Saturday, December 29, 2012

Miami Connection

To call this a “gem” of any kind (newly discovered, hidden, etc.) is a serious understatement.  This is a masterpiece.  And I say that with total sincerity.  I mean I think The Last Emperor is one of the best films I’ve ever seen and so is Miami Connection.

It belongs in the pantheon of cinematic experiences right next to others like Gone With the Pope, Troll 2 and Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas in Connecticut (1992)

Alright, let’s talk about the remake now.  They actually changed up the story quite a bit.  The Elizabeth character (Dyan Cannon (Deathtrap, Heaven Can Wait)) is updated to a celebrity TV chef.  And of course she also has to pretend to have a family and farm in Connecticut in order to deceive some people.  In reality she can’t cook, she’s a city girl, single, etc.  For this one they combined the fake husband and editor characters into one person, Alex (Tony Curtis (The Great Race, Some Like It Hot)).  He’s the producer of the cooking show that Elizabeth is on.  The owner of the network, who doesn’t know Elizabeth can’t cook, really only comes in at the end and he’s played by Richard “Shaft” Roundtree.  Interesting choice.  Lastly, the war hero character this time is some mountain man type guy, Jones (Kris Kristofferson (Blade, Fire Down Below)), that goes to rescue a boy in a snowstorm but gets caught in it himself.  They get stranded for like a week or something and when they’re finally found Jones is the country’s biggest sensation.  There are also a couple of other new insignificant characters thrown in for good measure.

I think they made the plot a little less confusing for the remake but it’s still a goddamn mess.  And they actually made the whole deception thing have even less consequences than in the original.  For instance, for 90% of the movie Jones is the only one that thinks Elizabeth is a real cook and has a family ‘n shit.  I kept forgetting that he didn’t know too because practically everyone is in on the joke this time.  It’s only at the end when we find out that the head of the network doesn’t know either.  Oh, and I guess the rest of the world is in the dark too.

But seriously folks, the film sets up that Jones doesn’t even know who the fuck Elizabeth is.  He’s only going to meet her and make a guest appearance on her show because he’s getting paid.  When Jones went out to rescue the boy his cabin burned down.  He needs the money to rebuild it.  He couldn’t give a shit if Elizabeth is a real cook or not.  This plot is overly complicated and weak to begin with but if the one character that’s supposed to care doesn’t care then you’ve got a real problem on your hands.  At least in the original the war hero is a fan of Elizabeth’s and has read all of her articles.  

And is it really that shocking that a TV chef gets help from folks behind the scenes to make their shit look good and tasty?  I mean, you can’t cook a whole turkey in a half hour.  Just use common sense.  I’m not saying all celebrity chefs don’t know how to cook.  In fact if that kinda complete fake bullshit was going on I think it’s over by now and the people you see on TV are the real deal.  However, what I’m trying to say is that it’s not all them preparing the food.  For TV purposes they’re more the presenters and explainers.  I think these TV chefs can actually cook in real life though.  Again, I don’t think anyone’s an outright fraud like Elizabeth. 

So just like the original the entire plot to deceive didn’t need to happen at all.  Jones doesn’t give a shit when everything’s revealed and the head of the network should definitely know better about TV cooking shows (and also just like the original in the end he doesn’t care that Elizabeth can’t cook and offers to double her salary). 

The bottom line is: why go through all of this trouble to convince one stranger you’re the real deal?  Just tell him you really can’t cook, that you make it up for TV and then shoot the fucking show.  I think the man can handle it.  He was trapped outside in a fucking snowstorm for a week.

Moving on, in the trailer for this one the narrator says “from director Arnold Schwarzenegger”.  Now, the obvious first thought is “he’s not really a director”.  Right.  But it goes further than that.  It’s not like he even produces either (Last Action Hero and The 6th Day are his only credits in that area).  He’s almost exclusively an actor.  Most people don’t seem to get that excited when an actor, even a well-known actor, tries their hand at directing.  So the fact that Schwarzenegger is in the director’s chair isn’t a big selling point I don’t think (I’m not counting someone like myself though because not only was I not the target audience for this thing but also because I wouldn’t be able to pass up anything Arnie directed).  The trailer should’ve just gone with “from Arnold Schwarzenegger”.  That makes a little more sense to me.

The second thing you’re thinking is “why would Arnie helm a romantic comedy Christmas movie?  He should’ve directed an action picture.”  You know what though?  I think Christmas in Connecticut fits perfectly.  Arnie is a very corny guy in real life.  He’s always cracking jokes and acting pretty smug.  I think he genuinely likes doing action movies but I also think it was something he kinda fell into.  It’s because of the way he looks, sounds and carries himself that made him so perfect for playing macho motherfuckers with attitude and style.  I have a theory that Arnie’s résumé would be mostly filled with films like Kindergarten Cop, Junior and Jingle All the Way if he looked like an average Joe type guy.  But he was smart enough to realize that beating up scumbags, killing dudes and rattling off one liners suited him extremely well on screen.  I’m not saying he wanted to be a comedian at any point in his career.  Like I said, he knew better.  But what I’m getting at is that Arnie really treasures cornball shit like Christmas in Connecticut (1945).  It influences his sense of humor and what he thinks makes for a good story.  I mean, Twins.

So in turn the remake is even cheesier and probably worse overall than the original.  The whole thing is louder and snappier.  I guess that’s how Arnie likes his shit.  Every once in a while there’ll be an awkward edit, scene transition or camera angle.  Also, there’s at least one really bad instance of slapstick humor.  And the snowy outdoor set is just too fake looking to ignore.  I guess it’s worth mentioning that they recreated some scenes from the original like the flapjack flipping scene, the baby bathing scene and the sleigh ride scene towards the end…if you care. 

Now I know this is going to sound contradictory but the weird thing is I found the remake easier to sit through.  It moves quicker and Tony Curtis steals the show.  He’s really fucking brash and obnoxious but he’s also pretty funny as the soulless TV producer.  The only other standout character was the guy who directs the TV show at the end.  He goes ballistic because absolutely everything goes wrong.  Everyone else is so bland and forgettable.  

And I guess that’s about it.  Both of the Christmases in Connecticuts movies are pretty terrible.  I wouldn’t see either of them if I were you.  If you’re looking for an old fashioned type of Christmas flick check out Holiday Inn or even Miracle on 34th Street (1947) is pretty good if you haven’t seen it.  If you want something different to spice up the holiday season The Last Temptation of Christ is awesome and the old standby Silent Night, DeadlyNight is great too.  Merry fucking Christmas. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

We still have a little while to go but what the hell, Merry Christmas!  May all ye blessed and joyful blah blah blah.  Alright enough of that.

I thought it would be fun to check out the only full length picture Arnold Schwarzenegger ever directed, a TV movie remake of Christmas in Connecticut done in 1992.  But to better understand where Arnie’s coming from I figured I ought to see the original first.  So here a goes.

The plot for the 1945 one is a goddamn disaster.  I tried over and over to explain it in writing but I just couldn’t do it.  I started to confuse even myself.  I then tried to draw a diagram but that didn’t work out either.  So I’ll make it overly simplistic for you guys.  Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck (Double Indemnity)) is a food writer that pretends to know how to cook and lies about having a family and a farm in Connecticut.  The trick is she must manifest this deception in real life in order to save the job of her editor.  I left out so much shit but that’s the main idea.

And it’s a pretty bad movie.  There are so many plot holes and just weird behavior.  I mean it’s like I just said, Elizabeth and company pretend to have the farm, the family and all that stuff to help rescue some poor bastard’s job.  The guy’s only in the movie for maybe five minutes too so you don’t build a strong connection with him.  But I’ll tell ya, he’s got some damn good friends that are willing to stick their necks out for him.  What’s bizarrely missing from the plot is that Elizabeth’s job isn’t on the line.  Remember, she’s the main character here.  She’s just willing to take the hit.  Almost immediately when she’s put in this tough spot she’s ready to give it all up and marry some dude that she doesn’t love.  What the fuck?

