The Bride of Frankenstein (10/24/12)

Frankenstein Bride of Frankenstein Double FeatureMovie Two Hundred Thirty Nine

A scientist even more obsessed with creating life coerces Dr. Frankenstein to create a female creature to be The Bride of Frankenstein.

The film begins with Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Walton), Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon), and Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) discussing her story for the original Frankenstein. Shelley says that people seemed to miss the moral lessons she was driving at and that there was more to the story she wished to tell. The film then picks up immediately at the end of Frankenstein with the windmill burning. The creature (Boris Karloff) has survived the fire by falling into a pit under the windmill and Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has survived being thrown by the creature from the top of the windmill. Soon, Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) finds Frankenstein and shows him his miniature human creations. Pretorius wants to work with Frankenstein for creating new life. Meanwhile, the creature is on the run from the angry mob and stumbles upon a blind, lonely monk and learns to speak. The creature later finds Pretorius in a grave and Pretorius tells him that he wishes to create a mate for him.

I had never seen The Bride of Frankenstein in its entirety before and I had kind of a mixed reaction to it. On the one hand, the film is truly ahead of its time in terms of horror and even sci-fi films. Made in 1935, it sets the hallmarks for essentially every horror/sci-fi film of the 50s. Unfortunately, the film also has some very silly choices that make it veer off into comedic territory more than horror. The servant named Minnie (Una O’Conner) is basically the Jar-Jar Binks of the film; she gets way too much screen time screeching about stupid things and I found it beyond distracting. Also, when the creature is learning to talk, he also learns to smoke and drink and his voice and mannerisms are fairly hilarious, possibly unintentionally. I’m not sure how audiences reacted to these scenes originally, but the audience for the double feature thought they were hilarious – I merely found them a bit unnecessary.

The changing themes between comedy and horror in The Bride of Frankenstein are further offset by the completely archetypal mad scientist character of Dr. Pretorius. He is both villainous and cartoonish at the same time, but again, this could merely be what we are used to nearly 80 years after the original release. We have endured countless spoofs and other films that have copied a similar formula. As for the bride herself, I was kind of surprised by how little screentime she gets. Karloff is still very much the star of his film as the creature. Oh, and Dwight Frye gets yet another role as one of Pretorius’ henchman in this film as well!

I’m quite happy to have gotten the opportunity to see The Bride of Frankenstein, not only the big screen but back to back with Frankenstein. Having the films seen in tandem is hugely successful in selling the franchise as a whole (I’m not sure how The Son of Frankenstein fits in, I have yet to see that). While I’m fairly undecided about my overall feelings on The Bride of Frankenstein, I did have a great time watching it. Part of me wishes the film seemed to take itself a bit more seriously, but maybe that bit of camp has made it the huge hit that it is today.

I give it 4 Frankenstein and Pretorius creating the bride out of 5.

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Frankenstein (10/24/12)

Frankenstein Bride of Frankenstein Double FeatureMovie Two Hundred Thirty Eight

A scientist creates new life from human body parts, but creates an unstoppable monster in Frankenstein.

Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye) are gathering body parts from the recently deceased and other nefarious means. Frankenstein’s consuming goal is to cobble together the body parts to create new life. His fiancee, Elizabeth (Mae Clarke) worries about Henry and arrives at his laboratory just in time for his creature (Boris Karloff) to be brought to life, amidst shouts of “it’s alive!”. The misunderstood creature soon escapes and causes terror in the town, including the accidental drowning of a young girl and an attack on Elizabeth before the wedding. The townsfolk, Frankenstein included, all take up torches and pitchforks to find the creature and put a stop to him.

Frankenstein is the second classic Universal monster film after Dracula, both arriving in 1931. I’ve always had a fondness for Frankenstein, largely because the creature is so misunderstood. Considering the film’s age, the menacing tone of Frankenstein is incredibly poignant today, though there were some scenes that caused a few audience members to chuckle today that probably caused people to scream 80 years ago. As a whole, Frankenstein has a completely different feel to it than Dracula does, there is less silent dread and the creature is not a willing villain, he is just a frightened being that doesn’t belong and inadvertently causes trouble.

Like Dracula, however, Frankenstein has been given a top-notch restoration by Universal. Though I saw this in theaters as part of TCM’s double feature with The Bride of Frankenstein, afterwards I popped in the blu-ray to compare and was pleasantly surprised. The sets and scenery of Frankenstein are slightly more varied and less claustrophobic than Dracula but are no less effective. Other than their studio and their release dates, Dracula and Frankenstein are completely different horror movies. Henry Frankenstein is arguably the real monster of the film, not the creature, whereas Dracula is undoubtedly the menace of his film. Also worth noting is Dwight Frye plays sidekicks in both Dracula and Frankenstein as Renfield and Fritz, respectively.

