Elitism and Film Hierarchy

Last week, I won tickets to a free advance screening of I, Frankenstein in Toronto. The theatre was peopled entirely with other contest winners – not one of us paid to see this movie – and yet the two dudes sitting next to me spent the whole movie complaining about how “stupid” it was. A movie they didn’t have to pay for, and yet decided to come down to an advance screening for people who mostly, presumably, did something to win those tickets. And all I could think is where is your sense of fun?

Do I think that I, Frankenstein should sweep the Oscars next year? Should it be recognized as a cultural milestone? No, of course not, but this is completely unfair criteria by which to judge a film. I get really frustrated when people dismiss genre films (sci-fi, horror, fantasy, etc) for failing to be… well, serious. Sure there are the exceptions to that rule, but in general, “geeky” movies aren’t taken seriously by more sombre film critics.

Award-winning films have become so predictable that sociologists have found a way to measure “Oscar bait.” Terms like “family tragedy” and “domestic servant” play well, and obviously these are meant to be the best films of a given year – but does anyone really think that Crash deserved to win? And as much as I adored The King’s Speech, The Social Network is probably going to be more clearly remembered in a decade or two. I feel like a lot of people don’t take these awards too seriously – if I watch at all, it’s for the dresses, not the awards (but that still won’t stop me from screaming if Lupita Nyong’o doesn’t win). But they dominate cultural conversations for a few months every year. Award season is a cultural touchstone where the dark, gritty seriousness of Nolan’s Batman films was apparently deserving of recognition but the fun romp that was The Avengers was mainly overlooked.

I guess the question is whether or not “entertainment” is a noble goal to have when setting out to make a film, and in my book, it is. That doesn’t mean that a purely entertaining film should be free from criticism, but I think that we have to adapt our reference points from film to film; we should judge the success of a film based on its ability to achieve what it sets out to do. I, Frankenstein knows that its audience is here to see some goofy action sequences, so it develops its characters and mythology only to the point that the plot is possible, and puts most of its effort into fight choreography and special effects. Last year’s Pacific Rim was slammed by some for lacking subtlety – but its tagline was “Go Big or Go Extinct,” so it seems to me that the problem with that assessment is with the reviewer, not the film itself.

And you know what these films have in common that is absent from many award-nominated films this year? Minority representation. Pacific Rim, while having one of the most boring white dude protagonists in the history of film, was really about Mako Mori – it’s no 12 Years a Slave in terms of examining race relations, but it has some cultural significance for having a leading lady of colour who isn’t an exoticized caricature. Geek spaces are dominated by white straight male voices, but sub-genres and cult films are havens for minority groups – look at something like Hedwig and the Angry Inch. That film will never be remembered for mainstream appeal, but that doesn’t make it culturally insignificant.

If I go into a horror movie, I want to be scared, and that’s going to be the standard by which I judge the film. I don’t think that all horror movies are worthy of widespread accolade, but I don’t think either that they should be summarily dismissed for not meeting some kind of film standard that’s skewed toward emotionally manipulative dramas. Movies can be art, but they can also be pure entertainment, and not everyone wants to leave a movie theatre feeling like they’ve changed as a person. If goofy action flicks aren’t for you, that’s fine, but don’t put them down because they aren’t Quentin Tarantino movies.

Which, by the way, wouldn’t exist without the B-movies he lovingly imitates.

I’m a film lover because I know the heights that films can hit, in terms of emotional resonance but also in engrossing me in a story. Some of the most engrossing stories are told in faraway galaxies, about people accomplishing the unfeasible. Oscar Wilde once said that life imitates art far more than art imitates life, so give me stories where people beat impossible odds and good prevails, I don’t care if it takes a plothole or two for us to get there.

Looking to the Future: A Panel Discussion on Superhero Films in 2014

I participated in this panel about superhero movies, for those interested. Watch me go off in a completely different direction from the other panelists on 2 of the 3 questions. The fact that I forgot that The Wolverine was a thing this year probably didn’t lend me credence either. OH WELL.

A. A. Omer

I love superheroes and this year was just one giant present filled with costume clad characters. I’ve already counted down and commented on the 5 superhero movies of 2013 over at Paper Droids but while that was about looking back, I decided to look forward.

I got 5 people who love superheroes and superhero movies to discuss the films of 2013 and what that’ll mean in terms of the expectations we’ll have for the 2014 batch. They come from all walks of life. They either reside in the United States or Canada. Some read comics while others haven’t. They do share one thing in common and it’s superheroes on the screen so let’s hear what this panel has to say…

What’s your most anticipated 2014 film and why?

Captain_America_The_Winter_Soldier

Allison O’Toole: 

I can’t confirm that it will happen in 2014, but there seems to be a John Constantine show in development…

View original post 2,361 more words

Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Because it needs to be said: I am a Wes Anderson fan. I don’t think enjoying his films is a case of ‘getting it’ or anything like that, but I can understand why some people wouldn’t like them – he uses the same aesthetic in every film, regardless of settings of time or place. His characters can seem interchangeable from film to film; the adults act like bored children, while the kids are tiny adults.

 

All of that said, something about most of his films really works for me. I love his single aesthetic, and I think it adds to the worlds he creates for every film. His obsessive attention to detail makes his work a visual treat even on repeat viewings; his literary and filmic references are a nice nod for nerds like me, and I find I can relate to most of his characters – even if they are mostly disenchanted rich white guys. So that’s why this weekend, instead of seeing Snow White and the Huntsman or Prometheus, I trekked to the only theatre in Toronto playing it to see Moonrise Kingdom.

The story is simple enough: a small island town is uprooted when two ‘troubled’ 12-year-olds run away from home to start a new life together having fallen in love. Drawn into the search for the young couple are the local deputy (Bruce Willis), runaway Sam’s Scouts master (Edward Norton), young Suzy’s attorney parents (Bill Murray and Frances MacDormand), and child services (personified by Tilda Swinton), called in when Sam’s foster parents no longer wish to care for him.

 

Newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as the star-crossed lovers are fabulous, and perform perfectly within Anderson’s style. Anderson showed in Rushmore that he could get wonderful performances out of young actors, and that ability is on in full form in this film. There are a number of impressive performances out of the many young actors. I had some reservations about how well Bruce Willis would fare within Anderson’s world, but he musters a quiet earnestness that feels right at home. The same can be said for Edward Norton, whose passionate Scouts master is at once pathetic and highly endearing. Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, and Frances MacDormand all do well with their supporting roles, giving their antagonistic characters some sympathetic qualities. Look out for fun cameos from Bob Balaban and Harvey Keitel, as well as regulars Jason Schwartzman and Eric Anderson. (Surprisingly, neither Wilson brother appears).

 

The story of young love against obstacles is not a new one, but it is hard not to get invested in it. What sets this story apart is the world going on beyond the central figures. Comparative little time is spent developing the supporting characters, but we still get a sense of their lives and relationships – in standard Andersonian fashion – through a glimpsed conversation, a casual line of dialogue, or a photo placed on a desk. The relationships, as always, are central, but this film has more action than Anderson’s previous live-action films. Like The Fantastic Mr Fox, Moonrise Kingdom feels like a storybook, perhaps one of the fantasy stories loved by the heroine. Aesthetically, Anderson’s films all resemble ornate dollhouses, this one with pure love at the centre. Even their names, Sam and Suzy, seem picked out of a book for children. There is something reminiscent of Peter Pan and Wendy about the leads in their more childlike moments – they try so hard to be adults, but with so many unhappy adults in their lives, why would they want to grow up? And like a storybook, it ends with a flood, a chase that ends on a rainy rooftop, and softening villains.