Then there’s the Alexander Yardley character (Sydney Greenstreet (Casablanca)).  He’s the owner of the magazine that runs Elizabeth’s articles and he’s such a fucking asshole.  He doesn’t know she’s a fake and invites himself over to spend Christmas with her made up family in Connecticut.  That’s kinda rude right there, but later Yardley tells Elizabeth’s bogus husband that if they have a baby it will boost circulation.  How horrible is that?  This guy wants these two to have a kid so he can make some more money.  And not only that but Yardley insists that Elizabeth cook Christmas dinner even though Elizabeth came up with the, actually pretty good, excuse that it’s fucking Christmas and she wants a day off.  I mean the whole idea is that she can’t cook in the first place but who the fuck would tell their host “no, you’re gonna cook my meals because I want it that way”.  This guy is terrible.

Also I think the fake husband character, Sloan (who is also the person Elizabeth agrees to marry for real), is made out to be a bad guy but I don’t really see it.  He doesn’t treat her that badly.  Like he doesn’t beat her or fuckin’ yell at her all the time or some shit.  Sloan’s a bit stiff and a penny pincher but a bad person?  I don’t think so. 

Although it’s really strange that Sloan feels the need to marry Elizabeth as soon as humanly possible.  He and Elizabeth sneak around trying to get it done during the whole deception in Connecticut scheme.  Why?  What’s the fucking rush?  Just do it the day after Christmas or something when the guests you’re trying to scam have left and you don’t have to worry about them.

This was a very frustrating movie to watch.  As of this writing it has a 7.2 on IMDB.  I don’t get it.  It’s not that fun or entertaining.  The whole thing is so convoluted and contrived.  The filmmakers tried so fucking hard to create a wacky situation but there’s no reason for any of it.  Elizabeth’s articles are incredibly popular so I don’t think Yardley is gonna have a problem with it all being made up.  In fact at the end of the picture when the sham is revealed he totally doesn’t give a fuck.  He’s even willing to double her salary. 

There’s also this war hero character, Jones (doubling as the true love interest), that Elizabeth also needs to fool for some very forced reason.  But just like Yardley he doesn’t seem to care when the truth is exposed.  Jones is actually happy because it means Elizabeth isn’t really married and he can shack up with her. 

So in the end it turned out all of this shit had no consequences.  Fuck this movie.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse

Apocalypse Now is probably the second best Vietnam picture I’ve seen so far (I still think Eastern Condors takes the cake but just to let you know they’re very different takes on the topic).  And it pains me that I have to knock Full Metal Jacket down to third but c’est la vie, right? 

Anyway, the making of Apocalypse Now is just as interesting as the actual film itself.  I don’t know if every one of Coppola’s films had a real rough shoot (because Dracula(1992) had plenty of production problems) but this seemed like a nightmare to make.  It took him sixteen months to shoot the goddamn thing and another couple of years to edit it.  Coppola took over the reins from George Lucas who was initially going to direct it (yeah, you read that right) and after shooting began he even replaced leading man Harvey Keitel with Martin Sheen.  Plus he had to deal with a typhoon, the Pilipino government, Marlon Brando threatening to drop out of the movie, Martin Sheen having a heart attack which put him out of action for a couple of weeks, filming inane dialogue and other nonsense for the ending that he had no idea how to put together and was sure was not going to work at all and a million other things.  It’s pretty amazing that the film turned out so well.  It’s just like with Dracula where you don’t see or feel any of the problems in the final product.

I highly recommend both Apocalypse Now and Hearts of Darkness.  One is a trippy journey through the minds of several people trying to figure out what the fuck Vietnam was all about to the real men who were in it and the other is Apocalypse Now.  But watch the actual picture first before you see the making of.  Use your head.  

Saturday, December 1, 2012


“He prefers major highways, see he likes to speed. With fall coming, he'll stick pretty much to the western/southwestern states. He has a sixth sense for hick towns with speed traps and manages to avoid them. He loves tunnels, drive through restaurants. He hates drawbridges, will go miles out of his way to avoid one. Used to stop for repairs too, but he's gotten pretty good at taking care of that himself. He can patch a punctured lung just as easily as a flat tire.”

This is pretty much a must see.  I mean it’s like 75 mins.  You can spare it.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Staying Alive

A lot of folks consider this not only a horrendous sequel but also just an all around bad film.  And I get it.  I don’t necessarily agree will all of that but I do get it.  I mean why the fuck do you need a sequel to Saturday Night Fever?  It was self-contained and didn’t leave very many burning questions.  What else is there to say about this character?

Well it does seem logical that Tony (Travolta) would set his sights on Broadway next so I’ll give credit for that.  It also makes sense that he would move to Manhattan to try and further his career, become a dance instructor and take other odd jobs until he gets his big break and even still act like a jerk.  What doesn’t add up is that Tony doesn’t curse, drink or smoke.  The first movie was a pretty raunchy R but this one is a tame PG.  And it’s really weird is that Stallone (who writes, produces and directs here) felt like he needed to justify this new tone and gives Tony some line about having a new outlook on life.  Yeah I don’t care for the switch to PG but to provide an explanation to the audience seems bizarre to me.  It’s like Stallone broke the fourth wall for a moment.

Anyway, Travolta looks like he’s having a good time.  Tony is less moody and slightly more grown up.  He cracks a lot of jokes, like a lot of jokes.  And the shit he dishes out is classic Stallone humor.  In fact I think Stallone turned Tony into himself pretty much.  The no cursing, smoking, drinking, very goofy attitude and eternal optimism are all traits of the man.  Every piece of Tony’s dialogue I could totally picture Sly saying in another movie or actually even more in real life.

Speaking of Stallone he does an alright job directing.  Definitely not as good as Rocky II, III or, hell, even The Expendables (even though it wasn’t a great flick).  Come to think of it this is probably the worst I’ve seen him as a director.  There are four really annoying things that he does here.  The first is there are too many montages.  Sly, buddy, why the fuck were there like twenty montages?  Well actually I can give a pretty good guess what the answer is which leads me to the next annoyance.  Ok, I know this is going to sound really stupid but there’s too much dancing.  I know you’re thinking, “this is a fucking dancing movie, what did you expect?”  Sure this thing needs to have dancing in it but holy shit is there a lot of it.  This along with the montages (most of which consist of people dancing) were there probably to pad out the film.  There isn’t much of a story: Tony auditions for a Broadway production, gets in and there’s also a love triangle.  In order to fill out those 90 minutes they just made the dancing and montage scenes as long as they needed.  Saturday Night Fever had a bunch of dancing but it was to support the story and characters.  Here it’s played up as the main attraction while everything else takes a backseat.

Items three and four have to do with the two female leads.  Jackie (Cynthia Rhodes (Dirty Dancing, Flashdance)) is Tony’s…umm…well that’s just the problem.  I couldn’t tell if she was supposed to be Tony’s girlfriend or just his friend.  She says she loves him towards the end but were we supposed to know this all along?  It’s not clear at all.  And this is important information to be fuzzy on because the love triangle doesn’t work or have any emotional weight if she’s just a friend that doesn’t have the hots for Tony.  The other woman in the equation, Laura (Fiona Hughes (Aspen Extreme)), is too sinister of a bad guy.  She’s the star of the Broadway show and she wants Tony as a boy toy and not a real boyfriend.  This is fine but Stallone made the character utterly heartless.  She’s so cold with her constant dumb smile or smirk.  It’s like the part was played by a robot.  And because Laura is such an empty shell of a person I can’t even work myself up to dislike her.  She’s just there on screen and you know she’s mean but you don’t feel one way or another about her.