Frankenstein’s creature as played by Karloff is still one of the most revered monsters in movie history. Countless spin-offs and sequels have been made, though the creature, who is not named in the film has been wrongly called “Frankenstein” for far too long. While much of the scares have been diminished since its release, Frankenstein is still an absolute joy to watch.

I give it 4 why the creature is depicted as green out of 5.

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The Master (10/6/12)

The MasterMovie Two Hundred Twenty Five

A troubled Naval veteran returns from war and finds himself befriended by the leader of a cult-like movement in The Master.

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a World War II veteran from the Navy that has an increasing problem with drinking homemade concoctions, involving chemicals and substances that most will cringe at. Freddie finds odd jobs, notably as a department store photographer and cabbage farmer, but his drinking gets him into trouble. One evening, he wanders onto the boat chartered by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd is quickly taken by Quell and uses Quell’s fragile state of mind to help mold his pseudo-religious movement, The Cause.

I have struggled with how I am going to write my review of The Master (also part of the reason why I am writing the review now, over a week after seeing it). First, let’s discuss the things that I know I liked and can be universally recommended. Everything about The Master on a technical level is a remarkable achievement. The cinematography, the editing, the thrumming soundtrack, and perhaps most of all, the acting. Both Hoffman and Phoenix (and even Amy Adams, who plays Dodd’s wife) give groundbreaking performances here. I’ve seen several derisive comments about Phoenix’s role not being too far from when we last saw him in I’m Still Here, but he is an actor, and I will defend that he is a powerhouse in The Master.

I will also say that I was thoroughly engrossed with The Master from the opening frame and well after the film ended  I was still contemplating my thoughts on the film. My mother asked me what I thought of it “I don’t know…” I said, as I trailed off without being able to expound on my thoughts. My biggest issue with the film is that nothing is presented in a clear manner, which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem except the film is too nebulous for its own good some of the time. Character’s motives and thoughts are strongly hinted at but never developed in a manner that satiated me and the result is a film that doesn’t seem to quite come out from the fog of one of Quell’s hangovers.

If you asked me if I liked The Master I would now instantly be able to say “yes” without hesitation. My problems with the narrative did not hold the film back from being something tremendous, but it does make for a slightly frustrating experience. I would not be able to easily recommend The Master, though. In the theater I was in, I was the youngest viewer by around 15 years, I would guess, and I was surprised that some of the people didn’t walk out when Quell was behaving in completely bizarre ways at the beginning of the film. The people I expected to walk out were thoroughly confused by the film by the end, and loudly voiced their dissent as the credits rolled.

The Master is a divisive film; you will likely love it or hate it and in that respect, I consider it this year’s Tree of Life. There’s a wonderful film here but it is held back by it’s own persistence in not giving us a full story. The film seems to want to tell the origins of Scientology but doesn’t, though it does offer some perspective on conditioning. If The Master had only been a bit more straightforward with its intentions, I really think the film would be undeniably amazing but as it is now, it’s a mixed bag that would be hard to recommend for all viewers.

I give it 4 Torpedo Juice cocktails out of 5.

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E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial (10/3/12)

E.T.Movie Two Hundred Twenty

E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial is the touching story of a lost alien and the boy who helps him find his way home.

A large spacecraft lands in a forested area of California and a group of small aliens are collecting local plants. A group of men from the government appear in trucks and the aliens flee and fly away, leaving one member behind. The alien winds up in a storage shed in a family’s backyard and is discovered by Elliott (Henry Thomas), who cannot believe what he is seeing. The following evening, after his mother (Dee Wallace), brother, Michael (Robert MacNaughton), and younger sister, Gertie (Drew Barrymore), don’t believe him, Elliott lures the alien into his room with a trail of Reese’s Pieces. After staying home from school with his new friend, Elliott and E.T. begin to form a mental bond and as his family finally sees the truth, the government is closing in on capturing the extra-terrestrial, but all E.T. wants is to go home.

First off, I want to extend my deepest thanks to Brandie from True Classics for their giveaway to see E.T. live in theaters for one-night only! It has probably been about 20 years since I had last watched E.T. and I knew that I couldn’t miss it in theaters. Also, my wife had never seen the movie, which was too shocking to let slide.

