The original Frankenstein (1931) is a monster classic in its own right. It is iconic, generating some of the tropes that make monster movies what they are today. Yet for all of its old horror charm, it lacks the heart and the intricacies from great works of art to make it anything more than a monster film. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) continued its predecessor’s gothica, but added humor, emotion and heartache. Combined with the story behind its director, James Whale, the story takes on a whole new type of artistic brilliance, a representation of homosexuality and estrangement.
Frankenstein’s monster (Boris Karloff in both Frankenstein and its sequel) is the most sympathetic of all of Universal’s monsters. He is not inherently evil like Dracula or insane like the Invisible Man. He can not change to a normal guy after the full moon like the Wolf Man or desires to exact vengeance on the world like the Mummy. He is a poor creature, childlike, hated because of his appearance and for what he is: an experiment gone wrong.
James Whale grew up a gay man in a world that did not accept him. Much like the monster, he never felt as if he truly belonged and was persecuted simply for being himself. Viewing Bride, the viewer can feel that personal connection that Whale has with the monster, that pained sense of ostracization. And rather than accentuate the innate hurt the monster feels, he focuses on the comedic elements that contradict the previous film.
Horror and comedy may feel like two separate sides of a coin, but they are closely linked. We laugh at terrifying things sometimes and recoil at certain humor. They each produce a strong emotional reaction out of us, a jump of fear and a knee slap of laughter not that different really.
Whale uses that dichotomy of emotion to illustrate the strangeness of his monster and of his own life. During the film, the monster confronts a woman after crawling out of a burning mill. The woman turns to the camera, screams and runs away. In a way, he is saying, life is both terrible and hilarious, an elaborate joke that makes us cry.
The very idea of a man (Dr. Frankenstein, played by Colin Clive) creating another man is laced with latent homosexual underpinnings. Frankenstein is attempting to create his own form of masculine perfection, something he can claim as his own, a direct affront to God and to society. The monster, then, yearns for companionship and love, but is met with a world of scorn. Both men, searching for completeness, have nowhere to go.
Frankenstein’s tutor, Dr. Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger), is a flamboyant, maniacal man, similarly humorous amidst a world of death and decay. He seems to be in love not only with replicating Frankenstein’s work, but also in love with his student, an unrequited desire. This connection to another man ties him to Frankenstein’s dream to create a new being, something that can actually generate love in a world of torment.
And yet, the person they create, the mate of the monster, hates him just like all the others. The monster can find no peace. Pretorious can find no peace. Only Frankenstein, repentant of his ways, normal, with a woman, Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson), by his side, gets to live. The world is made for those like him, the film suggests. The outsiders are monsters meant to suffer.
The only man who truly shows any sympathy to the monster is the blind man (O. P. Heggie) who teaches him kindness and words like “friend.” It is a haunting scene, the lure of emotional connection snatched away because of how the world looks at you. It is probably something that James Whale dealt with quite often.
James Whale killed himself in May of 1957 at the age of 67. His story is excellently presented in Bill Condon’s film Gods and Monsters (1998) starring Ian McKellen.
While current filmmakers resort to violence and gore and jump scares to produce modern horror films, perhaps the simplest scares are the most lasting; that balance between comedy and horror, the real world creeping into the characters we watch, and the knowledge that we are all outsiders and can not find lasting peace.
The 2016-17 NHL season is just a few short days away. All eyes will be on a few select teams considered contenders: the defending Cup champion Penguins, the Blackhawks, the Sharks, the Lightning, the Capitals, but the winner, for right now, could be any of the 30 teams (and next season it could be any of the 31). So who comes out on top?
The Capitals were the best team in the league last regular season and they return pretty much the same. Led by Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, Brayden Holtby and Evgeny Kuznetsov, the team is still a contender. Their true test will come in the postseason where they must advance this year.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins*
The defending Cup champs also return pretty much the same team, but Cup hangovers are real and all the other teams in the league will be gunning for them. Repeating is near impossible to do.
3. New York Islanders*
The Islanders are led by star forward John Tavares and with new wing man Andrew Ladd and a collection of young, talented players, they will be looking to make some noise this season. If goaltender Jaroslav Halak can deliver the type of poise he showed in the World Cup, they could be a force.
4. New York Rangers
The Rangers return with practically the same team, and that is not necessarily a good thing. Henrik Lundqvist is still an all-world goaltender, but the Rangers appear to be a team treading between playoff also-ran and rebuild mode.
5. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers surprised many by making the playoffs with a great second half and will look to build on that promise, but that will be easier said than done. They need a bounce back year from Jakub Vorachek and continued strong goaltending from Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth to succeed.
6. New Jersey Devils
GM Ray Shero may have struck the best deal of his life when he traded for winger Taylor Hall. The forward is a game changer for the team. They have a little ways to go before they make the playoffs, but with Hall and goaltender Cory Schneider, they might be able to sneak in.
7. Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes blueline is going to be very good, very soon. If that happens this season, they could make some noise, but their forward corps lacks the depth to give their backend enough goals to flourish. Until that is addressed, the Hurricanes will stay on the outside.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets
As anyone who watched team USA plummet at the World Cup can attest, coach John Tortorella is not seasoned for this type of NHL. Stuck in an old-world mentality, the Blue Jackets lack depth at every position with the exception of all-world goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Seth Jones on the blueline will help, but the Blue Jackets might be best to tear it all down and that starts at the top.
Tampa Bay Lightning*
The Lightning are stacked throughout the lineup, with forwards Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov backed up by star defenseman Victor Hedman and Vezina-nominated goalie Ben Bishop. This might be the last year this group has to go for it before budget constraints splinter it apart, so look for them to be a force.
2. Florida Panthers*
I correctly picked the Panthers to make the playoffs last year. I had no idea they’d win the division. Expect a small step backwards for this group, but they are young (Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo excluded), talented and only going to get better.
3. Boston Bruins*
Patrice Bergeron is one of the world’s best two-way pivots. Brad Marchand is a supremely skillful pest/sniper. Tuuka Rask is still in his prime. There is no reason for this team not to make the playoffs. They need a puck-moving blueliner and that is the only thing holding them back.
4. Montreal Canadiens*
Short term gain, long term pain. That’s what the Canadiens have going for them with the P.K. Subban-for-Shea Weber trade. Shea Weber will be great for them for the next couple of seasons, the kind of workhorse, booming shot defenseman he has been for years. But he will wilt far sooner than Subban will. The Canadiens have to hope that Carey Price is not injured again or their season will be a disaster.
5. Detroit Red Wings*
Pavel Datsyuk is gone. Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall are both getting older and had to pull out of the World Cup because of injuries. The Wings’ season will depend on how their up and comers lead the way. Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Danny DeKeyser and Petr Mrazek need to establish themselves for the Wings to have success. Newcomer Frans Nielsen will be a big help and bounce back seasons from Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist would lighten the load, but the youngsters will decide whether the team makes it 26 straight years in the playoffs.
6. Buffalo Sabres
The pieces should be moving in the right direction. Another year of rebuilding, another high draft pick, another big ticket free agent (Kyle Okposo) brought in. At some point, the returns have to start showing themselves, right? It might be this season if they can get the goaltending.
7. Ottawa Senators
The Senators have Norris Trophy-winning Erik Karlsson and a group of talented young forwards, but they lack the depth up front and on the back end to be a contender. They need Andrew Hammond and Craig Anderson to stonewall the opposition to have a chance.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs
Does anyone really need a reason for why the Maple Leafs are in the basement? This is just year 2 of the massive rebuild. Year 1 went splendidly. They were terrible. That got them the first overall draft pick and a potential number one franchise center in Austin Matthews. Now it’s time to draft that stud blueliner.
The Stars have the best forward corps in the league with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Patrick Sharp and Jason Spezza lighting up the lamps for them. If they can all stay healthy and the blueline continues to grow, the Stars are a Cup contender. And then you look at the goalie crease and you wonder if they can win the tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. GM Jim Nill may have to pull on the trigger on a goalie trade at some point, but that’s the only thing holding this team back from glory.
2. Nashville Predators*
With Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis on defense, the Predators may have the best defensive core in the league. Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and James Neal can put the puck in the net and coach Peter Laviolette has his players playing to their strengths. This could be the best Predators team in their history.
3. Chicago Blackhawks*
These Blackhawks have been through wars over the past several years in deep playoff runs, World Cups and Olympics. Will it catch up to them? The purging of their roster every season (losing Andrew Shaw and Andrew Ladd this past season) may also hurt them, but any team that has Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford is still a threat. It all depends on their depth if they can make a run.
4. St. Louis Blues*
The Blues made it to the Western conference final last year, but lost captain David Backes, Troy Brouwer and goalie Bryan Elliot, three huge parts of their team from last year. With Vladimir Tarasenko scoring, Alex Pietrangelo manning the blueline and a top notch coaching staff manned by Ken Hitchcock in his final year, this group is still dangerous and could make a run, but their moves suggest they are looking towards the future, which may not be just yet.
