The Bride of Frankenstein

January 21, 2018

bride

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

Frankenstein’s Monster didn’t die in the first movie (or any of the subsequent ones) and Dr. Pretorius, who is obsessed with creating life, teams with Dr. F to create a female companion for the monster.

This movie has been a running joke for as long as I can remember…but on the other hand, I have never seen it. And when Craiggers and I were driving for nine hours to get back home, and listening to Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This podcasts about the lives of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff (which were awesome for a car trip) we had to watch this the next evening, having seen Dracula the night before.

I had grown up with monster movies on TV, running almost continuously on the weekends. Many of them were hosted by people like Elvira or Seymour, who made fun of the (mostly awful) movies they hosted…and I mentally lumped this in with all the other Frankenstein knockoffs, of which there are many.

But Longworth said this was arguably the best, even better than the original, and talked about it at great length, so Craiggers and Mr. Otter and I cranked it up after dinner.

This movie was completely different than I expected, even after hearing the podcast description. The beginning of the story, where Mary and Percy Shelley and Lord “I’m So Cool” Byron are talking and Mary tells them ‘the REST of the story’, is cheesy, and of course they have to recap the original and show how the monster survived by hiding in the basement. But after that, it gets very good.

The look of it is very modern, and in fact, even though the frame story is set in the very early 1800s, the story itself is in late Victorian times, which is a little weird. The sets are big and angular and blocky, almost modernist, and not what one expects from a mad scientist’s castle.

Karloff, in the continuing role of the Monster, is now much more sympathetic. He is befriended by a hermit, and learns to speak a few words; this calm period ends when they are discovered by huntsmen who attack the Monster, who runs away and is found by Dr. Pretorius, who convinces him to kidnap Dr. F’s new bride; the only way Dr. F can get her back is by helping Dr. P create new life, a woman to keep the Monster company, which does not work out well at all.

There are some interesting things about this movie…firstly, Elsa Lanchester as a thin beautiful woman, playing both Mary Shelley and the Bride…not the impression I have of her from later films, nor the mental image I had for this movie.

Secondly, Dr. P’s examples of being able to ‘create life’ are shown to be these weird creepy little people in jars who are playing roles- the lecherous king, the clergyman, the beautiful woman- and trying to get out of the jars to interact with each other. Very strange.

The other thing I didn’t realize is that Mel Brooks’ brilliant movie, Young Frankenstein, is more a parody of this than the original Frankenstein; there are many scenes and characters (like Madeleine Kahn, Chloris Leachman’s character, the policeman, and the hermit) that are instantly recognizable. Interesting.

The ending was not what I expected…stark and abrupt, although it had been foreshadowed, and of course the Universal checklist* of what horror movies must include does not make a happy ending for the monster a possibility. And Elsa Lanchester! I had only seen parodies of her character, including Madeleine Kahn’s amazingly funny performance…seeing the real thing was scary and kind of sad. And it was such a short (although powerful) scene to have become so legendary.

This was worth watching; we mocked frame story and the ‘tiny people in bottles’ scene, it was silly, but the rest of the movie was actually a good psychological thriller, and both Karloff and Lanchester really give us characters to identify with.

If, like me, you have not yet seen this classic, you owe it to yourself to give it a try.

*From Scare ’em to Death- then Cash In by Richard Hubler,
Saturday Evening Post, May 23, 1942 (seven years after Bride of Frankenstein)

…More than most Hollywood productions, tbe horror film bas a set formula. George Waggner, an easy-going, slow-apoken ex-Philadelphian, is entrusted with the production of most of Universal’s chillers—which means moat of those in the industry. He says they must have specific characteristics:

  1. They must be once-upon-a-time tales. In one film, executives insisted upon having the word “legend” in the preface stand out in boldface.
  2. They must he believable in characterization. A scientific premise, such as the building of a monster, may seem phony, but never the character or motives of Doctor Frankenstein.
  3. They must have unusual technical effects. One of the best was the operating table ascending into the lightning, a sequence ao good in the original Frankenstein that it was repeated in the latest.
  4. Besides the major monster, there must be a secondary character of weird appearance, such as Igor, the brokennecked mentor of Frankenstein.
  5. They must confess right off that the show is a horror film. In the first Frankenstein picture an interlocutor appeared to tell the audience to brace itself.
  6. They must include a pish-tush character to express the normal skepticism of the audience. This sacrilegious fellow must he later confounded, as was stout fellow Ralph Bellamy in the latest horror productions.
  7. They must be based on some pseudoscientific premise.

