Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Dracula (2020) Netflix series by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss

Spoilers galore.

This version of Dracula can be lauded for playing with all the tropes and original story elements in new and surprising ways. As a three part series, each 90 minutes, there is plenty of time to horrify, shock and surprise even someone like me who is sort of a fan of Vampire lore. What the show does best is it takes some barely touched on sections of the Stoker Novel and expands them into a new main story. The first past takes place in the convent where Johnathan Harker is recovering... well recovering is not the right word in this version. In the novel he just spends some time there and then goes home to his fiancé. In this version, he is basically dead and turning into a vampire after having been feasted non by Dracula and then "killing himself" but jumping off the castle tower and into the river below. The set up is very much like the original story and then takes this turn into batshit craziness. He does not survive the first episode.  Sister Agatha, Agatha VanHelsing we find out is questioning him until Mina stakes him and Dracula arrives to collect Johnathan? It's not really clear why he is there but it works.

The second part starts with the good sister and Dracula playing chess and him explain to her how he survived on so few people while travelling from his home to Britain on the ship "The Demeter" which before a bloody game of "ten little Indians"  as the passengers and crew are quickly used for food and become suspicious, not of Dracula, but of the mysterious guest in room 9 who no one sees. As it turns out, it's Agatha who's chess game with the count is in their minds as he uses her for a steady food source. She does get the better of him as they try and hang her killing the missing crew when she spit blood at the vampire and his true nature is exposed. The episode is not fast moving but I thought it was effective and again, it's turned a detail in the novel into a main story. It ends in the most crazy way possible. The ship is blown up, Agatha drowns and Dracula hides in a remaining coffin on the ocean floor until he walks to shore where he is met by a helicopter, military looking personnel and... Agatha?

So now in modern day the end of the series pits Dracula against the ancestor of VanHelsing who has him imprisoned in a high security vampire facility. Well not all that secure, and thesis where the series starts to fall apart, as Dracula is somehow allowed to go free because... the law? Plus Zowie the new VanHelsing manages to just take a vile of vampire blood and drink it for... reasons. She is dying of cancer, but it doesn't help with that. It does let her communicate with the count in some sort of dreamworld. Meanwhile the Count Dracula falls for an egotistical millennial chick who let him feed of her for the eventual gift of eternal life. She gets her wish in the worst way as when she dies and is laid to rest... she get cremated, something Dracula didn't know was a "thing" in this new era and she escape, but is quite the gory mess. Up to this point the story is getting messier but it is still interesting and it remains that way, mostly due the excellent performances of Claes Bang (Dracula) and Dolly Wells (VanHelsing). The ending, to me a least, was a big letdown. Dracula throughout has been an unfeeling monster. Cold, cruel, inhuman. Seriously, he deserved to go out with bang and be punished for his actions, but instead he drinks the blood of Zowie which is poisonous to him after she reveals he ashamed of his immortal existence and most of his mutation, including being burnt by the sun are mostly self imposed.  It's a let down. When VanHelsing tears down the curtains in the vampires penthouse exposing him to the light he should have exploded in the rays of the sun, or suffered in some way that punished centuries of unforgivable behaviour. Nope, they lie in each other's dying arms in the light of the sun.... WTF?

Should you see it? I would say yes because it's pretty great until the last five minutes. there is much to recommend about the the majority of it. It is a shame the ending just doesn't live up to lead up.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Klaus (2019) Directed by Sergio Pablos

This Christmas story produced for Netflix and featuring a leap forward in 2D animation might just be the thing that gets studios back into 2D animated movies. Disney's last attempt was "The Princess and the Frog" and while that film was AMAZING, it just couldn't push the ball to the top of the hill and beat the slew of 3D animated films that were taking over animation everywhere. Well, not quite everywhere. TV and independent filmmakers still were and are harnessing the magic that hand drawn animation can bring to a movie and I think while not wildly promoted like Pixar and Disney films, they lurked in the background reminding us that animation is more than one thing.

