic espionage tale produced and directed by the Boulting Brothers. A research team of British scientists led by a Professor Sewell (Peter Cushing) is working on a way to end plague epidemics. Sewell desperately wants to share the team's findings, in hopes that it will serve humanity, but a government minister (Raymond Huntley) fears the information may be used to produce a biological weapon. Sewell and his team are ordered by the government not to share or discuss their results, and this leads the younger members of the research group to take matters in their own hands and get involved with some shady characters. 

When it comes to espionage, SUSPECT is more in the way of John le Carre than Ian Fleming. The story (adapted from a novel by Nigel Balchin) is still an intriguing one, with the ensemble of characters each reacting a different way to the situation at hand. The conflict between those trying to help the public and government officials who believe they are trying to protect the public is still very relevant today--SUSPECT could easily be remade and updated to the 21st Century. The movie succeeds in giving each side of the discussion its viewpoint without making one appear good or bad. 

Peter Cushing doesn't have a lot of screen time in SUSPECT, but he gets across the idea that Professor Sewell is a quietly determined man who truly wants to help society. Cushing doesn't play the Professor as an eccentric--when Sewell finds out about the government's decision on his work, he's not happy about it at all, but he accepts the situation and deals with it the best he can. Cushing is playing a man older than what he was at the time, and Sewell, with his grey hair and mustache, very much resembles Cushing's personal appearance in the early 1970s. SUSPECT was made right near the end of Cushing's first great Hammer horror period, and one assumes that the actor was glad to play a "normal" role in a contemporary story, and  get a chance to work with the Boultings. 

In SUSPECT Cushing is surrounded by an esteemed group of British character actors, most of whom he had worked with or would work with in the future. The cast includes many people familiar to Cushing fans, such as Raymond Huntley, Thorley Walters, Donald Pleasence, Sam Kydd, Kenneth Griffith, and Geoffrey Bayldon. Spike Milligan even has a comic relief role. It is the overall cast that really elevates SUSPECT from other low-budget British films made during the same period--most major English features didn't have an ensemble like this. 

Severin presents SUSPECT in a 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and the black & white picture quality is very crisp. The only extra for this movie is a brand new audio commentary by Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons. It's an excellent one, as the two men are quite enthusiastic throughout, discussing various details of the film and how the Boultings, while making this picture, tried to elevate what was essentially the British version of a "B" movie. The disc that contains SUSPECT and THE MAN WHO FINALLY DIED is Region A. 

SUSPECT was one of the few Peter Cushing films I had never seen, and I was very impressed with it. It's a nice little film, a thinking person's Cold War spy story, and it's enlivened by a very notable cast. Peter Cushing doesn't have a huge role in it, but I'm sure his fans will appreciate seeing him in a realistic portrayal as opposed to the many English Gothic characters he was playing during this period. 

Saturday, December 2, 2023



GODZILLA: MINUS ONE isn't just a great Godzilla film, it's a great film, period. Writer-Director Takashi Yamazaki's kaiju tale strikes the right balance between FX spectacle and human drama, and it's far more memorable than any brand-name franchise movie made in the last five years. 

It must be pointed out that this is a real Godzilla film, made in Japan by Toho Studios. It has no connection whatsoever with the American-made Monsterverse, or Monarchverse, or whatever they call it. GODZILLA: MINUS ONE is a standalone story, with the title character appearing at the end of World War II, instead of his historical debut in the 1954 original Godzilla feature. 

The main human character in MINUS ONE is a young man named Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki), who was trained as a kamikaze pilot, but failed to carry out his mission. At war's end Shikishima returns to a devastated Tokyo, and tries to rebuild his life with a young woman named Noriko (Minami Hamabe) and an orphan child. But the young man is suffering from survivor's guilt, and haunted by having experienced an attack on Odo Island by a giant dinosaur-like creature. That creature (Godzilla of course) soon returns, larger and more powerful, and proceeds to rain down destruction on a country already reeling from a catastrophic military defeat. Shikishima, sensing a chance to redeem himself, joins up with a group of regular citizens who decide to fight the monster on their very own. 

There are plenty of scenes of awesome destruction in MINUS ONE--the Godzilla presented here may be the most horrible and threatening yet--but there's also plenty of heart as well. The two young human leads are likable, believable characters, and the viewer is truly interested in their plight. Unlike recent American popcorn movies, MINUS ONE avoids dopey attempts at humor, contrived approaches at being trendy, and drawn out action sequences that steadily become more and more ridiculous. There's a simplicity to the style of MINUS ONE that is refreshing when compared to the bombastic attempts by the big-name entertainment companies to overwhelm today's audiences. The idea of a group of ordinary citizens coming together to battle a major threat is one that would have been heartily endorsed by original Godzilla director Ishiro Honda. 

If Disney, Marvel, or Warners/DC had any sense--which is highly doubtful at this stage--they would hire Takashi Yamazaki as quickly as possible, and let him work on whatever project he deems fit. What Yamazaki has done is make a brand-name genre entry that is entertaining and moving--and he did it without any major human stars, and on a $15 million dollar budget!! GODZILLA: MINUS ONE is the best new theatrical film I have seen in 2023.