Moonrise Kingdom fills the checklist of things to watch out for in a Wes Anderson film; if that won’t get in the way of your enjoyment, and if you’d like to watch a not-so-quiet character comedy about young love and flawed people helping or hindering it, then I highly recommend this film.

Review: The Avengers

I’ll admit upfront that I had huge biases going into this film. I’ve been a huge fan of Joss Whedon’s for years, and I’ve more recently fallen in love with the Marvel movies, so I was predisposed to love it.  I can say that my nerd overrode my film critic, but honestly, I don’t believe you should judge all genres by the same criteria. A good a comedy is not good for the same reason as is a drama, or a horror film, or a romance. They have different requirements, so why do we put down superhero movies as something lesser; why do “good superhero movie” and “good movie” have to be separate labels? A movie like The Dark Knightis more grounded in realism, so it can be more, well, realistic. That was never an option for this movie. So no, I’m not going to say much about the cinematography and the mise-en-scene and the other stuff you’d critique in a Bergman film. It had a good story, characters I was invested in, and was a blast to watch; I think this was a good movie, and I don’t really care if it isn’t “high art.”The plot is simple: Loki, last seen as the hero’s villainous brother in Thor, has come to Earth with the intention to subjugate its population. And, as you know if you’ve seen the previews, he has an army. Loki steals the tesseract (which you may remember as the glowing blue cube in Captain America: The First Avenger), a portal through deep space of unknown power. Faced with this seemingly unbeatable threat, Nick Fury decides to call together Earth’s Mightiest Heroes: Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye. They have to overcome their clashing values and personalities to SAVE THE WORLD.

Joss Whedon manages to do the near impossible: he brings together a group of solo acts and makes them all coexist as one performance, where everyone gets near-equal chances to shine. His action scenes are fun, fresh, and actually surprising. The final act is huge, with a number of memorable action scenes peppered throughout. Amidst those though are a number of brief but powerful character moments. My only qualm is that both Thor and Loki feel slightly off at times; Whedonesque dialogue is perfect for Tony Stark, but occasionally feels awkward coming from the mouths of these “gods.” Still, overall he does very well, even with the Asgardians, and his ability to shift seamlessly between drama, action, and humour is on in full form in this film, and the tone perfectly brings Marvel Comics to life.

The characters are the most important part of this film, and they are all well represented, even if some outshine the others. Surprising to me, the character I most loved was Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk. Ruffalo finally injects some much-needed humour into the character, and with that, comes pathos. Banner was a funny, intelligent, endearing character, but always with the legitimate threat under the surface. Even more impressive though, is the Hulk, created by WETA Digital over motion capture actually performed by Ruffalo, making him the first actor to play both Banner and “the other guy.” Hulk’s first appearance is a scene worthy of a werewolf movie, and after that he too develops a sense of humour and pathos. The midnight crowd at my theatre went wild every time any character turned up on screen, but Hulk got the loudest cheers by far. With both roles, Ruffalo completely steals the show, and I look forward to future Hulk films – something I never thought I’d say.

The strong presence of Scarlet Johansson as the Black Widow was a similarly pleasant surprise. I should have expected this from Joss, but he develops her from her minor role in Iron Man 2, giving hints of her past while still leaving it mainly shrouded in mystery. No, she doesn’t have superpowers to match those of her teammates, but she is unquestionably a capable asset to her team.

Robert Downey Jr is flawless, as usual, as Tony Stark, and unsurprisingly gets his fair share of screen time. He gives the performance we’ve come to expect, balancing humour, vulnerability, and straight badassery. He fits most comfortably into Whedon’s trademark snappy dialogue. I was pleased too to see Gwyneth Paltrow back as Pepper Potts, because Tony Stark really isn’t Tony Stark without her. Other memorable supporting performances are given by Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury, Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, and Clark Gregg as the ever-awesome Agent Phil Coulson, who finally gets the development and screen time the fans have been demanding for him.

For the leader of the team, Chris Evans as Captain America does not get as much dialogue as his teammates. That said, he is more human, I think, than he was in his solo film. Some beautiful comedic and dramatic moments come from his misunderstanding and mistrust of the modern world. He and Tony Stark butt heads immediately, since Tony represents everything that Steve dislikes about the new world. I can’t wait to see the two of them together in future films, as they had great chemistry (as did Downey Jr and Ruffalo).

Hawkeye gets very little development, unfortunately, but Jeremy Renner manages to make Clint Barton memorable and capable, despite just being the guy with the bow. I hope that we get to learn more about him in subsequent films.

Finally, my favourite Avenger, who I really wish had been more present in the film: Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. As the only character with ties to the villain, I wish their relationship had been better explored, and that we had had more than one short scene looking at Thor’s feelings toward Loki’s actions. However, each of his scenes with his brother pack a powerful emotional punch, brief as they are. For his part, Tom Hiddleston is once again in top form as Loki, playing a more manic, malicious, and dangerous version of the character. Gone are his tears and justifications, replaced my evil grins and condescending sarcasm. His one-on-one scenes with each of the Avengers are superb and often chilling, but each is memorable for its own reasons. The scenes with Thor especially reveal that Loki’s insecurities are very much still present, and that he is still motivated by jealousy despite his new cocky posturing. Their dialogue could have used some work, but they did well with what they had.

The action scenes are huge, bigger than anything Marvel has done before. The closely-guarded identity of Loki’s alien army is insignificant, but revealed early in the film. They pose a threat, but not one as large as the mysterious force behind them, revealed in a mid-credit sequence to be a formidable villain from Marvel comics, one who I eagerly await to see in later films. I enjoyed the pace of the film, allowing for ample character development, but I can see how it could feel slow to someone desiring average popcorn fare. If you’re in North America, be sure to stay until the end of the credits for a lovely surprise in Whedon’s usual style.

Overall, this is a fun, heartfelt, fresh superhero film, and the perfect summer blockbuster. While you could watch it without having seen the previous films, it is really worth giving them a watch first, as they make the character moments in this one so much more potent. The Avengers will make you want to go back and watch them now – whether you have seen them before or not.

Preface to My Posts About Lord of the Rings

EDIT: It was brought to my attention that my intention with writing this was maybe not so clear. I’ll talk about this more later, but I am told that when discussing a movie or a book or something that I focus too much on the negative. Friends and family have asked me many times why I can’t “just enjoy” something, and why my positive movie reviews generally have to include a “but…” moment. I analyze things, and in doing so, analyze the negative as well as the positive. In this post, I try to explain why I think about these things the way I do, and to have something to refer back to if it looks like I’m being to hard on something I’ve talked about loving so much.

Firstly, news! The titles and release dates for the movies have been announced! The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is scheduled for release on December 14, 2012. The Hobbit: There and Back Again for December 13, 2013.

Now, a few words of explanation before I begin my journey: some of you may feel, in upcoming reviews, that I am focusing too much on the negative. The reason for this is mainly just that the negative things tend to be fewer and more specific, so they are easier to put into words. If I recorded everything I liked, the post would be endless. Additionally, I just naturally think more critically about movies now than I did when I was 11, when I just accepted movies as they were. As a result, many of the negative things will be things I’ve newly realized, or at least realized toward the end of my 3 year love affair.

