Oprah Movie Club Pick for August: Bride of Frankenstein

1935 comedy

Rating: 17/20

Plot: This filmed version of Mary Shelley's lesser-known sequel to her horror classic is about a monster's search for love and friendship. A perverse evil scientist who dines in tombs for some reason dreams of stitching together the titular bride for the big guy while he stumbles around and works on his social skills.

There's no way that I saw this as the brilliant black comedy that it is the first time I watched it way back when I was a kid. It seems like a daring decision by the Universal people--making a comedic sequel to their successful film based on classic literature. It works so well though. The movie still has scenes that create ominous moods and are borderline creepy. I like how the various castle rooms look, and the mist-drenched cemetery is a great set despite Karloff stumbling around and knocking over obviously fake statues. I also really liked the climactic "She lives!" scene, the stormy montage that shows off all that scientific equipment, a couple kites, and odd-angled close-ups of the two doctors' faces. And Dr. Preposterous says cool things like "Raise the cosmic diffuser!" [Note: If I ever write another song, that'll be it's title.] during that scene. I just love the look of this movie so much--each and every gnarled tree, cobweb, shadow, slimy step, gray fog blanket, and stone wall. There's also a scene where an old woman dummy is thrown into some water while a bemused fake owl looks on. I liked the owl the first time they showed it blinking, but I fell in love with it the second time. It's actually the most realistic animal in this movie other than the very real sheep; a lone fake bat looked like a elementary school student's art project.

But directly after the first shot--a wonderful zoom that leads the viewer into a mansion where the trio of British Romantic authors are hamming it up--the tone is tongue-and-cheek. Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) really overdoes things here, trilling those R's like he thinks it will help him get in Mary Shelley's pants or something. The montage that gives necessary the necessary background of the first story is really cool, some shockingly beautiful imagery there. And then we meet Millie who, if this was a straight horror flick, would singlehandedly ruin the entire experience. Millie's played by Una O'Connor, and she's a character who, during her initial scene where she's digging on some fire, you just know is not going to stick around the movie very long. What the hell is she doing with her voice in these early scenes? Or her eyes? It might just be because this is a Frankenstein movie, but she really reminded me of Marty Feldman. There's a moment where she tells another character to cross herself before walking out of the picture for what you just know has to be the last time since no director in his right mind would put this actress in multiple scenes in this movie, and I'm not sure how she didn't pull a muscle doing it. She crossed herself like she thought it would help her get in Lord Byron's pants or something. But then, the viewer discovers that Millie is a real character, like the sixth or seventh one on the cast of characters. She just keeps finding her way into every scene. There's one scene where she "washes her hands" of the monster stuff and leaves only to randomly pop up and start screaming in the next scene where they carry a body in. Millie's freakin' ubiquitous! And annoying, almost in a good way. And suddenly, there's a big chase scene with a lynch mob armed with sticks and wooden rakes, and there's Millie again, all ready to cackle and be louder than everybody else. I do like how she says "burgomaster" though.

Millie's not the only goofy character. I couldn't stop laughing at Dr. Pretorius's antics. And I love how he said "tissues" during the "You think I'm mad?" scene after he showed Henry his little people in bottles. What the hell's going on there? Let's have the mad scientist show off his little people in bottles and then suggest to Henry Frankenstein that they do something completely different from that. And I loved how Henry didn't seem amused, interested, surprised, or really anything while looking at the little people. I bet Dr. Pretorius was a little disappointed in that. I wouldn't mind having my own little ballerina in a bottle, by the way, and I'm adding it to my Christmas list. I also liked how Ernest Thesiger's Pretorius said "wizard," and his toast "to a new world of gods and monsters" is something I'm going to steal if there's ever an opportunity for me to make a toast. Henry's expression after that toast is priceless. "What? I ain't drinking to that!" You just know that Dr. Pretorius can't be trusted. For one, he's a total pervert. You know he's only interested in making a bride for the monster so that he can watch them do it. Now I'm not saying I wouldn't do the same thing if I had a laboratory like that and a couple of kites, but there's just something wrong with using science to create your own elaborate pornography. His creepiest line: "I hope her bones are firm." I'm not sure it's the words there as much as it is Thesiger's delivery. Pretorius also has Gene Wilder's hair. Oh, you also can't trust Pretorius because you catch him in a fib in this movie. He tells Frankenstein that alcohol (I think gin) is his only weakness and later tells the monster that cigars are his only weakness. You're not fooling me, Dr. Pretorius.

