Monday, October 17, 2016
For years I'd heard of the James Whale movie The Old Dark House (1932), and seen a few seconds here and there in documentaries and whatnot, but I'd never come across a copy of the film itself. So, anyway, as captain of my own destiny, this October, I finally bought my own DVD of the film.
If you're a fan of what James Whale brought to the screen in Frankenstein and, in particular, Bride of Frankenstein, this is a pretty darn good supplement to those movies. Not exactly a haunted house movie so much as a "maybe we shouldn't have stopped here" movie, like Frankenstein in particular, it feels almost more like a filmed stage play than a modern film from the blocking to the set design. It's got some great talent in the movie from Karloff to Ernest Thesiger to a very young Charles Laughton.
This movie is batshit. Batshit in the best way possible, but batshit.
In short, I'm a fan.
Sunday evening, SimonUK and I went to an Alamo Rolling Roadshow presentation of An American Werewolf in London (1981) - one of Si's top movies (like, he would watch this every day if you let him), and certainly one of my favorite films. It's just fun, chaotic, werewolf-laden mayhem with a nice bit of really dark humor winding through it. And, of course, Jenny Agutter.
I'm pretty sure I've written this movie up before, so no real point in doing so again.
The Rolling Roadshow is a series The Alamo Drafthouse offers wherein they bring an inflatable screen to an outdoors location and show a film. They do lots of types of screenings from themed-location screenings (Jaws on the water) to showing kids' movies in the park for the whole family. Tonight's theme was Halloween Horror/ tonight was the Super Hunter's Moon - a very bright full moon. So: werewolves.
Si and I arrived a bit early, and Simon got a nice fellow to take our picture.
Happy Birthday to Ms. Margot Kidder - the person who brought Lois Lane to life for four Superman films.
She's tops in our book, and part of why Lois Lane has become as important to our appreciation of the Superman story as capes and x-ray vision.
We're hoping Ms. Kidder has a fantastic year ahead of her.
Sunday, October 16, 2016
The third Frankenstein movie in the Universal Monsters line of films is not terribly well known among the normals but it's a staple for monster kids. People who don't know the movie often ask "why is Frankenstein wearing that furry shirt?" when they see pictures from the movie, and - honestly, it's a legit question.* Son of Frankenstein (1939) picks up a generation after the events of Bride of Frankenstein, when the literal child of Henry and Elizabeth Frankenstein returns to Frankenstein castle to reclaim the family homestead, and, as it turns out, help restore The Monster to fighting form after finding him in a catatonic state.
The movie is not directed by James Whale, and of the original cast, only Karloff returns. It lacks some of vision of the prior installments, but picks up on and expands some elements, visual and otherwise. It also softens the story a bit more, providing us with a more sympathetic Dr. Frankenstein in the son of the good doctor.
Overall, it's fairly watchable with some pretty great bits, and at least tries to maintain some level of A-list distinction before the Frankenstein movies would descend down the slope to matinee material. It's not exactly the world's best movie, but it's still a Halloween-worthy treat.
Saturday, October 15, 2016
Back in the 1980's, I remember seeing a lot of movies like Critters (1986) on the shelf at the local home video rental shoppe. The boxes would show you a goblin sort of creature, and promised a certain level of horror that wasn't necessarily going to go in for splatter and gore of a Chainsaw variety or even a Freddy Kreuger level of scare. Maybe some broad humor in there, plots as basic as a Dukes of Hazzard episode. It was always maybe a little gorier than a modern PG-13 film, but, in retrospect, there's no question that these movies were basically aimed at kids with VCR's.
There's nothing wrong with it, but I wasn't a fan of the sub-sub-genre.
I don't think I was exactly aware the movie was aimed at me as a 12 year-old-or-so as I was when I saw this movie the first time at someone else's house. My recollection is that the kid was very excited about the movie Critters, and his dad showed up with the movie in hand "hey, I rented CRITTERS!" and I was like "y'okay..." whereas my pal couldn't have been more jazzed had we just been given a stack of fireworks to shoot off all night. He loved the movie, and I just settled in, because... what are you gonna do? So, I've seen it once before.