Now, by “thinking critically” I mean thinking analytically, not searching for flaws. I think that engaging with a work in this way is important for my kind of fan – the kind who would blog about their favourites, discuss them on message boards, that sort of thing. I don’t mean to imply that those who prefer to accept and enjoy a work as it is are lesser or bad fans. Bad fans are the type who show up on message boards and unquestioningly – and unintellegently – defend their love. You know the type. Here is a dramatic reenactment for example:

The sixth was my least favourite season of Buffy. The “magic drugs” storyline was so transparent as to be insulting, I think Spuffy was destructive for all involved, and don’t even get me started on Dawn.

SCREW YOU!!!!!!11 You are not a fan if you cant see the marvel of the show u dont even deserve to be in it’s presence GTFO

There is no thought in this argument, and it is pointless, because we’re here to generate discussion. A conversation of “OMG ITS SOOOO GOOD” can only go so far. Given the amount of time I spend thinking about pop culture, I have to think about it actively/critically. I can only wonder about plots and such for so long. I admit that I’ve come close to the “blind defense” thing – I absolutely loved this season’s finale of Being Human (UK), and many seem to feel that it was either too short or dragged, that the last scene was cheesy, etc – and my first mental response is usually NO YOU’RE WRONG IT WAS AWESOME >:-( But I can’t exactly deny that the newly introduced “big bad” seems to be the boring archetypal villain that the show has mostly avoided, and that it has drifted from the housemates, their close relationships, and their attempt to Be Human (durr) that defined the show’s first series. On the other end of the spectrum, you get the angry “former” fans, who loved the show/books/movies at the beginning, and now won’t listen to any defense of the later incarnations. I have these tendencies too, occasionally, as my housemates can confirm; the 5th season of Dexter frequently threw me into apoplectic fits because I used to love it so much, and now it’s just… not… good. I generally try (successfully, I hope) to find a sort of middle ground between these two extremes. I believe that real fans don”t blind themselves to a work’s flaws, but recognize them and love the movie/show/book/comic/etc anyway. I love LoTR. I always will. I wouldn’t be writing about it so much if I didn’t. However, yeah, there are some small problems, and I’ll mention them because many will be new to me, and because not to would be boring. I’ll talk about the specific things I like too, but if you feel bogged down by the negative stuff, just picture me enjoying any of the scenes I’m not talking about, probably giggling and clapping my hands.

Speaking of which, check out this picture PJ posted, featuring Galadriel, Gandalf, and Elrond preparing to attack Dol Guldur, Sauron’s lair, “brandishing an array of fearsome Elvish weapons.”

Words cannot adequately explain how happy this picture makes me

This also seems like a good opportunity for a confession: as much as I call myself a fan of the books, I have only read The Hobbit, LoTR, and its appendices. When I initially read everything, I was unaware of the additional material, like Unfinished Tales, and The Silmarillion. I had enough trouble trying to sort out the history I was given as it was, I didn’t need to read extras in that department even when I learned about them. I tried The Silmarillion when I was around 16 (it’s still on my bookshelf, half read), but I guess the magic was mostly lost for me at that point. It was essentially a history textbook; I think it gets more… story-y later in the book, but I never made it that far. As I’ve said, as I got older, I valued character more than plot (and found Silmarillion the opposite), but I had always loved the hobbits, and they were absent from the early history. I mean, I really liked the elves too (I was a 10 year old girl, of course I did), but the hobbits had my heart.

Now, however, it seems like I may need to read them, as PJ is involving in his movies a bunch of the epic stuff from the additional material (mostly from the period between the two more well known stories). I’ll start my negativity by saying that this worries me a teensy bit, and that I hope that the quieter hobbity stuff isn’t overtaken by the huge battles. I also hope that the Hobbit movies’ tones are different from the earlier films. I’m fine if the battles (both those in The Hobbit and from the other stuff) feel a lot like LoTR, but that sense of roots in the Shire should follow Bilbo around, more so than it did the other hobbits. I do think that the scenes we did get in the Shire in the trilogy were well handled (Shore’s music, especially, was just perfection), and if that tone is maintained beyond the initial scenes, I think we will be fine. The Hobbit also has a much better sense of humour than the solemn LoTR books, which is especially evident if you compare the presentation of the Elves in both books. Now, you don’t want to retcon the LoTR movies by having the company’s reception in Rivendell as cheerful and singy as it is in the book, but the Elves certainly don’t need to be all speeches and pursed brows either. However, Stephen Fry has been cast in a human role, and if comedians are playing more than just the hobbits, it seems that humour is not something the film will lack. Hell, Martin Freeman on his own is a funny guy, I can’t wait to see how he brings this character to life.

In conclusion, I’m still really excited over here. I should be starting to read The Hobbit by Thursday, as soon as I finish the book I’m currently reading. I’ll keep you updated.

Movie Pitch: A Modern Reimagining of A Tale of Two Cities

On the heels of my previous post about Hollywood running out of ideas, I learned that several adaptations of Frankenstein are currently in development, along with a number of gritty fairytale reboots. I feel I could cash in on this current trend, so I have decided to pitch a movie to you. I have re-written this with the same reverence and care most screenwriters seem to be giving their source material these days, so calling it a “loose” adaptation is even pushing it. May I present to you, gentle readers, my pitch for a modern re-imagining of A Tale of Two Cities:

Our protagonist is Sydney Carton, a broody, mysterious teenager. He is a man with a secret – perhaps he saw his family killed as a child, as that seems to be a hot topic these days. Or maybe he is a superhero, or a vampire, or a government agent. Maybe he’s Keyser Soze, I don’t know. Specifics can be ironed out later – point is, he is mysterious. Instead of the French Revolution, he is caught up in THE WAR ON DRUGS – or maybe OF DRUGS – in Miami.

Lucie Manette, who shall be renamed Lucia, was born in Mexico. When she was a baby, her American mother was killed by drug lords in a drive by shooting. Her father was arrested soon afterward for connections with the drug cartel – and this combined with his wife’s death drove him crazy. Lucia was then shipped off to her mother’s family in America, where she grows up.

FAST FORWARD about 15 years, Lucia’s father gets out of prison, and comes to live with his daughter. He recovers most of his sanity, and still claims that he was falsely accused, so he and his daughter both loathe the drug cartels. Lucia is attending high school where every boy has a crush on her, including Sydney of course, but she only has eyes for Charles Carlos. Their fathers had known each other in Mexico, and Carlos’ father had also been accused of connections to the drug mob, although he was never thrown in jail. Nonetheless, they are brought together by shared family experiences and are so totally in love.

However, their love is threatened by Carlos’ secret: although in this version, he’s actually the bad guy. Ambiguity in who to root for is confusing, let’s get rid of that. Not only was his father actually involved in the drug cartel, Carlos is starting his own business at the school! He is selling drugs (whichever happens to be a hot topic for mothers closer to the time of the film’s release) to the students at his high school, with hopes of expansion. Sydney knows this, but he can’t tell Lucia, because he knows that she will never believe him without proof. So, he decides to reveal Carlos’ evil ways to Lucia and win her love.