In comes Klaus, a sort of re-imagining of the Santa Claus legend with stupendous visuals and a story that really walks the line between light and dark in a way I haven't seen in a "children's" film before. It even give the late Jim Henson a run for his money in that regard. the story of never-do-well rich kid who is shipped the worst place on earth to teach him a lesson is fairly standard the stuff. It's the details that make this story stand out.

This project first released a teaser trailer in April 2015, 4 year's before it's release and all those years of work show in the final product. the backgrounds are beautiful and the characters have a depth to them not seen in even the most famous of Disney productions. Things changed from the teaser and previews, including the lead character's voice and the cutting of a series of gags where the postman keeps getting snow dumped on him while trying to make his rounds to the less than friendly population. Those cuts were a shame because they were fully animated and quite funny but I won't second guess the writer/director's choices in the final edit because the finished movie works so damn well.

This is one of the best and innovative animated films to be released in a long time. For an animator like myself, it's inspiring.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Old Man and the Sea (animation) 2000 directed by Alexander Petrov

If you have never seen anything by Alexander Petrov, this is a good starting point. his work is simply amazing. Done by painting with oils on glass - erasing and repainting sections for each frame to give the impression of movement - this painstaking technique truly looks like paintings come to life.

The short documentary below explain his work and process.

Personally this sort of work proves that no matter how advanced CGI becomes, it is not the be all end all of animation. Frame by frame, done by hand Petrov's work transcend mere technical achievement and moves animation into the real of fine art.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Bohemian Rhapsody 2018 directed by Brian Singer (mostly)

This is an entertaining film, that is certain. What it isn't is a good bio film of the band Queen or it's lead singer Freddie Mercury. I am no Queen expert and didn't follow the career or life of Mercury but even I could pick out the many timeline shifts and fudging of the facts in this film.

Most, if not all bio-pics, are full of inaccuracies, condensed time lines and merged characters - it's part of making a life into a 2 hour movie. This movie plays loose with the facts but in ways that really feel disingenuous to even a casual viewer. Everything comes easy to Queen, Mercury shows up, sings a minute and is the band's lead singer from then on. Songs magically get written and no one seems to need to learn instruments or practice. The film is a by the numbers drama that in many ways could have been about any band with the exception of the inclusion of Queen-centric trivia.

Performances are all good but Rami Malek runs away with his portrayal of Mercury. Even if it sounds like he is channeling Tim Curry in Rocky Horror at points, the sheer charisma of Malek in the role  captivates you throughout. It's a shame that plot points that should have been an acting tour de force are cut short or glossed over. The portrayal of Queen's lead singer is far too confident and surface ( I would say this is a script problem over and not an acting one). The editing of the film is a mess, in my opinion. There is an obvious effort to cut it in a way that made it easier to remove sections that might be controversial in other markets. A huge part of the film is spent on the relationship between Mercury and his seemingly mostly platonic girlfriend and very little with the guy who was with him until his untimely death. In fact, we learn very little about anyone and come away remembering the painstakingly reconstructed Live Aid concert at the end more than anything personal about the band and those in it. That concert was at points fun and at other points an overly ambitious CGI recreation that resembled a video game scene insert over the filming of a real event.

Then there are - the teeth. We all might remember Freddie Mercury's teeth were not great but the way the fake teeth extend Rami's upper lip makes him look like an extra in the original Planet of the Apes movie. (Thanks to my friend Keamy for that little description.)

So overall, this movie is lightly entertaining but far from enlightening. Good performances are wasted with by the numbers plot points and accuracy was jettisoned for mundane mendacity. It might be an easy film to watch, but Queen and the it's story deserves better.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Invisible Man (1933) directed by James Whales

This first film version of the H.G. Wells novel is true to the source material in most regards and gave audiences of the time a visual treat in terms of special effects. It is both funny and horrifying at the same time as the main character slips not just further into madness from the drugs that made him invisible but he also becomes violent and cruel.