To this potpourri of rules, Waggner claims to have added his own ingredient, modern psychology. He tries to make the hero not only horrible but likable, to work up audience sympathy. “My horror films have to be tragic and inevitable,” says Waggner. “Just like a Greek play.”

 

 


Dracula (1931)

January 21, 2018

dracula

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

From the novel of the same name by Bram Stoker. If you haven’t read it, for goodness sakes do it, it’s great.

An ancient vampire moves to England and makes a play for beautiful Mina. Can her fiancé stop him?

Craiggers and I were driving for nine hours together, and we had been together all weekend. We had been staying up too late and we were tired and talked out. I know he likes horror movies. I have this podcast series, I said, and I haven’t listened to it yet…want to try it?

And he did.

The series is Karina Longworth’s excellent and eclectic take on Hollywood’s first hundred years, called You Must Remember This. She has done many excellent serial podcasts, and the one I just happened to have on my ancient iPod Classic was a six-part series about Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, which we greatly enjoyed.

And that night, we had to watch this…I’m sure I saw it when I was a kid; it was always on TV, and my mom had seen it in the movie theater when she was six, when it was new. She said she sat in the front row with her older brothers, and when the closeup came of Dracula about to bite Mina’s neck, she went scampering to her parents in the back of the theater.

But I really couldn’t remember actually sitting, watching it and paying attention to it. And after hearing the podcast, I wanted to, as did Craiggers.

This was really really good. I love Tod Browning’s work, and had read about this from the other end in a bio of Browning; he was originally going to cast superstar Lon Chaney for the part, but Chaney died…this might have made him a better Dracula if it hadn’t seriously impacted his acting ability…! So Lugosi was hired to play the role, and did it to a T. He is suave, creepy and very Transylvanian. The closeups of his eyes, with a strip of light across them, are awesome, as is his whole presence.

Renfield, the lawyer who helped Dracula sell his castle (and imagine buying that!) and who is Dracula’s creepy minion, is great as well, chewing scenery with the best of them with his mad passion for eating gross insects, and Mina is ethereal and beautiful and not as passive as one might have thought.

Bela Lugosi was 48 at the time this was made, and this was literally the high point of his life…it seems like the rest of his career was an attempt to recapture the glory he had in 1931 for about 9 months, until Frankenstein (starring Boris Karloff) was released, eclipsing his star. Such is fame.

But all in all, an excellent movie, both as a film and as a piece of cinematographic and literary history. If you haven’t seen it, watch it (after you read the book, of course!) You will thank the Otter.


Gold

January 4, 2018

gold

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A modern-day prospector (1980s) strikes it rich in Indonesia, and along with a lot of money comes a lot of trouble…

This was movie #5 for the New Year’s Day Videofest (theme: Hollywood Goes Around the World) because A) a lot of it takes place in Indonesia and B) I wanted to see it in theaters and missed it.

Matthew McConaughey is one of my favorite actors, as well as being a Serious Honey. He has reinvented himself from romantic lead in romcoms to a lot of varied and interesting movie roles, and is very very good at them.

This one was no exception. Here he is the 3rd generation owner of a family mining company that is going down the tubes and he is desperate to make that one big strike…with the help of a South American playboy/prospector he does, only to run into trouble from the IRS, the Indonesian government, and Wall Street investors.

This movie is loosely based on real events but they change a lot of the later ones, including the ending. Having said that, this was interesting, exciting, and well-written. McConaughey (aka Mr. Dimples) is awesome as a desperate wheeler-dealer caught up in his own story and devastated when things go south. Bryce Dallas Howard is also excellent as his love interest, and Edgar Ramirez as the gold-finder are good as well.