Eventually it turns out that Lucia’s mother had discovered Carlos’ father’s deep involvement in the drug trade, had planned to report him, and was killed as a result. Sydney will reveal this fact, there will probably be a fight involving GUNS, and father and son will go to jail… somehow. Probably American jail too, just for drama’s sake, so we can see them on trial and in prison. With Carlos out of the way, Lucia realizes that she has loved Sydney all along, and (probably in some teary eyed speech about how Carlos hit her) confesses her love. Sydney gets the girl, that’s a much better ending. The immortal “far better thing I do” lines could be applied to his exposing Carlos to Lucia and/or the police. OR there could be a moment where he gets shot, and we think he is going to die, but he lives, it’s fine. A happy ending is imperative.

The love story and drama will attract young women, the drugs and fights will attract young men, and the dealing with hot topics will attract parents. It will be a huge summer blockbuster! We can also call it progressive for putting minorities in major roles. Maybe Sydney Carton can be black, who knows. There’s probably also room for a gay character – Stryver, perhaps? He tries to woo Lucia, because everyone else seems to want to, but she helps him realize his true feelings, and encourages him to come out to his friends and family. She does this because she is the paragon of perfection.

Now sadly, certain characters and events will have to be altered greatly, or cut altogether. The Defarges may become Carlos’ family members, as too many antagonists will be confusing for the general American audience. They can pretend to want to help Lucia’s father make his way in America, but really only want to throw him back under the bus on behalf of Carlos’ father, who is still in Mexico. Miss Pross could become a sassy black nanny or something, maybe she looked after Lucia because her aunt/uncle/cousins wanted little to do with her. Mr Lorry could be a social worker, or maybe Miss Pross’ boyfriend. I haven’t quite worked out his role in this, he may be left on the cutting room floor in the end.

For a director, I’m thinking either McG or DJ Caruso, based on their previous experience with the summer Blockbuster genre. The main cast will be mostly unknowns, I think, this is a good vehicle for young talent. Terry Crews will probably make an appearance, maybe in the as-yet-unnamed Defarge role. Scott Bakula seems father figurey, I think he will play the school’s principal, and will have a personal relationship with each of the teenage protagonists. He might get killed near the end, for drama. Maybe that’s how Sydney avoids death, we’ll see. A recognizable Latino actor will probably play Lucia’s father, and there is always room for another cameo…

So there you have it. I’m sure something will come out soon enough that sounds similar. Just remember that you heard it here first.

Fanboy Confessional: Lord of the Rings and Me

Do you remember Spider Writers and gel pens? I do.
I am planning to start my read-a-thon in a few weeks, probably in the last week of May. I don’t think The Hobbit is going to take me very many days to read. Before I begin talking about myself, some movie updates, for anyone curious: Rob Kazinsky, playing Fili, had to leave the film for “personal reasons” and has been replaced by a Kiwi actor named Dean O’Gorman. So, I hope he is good too. In other news, Lee Pace has been cast as Thranduil. So… movie news! Yay!
My RoTK ticket. First day, baby.
A word of explanation: this post is really about my life, not Lord of the Rings, as such. I’ll mention plot and character details, but what I’m really interested in here is my younger self, things that were once so important to me, and general reminiscing. So if you’re interested in that, read on.

I’ve been talking for a while about my obsession with all things Lord of the Rings, and now is the time for you to see the best representation I can give you of the full extent of that obsession. I am going no holds barred here; you are going to see all of the embarrassing stuff. Sadly, I have no photographic evidence of a few plays I did with my friend Elizabeth. These plays were all adaptations of chapters from our favourite books:  Lucy meets Mr Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (starring me as Mr Tumnus), the lead up to Harry Potter fighting Voldemort in the first book (I was Harry), and the chapter called “Riddles in the Dark” from The Hobbit  – wherein I played Gollum.  For reasons I have since forgotten (secrecy, probably) we referred to them, respectively, as “It,” “That,” and “The.” Sadly, we didn’t record or take pictures, so you will not get to see me, with green face paint and housecoat, riding around on a skateboard in my front hallway. Sorry about that one.

For things you can see pictures of, here is my Folder:
This is a folder made of Rice Krispie boxes and black construction paper, where I keep all of my ticket stubs, magazine clippings, and other things related to LoTR. To start us off, a smaller folder called “Songs & Poems (some internet sites too).” In there are pieces of paper onto which I’ve copied poems and songs from the books and movies. The real gem, however, is a poem about the trilogy that I wrote with my bestie, Mitch. There’s a rough copy, with a signature from a kids’ poet who was visiting our school, and an enigmatic note saying “bring the singing hamster.”  Here is an abridged version of the poem:
By Allison O’Toole and Michelle Eals:

 