Of course, Karloff gets to play the funniest character. Every single scene in which he tries to interact with other characters is just hilarious, all grunting and awkward arm waving. The scene with the blind hermit shifts from touching to comic and back again. The monster learns the word "bread" and then takes a giant bite which disappears about three seconds later. And wine? You show me a human being who can watch the monster drink without laughing. And then smoking? This blind hermit is certainly a bad influence on the monster. There's a great bit of comedy when a couple lost guy's walk into right before the blind hermit and Frankenstein's monster are about to make love. One of the guy's says, "He isn't human! Frankenstein made him out of dead bodies! The hermit says, "This is my friend," and the other guy responds with, "Can't you see? Oh. . ." What's with Frankenstein's vocabulary, by the way? He seems to learn words awfully quickly, doesn't he? I fully expected the big guy to say, "Do you have bolts on your nipples or are you just happy to see me?" when he meets his bride. She's terrific by the way with all those jerky motions. The camera angles capture the titular bride's sexy charms, and I enjoyed watching the doctors raise her table up with her in that form-fitting gauze. And that hair! The meeting between monster and mate actually reminded me of when I met my wife:

Guy monster: Friend?
Girl monster: (bird squelch noise...head jerks)
Guy monster: Friend? (weird hand motions)
Girl monster: (screaming)
Guy monster: She hate me.
Girl monster: (a lovely wet hissing noise)

Who puts a self-destruct "leever" in their laboratory anyway? That seemed like a poor choice.

One more thing--the music in this is really too much, but I liked it anyway. It gives simple moments this grandiose theatrical feel, like the rising notes when Dr. Pretorius's shadow comes into the room after we first meet him. There are a few moments where the music almost seems inappropriate though, most memorably during the scene where Pretorius is giving the monster some wine in the tomb while they're checking out some bones. That, friends, is not a euphemism.

Barry picked this classic horror-comedy for us to watch, so you can thank him. I'm glad he did because it had been a very long time for me.

Shane Reviews the Greatest Movies Ever Made: Rules of the Game

1939 Renoir movie

Rating: 18/20

Plot: It's nearly identical to Porky's actually. A bunch of horny rich people and some equally horny servants shoot at some rabbits and sneak around in an effort to get to--I think--second base with other horny rich people's spouses. Don't quote me on this, but I'm pretty sure second base was the only base you were allowed to get to in the 1930s. Meanwhile, a guy with thin eyebrows shows off his instrument, somebody puts on a bear suit, a coat is borrowed,

I'm making it my goal to make a board game out of this movie. If a Welcome Back, Kotter board game once existed (It did.), why not a The Rules of the Game game? I just want to give people the opportunity to say, "Let's go over the rules of The Rules of the Game the Game."

This is the first in my series of movies from the Sight and Sound Greatest Freakin' Movies of All Time list. It seems that anything in the top ten should be perfect, and to avoid ridicule from more knowledgeable movie bloggers, I'm going to go ahead and slap a 20/20 on this mo-fo. [Edit: I have since changed my mind. This movie, being a little boring, was no 20/20. Bring on the ridicule if you must.] However, a perfect movie should be, well, perfect. And I thought of a way to improve The Rules of the Game, therefore making it less than perfect. My suggestion: Add Rocky Balboa--in color, of course--but make him Hobbit-sized. If you can't figure out how that would enhance The Rules of the Game, you're not smart enough to even read my blog, and I don't necessarily mean that as an insult.

