Tag Archives: columns

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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Movie Review: Onward (2020)

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. 

In telling the story of two disparate brothers on a time-sensitive quest to temporarily bring their father back to life, Pixar’s Onward recaptures some of the heart and soul of some of the studio’s earliest hits. Onward takes the classic “what if” template that makes Pixar films so magical and creates a charming epic suburban fantasy world plagued by modern technology and consumerism. Though the world building itself is just slightly lacking in the long run, there’s a hefty emotional weight to the story of Ian and Barley Lightfoot that harkens back to some of the studio’s most heartfelt films.

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Movie Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

Premise: A teenage girl’s secret love letters are exposed and wreak havoc on her love life.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is Netflix’s charming teen romance film based on the first of Jenny Han’s trilogy of novels. In adapting the story to film, screenwriter Sofia Alvarez and director Susan Johnson pack the ethos of classic John Hughes films into a modern teen world. They do so in an earnest and unironic way that feels refreshing in an age of cynicism and satire. Guided by a pair of very charismatic young stars, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a romantic teen drama you won’t soon forget.

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Movie Review: Troop Zero (2020)

Troop Zero (2020)

Premise: In rural 1977 Georgia, a misfit girl dreams of life in outer space. When a competition offers her a chance to be recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, she recruits a makeshift troop of Birdie Scouts, forging friendships that last a lifetime.

Troop Zero is a well-meaning and sugary sweet story of accepting and celebrating who you are and finding that special community of people who will embrace your quirks and support you. Its focus is on Christmas Flint (McKenna Grace), who has recently lost her mother and finds comfort in looking to the stars. Her leadership in forming a troop so she can get her voice on NASA’s Golden Record is the film’s strongest asset. However, the rest of the troop members’ journeys don’t quite connect to hers, much to the detriment of the overall story.

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Movie Review: Fantasy Island (2020)

Fantasy Island (2020)

Premise: The enigmatic Mr. Roarke makes the secret dreams of his lucky guests come true at a luxurious but remote tropical resort. But when the fantasies turn into nightmares, the guests have to solve the island’s mystery in order to escape with their lives.

Blumhouse’s reimagining of 70s & 80s television show Fantasy Island is at best a passable cheese fest depicting beautiful people in peril. At its worst (and sadly, most frequent), it’s the dull presentation of an uninspired thriller that’s more concerned with revealing its mystery than creating compelling characters.

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Movie Review: Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Premise: After discovering a small, blue, fast hedgehog, a small-town police officer must help it defeat an evil genius who wants to do experiments on it.

Sonic the Hedgehog has finally raced its way into theaters after a highly publicized face lift in the visual effects department. Despite the publicity, however, Sonic is mostly dead on arrival. Aside from a few scant comedy beats and a delightfully over the top performance from Jim Carrey, Sonic the Hedgehog feels like a slapped together adaptation of a video game franchise for which no one seemed to be clamoring.

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Ben’s Column: Birds of Prey (2020) Movie Review

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Premise: After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroes Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord..

You would certainly be validated for being a little skeptical of Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), especially after the unmitigated disaster that was 2016’s Suicide Squad. Heck, you’d even be validated based on DC Comics’ track record in trying to establish their own Marvel-esque connected universe. The studio stumbled out of the gate up until and including 2017’s Justice League, but has had some winners recently with Wonder Woman and Aquaman. But once DC leaned away from forcing the issue of a shared universe and focused on the characters within that universe, they found a way to make compelling films again. Rest assured though, Birds of Prey may contain some hidden Easter Eggs for diehard DC fans – which I missed entirely – but there were far from any overt references to other characters (besides the Joker, of course) or set-ups to future films. Continue reading

Ben’s Column: Miss Americana (2020) Movie Review

Miss Americana

Premise: A look at iconic pop artist Taylor Swift during a transformational time in her life as she embraces her role as a singer/songwriter and harnesses the full power of her voice.

Celebrities: they’re just like us! They eat spicy burritos! They wear denim overalls! They spill their steaks when there’s turbulence on their private jets! It’s hard to go into Miss Americana if you’re not slurping up the Taylor Swift Kool-Aid (like myself) without at least some level of cynicism. It’s not that I dislike Swift or her music – I thoroughly enjoy both the song and music video for “You Need to Calm Down” – I’ve just always been very clearly outside her target demographic (plus I’ve fallen way out of touch with contemporary music in general, but that’s a discussion for another essay). Continue reading

Ben’s Column: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) Movie Review

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Premise: On an isolated island in Brittany at the end of the eighteenth century, a female painter is obliged to paint a wedding portrait of a young woman.

Maybe it’s reductive – cliché, even – to say that there’s nothing quite like your first love. Maybe, for some, it’s not your first that you remember most, but someone who opens your eyes and shows what true human connection can be. These are only some of the themes explored in Céline Sciamma’s latest film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Heartbreaking but hopeful, complex but familiar, Portrait tells the story of a doomed romance between two young women in the 18th century – one a painter (Noémie Merlant) and the other her muse (Adéle Haenel), the daughter of a wealthy family who is betrothed to a man she’s never met. Continue reading