Tag Archives: columns

Ben’s Column: Deerskin (2020) Movie Review

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Deerskin (2020)

Premise: A man’s obsession with his designer deerskin jacket causes him to blow his life savings and turn to crime.

It’s a tale as old as time: man buys a secondhand deerskin jacket. Man falls in love with said jacket and begins talking to it as if it’s a real person. Man begins converting his entire wardrobe to 100% deerskin. Man’s jacket tells him that it’s so great that it wants to be the only jacket left in the entire world. Continue reading

Movie Review: Vivarium (2020)

Vivarium (2020)

Premise: A young couple looking for the perfect home find themselves trapped in a mysterious labyrinth-like neighborhood of identical houses.

In concept, Vivarium (Latin for “place for life”) has all the makings of a mind-bending sci-fi thriller that should be rich with character development and social commentary. The film features an ominous set design showcasing an empty and endless housing development in which the film’s protagonists become trapped. It’s an idyllic, yet monstrous prison of suburbia and the only inkling of hope they have toward being released is to raise a bizarre alien child that appears in a box on the street.
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Ben’s Column: The Midnight Gospel (2020) Season One Review

The Midnight Gospel (2020)

Premise: Clancy, a spacecaster with a malfunctioning multiverse simulator who leaves the comfort of his home to interview beings living in dying worlds.

It’s hard to imagine what TV’s cartoon landscape (outside of Fox’s primetime lineup) would look like today without Cartoon Network’s already-classic Adventure Time. The show may not have been the first cartoon aimed at children that adults could appreciate, but was one of the longest-running and most unique offerings, thanks in no small part to the vision of its creator, Pendleton Ward. Ward left the critically acclaimed show after the fifth season and has now returned on Netflix with The Midnight Gospel, a nuttier, decidedly more adult-friendly version of what he started at Adventure Time. While the two shows share nothing in common beyond a colorful aesthetic, it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider them in the same universe, so to speak. Continue reading

Movie Review: Son of Frankenstein (1939) – Universal Classic Monsters 8

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Premise: One of the sons of Frankenstein finds his father’s monster in a coma and revives him, only to find out he is controlled by Ygor who is bent on revenge.

Son of Frankenstein finds Baron Wolf Von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) traveling to the village in which his father’s monster wreaked havoc many years after the tragic events transpired. The young baron brings his bride Elsa (Josephine Hutchinson) and son Peter (Donnie Dunagan) to the Frankenstein castle where Wolf is set to collect his inheritance. In the village, the Frankensteins are met with hostility while, in the castle, the Frankenstein patriarch faces off with the heavy shadow of his father’s legacy.
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Movie Review: Dracula’s Daughter (1936) – Universal Classic Monsters 7

Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

Premise: Hungarian countess Marya Zaleska seeks the aid of a noted psychiatrist, hoping to free herself of a mysterious evil influence.

The Universal Monsters’ second direct sequel, 1936’s Dracula’s Daughter, takes a different approach than Bride of Frankenstein before it. Like Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula’s Daughter begins immediately after the events of its predecessor. However, there is no retconning to be found here. Dracula is dead. Long live Dracula. This sequel examines the fallout of the events of the first film through Van Helsing’s (Edward Van Sloan) interactions with the law and the introduction of Hungarian countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), who is seemingly possessed by the re-deceased Dracula.
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Movie Review: Werewolf of London (1935) – Universal Classic Monsters 6

Werewolf of London (1935)

Premise: The juice of a rare Tibetan flower is the only thing that keeps Dr. Glendon from turning into a werewolf during a full moon.

Though it underperformed commercially compared to the success of The Wolf Man six years later, 1935’s Werewolf of London has the distinction of helping to create much of the mythology that is still associated with werewolves today. Prior to the film, transforming into a werewolf involved witchcraft, did not involve a full moon, and bites were not transformative to humans. Thus the legacy of Werewolf of London is indelible even if the film itself is slightly uneven and muddled with too many protagonists.
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Ben’s Column: Trolls World Tour (2020) Movie Review

Trolls World Tour (2020)

Premise: Poppy and Branch discover that they are but one of six different Troll tribes scattered over six different lands devoted to six different kinds of music: Funk, Country, Techno, Classical, Pop and Rock. Their world is about to get a lot bigger and a whole lot louder.

Dreamworks Animation made history by adapting to the rapidly changing circumstances of the novel coronavirus and, instead of postponing its release of Trolls World Tour, the studio gambled by making the film the first to forego any kind of theatrical release by dropping it for home viewing on the same day it was scheduled to hit the cinemas. The strategy honestly makes perfect sense for a family-friendly film like this: rather than wrangling the kids, finding a babysitter for the siblings that are too young, shelling out major dollars for marked-up snacks, and all the other hassles associated with taking kids to a movie, families can sit down and watch the film at their own leisure, even having the luxury of pausing for a bathroom break. Just make sure your home internet connection isn’t more reliable than that of yours truly. Continue reading

Ben’s Column: Blow the Man Down (2020) Movie Review

3.5 stars

Blow the Man Down (2020)

Premise: Mary Beth and Priscilla Connolly attempt to cover up a gruesome run-in with a dangerous man. To conceal their crime, the sisters must go deep into the criminal underbelly of their hometown, uncovering the town’s darkest secrets.. Continue reading

Movie Review: Bride of Frankenstein (1935) – Universal Classic Monsters 5

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Premise: Mary Shelley reveals the main characters of her novel survived: Dr. Frankenstein, goaded by an even madder scientist, builds his monster a mate.