The show that Tony’s in is called Satan’s Alley and the director describes it as a journey into hell and then an ascent into heaven.  The plot is supposed to follow the same idea but it kind of doesn’t.  Tony starts in hell (not being in a Broadway show) and only rises (he gets in a Broadway show).  It’s pretty much a straight line and not a curve.  There isn’t any character development.  That happened off screen in between films when Tony gave up his vices and vulgar speech.  What we’re given here is more like the ending to a story and not a complete tale in and of itself.  So the fatal flaw of the movie is that it focuses on a part of Tony’s life that’s pretty uninteresting.  If Stallone wanted this character reformed then we should see that reform and what the cause was to bring it on.  I think that would’ve been a better picture.

So sure it’s not very good and pretty shitty compared to its predecessor but it’s certainly not unwatchable.  Entertainment Weekly called this the worst sequel ever made.  Really?  I beg to differ.  Rocky V is at least on par with this and The Lost World: Jurassic Park is a total piece of fucking crap.  I would rather see this than Blues Brothers 2000 any day.  I don’t think Staying Alive is quite as terrible as people make it out to be but it’s definitely not good or even worth seeing.  It’s just averagely bad.  And also it doesn’t have very much to do with the first one except that our main character’s name is Tony.  I guess it was good that they didn’t call this Saturday Night Fever II.  Check out Saturday Night Fever I though.  That one really is a damn good film.

Friday, November 16, 2012


Whenever November rolls around there’s the possibility that a James Bond film will come out because that’s what’s happened since 1995 (with the exception of Tomorrow Never Dies, fuckin’ thing had to be released in December screwing shit up).  It’s been spotty lately though with a bunch of years in between 007 features but this year we got one.  And for some reason I saw it.

Just to let you know I’m not a huge James Bond fan.  I mean I think the movies are fun ‘n all but they don’t blow me away or anything.  I don’t mark my calendar to make sure I don’t miss the opening of a new one.  The public is head over heels for this shit though.  I think it’s more of a nostalgia thing and it makes you feel safe like you’re in on the joke.  “Oh shit, this bad guy doesn’t realize he’s messing with James fucking Bond.  He’s gonna kill that sucker at the end of this movie.”  We give him a lot of leeway that we wouldn’t ordinarily dish out to some one-off character.  Imagine if Skyfall, Quantum of Solace or Casino Royale came out but weren’t Bond pictures.  People wouldn’t really give a shit.  It would do mild to acceptable business and then no one would talk about it again.  My point is I think the public knows these movies aren’t great but we go to see them in droves anyway and we even break Bond box office records (Skyfall had the biggest 007 opening ever and fuck me I helped make that happen).  It’s our de facto action film.  James Bond can do no harm in ours eyes.  For some reason the public likes to see these totally ridiculous movies but tends to shun other action.  It’s a double standard folks.

This latest installment is no better or worse than the other two Daniel Craig Bond pictures.  The short review is if you liked those then you’ll like this.  But I know you want to hear more so let’s do it.

Daniel Craig?  Sure I like him.  Well actually I never thought much about him until I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) and then I recognized that he can be a real fine actor.  He works as Bond too, definitely more tortured and serious than previous incarnations.  They tried to go this route once before with the Timothy Dalton ones, The Living Daylights and License to Kill, but they’re pretty bad actually and I wouldn’t recommend them.  In general I think Bond is best when he’s at his most smug but I think Craig is a stand-up guy and I can get behind that.          

Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) as the dyed blonde bad guy is really where I take issue with this thing.  The filmmakers couldn’t make up their minds what this character was.  At first he’s a computer genius, then he’s possibly a homosexual, then he’s a deformed villain with no teeth, then he’s a master planner, an ex-agent and finally by the end he’s just a thug.  That’s a helluva lot to cram into one guy.  He meticulously plans everything perfectly yet applies brute force taking the bazooka-to-kill-a-fly approach when he fights Bond during the finale.  He says that he has eliminated everything superfluous in his life yet he wears fancy fucking suits and owns at least one prostitute.  And I keep saying “he” because I don’t even know what this dude’s fucking name is.  I’m sure they must’ve said it in the movie but I can’t remember when.  The man can’t be a combination of every bad guy type.  You gotta pick one, or maybe two, and go with it.  This character was so all over the map that it didn’t feel like he had an identity.  And if there’s no identity then I can’t get on board with him because I know that the movie will just have this sonuvabitch be whoever they need him to be at any particular moment.  I want my bad guys to have standards and values goddammit and not just be evil-ish.

I would’ve like to see them go with the gay angle which is what I thought they were gonna do for a second.  That certainly would’ve been different, especially for James Bond, and made this villain a lot more interesting.  But of course it only gets two lines of dialogue and then it’s never brought up again.

The opening action sequence is exciting and a fucking spectacle.  The only problem with it is that it’s so big they kinda didn’t leave themselves anywhere to go.  This is the same situation that The Expendables 2: Expendabler found itself in.  Of course you want something fast and wild for your opener but if you’re making an action picture you gotta ramp shit up and not blow your load right out the gate.  And for those that have seen this already, what the fuck is up with that chick Eve?  She doesn’t even say she’s sorry?  She just laughs it off and pretends like nothing ever happened?  That’s really fucked up.

Probably my favorite scene was the fight between Bond and a henchman in the Chinese skyscraper.  It was done beautifully with one uncut shot of the whole fight in silhouette and at the end of this shot the camera comes over the edge of a broken window to show the bad guy dangling out of it with Bond grabbing his arm.  Very nicely done.

I didn’t know that Sam Mendes directed this until like the day before I saw it and that surprised me.  I thought he only did serious Oscar nominated type shit.  Well I’ll tell ya, he’s not a bad action director and I think if he had better, non-Bond, material to work with he has the potential to put out a classic.  Road to Perdition was cool and Jarhead was pretty not bad but those are more dramas.  He needs a solid pure action script.  And Mendes seems to be interested in American culture as all of his films (even this one) have to do with shit we hold near and dear in this country like the mafia, the military and even good ol’ action.  He deserves credit for shooting a goddamn beautiful picture here.  It’s very pretty to look at but it’s too bad that the story isn’t really there.

Not to give too much away I won’t go into the ending even though there are some things to talk about.  Like that it turns into Home Alone for a little while and we find out that the title should really be “Bond Farms”.  Whoops.  Did I write that?  I don’t think I can erase it now.  Aw shit.

Oh yea I almost forgot Ralph Fiennes is in this too.
Looks like he's having a ball doesn't he?
The whole time I was watching this thing I kept trying to think of ways that these Bond movies could be freshened up ‘cause they’re all basically the same.  It’s just a matter of which ones are better versions.  But then it finally occurred to me that there really isn’t a way.  The thing about these 007 films is that they all have to adhere to a strict formula.  You have to have some sort of enormous opening sequence, then a totally ridiculous credit sequence with a current pop star singing the main theme, a bad guy that wants to take over the world or enact a revenge plot, gadgets, fancy cars, beautiful women (you need both a hero and a villain), extravagant suits and elegant dresses, exotic locales, gambling, drinking, and on and on.  If you stray from the blueprint and leave any of these things out then it’s not a Bond picture.  With practically no leeway there’s pretty much nowhere for the series to go.  They can only move laterally and maybe that’s why people like them so much.  They know what they’re getting.  They know it’ll include some action, some nice looking actors, some expensive cars and clothes, a little drama, and James Bond will always win.  No matter what, this character will never be killed off for real in one of these movies.  There’s security in that.  Bond will always be there for you and he’ll kick the bad guy’s ass one way or another.