I don't think I get the cultural significance of this movie, and I'm missing a lot of context. But in this movie, this little conversation happens:

"Put an end to this farce!"
"Which one?"

And I can appreciate the sophisticated madness happening on screen. There are so many characters trying to either kill or boink each other during a climactic party scene that it was almost maddening. And speaking of that party scene, the French bourgeoisie sure know how to throw down. They also "gay up" hunting in a way that would make any warm-blooded man who owns an orange vest completely uncomfortable. But that party? You get bear costumes, dancing ghosts with wire umbrellas (I think they, with the dancing skeleton man, came straight out of The Karate Kid), and a guy showing off a bitchin' calliope. This movie's really less about the story and more a weapon to satirize rich French people in the 30s. And for people like me who aren't smart enough to fully appreciate that, it can be all about the style. There's some incredible people choreography, especially in a couple hallway scenes with people coming in and out of their rooms with instruments and tossed pillows. It's an intricate dance and a real joy to watch. The party scene with wavering lights and characters running off at just the right times--right before the guy with the creepy eyebrows shows off his organ--is another brilliantly choreographed scene. It's all pretty revolutionary for the late-30s. Renoir often draws our attention to characters in the foreground while having something else happening in the background, sometimes through windows, or sometimes shifting the camera to another character or conversation. It reminds me of both Altman and Wes Anderson, in that order. Back to that guy's eyebrows though. I think I'm going to have nightmares about those. He might be the best character though. He gets a few memorable lines including, "I'm suffering and I hate it." I also liked the scenes at the hunt, especially one lingering shot of a poor dying rabbit with a twitching tail and his paws drawn to his chest. I should probably spend more time thinking about parallels between the hunting scenes and the film's dark climax.

When this movie opened, somebody caught a newspaper on fire and tried to burn down the theater because he hated it so much. I'm willing to bet it was because of a fight scene during the party which might be the worst fight scene ever committed to film. That, or it's because the French are snooty. I never once wanted to burn anything while watching this movie although I didn't think I was liking it all that much for the first half an hour. However, this sophisticated little soap opera really just kept growing and growing on me until it became my favorite movie ever with dead rabbits and a man in a bear costume. Plus, it inspired the aforementioned board game. And by the way--if you're ever invited to play this game, make sure you bring some condoms and groom your eyebrows beforehand. You just never know.

Next up in the Shane Reviews the Greatest Movies Ever Made series: One of my top five favorite movies and #1 on the Sight and Sound list--Vertigo.

The Love Bug

1968 car race comedy

Rating: 17/20 (Jen: 18/20 [slept through most of the movie], Dylan: 14/20; Emma: 18/20; Abbey: 16/20)

Plot: Down-on-his-luck race car driver Jim Douglas is tricked into purchasing an anthropomorphized Volkswagon Beetle. He paints a racing stripe and a number on it and starts winning races. Shipoopi! The car dealer attempts to first buy the car back and later sabotage the titular bug, and Jim finds himself in a climactic two-day road race to hold onto his little round friend. And no, I'm not calling Buddy Hackett little or round.