The Ring is very small and tiny,
The armour that they use is shiny.
Ents are not trees,
Do not mistake them please!
Merry is sort of twitchy (what does that even mean!??! – ed)
Saruman, you could say, is witchy.
Gollum really, truly, rocks!
You’ll never see him wearing socks
Arwen really wants to marry,
Éowyn wants Aragon too,
But his heart is taken, Boohoo Boohoo
Sadly not in the folder is Leonard Nimoy’s “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.”  Likewise missing is a picture of a Shrinky-dink I made of a screen cap from some hilarious old Flash videos by Legendary Frog that we used to love as well. They’re pretty funny, I’d still recommend them.
Two nerd thing united as one!
Some other gems are letters written to me by Aragorn, courtesy of my friend Carolynn. My mother used to write me letters from fictional characters, and Carolynn witnessed my receiving a love letter from Voldemort. (Mom also sent me an email from Kevin the Backstreet Boy, and I thought it was legitimate, since I didn’t understand the Internet at the time.) The following Monday, Carolynn “delivered” me a letter from Aragorn, on who I had an enormous crush. Hell, he is still a lovely hunk of man. Here are some snippets from our romantic correspondence (in the choppiest paragraph you will ever see, bad English major):
Aragorn regrets missing my 13th birthday at The Rainforest Cafe
He began the first letter by informing me that Gollum was marrying the Ring. He gave me his phone number, 1-800-I-HAVE-TO-SAVE-FRODO-ALL-THE-TIME I sealed my first reply letter with a kiss in my pinkest lipstick, so his next letter was sealed with a blue fingerprint, because “putting on lipstick and kissing it would have been weird.” In one letter (there are 6 in all, 3 from each side), I ask Aragorn if I can see his sword, which current self can’t help but see as euphemism. However, those were more innocent times, and I apparently meant actual sword, as Carolynn Aragorn can’t let me see it, since the cops confiscated it after he poked Frodo in the eye with it – and not for the first time. The second letter contains a list of Aragorn’s family members, including uncles named Tostitos and Takito, and I’m sure there’s an inside joke there that I have since forgotten. Speaking of his family, Aragorn met Carolynn at the dollar store when he was buying Tupperware for his mom. Unfortunately the letters aren’t dated, but it looks like I didn’t respond to one letter very quickly, as I received one with covered in tear drops which look suspiciously like they were drawn on with a blue pen.  My explanation for the lack of response was that I decided to get back together with Voldemort. Since Aragorn was ruining all of Legolas’ shirts by crying all over them, I say he can have them cleaned because “I hear they have a great Laundromat in Rohan.”
Another prize in here is a list of all of the names of people in my grade, and their hobbit names according to a website which is sadly no longer active. I compiled this list painstakingly with my friend Laura, and it’s very organized. We made sure we got everyone, and since there were two grade 6 classes, we colour-coded the names by their class. We then moved on to fictional characters, and laughed for months over the fact that Harry Potter’s name was Minto Danderfluff, because that name is inherently ridiculous.
I could probably turn this into pretty interesting wall paper…
I’ve got a plethora of magazine and newspaper clippings. I set aside each one I could find, as long as it was favourable. That was pretty much all it needed for me to deem it worthy of keeping. Amidst the clippings is my program from the LoTR exhibit in 2002, I believe. They had costumes and set pieces and stuff from the movies, Elizabeth (of “It,” “That,” and “The” fame) and I went with her mom and had a grand old time. I seem to remember us laughing at a picture of an orc in there somewhere, fighting over who would get to have him as a boyfriend. Again, simpler times.
See the huge Ring on the Arwen bookmark? I made that out of Fimo.
I also have a few of the bookmarks they used to sell with the ring at the end of the tassels, as well as a few I made – that weird one at the bottom is made of glitter glue. I used to wear the Ring from my Gollum bookmark on a chain around my neck, and I confess that I still wear it for good luck on occasion. I also still have the Evenstar from my Arwen Halloween costume, and I still wear it sometimes because it’s pretty. In fact, this picture was taken in September 2010…
Stayin’ classy with my costume jewellery
We ripped this off a wall.
We are rebellious nerds.
I don’t have any extant proof of this, but I took lots of personality quizzes, and prided myself on getting Frodo on like every one of them. I think the first few I didn’t quite manipulate, and got the same answer maybe 3 or 4 times naturally, so I started to manipulate the answers to get the answer I wanted. I can’t remember now if the name was a result of these quizzes or the other way around, but I earned the nickname Mr Frodo by the time I turned 11. Mitch, who I’ve mentioned many times, was called Pippin because she is a bit loony, and Pippin was the dumb comic relief in the movies. Our friend Nat was Merry, mainly because she liked him the best. She had an enormous crush on Dominic Monaghan, so we bonded over our LotR crushes which were not on Legolas or Frodo. The three of us all loved the movies, and we had many discussions and antics related to them. Sadly, we lost touch with Nat by the time the LotR musical debuted in Toronto, but Mitch and I went together, and cheered at the passing mention of Tom Bombadil like good little fanboys. We even stole some posters for our bedrooms, and let me tell you, that was an interesting subway ride home.
Mitch and I were both very lucky additionally, to get scripts from The Fellowship of the Ring signed by the cast:
My mom bought it for me for doing well on a speech in class. In retrospect, it was probably the least enthralling of my speeches, but mom loved it because it was on LEADERSHIP, her favourite subject, because she is super business woman. She didn’t mind the movies, but took me to all three of the them, and even let me skip school to see The Return of the King. I was a little bummed that I couldn’t go to see it at midnight in downtown Toronto, but I was 12, so she was probably just exercising good parenting on that decision. And asking her to watch a 3 hour movie she barely cared for independently at midnight was probably asking a little much. So thanks mom for taking a day off work to bring your daughter to a movie! That firmly established you as the coolest in the eyes of my classmates!
My beloved books.
Now, obviously I was quite a fan of the movies, but when it comes right down to it, I am all about the books. I got the books for my 10th birthday. I had purchased The Hobbit a few months before in a gift shop in Stratford, Ontario (where I had seen The Sound of Music) and I adored it, so my parents got me the sequels, of which I think I was mostly unaware. I read Fellowship over that summer and into the fall, and it was a mission, to say the least. I was interested in the story, but the language and style were a bit dense for my newly 10 year old brain. I was less than enchanted, shall we say, by the amount of walking they did. I remember that I had to put it down a few times and come back to it, but somewhere in there I became incredibly invested. I almost finished The Two Towers the day I went to see the Fellowship movie – but before we left, I didn’t get far enough to see that Frodo doesn’t actually die (I’m not going to bother hiding spoilers guys, you’ve had 10 years). I was quite convinced that the story could go on with Sam as the ring bearer, and when Gandalf died in the movie, I knew he would come back, but I teared up a bit in remembrance of Frodo’s death. Thankfully, I finished the book that night and my emotions were calmed. You know, that’s the first book I can remember crying in. Let’s just say it was, for drama’s sake. Anyway, the movie came out in December, so it took about 6 months in total to read the first two books (I don’t remember how long it took, but I definitely did a book report on The Return of the King). But the second time read them (when I was 12), I did it all in about 3 months, so not too shabby. The second time around I knew that there would be interesting stuff amidst the walking and history lessons, so I was captivated.
Pages are literally falling out 😦
In between readings, I think I brought the books with me on vacation, probably for comfort reading. I remember finishing the fifth Harry Potter book on some long car ride, putting it down, then immediately picking up RoTK and trying to spell my name in Dwarf Runes according the appendices. Now, I bring up Harry Potter because in those days they were constantly being compared, despite little to no similarity (although my younger self could have listed for you the ways JK Rowling ripped off Tolkien, things that only someone who had read and loved HP could have known). I really loved the first three Harry Potter books, and they really opened my imagination, but LoTR completely changed my reading habits. By the time I turned 10, HP just didn’t hold the wonder for me that LoTR did, and I started to want more challenging language and plots and characters. Harry Potter helped along the way (The Sorcerer’s Stone may have been the first novel I read by myself), but LoTR was a large contributing factor to my continued love of reading and eventual English majoring. So I made a big show of being antagonistic toward HP because everyone else was comparing them, and the fifth book just happened to solidify my lessening interest. They’re great books, I just sort of grew away from them, and they became representative of the stuff I wasn’t reading anymore. I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed the Narnia books as much if I had read them after LoTR either. Or once I became old enough to interpret the relentless hamfisted allegory therein.
That is some durable lipstick, Mom
Now, having read the books in addition to seeing the movies, I admit that I felt a bit of superiority over my classmates who loved the movies only. I also bonded instantly with other book-readers, who also felt that superiority, and we always made our passion for the books a sort of competition. Other fanboys didn’t think a girl would care about the books as much as she did staring at Legolas (but I was always and Aragorn girl obviously), so I gained their respect and admiration through trivia contests. My killer question was always sword names. Everyone knows Sting, good fans know Narsil and Andúril, big fans know Glamdring – but I knew the name of Éomer’s sword. I remembered the rest of those I just listed, but I had to look the last one up: Gùthwinë. I can proudly say though that it took about 30 seconds for me to find it in the book, and I knew it when I saw it. I’m pretty sure I never really knew how to pronounce it though.
Now finally, let’s look at my books themselves. I didn’t know how to properly take care of books when I was younger, so they’re falling apart and smell like old books, and I wouldn’t have them any other way. My mom, like me, was a fan of Aragorn, and planted a big kiss mark in my copy of The Return of the King. I quickly pointed out to her that she missed his name completely, but insists that she marked it slightly off intentionally. I love this now, but these days she would not get away with that sort of shenanigans.
Mitch, Me, and Nat: Best Hobbits Forever!

A sign of a blossoming English major, I also annotated my copy on the second read through, marking my favourite scenes and passages. One of my favourite things about going through all of this stuff has been just seeing what sort of thing was important to me as a pre-teen. So what in the books did I see as worthy of cataloguing?

