Saruman dons the cape and fangs for his first turn as the granddaddy of all vampires, Count Dracula, in Hammer's second big horror venture. Grand Moff Tarkin dons pimp gear to take him on as Doctor Van Helsing. Alfred the butler comes along for the ride as Arthur Holmwood. Somehow I remember to mention that Michael Gough played Alfred the butler in the Batman movies but forget to mention that Christopher Lee was in The Lord of the Rings and Peter Cushing was in Star Wars.
The puppy is alive! Alive! Peter Cushing takes up the role of the madman Victor Frankenstein, desperately trying to pursue his life's work of discovering the secret of life while constantly being nagged by his mentor, his fiancee, and his housemaid. Christopher Lee takes up the role of the mute, murderous monster with the greatest brain in Europe. I compare this first big Hammer horror classic extensively with Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein and with the original novel. I speculate on the doctor's youth, or lack thereof, and his disinclination to redecorate for 15 years. And I wax poetic about beaver hats, cravats, and nightgowns with built-in underwire bras.
The many characters of Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger has been featured in nearly forty movies over the years. Curiously, few film makers have bothered to explain why their beefy hero has a thick Austrian accent or even changed the name of the character to one that sounds like it might be worn on the name tag of a guy with a thick Austrian accent. Let's examine the major roles.
She's alive! Alive! The inferior-yet-still-classic sequel to Frankenstein is given the full Tysto treatment. I compare this film to the 1931 original and to Young Frankenstein. I compain bitterly about Una "Jar-Jar Binks" O'Connor. I welcome Valerie Hobston's cleavage as the replacement Elizabeth and welcome back Dwight Frye as the assistant-who-is-definitely-not-the-dead-hunchback-Fritz. I complain a bit about the presence of Doctor Pretorius and compare him to Doctor Waldman of the first film. And I finally get around to mentioning Jack Pierce, the legendary make-up effects artist.
It's alive! It's alive! It's the horror super-classic that introduced the world to Frankenstein's monster as we know it today. I compare it (sort of) to the novel and (sort of) to Young Frankenstein, as well as to Dracula, which I've also done a commentary for. I give a lot of background and talk about the economy of story-telling that lasts until the film slows to a crawl with talky drawing room scenes. I sympathize with Fritz and then blame him for the whole tragedy. I sympathize with the monster and explain that I want my misunderstood monsters to act with criminal negligence. I point out plot holes, such as how a brain in a jar could be better than the brain of a fresh corpse with a broken neck and how Maria's father knew she was murdered. I pan James Whale and praise Karloff as one of the greatest of all cinema heavies and one of the nicest men you'd ever hope to meet.
It takes guts to find a song you like and change it to make it your own. And it takes brains and a real feel for music to find a song you don't like and realize it has potential if it were done differently. "Mack the Knife" is one of the great songs recycled from lesser songs. These aren't covers, tho—they're rearrangements and extreme rearrangements at that. A cover just remakes the song with the same arrangement and different vocalist and/or instrumentation. A rearrangement fundamentally changes the song's rhythm, tempo, chord structure, and/or lyrics.
My 5-year-old niece and I lend a helping hand to the Beatles in their second film, the full-color presentation of Help! Ringo becomes the target of an Indian (dots, not feathers) cult of Kali (or Kah-ili, as they say), probably still smarting from the drubbing they took from Indiana Jones thirty years before. I identify some of the cars (and tanks), and explain some of the background surrounding filming, such as how the Beatles were so stoned they didn't know what the movie was about, how much a curling stone weighs, and how dumb it is to shoot outdoors in England in March. Keely explains some of the plot, sings along a little, and identifies which Beatles are cute. A good time was had by all.
The Coen Brothers succeed in creating an almost magical pastiche of 1930s crime and ancient Greek epic and even make it funny, with George Clooney as the fast-talking leader of a gang of escaped convicts crossing Depression-era Mississippi to get home and ending up in a number of tight spots. I manage to avoid singing along by jabbering incessantly. I compare the story to the Homeric epic on which it is (very loosely) based as well as to Sullivan's Travels, where it gets its name. And I explain various 1930s customs, manners, cars, and secret organizations whose name I need not mention.