I don’t see any signs that James Bond has wavered in popularity.  Folks seem to like him just as much as ever.  However when I went to go see this one the audience had had enough and half the theater started to empty out during the famous shooting at the camera sequence that they tacked on at the very end.  It was probably because the running time of two and a half hours was pushing it. 

For my money True Lies is a better action spy picture than any of the Bonds.  But this is coming from a guy that thinks the best of these movies is Goldeneye and the worst actor in the title role was Sean Connery.

If you want to know who I think makes the best James Bond and some further insight into the series check out the reviews I did of Moonraker and A View to a Kill.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Finally got to check out Nicolas Winding Refn’s second picture, Bleeder.  It’s shot in the same handheld, indie style like Pusher and the cast is essentially the same.  Refn also wrote this giving the characters very natural dialogue and also leaving real heavy shit for the end which is what he loves to do.

I liked it but this is definitely a sophomore slump.  The story unfolds pretty damn slowly, the characters aren’t terribly interesting and there isn’t any pending doom like with Pusher.  There are two stories happening at once and are connected through the characters.  One is about Leo who is going to have a baby with his girlfriend but doesn’t really want to and goes kind of crazy because of it.  The other is about Leo’s friend, Lenny (Mads Mikkelsen (Valhalla Rising)), who works at a video store and virtually only talks about movies.  He wants to go out on a date with this one woman, Lea (Refn’s real life wife), but is shy and has trouble getting up the nerve.

Zlatko Buric (Pushers) also makes an appearance as the video store owner and I absolutely love this guy.  His role in this is small but just hearing him rattle off the million different types of porn he has to some customer is engrossing to watch.

The ending is kinda nuts and involves something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in a movie.  Jesus, I wonder if that shit actually happens for real.  If it does that’s such a horrible thing to do to someone.  So the last half hour is definitely where it’s at with this one.  But you need to go through the first hour in order for the payoff to have weight.  And Refn is a master at that.  He knows how to set you up with scenes that seem a little dull and even boring at times but when shit goes down it hits you hard as a motherfucker.

Refn is showing the destruction of one relationship and the blossoming of another.  I guess he’s saying that it’s the circle of life.  When one dude fucks up his adult life another begins his.  And who knows where it’ll lead.  For all we know Leo started out like Lenny but decayed into a bad person that only thinks of himself.  Maybe Refn is also saying that we never know what’s inside of us, what we’re capable of.  When push comes to shove how will we react?  Leo starts off as a mild mannered guy but eventually gets a gun and shoves it in someone’s face.  The stress and responsibility of having a child and the changes that come with that was too much for him.  Lenny also struggles with change.  When he gets Lea to go on a date with him he stands her up because it’s a big leap to make that first step towards a relationship.  The subtext of this piece is interesting.

It’s cool and I would recommend this over Fear X but I think you should check out the Pushers, Valhalla Rising or Drive if you haven’t already before giving this a look.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Only God Forgives Location Scout

"I don't want to use steadicam because that annoys me."  Fuckin' a.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Dracula Mania: Nosferatu

This is more of a mini bonus review because not only does it break my rule of foreign language productions but I’m also a little burned out on all this Dracula talk.

It has all the basic parts to the formula we’re familiar with including Hutter (the Harker character here) going to Transylvania to have Count Orlok sign a contract to buy a piece of land, Orlok then feeds on Hutter, travels to Germany (I think?) by ship, Hutter escapes the castle with his life intact and Orlok goes after Hutter’s wife, Ellen (Mina).  There’s even a Renfield type character and a black coach that takes Hutter to Castle Orlok.

Max Schreck as Orlok is pretty damn creepy and I think because it’s a silent picture it only adds to the eerie aura.  Those long fingers, slender figure, black coat with a zillion buttons, huge fangs and crazy ass eyes make for grotesque imagery.  For me this is the only incarnation of Dracula that looks a bit scary (although Gary Oldman dressed up as the very old Dracula isn’t very pleasant to look at either).  Orlok is only in this thing for something like nine minutes but he makes the movie.

It’s another solid telling of the tale but you have to have a little patience.  Silents aren’t for everyone and the soundtrack plays a substantial role.  The version that I’ve seen (the one that you can rent on Netflix) has a pretty bad one.  It’s too light most of the time and doesn’t fit with the time period at all.  But if you don’t care for the musical accompaniment you can supply your own which could be a saving grace.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dracula Mania: Dracula (1992) aka Bram Stoker's Dracula

This is it boys and girls.  I feel like after watching these different incarnations of the tale this film is what it was all building towards.  A definitive version that puts the characters in their proper places, an inclusion of all events, it’s dark, scary, crazy, romantic, epic, you name it they did it. 

This is the one that follows the novel the closest but even Francis Ford Coppola couldn’t resist making some changes.  There are two that I would consider major and the rest minor.  The biggest minor change would be the prologue.  The film attempts to explain why and how Dracula became who he is and it’s actually a pretty good little illumination so I actually like this inclusion.  As for the majors we have Mina being the reincarnation of Dracula’s dead wife so therefore she kind of wants to be turned into a vampire instead of being repulsed by it; and the ending is different.  In the novel it’s cut and dry while the movie finishes on a more confusing note (is Mina a vampire or not?  An early edit shows that she’s not but what they ultimately went with doesn’t make it so clear).  So as you can see even the big changes aren’t ridiculous.

Stoker wrote his book in an epistolary format meaning that the story is told through documents like diary entries, letters, news clippings, etc.  So not your usual narrative work.  This is important to know because this picture keeps that format intact whenever it can.  There will be times when Harker is reading from his diary or Mina is reading from hers or whatever.

Gary Oldman was perfectly cast in the title role.  He lays on the accent thick, displays the various moods extremely well, is maniacal as shit and handles the man/monster thing great.

Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing is wonderful too.  Resolute as always and he’s got a couple of badass subtle scars on his face implying that he’s dealt with some nasty forces in the past.  There’s one time that he almost falters and that’s towards the end when Mina tries to seduce him.  Pretty interesting to see Van Helsing give in for a split second.  With this installment Van Helsing doubles as the comic relief.  It may have been how the character was written this time but I want to say that this is Hopkins’ doing.  He likes to ham things up a bit but in a charming, deadpan and, admittedly, often funny way.  Hopkins’ temperament doesn’t take away from the weightiness of the material though.  Certainly not.  In fact I think it only adds another layer to an already very cool character.  Van Helsing is sort of eccentric in this and I like the notion that it takes a madman to catch a madman.  He’s jaunty and thrilled by the hunt but deadly serious when it’s time to get down to business and kill some fucking vampires.

The two big blunders of this production however are Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder.  I don’t think I need to go into why Reeves was a pretty bad choice.  After watching him for ten seconds you’ll get it.  Ryder also doesn’t turn in a good performance.  But then again I don’t think she’s a good actress in general.  She’s not what this movie needed.  This film needed someone who would be totally absorbed by the part like Gary Oldman did with his role or even Sadie Frost (Shopping) did with hers (she plays Lucy here).  Ryder looks like too much of an amateur next to her costars only playing Mina on the surface and not digging deep enough.  But this was Winona’s ride.  She brought the script to Coppola’s attention and they agreed to work on it together.  She also gave suggestions of who to cast which Coppola went with.  Ryder definitely doesn’t ruin the movie but she seems to get worse every time I see her and I just wish they cast someone better.

My favorite parts (and you’ll know this if you read the ’31 Dracula review) are the journey to castle Dracula and the scenes inside the castle.  That shit creeps me the fuck out.  When Harker is waiting for the carriage out in the wilds of Transylvania and gets picked up by the all black coachman in that totally weird physics defying way (Coppola’s idea was that physics don’t work right in the presence of a vampire) I just sighed and shook my head.  The castle itself is also hell on earth.  Everything is so dark, old and remote.  Imagine being trapped there and drained of your blood just enough to keep you weak but not enough to kill you.  Goddammit, somebody finally brought these truly freaky images to life in a balls out way.