Point of fact - Jamie and I have been together 21 years this month, and I can't tell you how many times she's mentioned liking Critters as a kid. Or, I guess, watching Critters as a kid.
And so it came to pass that when I said "well, we need to watch something Halloween-ish", she tossed out Critters, and as she has never, ever previously stated a desire to watch any Halloween movie but Young Frankenstein, I just said "y'okay..."
So, we watched Critters.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
Back when I was a little kid, Jason and I had a few books on movie monsters, and among them was the book Super-Monsters by Daniel Cohen.
On the cover of the book was a really pissed-off looking monster that I kind of assumed was an off-brand Godzilla-type thing (I didn't know the word "Kaiju" until college), and didn't think much about it except that I wasn't sure what movie this monster was actually associated with. Also, I don't know why my folks were like "hey, look, a snarling hell beast! The kids'll love it!", but this was the 1970's and back then we were still raising our kids to be ready for anything.
The book had short entries about the plots of various monster movies, and I can trace my interest in those strange creatures to this book. Even if this same book led me to believe Young Frankenstein was a very odd, badly made Frankenstein movie until I finally saw it and clued into the Mel Brooks canon.
But I had no idea who the monster was on the cover of this book until about 5-10 years ago when I stumbled across some information about the British horror film, alternately titled Curse of the Demon and Night of the Demon (1957). Last year I tried to watch this movie on or around Halloween, but realized I was exhausted and didn't pull it off. And then my DVR went crazy and I lost the recording.
But this year, SimonUK brought it over, and with Steanso in tow, we all gave the movie a whirl.
Monday, October 10, 2016
I remember coming back to school after the summer of 1985 and a good chunk of my classmates were nuts over Back to the Future (1985). I'd seen it in the theater, but even of our own family, I think I liked it the least of the four of us. But I was a little surprised how much my peers liked the movie, and over the past ten years I've been even more surprised to find how much not just my own generation still celebrates the entire trilogy, but Millenials love the movies, too.
I won't say I didn't watch it over and over in the 1980's when it was on VHS or on cable. I've seen it at least 6 or 7 times. But it's been a long, long while.
The movie was on cable last weekend, and I gave it a spin for the first time in a long time, more or less to figure out what I'm missing when I watch the movie that everyone else is seeing. I want to make it clear: this is my deficiency, not anything I think all of you people are stupid for liking. As near as I can tell, there really isn't anything wrong with the movie. And Lea Thompson's many, many iterations of Lorraine over the trilogy - heck, within just this first movie - is pretty impressive.
Thursday, October 6, 2016
Let's not screw around.
Why I wanted to watch this movie: it really, honestly features dozens of live big cats with minimal training, just sort of being big cats. And by big cats, I mean lions, tigers, panthers, jaguars, pumas... all in one film, all intermingled with actors trying to perform scenes both engaging with the animals and around the animals. The animals even get a screen-writing credit because, hey, animals gonna do what animals are gonna do - and that clearly drove the story.
It's not a freakshow, but it is absolutely nerve wracking to watch as every bit of your well-honed DNA of thousands of generations of ancestors starts screaming out at you that this is a very, very bad scene, even as the movie is insisting "we should learn to love the big cats and live in harmony with them."
Thanks to, I think, a Hollywood lifestyle bit I was watching about Tippi Hedren back around 2001, I'd been aware of the movie, but good luck finding it back then. Or much information about it. Just the casual mention of "oh, she has a lion sanctuary and this one time she made a feature film with dozens of wild big cats called 'Roar', so, anyway, she's Melanie Griffith's mom..."
It also features Speed director Jan de Bont as a cinematographer, and, apparently he was one of the 70 people injured working on the movie. And, in fact, de Bont was gravely injured when a lion took his scalp clean off his head.
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
My Halloween viewing is a little slowed by the arrival of Luke Cage on Netflix, but Sunday night TCM presented a Frankenstein Triple Feature. They'll be showing Frank movies all October on Sundays (and Christopher Lee, star of the month on TCM, will be Mondays, so check for Hammer Horror).