While a film well worth watching, it does has its problems - some of them coming directly from the novel. The invisible man is in the book and movie - a total douche bag. I read the book again recently and watched the film just this past week for comparison. Wells' mad scientist is pretty much a horrible jerk and terrible person throughout while Whales' version is supposed to be more sympathetic. But he isn't. He has a fiancee in the screen version and she and her father inexplicably try to protect him throughout. We never see couple together until the death scene at the very end and the dialogue about him before he mysteriously left to work on his experiments seems to strongly suggest that while the invisibility drugs made him mad, he was a jerk long before he took them. Not to mention they are protecting a man who has killed over one hundred people over the course of the screenplay! Including a co-worker who of the father who was the a friend of the daughter! It is really impossible to fee anything but relief when he dies at the end with his fiancee by his side. We also never see him, literally, until he dies so it's hard to make any sort of connection with him.

Apart from the plot and character issues I had, the opening shot is amazing and the effects still work. There was a lot more care and skill put into the invisible effects than in the following sequels and the supporting cast is mostly humorous which makes it seem extra cruel when the invisible man kills some of them without a thought. As in pretty much all the Universal horror classics, the look of the invisible man is the one we all know and is the default representation of the character to this day.

It is easy to see how this film became a classic and it was pretty risky to make such an unlikable character as the main focus of the story. Oh, and if that theme music seem really familiar it was reused in the Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon series, which sort of adds an unintended camp flavour to it here.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

My book has been released!

My book of short stories, Indifference: Short stories by No One in Particular is no for sale on Amazon! There is a Kindle and a paperback version.

These stories are based on earlier versions and notes about various things that have been lying around since the late 80s and through the mid 90s as well as some screenplays turned into short stories.

The subject matter does have an 80s punk/new wave feel to them and the humour is a little... odd, as some might say. I have spent almost two years putting this together so if you are a copy and make every person you have ever seen in the entirety of your life buy one as well. If you like it, please write stunning review and rate it so it has a chance of others finding it. If you don't like, we need never speak of it again.

I do not have any social media accounts, so feel free to tell people on Facebook, Instagram etc about it. To be honest I have no idea how to promote this thing other than what I am doing here, right now.

Amazon paperback: 9.99$ USD
Kindle: 7.55$ USd

Friday, November 1, 2019

Missing Link (2019) directed by Chris Butler

Budget 100 Million $
Box Office 24.7 Million $

Laika is one of the most innovative and high quality animation studios out there. They have not yet fallen into the sequel trap or remaking old ideas that other studios have these days. Original stories are hard to come by, animated films with original stories even harder. I have seem all their films to date and they are all beautiful, intelligent and well worth watching, buying and throwing your support behind.

Rant over. For now.

A hunter of mythical beasts, Sir Lionel Frost has not had much luck convincing the "Society of Great Men" to accept him into their club. Not because he isn't finding what is looking for, but more because he keeps messing up on the bringing back proof part. His latest subject is the Sasquatch - who has sent him a letter asking him to help him find his "cousins" the abominable snowmen in the Himalayas. This sets off the leader of the club who absolutely rejects any suggestion that evolution is a thing and makes a bet, one he is sure Frost will loose, of allowing entrance to the club on proof the creature exists. When he is told it does... he does everything in his power, including trying to kill Frost to make sure the news never gets out.

The characters, the animation and story are charming. The sasquatch is really funny, adorable and relatable. The set pieces are amazing, like in all Laika films, beautiful executed and they bring you into the world created. The romantic interest turns out to be less interested in romance than in having her own adventures and the creature brings out a side of Frost he never knew he had. The villains are pretty nasty, one is a crazy killer killer and the main one will stop at nothing to keep his worldview intact.  Well children will like parts of this, it's squarely aimed at teenagers and adults I would say.

This is not a perfect film to be sure but it's amazing, fun and wonderful and certainly worthy of your attention and support. If we want to get original films and not cookie cutter remakes, supporting this sort of movie is essential simply because it's a good movie, if for nothing else,.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Wolfman (1941) directed byGeorge Waggner

Part of the original classic Universal Horror series of films, the Wolfman is an iconic film from that era. Larry Talbot returns to his home town after his brother's death, meets a pretty girl, get introduced of the local legend of a man who turns into a wolf and quickly gets attacked by one and acquires that trait.