Disney's the main problem with this one. With the Disney folk behind the wheel (pun intended) of this production, there's no chance we'd get to see a naked Michele Lee or Buddy Hackett which is really unfortunate. This is the movie that made me fall in love with the incorrigible Hackett as a kid. I like all the performances though. In fact, there was a time in my young life that I wanted to be Dean Jones more than I wanted to be Harrison Ford. David Tomlinson, with perhaps a better agent, could have been one of the greats. He's a great comic villain here though.
Joe Flynn, another Disney regular, is his usually bumbling fun self, and Benson Fong early in my life that [censored because of racial insensitivity]. And Hackett's character is so cool here, this sort of Zen mechanic with a great name--Tennessee Steinmetz--talking about how kelp aerates the liver or how he befriends claw machines or how one can unscrew the inscrutable. I almost wanted to come here and type up how this is the greatest car racing movie of all time, but my heart wouldn't have been in it. I will say with complete sincerity that has one of my favorite scores of all time although I'm saying that while only remembering the theme music and its variations. Watch this movie and you just can't stop whistling that thing. It does sound as dated as the scene with hippies ("We're all prisoners, chicky baby. We all locked in.") seems though. I was amazed even as a kid with how much of a character they made Herbie, and that's without any cheesy special effects to make him frown or laugh like he's in Pixar's Cars or something. It's done with camera angles and lighting, director Stevenson and his cinematographer taking advantage of the Volkswagon's unique curves and features to humanize the vehicle. It's genius. Herbie's attempted suicide--a scene which almost seems too ridiculous now that I type that--was a real downer. But no, this isn't a depressing movie about a suicidal punch buggy. This is a lighthearted family comedy, and the gags are unpredictable and funny, especially a scene featuring a bear which my family really enjoyed. Not Jennifer, of course. She was asleep. It's too bad for her because when we watch Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, she won't even understand what's going on.

This was the last live action feature that Walt Disney authorized, by the way. Well, unless his frozen head is somehow still running things.


2002 parody

Rating: 14/20

Rating: Sorority girl Carolyn is forced to train the titular special needs athlete for the upcoming Olympics. She annoys her sisters, her boyfriend, and her family by falling for him.

This was recommended by somebody based on my love for Harold and Maude, and it really does seem like my type of movie. It took me a while to figure out what this even was--the soap opera acting, the terrible music, dialogue that couldn't be this bad unless somebody worked hard to make it this bad.

Pumpkin: Carolyn, why does the moon change?
Carolyn: I really don't know, Pumpkin. I'll try to find out for you, OK?

But wait just a second! That's it! Somebody wrote this like an after-school special written by a team of mentally-challenged people intentionally, and once you
figure that out, the satire does deliver. And I did laugh a few times. A bite out of a McDonald's cheeseburger made me laugh because of how it ruined a tender moment so greasily, and I loved a discovery that some really cheesy music was non-incidental. I also enjoyed the "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt" singalong, a reaction during a party crashing, a car crashing, the collapse of a poetry teacher, a Long Beach Tech meal, and an opening ceremony featuring sombreros and cowboy hats. Oh, and there's a Belle and Sebastian montage, something else that gives away that these people are in no way serious. Parts of this do seem to drag a little bit, and I imagine the film's style would be off-putting for most people. And it just doesn't feel completely complete, like something's missing. Or maybe it's that the movie goes too far without going far enough. I think you'd know what I mean here if you've seen this. Anyway, an interesting concluding bit of dialogue and final shot are good. This movie isn't nearly as good as Harold and Maude, but it's not going to be a complete waste of your time if you like that sort of movie.

Jurassic Park

1993 dinosaur movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: An old guy uses science to make some real walking and breathing dinosaurs, just like Walt Disney did with Abraham Lincoln and a bunch of other presidents for his Hall of Presidents. And like Disney, the old guy's got plans to make billions of dollars by opening up an amusement park where guests can feed llamas to a T-Rex or ride on a Bronchiosaurus. And no, I'm not even sure if there is such dinosaur as a Bronchiosaurus, but it looks right. Somebody told me that T-Rexes aren't even real dinosaurs anymore, but I think paleontologists are just looking for something to do and rearranging bones.