The one criticism I have of the castle though is that they incorporated steel into the structure.  It’s supposed to resemble the painting “The Black Idol” by Frantisek Kupka which is the image of a human figure sitting on a throne with its claw hand out.  That’s a fucking great idea and I’ll admit that I do think the gate looks cool made of sharp metal spikes but the rest of it doesn’t fit.  This is supposed to be an ancient building and having the steel in there makes it look sorta like a stupid steampunk castle.

My other favorite part of the movie is the vampire Lucy scene.  Damn does she look scary in that oversized wedding gown, glass coffin, ghastly white makeup and huge fucking ruff neckwear.  Most of the vampire Lucy stuff was shot in reverse too which definitely makes the scene look abnormal and off.  And the shot of Lucy’s head rolling away in slow motion against a black backdrop looks phenomenal.

For the first time we actually get the ending that’s laid out in the novel.  It’s done well too with a lot of tension and gypsies being taken out as our heroes go after Dracula.  It’s nice to finally get this sequence and see the original conception of how this story was meant to end.  But it’s also strange that Coppola came up with his own final moments instead of just going with what Stoker wrote (SPOILER: although, Coppola does credit George Lucas with the suggestion that Mina behead Dracula as he thought a sword through the heart wasn’t definitive enough).  But like I said earlier this is totally fine and doesn’t ruin the movie at all.

Now on to the shit I found really fascinating about the making of this Dracula.  There’s an extra on the DVD that talks about how all of the effects except for one were done in-camera.  What?!  Yes.  The blue flames were the only things done as a post-production effect.  Everything else was done as a practical real effect.  That’s un-fucking-believable.  And it seems like almost every shot has some sort of effect going on which must’ve been a huge undertaking.  Coppola brought in his son, Roman (who wasn’t even 30 yet), to do the work and boy oh boy did he do a bang up job.  Like for instance there’s a part where Harker is first reading from his diary on a train and there’s a shot of the train going across the top of the diary.  They built a large diary and used a model train to go across the top.  And when Harker is shaving in the castle the shot is done straight on and we should see the camera’s reflection.  Well that’s a very old trick that involves using a double whose back is turned to the camera with Reeves standing on the other side of the “mirror”.  Coppola also says on the commentary track that when Dracula is shaving Harker the walls move in a little as the scene progresses to give a claustrophobic feeling.  This is what makes this film so incredible not only from a technical standpoint but doing the effects this way gives the whole thing this very mysterious and unnerving feeling.  A bunch of the time you can recognize that there’s all sorts of crazy shit being put in front of you but the amount of it and the execution makes for a fucking bizarre viewing experience.  With Jurassic Park signaling the start of the digital age just one year later this is sort of a last hurrah for old fashioned effects.  They used every trick in the goddamn book and it’s astonishing.

Also as part of the extras Coppola says he originally wanted this to be even weirder than it already is with almost no sets or props.  It would be very impressionistic with shadows and essentially just actors in their unbelievable costumes.  The costumes would be the sets.  I couldn’t help but think of Cool World when I saw that and I’m so glad the studio put their foot down.  I don’t know if any movie should ever look like Cool World.  Man that was awful.  There’s a scene in this though that demonstrates what Coppola was talking about and it’s when Mina is going to marry Harker in Europe and she’s tearing out pages of her diary and throwing them into the ocean.  She’s supposed to be on a ship but all we see in the shot are a lantern and a rope.  I never realized that that’s all there was until Coppola pointed it out on the commentary track.  My brain had filled in the rest of the ship without me even realizing it.  I never found that scene confusing or weird with only a lantern and a rope.  It was always very clear that Mina is on a ship throwing diary pages into the water.  Then I startlingly realized that Coppola most likely would’ve made the whole costumes-are-the-sets thing actually fucking work.

The Japanese inspired costumes did turn out spectacular though.  Holy shit guys.  The dragon samurai-like red suit of armor that Dracula wears in the beginning is one of the most amazing getups I’ve ever seen.  To me it looks like muscles with the skin stripped away.  And the helmet with those conic horns puts it over the top.  I also love in particular Lucy’s wedding dress that I already mentioned.  That and the old Dracula’s red robe with the really long trains creep me out.

Another interesting angle to this production is that everything was filmed on a soundstage.  The only part that wasn’t was the wedding ceremony with Harker and Mina.  They filmed that at a Greek Orthodox Church in California.  But everything else was done on a set including all those Transylvania and London streets shots.

After hearing the commentary track with Coppola it seems that he has mixed feelings about this film.  He loves the special effects aspect of it, that he was faithful to the book and he certainly did want to take this project on but I think at the same time sort of felt he had to.  Coppola’s studio, American Zoetrope, was about to go under if he didn’t make another couple of hits which forced him to do The Godfather Part III and Dracula.  He was hoping to retire and work on small personal projects.  Again, the material was something Coppola was interested in but it comes across that he couldn’t do it on his own terms exactly and that bothered him.  He doesn’t give high praise to Winona Ryder for instance saying that she was too smart for her own good and that she didn’t give it her all.  Oldman and Hopkins were reportedly a bit hard to work with because they don’t like rehearsing.  Remarkably Coppola makes no mention of Keanu Reeves or his performance.  Because there were so many effects shots and just shooting to do in general the schedule was pretty strictly enforced with the studio execs keeping Francis on a tight leash.  This led to Roman Coppola basically co-directing the picture.  Remember, all of the effects were done in-camera so Roman had to be there and take a very hands on approach.  And in addition to this Francis also says that Roman shot a lot of the prologue and ending.  With the soundtrack only three pieces of music were written and recorded for the entire film much to Francis’ dismay.  Fortunately because the score was recorded with several mics he was able to drop out or add in whichever instrument sections he wanted giving the illusion that variations on the lone three themes had been laid down.  All of this shit made for a bittersweet experience and hearing the commentary track it seems like Francis hadn’t thought about it in a long time and therefore hadn’t totally resolved his feelings towards the film.  Sometimes he’ll get very into the notion that he envisioned and executed nothing but in-camera effects and at others he’ll talk about his frustrations that things were rough on set.  I was surprised to hear all of this because none of these complications come through in the final product.  When I see this thing I marvel at how wacky, over the top yet cohesive it is.  It works amazingly well.   

The more I think about it and every time I see this version of Dracula I like it more and more.  In fact I love it now.  This is the film that keeps on giving.  With each viewing I notice something new or find yet another scene spookier than before.  And this was Coppola’s intent.  He said he knows that not every single thing will be caught by the viewer but the accumulation of peculiar instances and camera tricks will amount to an off-putting feeling.  This piece is so beautifully, meticulously and fucking crazily crafted that it demands respect.  Everything from the freakish hairdo that Drac wears when he’s old to the shadow that has a mind of its own to the camaraderie of Seward, Quincy and Arthur to the human sized bat and wolf creatures that the Count turns into to the vampire brides seducing Harker scene to the buckets of blood that are showered on Lucy when she dies (that’s an homage to Kubrick by the way) to young Dracula looking like Jesus…this is a masterpiece my friends.  There will be other movies made in the future that tackle this story but it’s difficult to imagine this one being topped.  This is the Dracula to watch.  I kind of want to go back and see it again right now.

Creep factor: Off the fucking charts.  I understand that what someone finds scary is very subjective but the things in this picture are the kinda shit that sticks with me.