This year marks the 85th Anniversary of the release of James Whale's screen classic, Frankenstein (1931). So, I appreciate the Franken-centric approach to Halloween that TCM is going for all month long.
Turner Classic kicked it off right with the three Frankenstein pictures that defined the monster and mad scientists for the 20th and early 21st Centuries. They showed the Universal movies that started with the 1931 Universal feature, Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff as "The Monster". Then, of course, TCM went right into Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein.*
I've seen Frankenstein numerous times since first watching the film back in college, and I've written on the topic often enough that I've given Frankenstein it's own tag on the site. I'm a fan, and I watch the movie at some point every October.
Sunday, October 2, 2016
At some point, you start to notice that actors have a limited shelf-life in Hollywood. As the years pass, those talented girls you found so attractive in movies just stop appearing in anything, even though they were kind of a big deal and in quite a few pictures for a stretch there. The birth of IMDB really brings the idea home if you do what I do mid-way through most movies and start checking up on actors you're enjoying in a movie but haven't seen in much else - where did they go? There's almost always a petering out of roles and then *poof* some final role and then nothing. They threw in the towel rather than play yet another character called "So-and-So's Mom" or the equivalent. Some go on to other lives (Justice Bateman just got her CS degree. I mean, talk about a kick-ass second chapter), some marry well, and some - even screen legends like Veronica Lake - have sad, obscure ends that don't ever seem to get remembered.
But that's not the sort of Hollywood messed up story that Vampira and Me (2012) tracks. That's a story of illusion, delusion and the disposable nature of fame for (especially) female actors when a dream is realized in part, but is taken away.
It's hard to call the movie a documentary, exactly, and it certainly isn't journalism. It feels like a bit of a memoir, an apology and a posthumous plea for sympathy for a third-tier icon most people have never heard of or forgotten about except as a shadowy Halloween-type bit of imagery not associated with anything in particular.
Saturday, October 1, 2016
|somewhere, a visual design graduate student is madly scribbling about this poster in their thesis|
If memory serves, For Your Eyes Only (1981) was the first Bond movie I ever watched. I seem to recall my Dad watching it on television a couple years after it came out, probably around 1983, and I felt like I was watching exciting action meant for adults. After all, Star Wars did not feature guys on motorcycles with nails in the wheels or exciting ski chases.
I've seen the movie two or three times since then, and my general impression was "this is one of the better Bond films". I recall my delight at the tiny-yellow car in the car chase during my middle-school viewing of the movie and as scenes came up during this viewing, I was quite pleased to see the scenes pop up, because I'd forgotten them over time, washed away in a haze of Bond-ness.
But I really like this Bond film. For Your Eyes Only feels like a sane reaction to the excesses of Moonraker, maybe even feeling some influence from the Bond of the novels (of which I've only read two and am nowhere near an expert). The task Bond is sent on feels grounded very much in a possible reality - to figure out what happened to a sunken British boat that was carrying their secret encoder/ decoder for nuclear weapons comms. It's not "where's our spaceship?" And the flow between scenes isn't haphazard, there's a logical progression to the unfolding of the mystery.
|so, not even the poster copy writer watched this movie past the two minute mark|
Sometimes you stumble onto greatness. Or, you know, stumble onto... something.
TCM Underground is the late-shift at Turner Classic Movies, given a two-movie window starting at 2:00 AM Eastern on Saturday nights. I don't watch it all that often, but have been known to check it out from time to time.
Last week, after wrapping up Vampyros Lesbos, I was flipping channels and was curious about the title and then the description of Night Train to Terror (1985). Something about "God and Satan play chess with the lives of mortals while on a train." I mean - that's going to be worth investigating no matter what.
Add in some surprise casting including Cameron Mitchell, Richard Moll and John Phillip Law, and you're in for a treat!
There's no easy way to say "this movie promised some sex and nudity, and vampires, and so I watched it" - so let's go ahead and get that out of the way.
I was sent a list of "movies that are basically not great, kind of smutty and horror movies", and on that list was a movie I'd intended to watch for quite some time as it often pops up in discussions of Italian horror directors - and that movie is Franco's Vampyros Lesbos (1971).