First, I like that poster. It's simple yet iconic. Second, let me tell you a little story that you won't really care about. It's important though because aside from giving this a bonus point for wacky Jeff Goldblum, I'm giving this a bonus point for what occurred in this story I'm going to tell you. My lovely wife and I saw this in a theater in Knoxville, I think, and we both liked it. When we were back home again in Indiana for a break, it was playing at the lovely, bat-infested theater. Admission was two bucks, the experience was grand on the big screen, and we decided we would go see it again. I asked my brother to tag along, and he refused, presumably because the movie cost too much money to make. We said, "Come on, Mark. It's giant dinosaurs eating lawyers and chasing annoying children!" but he still refused. It was an opportunity to see a flick in the Indiana and maybe have a wild animal bite at you while you get to spend some time with family, but still, he just wasn't interested. I'm not sure if he's seen the movie since then. Big budgets and the needs for blockbusters are difficult things to overcome some times, but this has enough story, some scenes with just exquisite suspense, and a few solid performances to make it a very good movie. And this breaks the world's record for the most Richard Attenboroughs on the screen at the same time which is something. I really like the dinosaurs, the best thing about them being that I can't tell which ones are giant animatronic things ("Are these characters auto-erotica?") and which ones are made with computers. The brachiosaur look a bit rubbery, but all the dinosaurs beat those silly-looking apes in the new Planet of the Apes movie. And that T-Rex looks so good when we finally get to see him, although it is in dark and rainy circumstances. That scene has so much gradually-building dramatic tension that it keeps you on the edge of your seat even after you've already seen this. And then you see the T-Rex in the daylight, and he doesn't look bad at all. Of course, some big bad movie music has to pop up during that T-Rex scene, and that made me roll my eyes. Things were so perfect when it was just dinosaur grumbling and squelchy steps in the mud. I don't need big movie music to feel something. But at least Spielberg does something interesting with all the money he uses to make movies. Speaking of that, I'm pretty sure Jeff Goldblum is animatronic at times here, too. He's got an almost deplorable excess of personality, but as always, he's fun to watch. My favorite moment in the entire movie is when he sees a dinosaur and grabs his own nipple. I wonder if that, and all his stammered uh's, is scripted or if he's just improvising. Wayne Knight (Hello, Newman) is too wacky to be in this movie. His curly hair is too distracting, but his demise is another perfectly suspenseful moment. Neither Sam Neill or Laura Dern get in the way, even they turn into action heroes. A scene where Neill imitates a brachiosaur confused me though. I saw a guy at the zoo doing that with a lion once, but you'd think a scientist would know better. The weakest links are the children. I have a theory that Spielberg has a facility, probably in the basement of his mansion, where he stores the same types of children to use in his movies. I'm sure Drew Barrymore will write about it in a memoir one day. I did like when one said, "That dinosaur doesn't look very scary. He looks like a six-foot turkey," and is handled well by Neill's character who references his intestines being spilled. I wish Spielberg would have had the balls to kill them both. Actually, in my version of this movie, all the human characters would have died, a penultimate scene would have featured two dinosaurs jumping up and giving each other a reptilian high five, and a meteor would have hit the island killing all the creatures. That's a twist that would make M. Night Shamalamadingdong shit his pants.

The Corpse Bride

2005 animated love story

Rating: 14/20 (Becky: 18/20; Jen: 11/20 [slept through most of the movie]; Dylan: 11/20; Emma: 13/20; Abbey: 17/20)

Plot: Betrothed Victor and Victoria run into problems when the clumsy groom-to-be botches his lines during a wedding rehearsal. He retreats to the forest to work on his vows and accidentally marries the titular dead woman. Oh, snap! It's a weird love triangle.

This isn't a bad movie, but it's not exactly one that I connect with. I like the animation. A butterfly at the beginning is just showing off. A bird bunch, animated hair, a veil, billowing dust and smoke, tears, raindrops on windows. There are some really neat animated details, stuff that I'm not sure I've seen in stop animation before. I also really liked the way the camera moves through the miniature world, and the characters, though almost a little too strange and stylized, have these great facial expressions that give them a richness and personality. My favorite scenes are the ones in the land of the dead, a place which seems a lot livelier than the land of the living. Although I suppose that's the point. There's some fun visual humor and silly bits of darkness in those scenes though. Dependable Danny Elfman's incidental music is great, but the songs with lyrics mostly just pass the time. Yep, it's another musical for Family Movie Night. The plot's pretty thin here, and the movie would have been way too short without the songs. Ultimately, I want to like this one more than I actually do. There's just something missing, and I have trouble putting my finger on what it is.