A good roller-coaster of a movie, with an ending that is not easy to predict.


The Thing

January 4, 2018

thing

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Based on the short story, “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr.

Scientists at a research station in Antarctica are attacked by a Thing.

It was the New Year’s Day Videofest, and the theme was Hollywood’s Version of the World. I have always wanted to see this IN A LIGHTED ROOM WITH LOTS OF PEOPLE AROUND so it was a perfect choice for Antarctica.

And not only was it good, but it was not oogie at all…it’s basically Alien or Jaws, the monster picking people off one by one, the survivors getting more frantic and over-the-top with damage control.

The underpinnings (scientists alone at a research station, no way out, can’t let it get loose or the world will end) were very good, and the buildup was great. Kurt Russell was his usual no-nonsense kick-ass self, very enjoyable, and the characters of the scientists who had to deal with this menace were good.

And the monster was scary and gross, and very well done.

A good time was had by all!


The Brave One

January 4, 2018

brave

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

A Mexican boy raises a bull for a bullfight.

The New Year’s Day Moviefest (theme: Hollywood goes Around the World) was in full swing, and there were a bunch of us having a great time watching movies. This was the entry for Mexico, and Mr. Otter and I had been wanting to see it because it won a Best Picture Oscar in 1957 for Best Original Story for Dalton Trumbo, whose name couldn’t be on it because he was blacklisted.

And in fact his name was not on the version of the movie (streamed from Amazon) that we watched, either.

It’s sweet and sentimental, and very very dated.

On the one hand, it’s a good straightforward story-the boy raises the bull for the ring, kind of ignoring the whole ‘the bull dies at the end’ thing. At the last minute, he tried to get him reprieved, even talking to El Presidente, but the reprieve comes too late. The ending is good, and believeable.

On the other hand, it’s old fashioned, predictable and sentimental. It’s a story we’ve seen over and over, and there was pretty much nothing new added.

The thing that was good about this (and I’m sure this was Trumbo’s writing shining through) was that the Mexican characters were all normal characters, rather than ethnic stereotypes. There were scenes in the school with the teacher talking about Mexican history (chronologically backwards, which made us all laugh) and in the end, the boy is going from famous place to famous place through the very modern Mexico City, and much of that seemed like it was put in to show American audiences a non-stereotypical view of Mexico and its people.

The one thing that was very very dated was that everyone spoke stiff formal English, to show that they were really speaking Spanish to each other, instead of just talking like normal people, but that’s a small quibble.

For the time, and the kind of movie it is, this was pretty good.

 


Star Wars: The Last Jedi

December 28, 2017

lastjedi

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

The second in the third series (7, 8, 9 in the franchise). Things look bad for the Good Guys. What will they do?

I would highly recommend that you A) see Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens before seeing this, and B) see this movie before reading this review; it’s full of

SPOILERS SPOILERS
SPOILERS

and I really don’t want you coming after me with rage in your heart.

I also wish to apologize for the length of this review, but, like this movie, it’s not as long as it will seem…

I talked to several people after I saw this, and our reactions were so mixed I’m going to make this review a kind of dialogue between C-Dub, who most emphatically did NOT love it, and me, who was not entirely happy with it, but didn’t dislike it as much.

I will say also that C-Dub and I are women of un certain age and that when I asked Maid-of-Awesome and her hubs Soccer Sam, both in their early 30s, they loved everything about this movie.

So here we go:

Otter: I liked a lot of things in The Last Jedi, but the thing that kept annoying the crap out of me was that dress that the Admiral (Laura Dern) was wearing. Everyone else was in uniform. Even Princess Leia had a black dress and a military-cut tweed cape; I actually had to look back at her costume to confirm that she WASN’T in uniform. Then there’s the Admiral of the Fleet in a full-length dress that the costume designer is happily telling everyone, It’s PUCE! like we’ve never seen puce before. The reasoning being that the director wanted everyone to ‘see her body language’ and make her look elegant. I thought at first that it was supposed to give the impression that the Rebel Alliance had to leave so fast that she had no time to change, but srsly, if it had been me, five minutes after getting on the ship, I’d be, bring me some jeans and a uniform jacket NOW!