In The Hobbit, it seems to be mostly lines that I found amusing, such as “eagles aren’t forks!” as well as Bilbo’s epigrams, which I remember trying (unsuccessfully) to work into everyday conversations. Things like “never laugh at live dragons.” I also book marked “Riddles in the Dark” because I love Gollum. He and Sam were always my favourites, so I marked down the scene in The Two Towers when Gollum, after sneaking away to see Shelob, returns and sees the sleeping hobbits, and briefly recovers his former humanity, so touched is he by the scene. Sam’s first glimpses of Mount Doom and of the stars in the sky over Mordor are also noted. He isn’t the only hobbit who gets love though: Pippin challenging the ruffian in Hobbiton and generally being bad ass was also one of my favourite parts. And of course, nearly all of the poems and songs (many of which I still have memorized, by the way) are marked as well.
Did you know that Arwen once had braces?
Or that she hung out with Anne of Green Gables, Dark Helmet, and P!NK?
As you can see, I’ve had some good times due to Lord of the Rings, and I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if I had never come in contact with the books or movies. Again, they were a big contributing factor to my English majoriness, since (especially in retrospect) I could see what an impact literature can have on one’s life. I look forward to beginning to read the books again, and once I do, I’ll be blogging more about the books and movies themselves than my own life, but don’t expect that aspect to disappear completely.

Okay, That’s It, Hollywood Has Run Out of Ideas.

Alright, so this may be old news to some of you, but I’ve recently learned they’re making a new Three Stooges movie and an adaptation of Milton’s Paradise Lost. I am baffled as to why anyone thought that either of these would be a good idea.

Let’s look at the Three Stooges vehicle first. While I can think of a plethora of reasons this shouldn’t happen, there are two major problems in my eyes: 1) the Stooges were unique personas created by specific guys and 2) the sense of humour present in most films these days is quite different from that of their time.

First off, I understand that all characters are uniquely created by the actors and writers, but it’s not like we’re talking about a new Othello or Batman. The Stooges were intrinsically connected with the actors playing them; this would be like remaking a Marx Brothers movie, or a movie based on an old SNL character, like Mango or the Church Lady or Roseanne Roseannadanna. It could still be funny, maybe, but without the original actor, the character is hollow. When it comes to comedic characters especially, the actor’s voice, face, and body are so important to the character’s success. So while Will Sasso looks kind of like Curly…

Well, he’s got the bald thing working for him…

Sean “Jack from Will & Grace” Hayes is not who I have in mind when I picture Larry. And apparently Larry David is playing a nun? These guys could either do their best impressions of the Stooges we know and love, or they could take the characters in new directions, which seems kind of pointless to me. This isn’t Hamlet, these characters weren’t made to be portrayed and interpreted different ways. Although, now that I think about it, a gritty reboot of the Stooges could be so bad as to be hilarious…

The other major issue is just that the humour of the old Stooges films isn’t quite what puts bums in seats today. I don’t mean to say that they aren’t funny anymore, but The Hangover they ain’t. I can’t imagine the Stooges with the raunchy adult humour in most financial successes these days. Maybe this is going to be a kids’ film; they are less likely to have come in contact with the original trio, and most kids think that guys getting hit with things is funny, right? But with the Farrelly Brothers, the minds behind Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary, and Shallow Hal, behind the helm, I assume they’re going more for the former style. I’m incredibly curious to see where this is going, but I can’t imagine myself paying to see it when I could just watch the originals.

The second abomination in the works is an adaptation of John Milton’s 17th century epic, Paradise Lost. Brockway over at Cracked did a funny article yesterday, postulatuing a hypothetical situation that could have lead to the creation of such a film. The story could be adapted into a breathtaking epic (in the literal sense) film, with today’s special effects rendering realistic angels and demons. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see this in action?

Bad ass engraving by Gustave Dore

But this kind of action makes up only part of the story. Along with the battle in Heaven and the descriptions of Hell and Sin and Death, there are idyllic scenes with Adam and Even in Eden, and conversations between God and His Son. The battles are wicked, but it’s the psychology, spirituality, and philosophy which make this poem so interesting (that and Milton’s style, which obviously can’t be translated into film). Even non-Christians have been able to read and appreciate the poem for these virtues. But, unsurprisingly, according to IMDb this movie will be “An action-heavy take on the epic poem centered on the war in heaven between archangels Michael and Lucifer.” The very fact that he is called Lucifer and not Satan means that they’ll be focussing on the War in Heaven, which is given one of ten books in the poem. In this (admittedly 4-year old) article from the New York Times, the source material seems to be given little to no respect. The screenwriters said that “someone was gonna make a movie about it some day, why not us?” They also claim that it was written in Old English (it’s in modern English), that their main foreseen obstacle in getting it made was the “nudity problem” in Eden, and that “it is a war movie at the end of the day.” Their main choices to play Satan, the most interesting character in the story, were Heath Ledger and Daniel Craig.

Today, Bradley Cooper is reportedly in talks for the role. I can start to understand why you would want to romcom hunk – he is very charming. But that’s where his appropriateness ends. Satan is generally the most discussed character in the poem. He is excessively proud, but charismatic and a master rhetorician. Through his power of speech, he is able to convince other angels to rebel, and then the same demons to covertly attack humanity. The Romantics praised him as a tragic hero, brought down by his hubris. Cooper could play charming and arrogant, sure, but I don’t think I would buy him as such a compelling speaker. I had a hard time buying him as a confident asshole in Limitless, and that’s the character he seems to play 90% of the time. In a proper adaptation, I would want Alan Rickman or Jeremy Irons for the role – just imagine either of their voices delivering Satan’s most famous lines: “The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.” or “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Aw yeah.

Pictured: NOT Bradley bloody Cooper

Now, I understand this isn’t Milton’s Paradise Lost, and in adapting it for film, the creators are allowed some artistic license. However, they do have a duty to the source material to get the essence of the work right, or they’re basically making fan fiction. There are many cases of movies and books being hugely different, but still good: look at The Shining or Frankenstein. In both cases, the essence and main themes of the book were left intact. The latter changed the characters drastically, but a scary movie warning of the dangers of testing the moral limits of science was made. King was unhappy with Kubrick’s adaptation of his work, but fans love the end product, and it is still one of the scariest movies in history. If the creators of this Paradise Lost cannot touch on every single aspect of philosophy or morality that Milton did, that is fine, but it would be nice if they touched on some of them. A nuanced film could be made even of just the War in Heaven, reflecting the inevitable fall of the proud and overconfident, and the danger of rhetoric and persuasive speech when it is not carefully analyzed…

…from the director of such gems as I, Robot and Knowing.

Yep, this is in good hands.