Captain America: The First Avenger

2011 history lesson

Rating: 15/20

Plot: It's the exact same plot as this movie actually.

Either I'm in a really good mood or Captain America: Full Sequence is the best of these pre-Avengers Marvel movies. As always, I went into this knowing nothing of the titular superhero. Like the rest of these superhero movies, this does a fine job of explaining Captain America's origins. It's a lot like the other superhero origin stories, but I really like how the protagonist becomes no more than a goofy propaganda symbol before he runs off doing remarkable things. And the makers of this really nail it with the stage shows and posters and things. They also nail 1940's America which looks stylized and cool, straight out of a comic maybe. The bad guys are the same ones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Nazis with an interest in the occult, although there could have been a better bad guy than Red Skull Man. The special effects are mostly fine although there is a scene where Captain America, right after he gets his powers and starts dressing like a flag, runs in a way that makes Superman's running in the original Christopher Reeve movie look normal. It's the newly-Superheroed Rubbery Blubbery Leg Syndrome, I guess. I don't know much about Chris Evans, the guy who plays Mr. America here, but he also played Fire Man in the Fantastic Four movie. I'll have to watch that one, I suppose, just in case they're in the Avengers movie. Speaking of those guys. Fire Man, The Rock, Ice Surfer. Who else is there? But I digress. I liked Chris Evans as the hero here. I also liked Tommy Lee Jones who seems to do his best work when grumpy. This is the type of movie that a true patriot, such as myself, would have trouble not enjoying. I mean, watching this red white and blue guy sneaking around in such a dopey superhero costume with the most conspicuous prop ever? What's not to like there? How come I didn't read about any of this in my 8th grade American history class?

I was pretty sure that this contained some inaccuracies and thought I'd do a bit of research to get things right and not offend comic book aficionados who might stumble in and read this. So I looked up the bad guy's name. Red Skull really was his name! I just have to assume I'm right about the rest of this stuff, too.

The Times of Harvey Milk

1984 documentary

Rating: 17/20

Plot: The assassination of Harvey Milk by that coward Dan White.

OK, so this is about more than the assassination. The assassination bookends the story, but the bulk of this is about the life and political career of the titular gay guy, and it's absolutely impossible to watch this and not think one thing: Aside from his sexual proclivities, which for reasons that I'll never understand really bother some people, the world could use a lot more Harvey Milks. At least more people just as caring and compassionate. The leadership skills displayed in this documentary are inspiring, and what he was able to accomplish in less than a year really makes you wonder why more can't get done by other politicians. I was surprised that this was made so soon after the assassination. Six years? Is that right? I'm guessing it helped the story have a wider reach and enough steam to reach Sean Penn. I wasn't very old when this happened, so I'm not sure if this was a big news story nationally. To be honest, I think I first heard of Harvey Milk when the Sean Penn movie came out. I had a wild range of emotions while watching this one. The recording of Milk reading from his will was chillingly prescient with Milk "knowing that I could be assassinated at any time." After the murder and the court case, I was as angry as I've ever been watching a documentary about something that happened over thirty years ago. I had to pause the dvd, go outside, and throw a rock through the window of a Radio Shack. And of course there was the shock in finding out that it was junk food that really drove Dan White to do what he did. And the candlelight vigil brought tears to my eyes, partially because I don't like seeing people sad en masse but also because of the amount of support for, I assume, what Milk represented. And what did he represent? I guess that would be hope since the movie ends with Milk saying that life isn't worth living without it. This is a well-built and moving documentary that everybody should watch.