Last time we had a sort of general look at Metropolis, as it relates to early  Frankenstein cinema. It's a big subject, and honestly I'm not going to cover all of it even with a supplementary essay, but I did want a closer look at two things. Firstly, religious symbolism and secondly the role of women in Fritz Lang's Metropolis and James Whale's Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein.

Can I get an amen?

The novel Frankenstein is fascinating in that it is full of conscious religious imagery, but contains little sign of God's actual presence. The Monster is compared frequently to both Adam and Satan. Both are creations that rebel against their creator, with the difference being that neither of them is a match for God. The Monster is a match for Frankenstein. This is why the various attempts to make Frankenstein into a Christian parable tend to be perfunctory. A story in which a being, angry at its creator is able to stand eye to eye with that creator is simply unprecedented in the Bible. Imagine if Job could just get tired of arguing with God and kick him in the shins. Completely different story.

This, ultimately, is the point of not only Frankenstein, but a huge chunk of the whole science fiction genre: how do we deal with the themes and ideas invoked by religion without invoking God? ...continue reading "Metropolis – 1927 (Part 2)"

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I usually like to give a fairly thorough synopsis of movies I review, but let's face it: this one is just too damned long. So short version: Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel) is the leader and architect of a seemingly utopian art deco city. His son, Freder (Gustav Froehlich), is a feckless gadabout who does nothing but hang out in the pleasure gardens. When a woman named Maria (Brigette Helm) brings a group of grimy children into the garden, Freder learns for the first time that poverty exists.

That's very interesting, Professor, but I really wanted to talk to you about getting an extension for my assignment.

He goes in pursuit of Maria, and finds himself in the underground factories that drive the Metropolis. There he views an industrial accident, and has a vision of the vast machines as a temple to the demon Moloch, and the workers as sacrifices. Horrified, he confronts his father, who turns out to be perfectly aware of the appalling work conditions and content to keep things that way. He's more worried about mysterious plans turning up in his workers' clothes. ...continue reading "Metropolis – 1927"

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What did you say about my hair?

In medieval Prague, the learned Rabbi Löw (Albert Steinrück) predicts that the Jewish Ghetto will be threatened by the Emperor, who wants to drive out or kill the Jews. Sure enough, the Emperor (Otto Gebühr) gives just such a decree to his douchiest knight, Florian (Lothar Müthel). Florian takes the message to the Ghetto, falling in (requited) love with the Rabbi's daughter, Miriam (Lyda Salmonova).

Rabbi Löw builds a man out of clay. With the help of his assistant Famulus (Ernst Deutsch), he summons the dark spirit Astaroth, and force it to give them the magic word to animate the clay man. This word is placed in an amulet which is put around the neck of the clay man and it comes to life as the Golem (Paul Wegener). The Golem is clearly not happy at being ordered around and knocks Famulus over, but Löw discovers that he can deactivate the monster by removing its amulet. ...continue reading "The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920)"

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It this was Halloween makeup, I'd say it was good. As movie makeup... eh.
It this was Halloween makeup, I'd say it was good. As movie makeup... eh.

I'll just race through the synopsis quickly, because while there's lots of running and screaming in this movie, not a lot actually happens. What does happen is pretty icky. Just thought I should warn you. On the other hand, it does give a nice jumping-on point to talk about the character of Elizabeth Lavenza.

Frankenstein is tracking the Monster through the snow with some soldiers. He is seen by the daughter of the old blind man. We have a little look into their family dramas, then the Monster kills them all, the daughter last of all. We see the dying daughter being stitched back together in a darkened room. ...continue reading "Frankenstein: Day of the Beast – 2011"

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This is a film that pitches Jackie Chan into a battle to the death with John Cusack.

I thought I'd put that out there to start with. Just so you don't get the idea that this movie isn't stupid. I mean, it's not impossible to imagine a Jackie Chan/John Cusack vehicle – some sort of cross cultural comedy, like Rush Hour, only funny. Chan and Cusack both got their start in eighties movies, maybe you could do a riff on that, only with the silliness of Chan's '80s HK action movie logic impeding on the silliness of Cusack's '80s US teen romance genre. Might be fun.

But no. Dragon Blade is not a fun movie. ...continue reading "Dragon Blade – Review"

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.A while back, I had a look at the Munsters in general. This time, I'm going to look at the Munster's only cinematic release, Munsters Go Home.

Death Race 200 it ain't.
Death Race 2000 it ain't.

The Munsters learn that Herman (Fred Gwynne) has inherited a valuable estate and a noble title from his adopted family in England. Lily (Yvonne de Carlo) later explains that Herman was adopted by the Munster family after leaving Dr Frankenstein's lab. They take passage on a steamer to England. Herman gets seasick the instant they leave port, Marilyn has a shipboard romance with a rich guy with an indeterminate accent (Robert Pine) and Grandpa accidentally turns himself into a wolf. ...continue reading "Munsters Go Home – 1966"

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I have to admit I'm not Harry Potter's biggest fan. I read the first few books of the series before losing interest somewhere about the fourth one. I've seen most of the movies, I think, but not on first release or even in order.