E.T. is one of those magical films that someone from any age can likely relate to because the themes are universal; friendship, sacrifice, love, etc. The magic of E.T. largely comes from the cast, primarily comprised of the three children, who bring a sense of pure childlike wonderment onscreen. Barrymore was about 6 during filming and she honestly gives perhaps the best performance of her career here. Even E.T. himself is kind of cute and human enough that he is easy to relate to. You understand his plight, you can imagine how scared you would be winding up stranded on a strange planet and then finding a friend. The premise is simple but incredibly touching.

The theatrical presentation of E.T. is based on a newly restored theatrical print of the film for its 30th anniversary. I note this because I learned that the previous restoration had been edited to remove the guns of the FBI agents. Well, the guns are back for this print, which is the same version as the newly released 30th anniversary blu-ray. The restoration was crisp, vibrant, and sounded clear. The theater was pretty crowded with families and children, so I’m glad they were able to experience E.T. in its true form (likely looking better than ever) on the big screen.

After seeing E.T. again as an adult, I teared up a bit, laughed, got tense, smiled, and got chills and it’s rare that a film can evoke all these emotions without skipping a beat. E.T. is also further proof that Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest directors of all time. After I came home from the theater I immediately went online and purchased the blu-ray of E.T. so I could watch it again and get behind the scenes.

I give it 5 E.T. makes a surprisingly attractive woman out of 5.

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The African Queen (9/27/12)

The African QueenMovie Two Hundred Nineteen

In The African Queen, when fighting breaks out in Africa during World War I, a boat captain and a missionary take the treacherous path down the river.

Charlie (Humphrey Bogart), the Canadian captain of a small steamboat named The African Queen travels up and down the Ulanga river delivering supplies and mail. After a stop in the village of Kungdu visiting with missionarie siblings Samuel (Robert Morley) and Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn), Charlie notifies them that German troops were on the move. Soon after, Germans attack and Samuel dies from fever. Charlie comes back and helps Rose bury her brother and the two take off down the dangerous river towards the lake, where the German gunboat, Queen Louisa, is stationed. While Charlie and Rose are very different and can’t seem to stand each other, their travels bring them closer together as they plot to blow up the Louisa.

The African Queen was new to me and I honestly wasn’t quire sure what to expect. I figured there would be a little action, a little romance, a fair bit of drama, maybe a few laughs smattered throughout and in all those regards, The African Queen delivers. Bogart and Hepburn both deliver terrific performances and have on-screen chemistry that admittedly took me a bit by surprise. When I think of Bogart, I immediately think of the smooth, charming Rick in Casablanca and here, Bogart plays almost the exact opposite. Hepburn’s role is more inline with my own view of her, for whatever that may be worth.

Since I watched The African Queen on the big screen, I was perhaps privy to some of the less charming side of the 60 year old special effects. During some of the more harrowing white water portions of the river ride, a scale model of the African Queen was clearly used and during one of the later scenes the model they used for poor Bogart looked like it was made out of a lump of clay and was wildly disproportionate to the rest of the vessel. Then again, there is a scene with leeches that actually looked like real leeches, so there’s that.

By the end of The African Queen I was totally rooting for unlikely duo to prevail and all the blemishes of the dated special effects only added to lighter sides of the film. I am a bit surprised at how under the radar this film seems to be since it is a lot of fun and even though the story has been done in various ways over the years, The African Queen is still special enough for first time viewers like myself.

I give it 4 Humphrey Bogart’s embarrassing hippo impressions out of 5.

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The Bridge On The River Kwai (7/24/12) &(9/20/12)

Bridge on the River KwaiMovie One Hundred Seventy Four and Two Hundred Fifteen

A group of British POWs are held by the Japanese during World War II and forced to build The Bridge On The River Kwai.

During World War II, after Singapore’s surrender, a group of British troops are led to Thailand as Japanese prisoners and put to work on the railway to Burma and building a bridge over the River Kwai. Lt. Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guiness) is at odds with the Japanese Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) over officers having to do the same amount of work as the privates and Saito refuses to back down, putting Nicholson in “the oven” without food or water. Unwilling to compromise, upon his release from the oven, Nicholson decides to cooperate and build the bridge as a sign of British ingenuity and loyalty for years to come. Nicholson pushes his men hard to complete the bridge, unaware of the plot to blow up the very bridge he has committed himself to.