5. Winnipeg Jets
The Jets got a potential star in the draft in Patrick Laine. With Dustin Byfuglien back in the fold and Mark Scheifele as a number one center, the Jets would be an automatic playoff team in any other division, but the Central is so tough. They might still make it in, but it’ll be close.
6. Colorado Avalanche
Losing coach Patrick Roy will probably help in the long run. The Avs still boast a talented core of forwards in Matt Duchesne, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon and stud goalie Semyon Varlamov, but their defense needs work and with a new coach, this appears to be a transition year.
7. Minnesota Wild
Bringing in new coach Bruce Boudreau will help, but this team is too old and too top heavy. Zach Parise is injury prone, Ryan Suter isn’t getting any younger and they are in the toughest division in the league.
Los Angeles Kings*
The Kings have gone two straight years without making a deep run in the playoffs after winning two cups in three years. Perhaps the rest will allow them to regroup and put together a strong season. With Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick, the core of the team is still strong.
2. San Jose Sharks*
After making it to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in their history, the Sharks return with pretty much the same team, but a year older. The window is closing for aging stars Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau and after this season, with their contracts up, who knows what will happen, but with Joe Pavelski and Martin Jones still young and leading the team, the Sharks are dangerous for the time being.
3. Anaheim Ducks*
The Ducks have been regular season monsters and playoff disappointments for years now. With Randy Carlyle returning behind the bench, they are trying to change their fortunes, but Carlyle seems a coach best suited for ten years ago. Perhaps he’ll surprise when the playoffs begin, but I’m not sold.
4. Calgary Flames*
The Flames added goaltender Bryan Elliot and bruiser Troy Brouwer for some veteran presence to a roster that includes star forwards Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau as well as a deep blueline led by Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano. The team looks like it’s on the rise.
5. Edmonton Oilers
Is this the year the Oilers finally break through? A healthy Connor McDavid would go a long way. Blueliner Adam Larsson will add some confidence for the defensive core, but the Oilers really need Cam Talbot to be a money goalie to have success.
6. Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes are young and still a few years away from contention, but they have all the pieces in place. Another year of development is in their future.
7. Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks are a mess, caught between needing to blow it up and rebuilding on the fly. An injury to either Sedin twin would spell disaster for their season.
(*= playoff team)
After bracketing out the playoffs, I see a Cup final between the Dallas Stars and the Washington Capitals, with the Capitals finally winning their first championship. Will it happen? It’s never too early to start wondering.
In today’s socially-conscious world, it’s hard to make a good black comedy, something that’s funny in a morbid way that doesn’t offend anyone. One way to get around that is social commentary, and that is exactly what writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos accomplishes with “The Lobster”; it peers directly into the idea of coupling as not a good or a bad thing, but a social construct that hamstrings some, confuses many and finds just a select few.
In the world of the film, you have to be a couple in order to be a part of society. If you find yourself single at any point, you are sent to The Hotel where you are given a select amount of time to find a mate; if you don’t, you are turned into an animal of your choosing and released into the wild. Such is the case of David (Colin Farrell), who is dumped by his girlfriend and finds himself needing to find love soon or else he will be turned into a lobster.
The concept is so rich and ridiculous that the story finds humor with the escalating pressure to find a mate. John C. Reilly’s character (simply listed as Lisping Man) has his hand put in a toaster for masturbating. The nurses have to give a semi-lap dance to the men in order to keep them aroused and remind them of the allure of love. Loners are hunted down and shot with tranquilizers in the wild. When you go out in public, you must have proof of companionship in a formal document.
The sheer lunacy of it all is hysterical, but the commentary on our own world is enlightening. Why do we deem that people must find love? Why is that important for us? What is true companionship? How is love tested? What is love itself?
As David discovers over the course of the story, those loners they hunt out in the wild are not much for happiness either. Only when he meets the Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) does he get a taste of happiness, a glimpse into love. But even that is tested, and the ending of the film is ambiguous: Does he love her or was it passing infatuation? What is he willing to do for that love? Was it worth it? As the characters contemplate these questions, a random flamingo will wander past them, some poor wretch who never found that special someone; it is both terrifying and hilarious.
“The Lobster” makes you think, makes you laugh, makes you feel. It’s one of the best films of the year, an enveloping social commentary disguised as a comedy where the joke is on all of us who think we understand love.