C-Dub: Yes! Everyone is in uniform, but the woman admiral is all dressed up like she’s going to a ball, in a long gown that would trip her if she had to run. How is she an officer on duty in that get-up? The admiral’s collar bone showed through her dress, and Rei showed cleavage. Why? If you’re an action hero, or an officer, you don’t point up your sexuality, you hide it. It’s not a strength, it’s a vulnerability.

Otter: And also, I can’t help thinking, if a man were playing that part, would he be wearing a tux and shiny shoes? Would he have a form-fitting bodysuit that was cut away to show his muscles? No, he’d be in a (probably elegant) uniform, WITH HIS RANK INSIGNIA ON IT. And speaking of costumes, Rei’s arm wrappings look cool, but either she leaves them on all the time, in which case they’re going to get dirty and ratty, or she has to have someone else dress her every morning. As anyone who has tried to put a bandage neatly on their arm with the other hand knows, it’s not easy and often doesn’t look that good. Cool looking costume choice but impractical.

C-Dub: Every major action was an event I’ve already seen in a Star Wars movie, beginning with: any enemy armament you want to destroy, you do so by launching an individual toward it under heavy fire, and they have to drop a bomb down a slot. Saw that in the Death Star. You’d think they would have fixed this weakness by now, but no . .

Otter: Yup, I caught that too, and had the same thought. I think the idea is, one tiny fighter can get in where a lot of them or a bigger one can’t, but they’re beaten that horse to death. I was disappointed to see it yet again.

C-Dub: And the major plot line, chasing down the rebels and picking them off, is like a slow speed chase. All the other fractured plot lines serve to mask the fact that this one event– chase the rebels, pick off the rebels, chase the rebels, pick off the rebels– is the one main event of this story, and it is unpleasant, and unsatisfying.

Otter: It certainly seemed to take forever. And the whole ‘we can put power to the shields but then we’re sitting ducks’ just seemed to be a weak plot device to give the Rebels time to figure out some way to save themselves again at the last minute…which, btw, felt JUST LIKE the scene in the original movie (which will forever be known to those of my generation, who saw it in the theater when it came out, as STAR WARS) when the Death Star is closing in on the Rebel moon, and there’s a countdown as the Death Star gets closer and closer to being able to fire, which of course doesn’t happen. Again, been there done that.

C-Dub: Then another major plot line, hunting down the code breaker, is stupid. “We need to break in to this one place on the enemy ship, to do this we need the one guy who can break the code, to find him we have to go to this other planet, seek him out, and bring him back with us, and then sneak aboard the enemy ship and break the code to get at the device, which is allowing them to hunt us down.” It is just one thing, in one place, guarded in a way that needs hacking (not 10 guards that need fighting. It’s otherwise unguarded.) So so so so so contrived. So that they can go to the other planet (in the middle of the ongoing rebel chase).

Otter: Yup. The casino was cool, the racing beasts (Fathiers) were really great, but this made no sense, not only that they would have the time to do this in the middle of the countdown and there are Empire ships everywhere but they can get out and in again to do this? But also, I agree, way too contrived. There could have been a dozen other exciting ways to break into that part of the ship, and this was not a good one. My disbelief hit the theater floor with a thud.

C-Dub: Speaking of the Fathiers, I saw a documentary last year about child camel jockeys in the Emirates — boys as young as 2 are used to race camels. The details of the racing on the casino world was right out of that documentary, except that the camels are pampered and the jockeys are abused. It was annoying to see that modern story cut as pasted into the movie.

Otter: Well, actually I had no problem with this, it’s been done in a lot of places and times. not just in the Emirates. I liked the kids, and how they were presented; they weren’t just abject slaves, and in fact with the reaction to the Fathiers and this world and the last scene where the kid obviously shows Jedi powers, they might end up in the next part of the story. Who knows?

Otter: And (since I mentioned CGI animals), I really liked the Porgs. Awwww! so cute! but they have personalities. And speaking as someone who REALLY REALLY REALLY hated the Ewoks and everything Ewok-related, that’s saying something. And the Vulpices (the crystal foxes) were just so beautiful.