Romance factor: High.  Dracula is both an extreme monster and an extremely tragic figure here.  Very difficult to get both across but I think they do it.  At times I fear his wrath and at others I feel his pain. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Dracula Mania: Dracula (1979)

Yet again we don’t get the full story that’s laid out in Bram Stoker’s novel.  This is based on the same play that the ’31 version used as a starting point.  It’s the 1920’s and we open with the Demeter voyage to England.  Dracula washes ashore and is found by Mina.  From there on it’s your pretty standard Dracula story except for some inexplicable reason they switched the characters of Lucy and Mina.  Mina is the one who becomes a vampire and Lucy is the one that the Count falls in love with.  Also the ending is different with the finale taking place on a ship.

I didn’t expect anything from this one because no one ever talks about it.  I figured it was so bad that people just don’t even want to bring it up.  Well I was pleasantly surprised.  I really dug this version and now I’m confused why it’s never referenced.

Let’s start with the good.  The production design is pretty incredible.  Dr. Seward’s hospital is a little messy, a little creepy and a little overrun with patients; the ships are dingy, the days are constantly overcast, the period costumes look great and the nifty car that Harker drives is kinda cool.  But definitely the pièce de résistance is Carfax Abbey.  It stands in for Dracula’s castle and man does that set look tremendous.  The space is huge with gothic sculptures, chandeliers everywhere and a sweeping staircase.  The outside looks fucking eerie as well.

The cast gives good performances including Donald Pleasance (Halloweens) as Dr. Seward, Kate Nelligan (Wolf) as Lucy, Laurence Olivier (Rebecca) as Van Helsing and Frank Langella (The Ninth Gate, Frost/Nixon) as Drac.  I’ll get into Olivier and Langella more specifically in a minute.

The scene where Van Helsing stakes Mina through the heart is done really well.  The makeup in particular on Mina is pretty spooky.  And the special effects aren’t bad.  I especially like when Dracula climbs up and down walls.  It looks convincing.  And there’s this one part where he jumps through a window and instantly becomes a wolf that was awesome. 

It’s shot pretty damn well too with John Badham directing.  This is what he did after Saturday Night Fever.  The cinematography was done by Gilbert Taylor who was DP on Hitchcock’s Frenzy, The Omen and fucking Star Wars.  The score was penned by John Williams also.  So this was kind of an epic production.

There are a couple of bad points though.  The first is going to sound odd but bear with me.  Langella’s hair is very distracting.  It’s really 70’s and it’s too big.  The length and poofiness keeps changing too making it incredibly difficult to ignore.  Other than his hair Langella is a fucking bad ass Dracula.  I’ll admit I had my doubts but once you see him next to others he’s a tall, slender man dressed practically all in black that has an imposing presence.  Just his very stature and calm but assertive voice demands your attention.  I mean the man’s a good six to eight inches taller than anyone else in the film and that was smart casting.  Langella has a special talent of looking relatively normal while radiating this very off feeling.  But Jesus that hair. I don’t know what they were thinking.

The second is Van Helsing.  They handle him strangely in this one.  First of all they have Mina be his daughter (Lucy is Seward’s daughter here) so her death is what prompts Van Helsing to be brought into the mix.  He has no idea what the hell is going on at first and that’s very different from what we’re used to.  He acts like a confused old man that’s out of his league.   Olivier was quite sick when he was making this and that absolutely comes through.  It’s unfortunate and hinders the performance a fair amount.  Van Helsing does get his act together but it’s not until a little later when he goes to discover what happened to Mina.

So overall more positives than negatives.  Langella wanted to portray Dracula as “…a nobleman, an elegant man with a very difficult problem” and I think he achieved that.  We don’t get any bloody fangs or gory violence.  This version is more play-like similar to the ’31 Dracula.  And I’m not sure which one I like better.  I want to say this one but it doesn’t have the journey to Dracula’s castle segment that carries so much weight with me.  However, I do very much like the look and feel of the ’79 version.  It strikes a good balance between the horror and romantic aspects of the story.  Good job movie.

Creep factor: Some but not a lot.  Carfax Abbey is fantastic, Dracula himself and the vampire Mina scene are all good stuff.

Romance factor: Pretty high.  After Bela Lugosi’s infamous performance Dracula had become caricatured pretty quickly and everyone just thought of him as a monster.  This film attempts to show a more humanized version than what you’ve seen before.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Dracula Mania: Horror of Dracula

My first Hammer horror delight and even though this is just one film out of a whole lot that they made I think I get now why these pictures have a huge following.  They’re pretty to look at, competently directed, the actors give good performances and they change the story just enough to differentiate itself from past incarnations making it feel fresh.  This one was Hammer’s first stab at Dracula.

The story they went with doesn’t resemble the classic tale really at all.  Jonathan Harker travels to Castle Dracula because he’s the new librarian.  However, he reveals through a diary entry that he’s really there to do a hit job on Drac (Christopher Lee).  When Harker is unsuccessful the Count flees and Van Helsing (Peter Cushing (Star Wars)) is left to pick up the pieces and go after the vampire with the help of Harker’s brother, Arthur (Michael Gough (Batman (1989))).  I told you it was different.

I’m fine with these story changes though.  The way it’s rolled out makes the movie feel like a small part of a larger story and I like that.  Before the audience is brought into the fold Van Helsing and Harker must’ve discussed vampires, Dracula, their powers, weaknesses, how they found out about Dracula, the horrible things that he’s done, how they tracked him down and they clearly formulated a plan on how to kill the bastard.  Dracula must’ve been looking for a new librarian so the timing was convenient.  But I’m sure he was just angling for a meal and puts ads out for servants all the time.      

There are two kinda big things that annoy me though.  First, Dracula’s castle is clean as a whistle.  The filmmakers didn’t even attempt to make the place look spooky at all.  It’s bright, uses many colors and doesn’t appear to be that big.  It really bothered me that Dracula would live in such a nonthreatening abode.

Second is Dracula himself.  He’s barely in this fuckin’ thing!  And when he is he pretty much only snarls or hisses.  I don’t have anything against Christopher Lee but I didn’t care for him in this.  And it’s really his appearance because he can’t help that he has practically no dialogue.  He looks too British and he’s got salt ‘n pepper hair that makes him look professorial ‘n shit.  I’m sure a lot of you out there grew up with this version and this is how you think Dracula should go but Lee just doesn’t sit right with me.  He acts like more animal than man and the imbalance is too much.  To dehumanize the character to this extent doesn’t make sense to me.  You’re supposed to connect with Dracula a little, understand where he’s coming from.  Here we don’t get a chance to and it makes Dracula seem like kind of a barbaric idiot quite frankly.  I mean he gets infiltrated by a hitman and almost gets himself killed because of it (why Harker staked the bride first and not Dracula I have no idea), attempts revenge but doesn’t achieve total victory (Lucy gets killed), goes for a second revenge and fails again leading to his own demise.  So what has Dracula really accomplished?  Not a goddamn thing.  He’s just some asshole that can’t get his evil plot together.

Moving on, in this version we actually see vampire Lucy out in the woods taking a child to feed on and that’s the only time we get that.  The death of Lucy is pretty awesome with a fair amount of blood.  Van Helsing is his usual steadfast self and he appears to be English, not Dutch, this time.  Dracula’s castle is located in Klausenberg and not Transylvania and also Mina, Lucy and Arthur don’t reside in England but someplace closer to Klausenberg called Carlstadt.  Fangs and blood are definitely used here as opposed to the ’31 version but no bats or wolves.

I thought this was fun and I like that it’s pretty short (about 80 mins) but it only takes bits and pieces from the original yarn and that totally threw me.  I think I’ll enjoy it more with successive viewings as well as other Hammer horror movies because now I have a better idea of what to expect.

Creep factor: None.  It’s a vibrant, clean and neat film.