If you haven't seen this movie in a long time you might want to revisit it. It's probably not exactly how you remember it. Many aspects of werewolves we take for granted now are not in the movie or in a form that is very different from what is taken to be "true" legends. A fascinating thing about this movie is much of the lore in it was made up completely for the movie by the screenwriter and some of the more famous elements you might expect are missing, having been added in sequels to the film.

Two examples:
The little poem recited thought the film:
Even  man who is pure at heart and says his prayers at might; may become a wold when the wolfs bane blooms and autumn moon is bright. 

No mention of the full moon. That came in later movies. It is mentioned that the transformation takes place several times  a year but the full moon is mentioned as the cause.

The werewolf is not killed by a silver bullet. In fact, silver bullets are not mentioned. Both werewolves we see are beaten to death by the same silver headed cane.

Most of the cast is great, Maria Ousenskaya, Bela Lugosi, Claude rains are fantastic. Lon Chaney Jr is pretty terrible, though. You have to give him credit for sitting for up to 6 hours in makeup for the transformation, but he is not the actor his dad was. The effects are pretty good, the wolfman make up has become iconic and for good reason. The exterior sets are just so-so, you know are in a studio. The interiors are much better.

This film is.... not good overall - can you say that about such a classic? The editing is really inconsistent. No matter what Talbot is wearing when is becomes the werewolf, he is next seen an outfit we only see when he is in full make up. Does the werewolf make a fashion choice to change clothes before going out on each killing spree? Larry Talbot is a creep, spying on the romantic interest who is already engaged to a nice guy and pursues her anyway. The first time we see a werewolf... its just a wolf, but when Chaney transforms he is a different creature entirely. The dead Talbot brother's death is never fleshed out - he just died and both his father and brother seem pretty nonplussed about it.

Should you see it? Even after that last paragraph I would say yes. Parts are cringe worthy, but it is a classic and the makeup alone is worth seeing for yourself in action. The blu-ray restoration is excellent and the 180,000$ budget was put mostly to good use. In any case, it's MUCH better than the  2010 remake!

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Twilight Zone is 60 years old!

It's the 60th anniversary of the Twilight Zone TV show this year and it's another show I can not believe I did not think of before when doing this icons series. Rod Serling is a personal hero of mine, as much as I have heroes. Not just his writing and creativity, but his moral and intellectual stances are all things we should strive to integrate into our lives. His war experiences coloured everything he did afterword and he suffered that trauma by being a better person and giving us fantastic art with messages we can still learn from.

I tried to give the items in the illustration a glow, similar to what we would see on out black and white TV when I originally watched the show.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

L'aigle à deux têtes (1948) directed by Jean Cocteau

This film was based on the play, also written by jean Cocteau and was based very loosely on the deaths of Ludwig the second of Bavaria and Empress Elisabeth of Austria.


A queen whose king has died has kept her faced veiled in public for a decade life is changed and given a rather morbid direction when an anarchistic poet enters her chamber with the intention to kill her. She falls immediately in love with him, mostly because he a dead ringer for her dead husband but also because he is played by Jean Marias- Who wouldn't fall in love him?

Political intrigue ensues but there is a fatality about their love they can't escape. The queen states quite plainly they will be each other's demise at the start. She embraces this idea more than we think as, at the end, she angers the poet enough to stab her while he has taken poison to save her from political ruin. She thanks him for the knife in the back as she dies.

While not as sumptuous in style as Cocteau's more well know films, this film looks beautiful, not in small part because of the beauty of its stars - Edwidge Feuilliére and Jean Marias. Both are fantastic in  their roles and the cinematography shows off the countryside and castle sets in the best light possible. The story moves along a decent pace, taking time to build the characters that are both iconic and real feeling at the time.

A nice rare behind the scenes shot.