C-Dub: Okay. But cute cgi aside, I felt like the reality of the story changed at the convenience of the writer. The bad guy (Han’s son) is so powerful he can choke a person without touching them, but he had to fight really hard against the red guys.

Otter: Yes! And he CUT THEIR BOSS IN HALF! You’d think he could take care of them by waving his hand!

C-Dub: And he is SO WHINY…

Otter: I am going to partly agree with you there…I’m still having flashbacks to the ultimate whiny teenager, Hayden Christiansen as the young Darth Vader. If I could have the Death Star burn those three movies out of my brain, I would probably be glad to do so. But saying he’s not as bad as the worst example is not much praise. I do like that he’s not awfully handsome. He’s normal-good-looking, which is nice. He’s conflicted by his feelings for Rei and also his embracing of the Dark Side. I have to say, I was expecting them to recreate the Han-Leia love-hate-banter thing, and so far they have not done that, which is good.

C-Dub: Rei is — what? She has no character.

Otter: I admit, after seeing the previous movie two years ago, and only once, I had a hard time even remembering any of the characters’ names. I remembered Finn, and that he used to be a Stormtrooper, and that he and Rei (whose name I didn’t remember) were chasing around looking for something, and that she found Luke in the end while everything was blowing up and Han Solo died. So I spent a certain amount of this movie just remembering who people were and what their relationships were. But all I have for Rei is “determined Jedi wannabe”. That’s not much.

C-Dub: The death of 99% of the rebels is not a good ending. In the first set of movies that we saw, they rebels beat the Death Star and won. There was hope. In this movie, they are reduced to a small shipload of fighters. That is a miserable ending. But there’s hope, because the camel jockey boys will tell one another the story! — that’s right out of Camelot. All their major events are derivative. Even their minor events are derivative. There isn’t an original thought in this entire film.

Otter: I agree that things look bleak for the Rebels, but I’ll reserve judgement until the third movie. Remember how we all felt when Leia was a prisoner and Han was frozen in that ice stuff? and yet it all worked out. So Otter the Optimist will forget all about the three horrible prequels and give Disney the benefit of the doubt.

C-Dub: Nope, not me.

Otter: There were a few other things I liked about this movie. I did like that the older women (Leia and Laura Dern), clothing quibbles aside, were strong characters and had no trouble asserting their authority.  I also liked the way they did the CGI at the end, on the salt-world, Crait; there is red under the salt, which shows up when anything disturbs the surface. Walking, flying vehicles that break the surface (and what was up with those flyers with the wierd rudders? What were they thinking?) and weapons made very visually satisfying red splashes and clouds. BUT when Luke shows up, and walks out of the fortress…his footprints don’t turn red! Huge giveaway, but so understated that many
people I talked to didn’t notice it the first time. I liked that, well thought out.

Overall, I thought it was good; the bad stuff wasn’t horrible, and the good stuff was satisfying (except for the things that made me say, Huh?) I’m hoping for better and tighter plotting next time. And I have to say, although I noticed Mr. Otter looking at his watch, I never looked at mine, I was along for the ride.

Thanks, C-Dub, for showing up as guest reviewer!


Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

December 26, 2017

rare'

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

A company is excavating a remote mountain in Finland to unearth a long-frozen Santa Claus, but a local kid does research and realizes that this is not a good idea…

We had dinner on Christmas Eve with Maid-of-Awesome and Soccer Sam, and he was all about this movie and how good it was. So on Christmas afternoon, Mr. Otter, Ottersis and I settled down to watch it…and we agreed with Soccer Sam.

This is a well-written and often funny movie that takes legends and brings them to life in the modern world, and points out the difference between the old version of Santa and our jolly friendly Santa Claus. The villagers in the tiny Finnish town where it takes place are funny and interesting, and the action (given the premise) is believeable.

The kid is really cute, without being icky, and the ending is perfect.

This is a (pretty bloody and violent) Christmas gem, watch it if you get a chance.