I'm not sure this film is ground zero for the lesbian vampire sub-sub-genre, which is definitely a thing when you consider everything from Daughters of Darkness to The Hunger, (this list rightfully points to the first Dracula sequel, Dracula's Daughter as having not so subtle undertones) - but it is, by far, the least subtley titled of all lesbian vampire films.
To be clear - it's not soft-core porn. It is a legit erotic horror movie.
It is also very not good.
Monday, September 26, 2016
I re-watched Captain America: Civil War because I bought the BluRay.
In general, I like this movie quite a bit. But I've written on it twice this year, so that seems like plenty.
The image above appears on a t-shirt my mother purchased for me. She's generous to a fault, but she usually is on the side of "you have plenty of Super-America Man stuff" which is usually followed by an unprompted "Poor Jamie" and a look of pity tossed Jamie's way.
But... My mom bought me this. I wear it all the time because - yeah, I like it fine on its own, but sometimes it really is the thought that counts.
I hadn't watched Moonraker (1979) since middle-school. My recollection of watching the movie included three things: the opening parachuting sequence (which is the best part of the movie), it had Jaws running around in it, and the ending feeling like it had been imported from a completely different franchise.
Straight up - I'm not sure that this is literally the worst Bond movie - finishing the series will tell me that. But this is my personal least favorite Bond movie as of this writing and has been since I saw it the one time previously.
All this is frustrating coming right on the heels of one of my favorite Bond movies (The Spy Who Loved Me), especially as they abandon the tone of danger and adventure with light comedy that movie employed and turn this movie, essentially, into a Roadrunner cartoon with Jaws in the role of Wile E. Coyote. It's kind of mystifying.
Friday, September 23, 2016
I'd been wanting to see The Split (1968) for a while. Based upon one of my favorite Parker novels, The Seventh, it also starred Jim Brown, pro-football superstar turned movie star (and a generally much better presence on the big screen than you generally get out of other former athletes*). I wasn't aware of the pedigree of the cast for this movie which is all but forgotten. But when you have a movie with Jim Brown, Donald Sutherland, Julie Harris, Jack Klugman, Warren Oates, Gene Hackman, Diahann Carroll... and people don't remember it?
Well, it's not a great sign.
Monday, September 19, 2016
Full confession: I rented this movie entirely upon the promise of Caroline Munro who, it turned out, was a key character in the movie, but not in it nearly as much as one would hope (and I have some script notes on that which I am sure could be retro-actively applied).
Because otherwise I usually like my Dracula nice and Victorian. Bringing Dracula into the modern age always amps the cheese factor for me (do not see Dracula 2000) and just reminds me that Dracula works best when Van Helsing and the gang don't have cell phones or modern medicine. After all, the original novel of Dracula is sort of an exploration of the slow horror that was disease in an era when leeches and a good blood letting were about as much as your doctors were going to do for you while your body shut down on you in pretty awful ways.
In truth, I basically rented the movie for a laugh, not expecting much, and wound up genuinely enjoying the thing. I absolutely love it when something turns out not to be the dud I thought it would be. My exposure to Hammer Horror is limited, and while this one isn't exactly scary - it understands horror, vampires and the core of why they can be great villains when they aren't sparkling or sitting around looking like the H+M catalog exploded on a CW show.
Thus, this is a post about how I enjoyed Dracula AD 1972 (1972), a pretty-not-great movie that was sadly lacking in greater Caroline Munro screentime, but nonetheless a fun movie.
Saturday, September 17, 2016
I remember seeing the commercials for the 1995 thriller, The Net, rolling my eyes, and making a firm decision that I would not see this movie. Over the years, it's surprised me how many people have seen it, declared it terrible, and then expressed surprise that I hadn't seen it and never wanted to see it.
The kids will never understand what it was like in 1995, but we were on the teetering edge of a revolution in computing entering the lives of everyone on the planet. Up to that point, computers had been, in the eyes of the public, a weird mix of science-fiction, radio-kit-bashers-gone-mad, a point of ridicule if people spend too much time with them outside of work, and seen as the key to god-like power as evidenced in everything from Weird Science to War Games to Ferris Bueller. And, my God, such an overwhelmingly male-oriented hobby or interest.