Leonardo DiCaprio and co. went through hell to make “The Revenant.” The shoot was shot in sequence in difficult locations (originally in Canada, the crew was forced to go to Argentina in search of snow), the budget went over by multiple millions, the schedule for filming was extended from March until August (forcing actor Tom Hardy to drop from the planned “Suicide Squad” film) and many members of the crew quit. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu refused to use digital effects and to make the film shoot as real as possible to convey the feeling of survival after being left for dead.
Well, consider that one accomplishment of the movie.
“The Revenant” is indeed a story of survival as a fur trapper, Hugh Glass, is mauled by a bear and left for dead by one of his companions, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Seeking revenge for this and other affronts, Glass must overcome his wounds and brave the harsh winter wilderness to achieve his revenge.
Nature here is simultaneously gorgeous and horrific (DP Emmanuel Lubezki used only natural light for the film). It is unforgiving, but also not malevolent, given preference to no one, just simply being. In that way, Glass is facing his own power to endure as he is tested again and again.
The violence in the film is astounding, some of the most brutal and realistic to ever be on screen. As the confrontations between different Native American tribes, the French, the fur traders and the English all escalate (plus bears!), the viewer comes to realize that the film is stating that violence is inherently part of the human condition, as indisputable a force as nature’s abject cruelty. The strength of Glass’ spirit then is being tested against both of these unyielding forces, the inherent cruelty of man and the harshness of nature.
Another strong theme is that of children. The mother bear who attacks Glass is trying to protect her young. Glass himself has a half-Native American son. The fur the traders collect is meant to be used to feed their families. This caring for youth, the hope to pass safety and joy to the next generation, feeds the film with strength and heart. It gives motivation to Glass and others to endure the cold and the violence.
The film feels like a Native American fable, telling the simple story of a man risen from the dead who travels the wilderness to find revenge. The viewer can almost hear the narrator whisper the tale to them near a campfire. The openness of the plot leaves lots of room for interpretation into what exactly the theme of the film is, and Iñárritu does not tip his hand towards any definitive conclusions. This works towards the film’s betterment and detriment, for as beautiful and investing as the journey is, the viewer is left with a feeling of “What was that all for?” at the conclusion if they are unable to discern it’s meaning for themselves.
Nevertheless, in terms of filmmaking craft, the film is a masterpiece, a sprawling journey that illuminates camerawork, lighting, sound, visual effects, acting and writing. It’s a great movie spectacle, one that should not be missed for the serious film fan.
Disney’s latest entry of Cinderella closely follows the familiar tale. A young girl named Ella (Lily James) becomes orphaned and is forced to live with her uncaring stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and stepsisters Drisella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) while dreaming for Prince Charming (Richard Madden). Her only chance at hope comes in the form of her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter).
Director Kenneth Branagh, a strange choice to helm such a project considering his previous directorial efforts (Thor, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Hamlet to name a few), does not excel nor fail in directing. There does not seem to be much flair to really make the film stand out. Shots are static (except for the ball scenes) and the editing is rather bland. On top of this, some of the CGI effects look downright porous which is peculiar with Disney’s acumen.
What the film lacks in style it makes up for in lavishness. Sets are intricately designed and costumes gorgeously rendered. There are so many glowing lights and absorbing cinematography that the film is visually memorable, but narratively dull.
Overall, the film goes by rather quickly, hitting each familiar story beat calmly and without great emotional involvement. Blanchett, though perhaps miscast for being a bit too pretty for an evil stepmother, shines in a cast that does not pose a lackluster performance. Lily James contains just the right amount of bubbly energy and wanton desire, though she does seem a bit old for the role. Helena Bonham Carter provides a few laughs as the Fairy Godmother in a film sorely lacking in humor. Richard Madden as Prince Charming is, well, exactly as you’d expect him to be.
The problem with making fairy tale films with live actors however has always been the translation from simple stories into 90-minute long features. There’s just not a lot of depth and internal conflict for the characters to go through. The problem of one-note characters (the stepmother is evil, Cinderella is innocent and good) leaves the film emotionally uninteresting. Cinderella is almost too good for us to empathize with and the Stepmother is too evil for us to do so as well. Without a personal stake, Cinderella is all icing, but no cake. Some sort of internal dilemma would have greatly helped the story.