Frankenblog Part Two: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO

Hi again. I meant to post this last night, but there were obviously more important things going on. I’m hoping to have a more regular posting schedule in the coming weeks, rather than week long breaks between posts. Stupid school. Anyway, before we begin, look at this picture my friend Naomi made for me!
BFFs ❤
I love this picture, because it looks like it would be taken in one of those photo booths at the mall. The inspiration for it was my “Frankenfest” a few weeks ago, when I watched 4 films with “Frankenstein” in the title in 24 hours. This marathon also inspired today’s post, about those movies.
Now, countless movies, books, comics, plays, and songs have been based on or inspired by Mary Shelley’s classic tale, but the dominant image of Frankenstein’s Monster will always be Boris Karloff in James Whale’s 1931 film.
I have now (proudly?) seen all 6 of the movies Universal Studios made prominently featuring the Monster, and the sequels are hilarious and fun, but today I’ll mainly be looking at Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). This post will be taking a different approach than the last, and will be more of a comparison. Many, maybe even most film critics and connoisseurs believe that Bride surpasses its predecessor. Now, I know a little bit about film – I took an “Intro to” course in first year, and I’ve read a bit about the subject, but I don’t pretend to be an expert. Perhaps Bride is the superior film, but I prefer the original, and that’s what I plan to talk about today. Unfortunately, by nature a comparison like this could sound like I have something against the sequel, but let me assure you that I don’t. I could explain why I’ll generally choose pie over cake, but I still love cake. Cake rocks, I just enjoy pie a little more.
I dressed as the Bride for Halloween because I love her. I think it turned out well.
Frankenstein (1931)
For those of you who haven’t seen this (and are seriously missing out, my friend), the basics are probably pretty clear: mad scientist makes a man from dead tissue, Monster goes on rampage, villagers give chase with torches and pitchforks, it all ends in the windmill. I’m going to assume that even if you haven’t seen the film, you know enough about the plot that I probably can’t spoil anything, so I’ll proceed with that assumption.
The mood for the whole film is fantastic, and is set right away with the creepy graveyard with the statue of death – into whose face Frankenstein lobs dirt. This is the perfect example of why black and white filming just works better sometimes, especially in horror. Hitchcock chose to make Psycho in B&W because it makes everything seem shadowy, and real shadows seem more tangible. Add to that the graininess you’ll get just from age and the whole world of the film seems to be under some kind of menacing cloud. The lack of score is also effective for mood, I think, although some prefer Bride because it has a score, but I’ll talk more about that later. The famous “It’s alive!” scene is orchestrated only by thunder, and to tremendous effect. The audience’s proper introduction to the Monster is also eerily silent – I can only imagine it with a big, kitschy, ‘30s orchestrated score when he turns around, going DUUH-DUUUUUUHNNNNNN! That would be hilarious. But what we do get is Karloff’s creepy shuffle followed by a great reveal of Jack Pierce’s superb make up. With dull, lifeless eyes, he seems terrifying initially, but the following scene makes it more than clear that he should be pitied rather than feared. The scene where he tries to capture the rays of light is just tragic. He gets scarier once he starts killing people, but they’re all either self defence or accidental. His make-up, sounds, and general physique are frightening, which is why he is such an iconic monster even today, but there’s a reason that his name is frequently associated with the term “misunderstood.” 

While Karloff is undoubtedly fantastic, he is not the only one in the movie. Colin Clive, as Frankenstein is most impressive when he is playing crazy. He seems wooden and apprehensive when he is playing the romantic scenes with Elizabeth, but in his earlier scenes, there’s something of a Norman Bates about him. I am quite enthusiastic about his performance in the scene where he finally gives his creature life, as evidenced by several quotes typed out in all caps, the most famous of which is the controversial “By God, now I know what it feels like to God!” In the ‘30s, this line unsurprisingly caused a stir, and Clive delivers it perfectly. His “IT’S ALIVE!” passed into cliché, but seeing it now, it is just as convincing and chilling as it was when it first played. Bride has no moments of crazed intensity, he just mopes and whines a lot, which is far less fun.
As Frankenstein’s assistant, Fritz, Dwight Frye puts his famous stage whisper to good use in a small but memorable role. Frye was in a number of other Universal films, including Bride of Frankenstein, but his best role was indisputably that of Renfield in Tod Browning’s Dracula. He had played the role on Broadway along with Lugosi, and I would argue that his unnerving performance is as large a reason as Lugosi’s for the film’s success. In Frankenstein he plays the hunchback, not called Igor, who provides most of the film’s comic relief. He gets spooked by thunder and classroom skeletons and rambles as much as he speaks. The rest of the comedy in the film comes from Henry’s father, the Baron Frankenstein, played by Frederick Kerr. He’s basically just a stuffy old man, but when isn’t that funny? Edward Van Sloan, as Dr Waldman, essentially reprises his role as Dr Van Helsing, but he does a good job as the “voice of reason” for Frankenstein – until he is killed, of course. Mae Clarke’s Elizabeth is unimpressive by today’s standards, but she is serviceable when compared to Valerie Hobson in the sequel.
One of the more general things I love about this movie is the sense of the characters having off-screen lives. The first time we see Frankenstein’s fiancée Elizabeth, she is talking to his best friend, bafflingly named Victor (in the book, Frankenstein’s first name is Victor, his best friend is Henry Clerval, and his family’s servant is called Justine Moritz. In the movie we get Henry Frankenstein and Victor Moritz. I don’t know why). Victor proclaims that he would “go to the end of the Earth” for Elizabeth, when she says “I wish you wouldn’t.” Intimations of a past (or hell, present) affair are further enforced when we see Frankenstein’s reactions to both of them when they go to see him. As he is preparing to do his final experiment, he commands Victor to sit down several times, then gently asks Elizabeth to do the same. Watching it for my 5th or so time, I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching some kind of dick measuring contest. It seemed to me that Frankenstein is aware that there is something between his friend and his lover and wants to remind Victor that he won’t put up with it. In addition to this slice of life, we get glimpses of the villagers and the servants. There is even a sampling of their class structure, when Baron Frankenstein won’t let his servants drink his nicest wine. All of this combined makes a world which feels much more real and vibrant.
Now, many prefer Bride because it had a bigger budget, more lavish sets, better filmic quality, great special effects, and a score, not to mention Dr Pretorius, Minnie the maid, and the Bride herself. It’s also got more funny scenes and the plot is a little… more than the first. More happens, is what I’m saying. These are all good things, and perhaps it is the better film, but I just enjoy the original more. Let’s start with the positives, shall we? For starters, I just love Dr Pretorius. He is flamboyant and hilarious, and very creepy when he’s lit from below. His gaunt features make him an odd looking guy to begin with, add his pomposity and dandy-esque mannerisms, you get a wonderfully fun villain, a precursor to Jeremy Irons’ Scar in The Lion King. He steals nearly every scene he’s in, although even he can’t compete with his tiny creatures. The effects are absolutely phenomenal, and the personalities given to each of the people in the jars make the whole scene just delightful.

On the subject of effects, the “it’s alive” scene in this film is even bigger and louder than the first time around, a tendency with sequels that continues to this day. It looks like they amped up the electrical/sciencey looking machines, and the sound of a beating heart provides the background noise, underneath the machines. However, add to those a love theme score, and you get something rather… inappropriate. Another Monster is about to be created, and the melody that plays in the same one used at the end when Henry and Elizabeth escape. The music for the Bride should be much more ominous, I feel – even if we had seen the Monster waiting expectantly for his mate, the love theme would have made sense, but I found it so distracting. However, the score in other places (particularly when the villagers chase the Monster through the forest, and the use of the “Ave Maria” in the hermit scenes) is very effective. The Monster’s make-up though, while still impressive is less frightening in the sequel. His eyes are more aware, and his cheeks less gaunt. He is still unmistakably the Monster we know and love, but he is not nearly as unnerving.