Romance factor: None.  Dracula’s purely a monster this time.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dracula Mania: Dracula (1931)

You know when shit just doesn’t go the way you think it will?  I’m talkin’ about simple things.  Like you get in the shower and forget that you’re out of shampoo which forces you to use someone else’s.  It doesn’t feel right and it’s in the back of your mind the whole day that there’s a foreign substance mixed in with your body.  You sure as shit will remember to pick some of your own shampoo later.  Or let’s say you want to make meatloaf for dinner but you’re out of breadcrumbs.  You can’t fucking make meatloaf without breadcrumbs.  You just can’t.  So you do something else that night but it’s not satisfying because you really wanted a loaf of fucking meat.  And this discontent doesn’t get corrected until the next dinner meal so you’re fucked for 24 hours.

What I’m saying is one thing leads to another.  I hadn’t seen the ’31 Dracula in a long ass time so it was due and Halloween was the perfect opportunity to check it out again.  I had never seen a Hammer horror picture and I figured Horror of Dracula (or just Dracula for you UK-ers out there) would be a good introduction.  After that I remember that I had noticed that the 1979 Dracula was available on demand (for free too) and thought what the hell let’s do it.  That was the tipping point and just made me want to see the 1992 Dracula again because it had been a couple of years since I’ve watched that.  These films are pretty much the major productions of Dracula not counting sequels, TV movies or foreign language versions like Nosferatu or the ‘31 Spanish Dracula (I’m curious to check that out though).  Goddamn, I did not expect this whirlwind of Dracula to appear.  I’ll tell ya though, it was pretty interesting to see how these pictures stacked up against one another.  I could directly compare since I saw them all almost immediately in sequence (three one day, one the next).  Let’s get started with the ’31 Drac.

Overall not quite as good as I remembered.  Lugosi does have the iconic look that we all associate with the character so that’s the big advantage this one has.  However the man isn’t the greatest actor.  It’s really his delivery of dialogue that’s a little flat.  I guess he was used to doing the play version so maybe it worked better in that context but on film some of his movements and speech are a bit robotic.  With that said it’s impossible to not like Lugosi in this part.  He looks like he’s enjoying it immensely which is nice to see because he wanted the role very very badly.  The suit, the stare and the way he carries himself all work well.

The only other role I want to talk about in this version is Van Helsing played by Edward Van Sloane (Frankenstein, The Mummy) because he’s handled a little differently in each movie I saw.  Here he’s the unshakable sage that knows exactly what’s going on and how to stop Dracula.  We feel safe with this portrayal because he’s our guide through the darkness and evil.  Sloane does a great job exuding confidence, leadership, etc.

In this one we’re shown Renfield’s journey to Castle Dracula and that passage and the scenes inside the castle are probably my favorite parts of any version of the story.  The Count has lured you into his lair and now he’s holding you prisoner.  He doesn’t have to chain you up because the place is so fucked that you’re scared to venture outside your room.  It’s brilliant.  And we don’t totally get this again until 1992.  For the ’31 Dracula the castle sets look fantastic and I appreciate that they added this part in.

Some interesting bits are that Lugosi doesn’t sport fangs here, the only blood shown (as far as I can remember) is from the nick that Renfield gets from a paperclip towards the beginning, this is the only version (of the ones I saw) that takes place in modern day or at least close to it (1920’s) and Lucy doesn’t get killed after becoming a vampire.

That last point is very strange.  It was in the script to stake her through the heart like the novel but for whatever reason it either wasn’t filmed or was cut out during editing and is lost forever.  I mean that’s a pretty big loose end to not tie up.  There’s a full-fledged fucking vampire on the loose out there still. 

Also the ending is sorta weird.  Van Helsing says he still has some shit to do before he can join Harker and Mina.  We see the lovebirds walk up the stairs and then it’s over.  I’m not really sure what Van Helsing is alluding to.  I mean if he had to cut off Dracula’s head or burn his body or something why even go there?  The audience knows that Dracula’s dead so leave it at that.  Van Helsing’s last words imply that the movie’s not over which makes the ending seem very abrupt.  Maybe that’s nitpicking but it still bothered me enough to mention it here.

Lugosi being a little stiff at times, the uneven pacing and the last couple of things I brought up detract from an otherwise good solid telling of the tale.  It’s not my favorite one but definitely worth watching, especially if you’re a horror buff.  In fact I’d probably say it’s essential viewing if you’re big on film in general.

Creep factor: Just a little.  The castle parts and Carfax Abbey were the only things that looked even a little scary.

Romance factor: They balanced man and monster ok.  Dracula is…sorta…charming?  I dunno, he comes off as a weirdo in this one with his long gaze and distancing demeanor I think.  So not that romantic then.

One last thing, for what it’s worth I love the story of Dracula but I like the ’31 Frankenstein better than the ’31 Dracula.  The execution is superior in every area in my opinion.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Addiction

I hope your Halloween went well and that you’re all safe and sound.  Ok, ready for some post-Halloween shit?  Originally I was going to do Vampire Mania but things developed into something quite different.  Sorry, sometimes this happens.  So as a peace offering here’s part of the segment I had planned, The Addiction

Abel Ferrara’s vampire picture was pretty good.  He’s a spotty director and I was worried that this was going to be boring but he made it work.  It’s a simple story of a newly formed vampire named Kathy, Lili Taylor (Ransom, High Fidelity), that struggles with her new identity.  She has an insatiable thirst that she can’t quench no matter how many throats she bites.

The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s filmed in black and white and I don’t totally understand why.  There was a big resurgence of its use during the 90’s with films like Schindler’s List, Ed Wood, Kafka, Shadows and Fog, Dead Man and parts of Natural Born Killers.  Maybe Ferrara wanted to jump on that bandwagon.  Most of the time in The Addiction the use of black and white isn’t that remarkable but every once in a while you’ll get a shot or a scene that’s very beautiful and/or eerie.  I don’t think it would’ve made a huge difference to shoot this thing in color but at the same time I understand the need to change things up creatively and the way Ferrara went about the cinematography works perfectly fine.

Now I haven’t seen Lili Taylor in that many roles but this is the best I’ve seen her.  She pulls off being conflicted and tortured well.  But Christopher Walken as the veteran vampire that offers words of wisdom steals the show.  He’s only in this for a couple of minutes but he nails the part and it made me want to watch a whole movie just about his character.  Other notables include Annabella Sciorra (The Hand That Rocks the Cradle) who plays the vampire that turns Kathy and Edie Falco (The Sopranos, Oz) who is Kathy’s friend.

I feel like I should warn you guys that this film is pretty damn arty and fairly pretentious.  The entire thing is a metaphor for drug addiction.  I mean it is called The Addiction after all.  There’s a lot of talk about how vampires are actually kinda weak because they are defined by their constant need for blood.  They’ll walk the streets late at night and consort with strangers to get what they crave.  Friends, mentors and colleagues are affected as well by the disease because they are who the addict turns to.  Ferrara even has Kathy go into extreme pain and convulse when she can’t get a blood fix (Walken actually uses the word “fix” too) and then stumble over herself wandering on the street all strung out when she’s had too much.  I think the parallels are convincing and well done which makes the movie fascinating and takes away from the pomposity a little.  I like this angle of vampirism and how Ferrara portrays these creatures as both ferocious and pathetic at the same time.

Russell Simmons produced this and up until this point he hadn’t done a serious drama yet.  It’s a curious choice because I guess he wanted to show how drug addiction destroys society but didn’t want to make a clichéd picture with a message that beat people over the head.  If that’s what Simmons was going for then he pretty much got it.  However, I don’t think anyone saw this.  That’s too bad.