My first introduction to what we'd wind up calling "the internet" was via the hand-waving plot explanations of War Games, but in real like, I only ever knew one kid, our own Groboclown, who had a modem in his house. Aside from that, they were kind of a mystery. By middle-school, I was aware of the "cyberpunk" literary movement, but mostly picked up the terms and ideas of "netrunners" second hand from my brother, who actually read the stuff. But even at that - I got my head around the potential for use, for abuse, for second lives online (that would overtake meatspace).
When I got my first computer (a refurbished Pack-Bell 486 with Windows 3.1. Like a @#$%ing BOSS, y'all!) and headed off to college, that was kind of an act of faith on the part of my parents. They saw it as an over-powered Smith-Corona word processor, which was all we'd had in the house since I was 14 (the early Vic 20 and Apple IIe experiments had not made us computer whizzes). And there was an assumption I'd do things with it, but no one could say what those things would be.
Fortunately at UT, I managed to move in down the hall from some guys who were already deeply computer savvy and who had actual modems and whatnot. And, they weren't the kind of guys who sat in the dark and played Doom and didn't converse. Instead, we were soon running wires down the hallway for networked play, and by Spring semester, with a used and battered 2400 baud modem installed in my computer and an account from UT, I was online. Not that there was much to do online in 1994, but I was there!
But 1995's film, The Net, was less reflective of the techo-utopianism a lot of us were buying into thanks to pop publications like Wired. The marketing and concept spoke a whole lot more to our parents' newspaper-headline driven concern over "this crazy, out of control technology", a future-shock echo that was rippling through the world that was just beginning to understand what it meant to suddenly start seeing monitors on every desk at every job and what was happening as we were having to give all those people our names, phone numbers, etc...
Those weren't just stand-alone ugly data-systems anymore, they were now on the Information Superhighway!*
My point is - the context of 1995 when The Net made it to cinemas everywhere with America's newest darling of the Star System-era of Hollywood, Sandra Bullock, was one of an already buzzing fear or discomfort. Everything about the trailer reeked of the paranoia I could feel from my professors, from the general public and folks who were doing just fine in life without needing an email address, let alone a magic phone in their pocket that was a portal to all of human knowledge and able to access monumental computer systems to provide predictions and prescriptive behavior.*
Anyway, if The Net (1995) has one fatal flaw, it is not the absolutely terrible depiction of computing and the internet that boils away any goodwill the pretty-well researched first act sets up. It is not a bad performance by Sandra Bullock, who is really very good in what limited amount of action she's given to take as a witness to her own life falling apart around her and a clunker of a script.
The movie is incredibly boring.
Friday, September 16, 2016
Today marks the 92nd birthday of actress and screen legend Lauren Bacall. She passed in 2014, just a month shy of her 90th birthday.
I don't often post pics of Bacall because stills never seem to capture her quite right, in my opinion. I can't really think of any other actress who strikes me exactly that way, but I've long since quit trying to find the "right" picture of someone who was lovely as a picture, sure, but who's voice and nuances of expression were what made her work so very well in movies.
Happy birthday, Ms. Bacall.
Suspiria (1977) is one of those movies that you see cited a whole lot for various reasons, usually around cinematography or as it exploited a trope of the horror genre that someone wants to discuss and class it up a bit.
For this reason, about a year ago I decided I wanted to see Suspiria, but as it wasn't on Netflix of available via Amazon Prime, my efforts were thwarted. Luckily, Austin still has a movie rental company called Vulcan Video which recently moved it's South location to actual South Austin (Ben White, bitches! Near both Blazer Tag and Jamie's dialysis clinic!). I went and renewed my membership, discovering the last time I was in was July 20th, 2001. Jamie believes we last rented "The Star Wars Holiday Special", which sounds about right.
When I've asked people if they've seen Suspiria, and they've answered in the affirmative, they usually also back it up with "it's interesting, but I'm not sure it's very good." Which told me what I needed to know going into the film.
Anyway, point is - Suspiria was available. I rented it I watched it.