Just in time for Halloween! A campy lawyer becomes a bug-eating lunatic in thrall to the king of all vampires: Count Dracula, as personified by Bela Lugosi. I compare the film to the Bram Stoker novel, to the stage play, and to other Dracula movies. I point out how the film set the standard for vampires from the incredible opening featuring the brides of Dracula (and the possums of Dracula) to the thrilling discussion-on-a-divan scenes to the pulse-racing discussion-on-a-staircase scenes to the chilling look-over-there-while-I-stab-Dracula ending. I mix up Joan Standing (the English nurse) and Moon Carroll (the American maid). Maybe there are no fangs and no blood (or score); maybe the actors all stand motionless to deliver their lines, maybe everything interesting happens off-screen, but this is the granddaddy of 'em all and well worth a look.
Sean Astin leads his hearty band of adventurers—plus his older brother.. and a couple of girls—thru the caverns underneath the rocky coast near his home town in a search for the legendary lost treasure of One-Eyed Willy! I examine the three-part story structure, the emotional arc of each character, and Willy's weird music/skeleton obsession. I admire Mikey's leadership, Troy's Mustang GT, and Andy's panties.
I contemplate the nature of the "Goondocks." I point out the age of the various kids (surprise! Josh is younger than Kerry!). I examine the structure of the two-parent Walsh family and single-parent TV families. I wonder about the distance from the lighthouse to the country club. And I wonder about how Data apparently walked in from a Warner Brothers cartoon and how a Chinese character with a Japanese love for technology could be played by a Vietnamese actor.
Ridley Scott starts the Alien franchise rolling with Alien, the story of a humble xenomorph born into a hostile world full of potential hosts that he must struggle to maim and prepare for embryo impregnation. But there is a spunky gal in a space panties that has it out for him!
I discuss the structure and pulp origins of the film, the similarities between Ridley Scott and Stanley Kubrick, and the mysterious connections between Gunsmoke and American science fiction. I compare the film to WW2 submarine movies, Star Wars, Mission Impossible (for which I drop a spoiler), and teenage slasher films. I suggest that Veronica Cartwright's career might have been derailed by snot. I complain about Star Trek: First Contact. I say that Dallas portrays alien characteristics when I mean hero characteristics. I say that we're "still in the third act" when I mean the second act.
Bond is back again in probably the most popular—and certainly most influential—James Bond film. He's asked to check out Auric Goldfinger in this one, and uncovers a dastardly plot to steal—wait for it—gold! I discuss the gold-painted girl, the Aston Martin DB5, the idea of substituting golf for baccarat, the plausibility of putting a Lincoln Continental in a Ranchero, the plausibility of machismo overcoming lesbianism, the US Army's sense of humor, and, of course, Pussy Galore.
Harrison Ford breathes life into another icon when he picks up the whip and fedora offered by George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Lawrence Kasdan. I talk about the film's origins and episodic nature, call it "nearly perfect," and point out its various imperfections. I ponder the nature of the triple villain and the character arc that Indy travels. I compare it to romantic comedies and serials of the 1930s and '40s, and to the other Indiana Jones films. I say 1935 a couple of times when I mean 1936. I say Martin Scorsese directed Tucker when I mean Francis Ford Coppola. And I squeeze in a reference to Yakima Canutt.
As an American, I have viewed it as my civic duty to ignore and even sneer at Doctor Who, the perpetual British adventure series that has never broken thru in the US. Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, I viewed the snippets I saw of old Who from the Tom Baker era (the fourth Doctor) and later as sad and silly. Sure the girls were pretty (not 'arf, mate), but the sets were cheap and the robots looked like they were designed to be janitors rather than warriors. But then along came a little podcast called Fantragic.
A Kenny Rogers' Roasters restaurant moves in across the street and beams red light into Kramer's apartment day and night, so he gets Jerry to switch apartments. Elaine buys George a sable hat on the Peterman account along with a load of other things for herself, then gets audited by their accountant. I take apart this classic eighth season episode scene by scene, praising all its loopy goodness and gently pointing out its mild gaps.
More in this category...
s i d e b a r