The first direct sequel in the Universal Classic Monsters chronology is also the final one to be helmed by James Whale (after Frankenstein and The Invisible Man). Bride of Frankenstein is replete with themes of creation and destruction amidst subtext involving identity politics, nature vs nurture, and a healthy of dose of homosexual undercurrents thrown in for good measure. The film builds upon what was previously established in Frankenstein by introducing a more menacing mad scientist character and further humanizing Boris Karloff’s monster. It also pays homage to the woman who created the monster and brings some light religious commentary to the forefront as well.
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Movie Review: The Invisible Man (1933) – Universal Classic Monsters 4

The Invisible Man (1933)

Premise: A scientist finds a way of becoming invisible, but in doing so, he becomes murderously insane.

A man enters an inn, demands privacy, and works tirelessly at mysterious experiments. He’s isolated, agitated, and slowly growing more and more insane. Also, he’s invisible. The Invisible Man is the mind-blowing journey of a man overcome with the conflicting feelings of the power he has gained and the longing to come back to the one he loves. It’s a mad scientist motif that drives a narrative more and more toward an ending that may not be as redemptive or emotionally satisfying as one might expect. With a powerful lead performance by Claude Rains and spectacular visual effects, The Invisible Man leans into its mad scientist’s descent as it leads to a thrilling conclusion.
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Movie Review: The Mummy (1932) – Universal Classic Monsters 3

The Mummy (1932)

Premise: A resurrected Egyptian mummy stalks a beautiful woman he believes to be the reincarnation of his lover and bride.

A year after making his mark as the monster in Frankenstein, Boris Karloff cemented his icon status with his portrayal of Imhotep in 1932’s The Mummy. Despite having a plot that is heavily borrowed from Dracula, The Mummy showcases Karloff’s strength and range as an actor behind it. The film also features an exotic Egyptian locale and set design that is noticeably different from the Gothic horror of Dracula or the villages of Frankenstein. More importantly, The Mummy has tense atmosphere and a sense of grandeur to its monster that keeps it from simply being a rip-off of Dracula.
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Movie Review: Frankenstein (1931) – Universal Classic Monsters 2

Frankenstein (1931)

Premise: An obsessed scientist assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses.

James Whale’s 1931 adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was released in the same calendar year as Dracula. Together, the two films kicked off the Universal Monsters’ reign in cinemas. While both are similar in their Gothic horror aesthetics, Frankenstein infuses its monster with a science fiction hue to great effect. The scientific and moral concepts at the heart of Frankenstein help enhance the wonderful characterization and tragedy-laden arc of the film’s titular character and his complicated monster.
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Movie Review: Dracula (1931) – Universal Classic Monsters 1

Dracula (1931)

Premise: The ancient vampire Count Dracula arrives in England and begins to prey upon the virtuous young Mina.

1931’s Dracula, the beginning of the Universal Classic Monster films, is a work of stunning beauty and dread from the outset. The detail in the backdrops of the opening scenes is awe-inspiring and lends to an impressive scale and cinematography that has aged extremely well. Within the first few moments, we’re introduced to Count Dracula and his castle. Giant interior scenes are filled with broken staircases and cobwebs. The set design goes a long way in establishing tone and a sense of danger for every character who crosses Dracula’s path. Continue reading

Ben’s Column: Onward (2020) Movie Review

Onward (2020)

Premise: Set in a suburban fantasy world, two teenage elf brothers embark on a quest to discover if there is still magic out there.

At what point should we start worrying about the original storytelling capabilities of Pixar? While the studio remains at the forefront of modern animation and earns plenty of major awards at the end of almost every year, the studio has loaded its docket lately with sequels to its most beloved franchises, some less successful than others. Look through their recent filmography and the last non-sequel put out was all the way back in 2017 with Coco. Go back even further and you won’t find any until 2015, with The Good Dinosaur and Inside Out – a mixed bag, as the former is one of Pixar’s worst, and the latter one of its best. Granted, most of their sequels have been mostly solid (Toy Story 4 was one of my favorite films last year and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature), but the studio’s reliance on existing property could be taken as a troubling sign. Continue reading

Movie Review: The Invisible Man (2020)

The Invisible Man (2020)

Premise: When Cecilia’s abusive ex takes his own life and leaves her his fortune, she suspects his death was a hoax. As a series of coincidences turn lethal, Cecilia works to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see.

Leigh Whannell’s reimagining of one of Universal’s iconic monsters for the #MeToo era has its highs and lows. The Invisible Man takes the classic monster and makes him into a predatory, controlling, and abusive narcissistic sociopath. It’s a far cry from the mad scientist searching for a cure to his invisibility in the 1933 James Whale film. That’s not a bad thing, however, as Whannell creates a menacing and intrusive villain within the framework of a highly effective thriller. Unfortunately, the film ultimately falters in its depiction of the aftermath of abuse to the point where it becomes a bit reckless in its handling of the material.

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