By the same token, I don't dislike the series as such. It's fun if you don't take it too seriously, and it's that element that element of fun that I enjoyed so much in Fantastic Beasts. It's an amusing story about crazy things happening just below the surface of our world. It makes a great deal less sense than the Potter films, in that all this takes place in New York rather than the English countryside where something odd might pass without notice, but just ignore that. Go in and expect some lush visuals and an enjoyably silly mix of whimsical Englishness and stilted old-timey New York and it's a decent film. ...continue reading "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Review"

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Frankenstein Island… Okay… Uh…

Yeah, what's up with that?
Yeah, what's up with that?

Synopsis! Yeah, maybe start with a synopsis. Ok, the balloonists from Mysterious Island land on the Island of Dr Moreau where they're met by Tarzan and the Leopard Women. Then they meet Sheila Frankenstein and her husband Dr van Helsing, who was the assistant of Dr Frankenstein, because WHAT?

This plastic Halloween devil pitchfork is actually supposed to be a high tech superweapon. No, really.
This plastic Halloween devil pitchfork is actually supposed to be a high tech superweapon. No, really.

...continue reading "Frankenstein Island – 1981"

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The last US Godzilla remake was severely criticised for its concentration on a human character thereby limiting Godzilla's screen time, which is historically an unfair criticism. Godzilla movies are always a bit of a mixed bag. There's always a mix of city-stomping action and boring people being boring. As such, this criticism of the US Godzilla is unfair – though the criticism that maybe the human it should have been following was Brian Cranston has a little more merit.

The most recent Japanese Godzilla movie is also a mix of dull humans and the city-stomping star of the show and it gets the mix even worse than the American version. It follows the worst of the American remake's example and goes for a somewhat dour movie. Shin Godzilla is clearly an attempt to get back to basics and recapture the spirit of 1954's original Godzilla with its serious tone and clear-cut message, and to leave out the outrageous silliness of the later Godzilla films.

The result is, frankly, slow and dull. While the effects on the new Godzilla monster itself are excellent, the film is mostly concerned with Japanese politicians and bureaucrats organising the fight against the monster. You remember how in the old-time Godzilla movies there would always be a scene where our heroes have a conversation in front of a bunch of non-speaking extras in suits and uniforms who are meant to represent the Japanese government? Well, imagine an entire film about those non-speaking extras, and you basically have Shin Godzilla.

There are a couple of interesting points here. A couple. They touch on constitutional issues, like 'does a kaiju count as an aggressor nation for purposes of mobilising the Self Defence Force'? Trouble is, while a question like that might be an interesting exercise for some Japanese legal students down at the pub, it's kind of pointless in a Godzilla movie, because of course they're going to call out the SDF. And there's a serious plot line involving the Japanese defenders trying to find a way to defeat Godzilla before the Americans nuke him. Again, of course the Americans won't actually be allowed to nuke Tokyo, even if the writers have to find the most unlikely way to halt Godzilla's rampage for long enough for a realistic non-nuclear option to be discovered.

Other than that, it hits so many problems with gritty reboots. In attempting to shear Godzilla franchise of its glorious nonsense it ends up dour and colourless but ultimately fails to actually get rid of all the nonsense. In spite of all the obvious thought that has gone into this movie, I think I'd rather have just rewatched 1969's Destroy All Monsters again.

Even if it did have Minilla in it. Ugh, Minilla

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In 1970, Elvis Presley met Richard Nixon. He arranged this simply by turning up and asking to see the president and by basically, you know, being Elvis.

Elvis and Nixon is an enjoyable, low key historical comedy/drama, documenting Elvis' campaign to get into the Oval Office and speculating on what passed between the President and the King. (Nixon had not yet begun recording his meetings, so there's no actual record of what was said.) The handwritten letter that Elvis wrote to Nixon is still around, and we know that Elvis basically wanted to be made a secret Federal Agent so as to save America from hippies.

No, really.

The film works mainly because of excellent performances by the two main actors, Michael Shannon playing Elvis and Kevin Spacey as Nixon. These are damn tricky performances. After all, Elvis and Nixon have to me two of the most imitated men of their time, and yet Shannon and Spacey avoid doing straight out imitation. Yes they keep some of the mannerisms but they're more interested in getting to the humanity of their respective characters. This is very important, because the gap between the public and private faces of celebrities is a key theme of the movie.

It's also a hugely funny movie. It's not a comedy in the sense of being about set-ups and jokes, but about the basic absurdity of the entire situation. Some of the humour comes from the weird way in which two very different and yet very similar forms of power interact, overlap and contradict. Some of the other laughs come from the specific characters of Elvis and Nixon and the different ways in which these two leaders keep their subordinates in line.

Elvis and Nixon is an unusual thing in an American historical movie, steering away from the huge issues and explosions, working on a small scale. Taking place on one day in a handful of locations it nonetheless has an awful lot to say about an event which was not particularly important, and yet which manages to be deeply telling.

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