This is not to say Cinderella is a bad film. It is reasonably entertaining and sweet. But the greatest fault with the project lies in why it was even made. Do audiences really need another Cinderella movie? The film tells the exact same story exactly as we have seen it before. It does not present us with anything new or offer a different take as last year’s Maleficent (2014) did by telling a story from the villain’s point-of-view (though in fairness that is borrowed from Broadway’s Wicked) and offering a different interpretation of the story’s themes by changing the ending. Cinderella is nothing new and could have been so much more.
Just for ideas, why not a tale of Cinderella’s two stepsisters and how they look upon the world? Or a conflicted evil stepmother who must grapple with personal love, love of her children and perplexing hatred for this new stepdaughter? Or even a Cinderella-focused narrative that takes place in a different location, say India, or a different time period such as the the depression? Just something different or an interesting take would have added something to a story that we have seen over and over again.
Jonathan Glazer is a hard filmmaker to like. His films (Sexy Beast (2000), Birth (2004)) are impersonal, and yet highly personal. His characters are aloof, yet representative of us all. The style is detached, glacial almost, and the imagery haunting yet beautiful. Much like Stanley Kubrick’s style, there are some who will just not understand the appeal. For those with the patience to peer into his latest film, Under the Skin, the journey will be rewarding.
The film is breathtaking in its own horrifying way, symbolic of the human race’s struggle for connection, love and joy. With the sheer audacity of its themes, the slowness of its pace and the subliminal character motivations, it is a cinematic experience so different from contemporary films that it is entirely unique.
Scarlett Johansson is an alien being who wanders the Scottish country, luring men to a strange house of blackness where they are… it is never made especially clear what it is that happens to them, but suffice it to say, it isn’t good, and they are never seen again.
As the alien wanders through her environment, she starts to gain empathy for the humans around her. She tries to make a connection, acting more and more like us, but something always keeps her detached from ever being truly part of humanity. And mankind’s own brutality pushes her away.
There is very scant dialogue throughout the film with several of the scenes random meetings with strangers on the street the crew filmed. The film is really more about physical interactions, the things that draw us towards one another. Glazer is more concerned with mood and physical space to tell his story, many scenes utilizing the facial expressions of Johansson alone to convey the action.
What is beauty? The film grapples with this question during the alien’s journey. Is it what we normally think of as beautiful (love, friendship, birth, food)? Or is the dark underbelly of the world (vulgarity, death, ugliness) beautiful as well? What makes us human is not just our goodness, it is also our evil, and both are at once majestic and awful the film seems to suggest. The world is monotone through the alien’s eyes, and she learns how we choose what to validate and admonish. Her loneliness and inability to truly fit in reflect each of our sensibilities.
Under the Skin is indeed hard to sit through and after one viewing, many will never want to visit his vision again, but for those with the patience and temperament to handle it, it is a rewarding cinematic experience.
Despite the fact that it is a nostalgia-driven marketing endeavor, Disney’s latest live-action foray based off one of their animated classics works because it is filled with heart and gorgeously animated.
Much like its predecessor, “The Jungle Book” focuses on the young boy Mowgli (Neel Sethi) raised by wolves. When the tiger Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba) threatens to kill him, his panther guardian Bagheera (voice of Sir Ben Kingsley) leads him on a quest to the man village where he’ll be safe. Along the way, they meet the villainous Kaa (voice of Scarlett Johansson), the gigantic King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken) and the lovable Baloo (voice of Bill Murray).
Much of the plot remains intact from the animated film with one huge change near the film’s conclusion meant to make way for a sequel (it is not terrible, but not great either). The characters are magnificent CGI representations, full of identity, grace and beauty, and all of the voice actors are excellent (Idris Elba in particular).
The theme of man as a disease to nature works well and respect towards each other across species is a metaphor to our current culture. With a fully realized world in the Indian jungle, the film is engrossing, entertaining and full of Disney charm.
Two detriments to the story are inherent however. One is that the movie can not help but exist in the shadow of its predecessor. It tries to push out and be its own film at times, but with every rendition of “I Want to Be Like You” the film reminds viewers that it is essentially a remake. The film then works as a companion piece to the original, but one can’t help but wonder what the final product would have looked like if director Jon Favreau had been able to create Kipling’s tale independent of the animated film.
The other is the manner of the making of the film. There is no actual jungle at all. Everything was shot in a Los Angeles sound studio. Every creature, tree, mountain is all computer-animated. It is the height of hypocrisy for a film whose moral is the preservation of nature to not actually feature any real nature in it. The film lacks grit and a sense of reality because of it. It is a shame.
But overall, the film is enjoyable, well-made and strong. It is the best live action from animated film released by Disney and an argument can be made that it is even better than the original.