This one is more of a thinking man’s movie.  There’s a lot of philosophy which went over my head but there’s also some real cool vampire shit, especially the feeding frenzy ending.  None of it is very scary or creepy.  It’s refreshing though.  I think you should see it.  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Slasher Mania

(in case you missed the dancing predators video i posted last year here it is again)

Happy Halloween folks!  We finally fuckin’ made it.  This season I seem to have watched more than my fair share of different and interesting horror pictures.  It’s always a mixed bag but I did well this round.  I hope that doesn’t mean next year is gonna suck.   Anyway, some other notables that I didn’t get to write about that I recommend are Brain Damage (nothing’s gonna beat Frankenhooker but Frank Henenlotter is the fucking man), The Stuff (from director Larry Cohen who did It’s Alive and wrote the Maniac Cop series), Bride of Frankenstein (very sequel-ish and I don’t get why a lot of people think this is better than its predecessor but it’s still a cool continuation of the story) and Demons 2 (not as good as the first one but still very fun and worth checking out).  Now on to Slasher Mania (and be sure to check back for Vampire Mania in the next couple of days).

Bloody Birthday

I liked Bloody Birthday and I wonder why this isn’t more well known.  It’s a great twist on the slasher genre with children being the killers instead of an adult or even a teenager.  Don’t worry, you know this from the get go so I’m not spoiling anything.  It was smart to not focus on the whodunit part and instead make it more about just how evil these kids are.  I was kinda mesmerized throughout the whole thing wondering how they were gonna kill their next victim, how far they were gonna take this shit, who was finally gonna have to take these sonsabitches down and does that mean children are gonna die on screen at the end of this?  That’s ballsy man.  This will really make you hate kids if you don’t already.  Check it out guys this was a cool one.

Side note: Michael Dudikoff (American Ninja) has a small part in this but I didn’t spot him.

Dr. Giggles

Slasher 101.  You got a dude out for revenge against a group of people, a gang of teens fight the good doctor (that was sarcasm, he’s bad really…actually he’s not a doctor at all), there’s a female protagonist, a fake ending, and puns.  Holy shit are there a lot of puns.  Every single doctor phrase that you’ve heard in your life is in here.  They do “you might want to get a second opinion”, “take two and call me in the morning”, “the doctor is in”, “is there a doctor in the house” and a million others.  I have to admit I was impressed that this film managed to cram so many in and ok, it was a little funny sometimes, but if you don’t like that shit then stay away.

Overall this one’s just ok.  The ending is cool and I especially liked the part where Dr. Giggles says “it’s time to do what doctors do best” and pulls out a golf club to use as a weapon.  Oh and get this, he really does giggle a lot.  The filmmakers showed restraint by not having the doctor spill over into full blown laughter.  Good for them.  But come on guys, that’s a silly fucking trademark and title to give your serial killer.          

Eaten Alive

This was the very next movie Tobe Hooper did after Texas Chainsaw Massacre and it’s surprisingly not horrible.  I’m not sure if it’s good really but there’s a little something there.  The story is real simple involving a redneck Texan hotel manager (Neville Brand (Birdman of Alcatraz)) that kills his guests and feeds them to his crocodile.  Brand does a good acting job ‘n all but his character isn’t scary or even very interesting.  He’s just kind of a crazy ol’ coot that can’t control himself and acts on his urges to murder folks.  Not much else to say.

The thing that makes this just a tad interesting is that it can be pretty damn trippy at times.  The whole film is fairly cartoony but that cartooniness gets out of hand sometimes.  Like this incredibly vivid bright red lighting is used for a while towards the beginning, this one family’s reaction to a croc attack is a little bizarre with the father becoming unhinged and there’s other shit.

According to IMDB Hooper had, you guessed it, creative differences during filming so who knows how much weirder this piece would’ve been.  He seems to not get along with anyone on anything that he works on.  As for Eaten Alive I don’t think you really need to see it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Celluloid Bloodbath: More Prevues from Hell

More horror prevues from the 60’s and 70’s.  The format has changed a little from the last one though where instead of all bad jokes and zombies crashing an empty theater the filmmakers got horror film fanatics and actors to say a quick little something every two trailers or so.  Happy the zombie puppet is back but he’s barely in it so don’t even worry about it.  Overall I like the approach they used here better but most of the blurbs are uninteresting.  A bunch of them are as lazy as something like “the next prevue is [insert movie here] which was shown at drive-ins”.  For me the most interesting segment was definitely William Forsythe’s (Out for Justice, The Devil’s Rejects).  He talks briefly about how he doesn’t care for horror pictures but loves thrillers.  Finally, the trailers are categorized this time (vampires, supernatural, etc.) which works fine.

There were a lot more movies I had heard of before and seen in this installment: The Exorcist, Suspiria, The Gore Gore Girls, Cannibal Holocaust, It’s Alive, They Came from Within (aka Shivers), The Crawling Hand, The Horror of Party Beach, Squirm and Monster A-Go-Go (those last four I saw, as I’m sure most of you did, through Mystery Science Theater 3000).  Some trailers were way weirder than what they showed in Prevues from Hell.  Like there’s The Baby that involves a grown man that acts and gets treated like an infant from his abusive mother and The Worm Eaters where it looks like people ate actual live worms for this fucking flick.  Also I didn’t know that the Crispin Glover movie Willard was a remake of a 70’s picture of the same name.  So you may be familiar with more of the trailers in this one but the strange ones are fucking out there.

If you liked Mad Ron’s Prevues from Hell then you’ll like this.  More of the same.   

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mad Ron's Prevues From Hell

Trailers are a class unto themselves.  There’s an art to making one and it sounds harder (on paper at least) than cutting together the actual film it’s representing.  Now I’ve never put one together so I’m just speculating but you need to find some of the best moments (and even some dull ones to use as filler), string them together in an exciting way, decide what you want to disclose and keep secret from the audience, set it to music, insert title cards, etc.  It’s gotta be hard to make the movie seem enticing and convey basic plot elements while avoiding making the whole thing seem like a total mess of scenes reedited in a chaotic and incoherent manner.  Plus this piece needs to be like two minutes or less.  Maybe someone can enlighten me.  Is this shit easy or difficult?

Anyway if you’re a trailer buff then you’ll enjoy this compilation of horror pictures from the 60’s and 70’s.  Some I knew about, a couple I’ve seen (just the really popular ones like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, Last House on the Left and Black Christmas (although here it’s called Silent Night Evil Night)) but most I’ve never heard of before.  A bunch have the ol’ “just remember it’s only a movie” or “we can’t show you scenes from this film because it’s too horrific” gag.  They do seem to get a little crazier as the collection progresses and they’re all good fun to watch.  None made me want to check out the pictures I hadn’t seen though.  I like to think I know better than that.  A few may be decent but it’s a long shot that there’s a hidden gem.  When it comes to horror movies in the era covered here nine times out of ten the trailer is better than the feature itself.

At the beginning, the end and every so often we’re given a break with ventriloquist Nick and his zombie dummy Happy.  Nick isn’t the best at speaking with his mouth closed as Happy’s voice sounds muffled most of the time and he seems to have particular trouble with the letter f.  Oh and they’re not funny.  Cheesy bad jokes and lame banter abound.  But I get why the filmmakers wanted to have wrap arounds because seeing all these trailers is kinda like eating a bowl full of Lucky Charms marshmallows that you picked out from the other tan crap that nobody likes to eat.  It sounds like a good idea but it quickly becomes apparent that what you’re eating is too sweet and a bit gross.  You need that filler shit made from oats to balance things out and make the meal satisfying.  Just watching trailers that show nothing but action and the best bits is exhausting and pretty saccharine.  So I agree with having breaks, however it’s unfortunate that the non-trailer parts are not very well written, staged or shot.

I recommend this though.  If you dig the idea of nothing but trailers, especially horror ones which make for the best viewing in my opinion, this works well enough.