So hopefully I have made it clear that I do love this film and have huge respect for it – I dressed as the Bride for Halloween, after all – but I do have some issues. One of the biggest is the decision to give the Monster speaking abilities. Obviously, everyone realized that was a problem, since he loses that ability after Bride and never regains it. It does make him seem pathetic and childlike, since he can only speak in simplistic sentences, and I admit that his cries of “Friend?” and “She hate me!” do get sympathetic noises out of me, but I realize how much more I am being manipulated this time around. In the original, it’s up to Karloff to make the Monster sympathetic through gesture and expression, but now he sounds like a five year old, and it’s practically being shoved down our throats that we’re supposed to sympathize with him. I find it harder to sympathize though, since the death toll in this movie is higher and more senseless than in Frankenstein. The Monster kills Fritz and Waldman in self defence, and a little girl by accident, thinking she will float. He scares Elizabeth, but does her no real harm. He starts Bride by killing the dead girl’s parents for no reason, and later throws Karl off the roof. The audience knows that Karl killed someone, but the Monster, presumably doesn’t, and he just chucks him off the roof for – what? Getting in his way? He ends the movie by killing himself, Pretorius (okay, bad guy), the Bride, and presumably the other criminal working for Pretorius who was still on the roof. So why did the Bride need to die? She has been harmless, she got scared and looked to Frankenstein for help, showing no signs of aggression. She has a non-criminal brain, and looks human for the most part – she probably could have gotten away with faking humanity. You could argue that she is an abomination, I guess, but she didn’t really need to die.
Now, I would be remiss not to mention the other Universal sequels at this point. They become increasingly silly and reliant on having the Monster fight one of the other monsters, usually the Wolf Man. They’re ridiculous movies, but fun nonetheless, and prove that making endless sequels for money is no new thing in Hollywood. Henry Frankenstein does not return after Bride and the rest usually involve someone searching for his journal or records, which make me hope that the Monster in the book burned the diary along with himself. One of the highlights of the sequels is the addition of a character called Ygor, played by Bela Lugosi. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but he’s actually not the “Igor” in the public consciousness. Lugosi’s Ygor is a murdering blacksmith who befriends the creature and uses him to get revenge on the men who condemned him to hang. Ygor survived a hanging, so his neck is broken, but he is not a hunchback. His first appearance is in the third film, Son of Frankenstein, and he is the highlight of the film, as he is both menacing and funny, while the Monster (the final time Karloff played the role) is sort of periphery and less threatening.
I’ve actually tried to figure out where the Igor stereotype originated, but the earliest example of a hunchbacked lab assistant by that name that I can find is in Mel Brooks’ brilliant Young Frankenstein. The first hunchback in a lab seems to be a brief glimpse in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Fritz, in the first Frankenstein fits the bill, but the name is wrong. It seems like Young Frankenstein would have been spoofing an existing stereotype though, so who knows where it started. Either way, that film is absolutely brilliant, whether or not you’ve seen the source material. It is obviously funnier when you get the joke, but there is enough absurdist humour to make it funny on its own. If I haven’t convinced you to see the Whale films, check out the parody, it’s just as good.
So I hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings about Frankenstein, I bet many of you are surprised that anyone could think about it this much. But I am good at overanalyzing stuff like this. Here’s one more picture of my costume so you can see my hair better (also I just love this picture), this time I am joined by Lieutenant Uhura and Party Cat.

"A naked American man stole my balloons" An American Werewolf in London

No matter how many times I see this movie, I will never grow tired of it. I’m going to write this with only a few minor spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it yet, maybe I can convince you to do so.

If you are a fan of horror or comedy, especially that of the late ’70s/early ’80s, this movie is necessary viewing. The film was written and directed by John Landis, the man behind The Blues BrothersAnimal House, Coming to America, and others. As such, while it is most assuredly a horror movie, it is hilarious. I can’t think of any other horror film which so successfully blends horror and comedy. I guess Shaun of the Dead does, but I’d say it is more comedy than horror.

Let’s start out with the technical stuff. The soundtrack is great, and swings more toward the comedy aspects. Landis chose only songs with the word “moon” in the title, leading to some great, appropriate music (the scene with “Moondance” is particularly effective), as well as moments of juxtaposition (like the transformation scene and the ending). The camera work has its moments of glory, such as David’s dream sequences (which I like to call “naked running montages”), when the camera takes on the POV of the wolf running through the forest. The camera often subs in for the werewolf, so that the audience sees the characters’ reactions to the monster, and the audience must fill in the horror with their imaginations. The low shots are particularly effective in the scene in the tube station, making the hallways look too long and claustrophobic.The script gets a bit melodramatic at times, as does the acting; however, the comedy scenes are fabulously written and acted, and make up for the few slips in the dramatic bits. There are, however, some effective dramatic scenes as well, and there is a particularly sweet scene in a phone booth, which I won’t spoil.

The audience can immediately feel the bromance between the protagonists, and their conversations are always fun to watch because they seem so natural. The Brits are well represented too, with a capable love interest, and a stiff doctor as the skeptic trying to get to the bottom of the werewolf nonsense. The supporting cast is full of memorable smaller parts – the guys in the pub, the detectives (especially the incompetent one), Frank Oz’s cameo as an American ambassador – and they all add to the film.

The humour is one of the things that separates this from other horror films, because the movie never loses it; there are constant jokes and gags against the dark and gruesome scenes. Don’t judge me if you haven’t seen it yet, but there are a few scenes with a porno film that are just hilarious. Those scenes also feature some of the best dark humour in the film, from situation and dialogue. This is the only horror movie that makes me laugh as much as it raises my heart rate, and all of the humour is intentional, unlike some cheesy-thus-hilarious horror movies.

Not just hilarious, as we would expect from John Landis, this movie is scary – it is a horror movie at heart. This movie understands how to use gore. It uses blood pretty liberally at times, but always for a purpose. With a few notable exceptions, we just get snippets of gore – a bloody severed hand on the ground, and that only for an instant. When it does get gory, it isn’t always just to be frightening. The scene in the hospital room (you know which one I’m talking about if you’ve seen it) uses gore liberally to evoke a sense of the uncanny. Everything is nearly normal – the characters act like their normal selves – but there’s something a bit off, and the gore is there to keep you feeling that eeriness. You can’t get used to it, because you can’t take your eyes off of that little flap of skin… I’ll stop here lest I spoil any more, although I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the scene in the tube station, which is one of the most intense chase scenes I have ever seen.

On top of all of that, you’ve got basically the best werewolf transformation scenes in cinema history. The Oscars invented a category for make up effects that year to award Rick Baker, the make up genius behind the movie. He just won his seventh Oscar for that godawful Wolfman  remake, wherein his talents were underused, and he worked on the Cantina scene in Star Wars. So a pretty accomplished guy. He used puppet and make up to make this excruciatingly long and painful transformation which is still impressive today. You actually get that feeling of “how did they do that” which is so rare now, unless you can understand the computer programs used to create CG effects. You know how nerds (like me) complain about CGI these days? It’s because of movies like this. (Here is an example of his effects, but it’s pretty gory, I don’t want to scare anyone who’s squeamish).

I guess I should admit now that I have a soft spot for werewolf movies, mainly because they tend to consolidate antagonist and protagonist. What’s more frightening than realizing that you are the villain, in a not-split-personality kind of way? These days, you’ll see many tortured vampires with guilty pasts as protagonists, but those movies tend to have evil vamps as well, and the broody vampire is the good guy who has to fight them. Werewolf movies like this one are a bit more ambiguous, I guess. He’s a sort of Jekyll/Hyde figure, where you know that the werewolf isn’t technically the “human” character you see the rest of the time, but that character is still violently killing people at some point in the movie. So what do you do about that? If evil is the nice guy next door, that’s scary – you find yourself questioning or not trusting other people. But if evil is YOU… How do you deal with that? It all becomes very morally ambiguous, and I love that.

I love good werewolf movies, and I’d say that this is the best one I’ve ever seen. Check it out.