The Bridge On The River Kwai is a fantastic war epic from David Lean that is fictionalized but historically rooted. Never having seen the full movie in one straight shot, I was worried that the long run time (161 minutes) would bog things down or would create a plot that would be hard to follow. While the film is largely a slow boil, the last 30 minutes or so are incredibly tense and fly by. Amazing performances and direction really help with the pacing of The Bridge On The River Kwai, much like David Lean’s other famous epic, Lawrence of Arabia, which is even longer.

One thing I have to point out is how terrific the blu-ray of The Bridge On The River Kwai looks and sounds. Many consider blu-ray to be a format only for cutting-edge special effects films, but this is a shining example of a restored 55 year old film can bring to the format. The picture is, in a word, stunning. The package as a whole matches the picture. For a non-Criterion/Masters of Cinema release, the care taken here is obvious.

While certainly not for everyone, The Bridge On The River Kwai is a unique war movie with a great cast, interesting plot, superb direction. The runtime is certainly a hurdle, but I thought the time flew by after the first 45 minutes or so. The Bridge On The River Kwai certainly worth a shot and once viewed, it’s sure to be a favorite.

[Update]

I was lucky enough to see Bridge on the River Kwai again, this time on the big screen. While I quite enjoyed the film the first time around, seeing it again while it was still fresh in my mind made me realize how amazing the film really is. While I still thought the first 30-45 minutes felt long, I understood everything much better this time around. The motivations, the unsaid megalomania, the setting; it all made perfect sense and goes to show what an excellently crafted film Bridge on the River Kwai really is. The theatrical transfer was actually disappointing compared to the blu-ray for at least 20 minutes, it was very grainy but in-focus, and then it was almost like wiping the mirror after a hot shower. The film shone brightly and put the fantastic looking blu-ray to task.

Note that I will be upgrading my score from a 4 to a 5 after this second viewing.

I give it 4real bridges on the River Kwai out of 5.

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Doctor Zhivago (9/6/12)

Doctor ZhivagoMovie Two Hundred Seven

Doctor Zhivago is the life story of an orphan in Russia throughout World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the Russian Civil War.

Sometime during the Stalinist era of Russia, a KGB officer named Zhivago (Alec Guiness) is looking for the daughter of his half-brother. He finds Tonya, the young woman he believes to be his niece and tells her the life story of,Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif). Orphaned as a young boy, Yuri was taken in by a family with a young daughter, also named Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin). Yuri goes on to become a medical student and a poet. On the other side of Moscow, Lara (Julie Christi), is in love with a young radical named Pasha (Tom Courtenay) but is seduced by an older man and friend of her mother’s, Komarovsky (Rod Steiger). After her mother learns of this, she attempts suicide and Yuri is called upon for his medical services, which is where he first meets Lara in a love story that spans many years as the two continue along their own paths before finding each other again.

I’m not sure if I have said this before, but David Lean is synonymous with epic movies and Doctor Zhivago is one of his finest. It is a film that a single paragraph can not possibly summarize adequately, but the basis of the film is quite simple. While the story is largely timeless, the historical portions, names, and places are all fairly confusing unless strict attention is paid. During the first 30-45 minutes I thought that Yuri’s adopted father and Komarovsky were the same person, which was terribly confusing. Luckily, I have taken a fair share of world history courses and knew enough of the history of Russia so the constant political turmoil in the film was at least partially understood.

Running close to 200 minutes, Doctor Zhivago is truly an epic film. While the film does feel long (though it does include an intermission) there was very little I found that felt superfluous. In fact, the pacing for the first half of the film is fairly brisk. If the film stopped and gave a history lesson and spent more time getting used to the characters, it would have easily topped the four hour mark. Even at such a length, however, I was entranced by Doctor Zhivago. Julie Christie is simply stunning to watch and when the soundtrack swelled I found myself falling in love with her as Lara too.

Seeing Doctor Zhivago on the big screen was an absolute treat, for the soundtrack especially, but I would have liked the comfort of my own home where I could pause and take bathroom breaks as needed. I can’t stand having to get up in the theater and miss anything but at home I’m no stranger to the Pause button when nature calls. David Lean’s most famous epic, Lawrence of Arabia is coming soon and while I would absolutely love to see that in theatrical glory, I’m afraid the even longer runtime will likely dissuade even me. That’s the problem with epics, they have epic runtimes.

Having never seen Doctor Zhivago, but having some knowledge of it beforehand (you may recognize Lara’s Theme), I am ashamed that it took me so long to finally watch the full film. David Lean is a director that doesn’t seem to get nearly enough love, but I have yet to be let down by a film of his. Don’t let the length discourage you, Doctor Zhivago is one of the best epic dramas of all time.

I give it 5 Lara’s Themes out of 5.

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