mag·nif·i·cent/magˈnifəsənt/ (adj.)

1. Impressively beautiful, elaborate, or extravagant; striking.
2. Very good; excellent.

Synonyms: splendid - gorgeous - grand - superb - glorious

WARNING: Some spoilers may be bound but I try to keep them light.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Phantom of the Opera (1943)

DAY 31

"The music comes down and the darkness distills it, cleanses it of the suffering that made it..."


The Phantom of the Opera (1943) is often considered a remake of the silent 1925 version also by Universal, but I was surprised to find that this film is actually it's own story only loosely based on the same source material, Le Fantôme de l'Opéra by Gaston Leroux. Erique Claudin has been a violinist in the employ of the Paris Opera for over twenty years, this should make him a very well-off man but unfortunately he has been anonymously funneling all of his money to support lessons for a young soprano named Christine Dubois who Erique is infatuated with. When Erique loses the use of his hand and gets fired from the Paris Opera and his luck turns completely sour he can't deal and it pushes him over the deep end. Erique decides to make things work in the opera the way he he thinks they should.

I really liked the script and the original take on this story. The script has a LOT of comedy written in, which is a really interesting take. Most of the humor revolves around Chirstine's two pursuers for her hand: Raoul, the captain of the police (?) and Anatol, a Baritone in the Opera. (which makes the love triangle a love square... when you include the Phantom?) A majority of the comedy doesn't hold up that well but I found it amusing at least.

Another interesting thing is that this film is the version for people who love opera. There is a lot of screen time dedicated to showing full songs from different operas and while this isn't my forte I could see how some people would really like this. It's a rare example of a story that takes place int he opera so you might as well take advantage of that, and I appreciate the fact that they didn't try to replicate the original's Bal Masqué scene.

The movie has some awkward time jumps as a result of pushing the story from Erique's previous life to actually being the phantom full-on. Then then we've spent so much time with the Phantom telling his story that most of his interaction with Christine is just implied or takes place off-screen. Christine doesn't even meet the phantom until the last third of the movie!

Also the comedy in the script is what dates this film pretty bad, there's sexist things that stand out and even a joke about firing the costume lady because she's too fat!

I didn't care for the ending too much, the Phantom's end is poetic and original but I didn't care for it and the actual resolution with Christine, Raoul and Anatol is just plain silly, fitting more for a romantic comedy film.

I thought it was super interesting to start with the origin of the the Phantom. This causes some problems with the first half, but I really liked the thought behind it, and it makes you feel super sympathetic for the phantom right from the beginning. When Erique loses his job, I felt SO bad for him. It was crazy! This was the intention with casting Claude Rains I'm sure, and his portrayal in The Invisible Man (1933) showed he was very capable of playing crazy too. But having the beginning the way it is, very smartly makes you still feel bad for Erique even when he's pushed to basically clinically insane by the end of the movie. This film is definitely a departure from the original though, because it would be very hard to consider this a monster film, it's even barely a horror film truthfully.

The Phantom of the Opera (1943) is not the best version of the story but I appreciate it's original approach. It's better and a more original take than the remake of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) from a couple years before. 3.5/5 stars.

Happy watching!

For further stimulation:
Check out my review of the previous 1925 version.

Did you know that Universal just released 8 of their classic monster movies on blu-ray in one set!? You can support this blog by buying this film (and 7 other classics) through these links:

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

DAY 30

"If I am the Phantom, it is because man's hatred has made me so..."

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) was the first feature length adaptation of Le Fantôme de l'Opéra by Gaston Leroux. This version remains a classic horror film and and was one of the very first films in Universal's well known monster movie line.

[I recently saw a restoration of this film that was completely silent but used primarily the 1929 version, with some parts restored from the original 1925 version and technicolor scenes from the 1930 version. If you would like to read more about the very complicated version history of this film please do so here. This "Photoplay Production" is the version I will reference and review, obviously because I just watched it but also because it seems like a good mix of the different versions that were released pretty close to the same time.]

The story of this film really holds up well. It's simple, interesting and I really love the way the mystery plays out. It keeps you guessing about who the Phantom is and what he really looks like for a good portion of the film. Then once you do know what is up, the horror is actually amplified by his grotesque image and actions. Really cool.

The ending is abrupt and almost unsatisfying, and lots of things are obviously very dated today. Some things that get brought up aren't followed through, but basically for as old as this film is it holds up about as good as a film of it's age could.

The film has some really, really amazing sets. With a ton of detail and a whole lot of little details sprinkled all around. A lot of the sets also move and have hidden things they do that really work believably! The amazing set pieces really help to sell the story of this film. And amazingly the opera set is still standing today!

The direction of the film is phenomenal. With only a few slight exceptions the cinematography follows all the common rules of cinematography today. It's all done in a very straightforward and simple way, so much so that it really blows my mind. I liked how despite the Phantom killing a bunch of people and is a true antagonist of this film, it still almost shows him in a sympathetic light. The ending sequences really emphasize this. It's really great! I love the incorporation of Faust, and if you can see the technicolor version, which was the way it was apparently intended to be released, it's amazing how even at such a low quality the effect really pays off and makes the Phantom stand out and come to life in his red robes in the Bal Masqué scene.

And lastly I need to mention Lon Chaney Sr.'s makeup as the phantom. Back in those days the actor was responsible for his own makeup and Lon Chaney really took it seriously and was very passionate about it. His makeup for the phantom is really quite simple but is still very shocking and disturbingly believable today, which is a true testament to how good he really was.

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) is one of the silent films everyone should see, and luckily it's often played around Halloween-time on the big screen so if you get the chance you should definitely check it out! 4/5 stars.

Happy watching!

This film is now in the public domain due to Universal's failure to renew the copyright in 1953, so you are free to download the 1925 version here, or the 1929 version here, thanks to the Internet Archive.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)

DAY 29

"The world is yours my darling, the moment is mine."

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) is a remake of the 1931 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and like that film is only loosely related to Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The majority of this film is based on the previous version's screenplay but there are little touches that a keen observer will notice when watched that I really enjoyed, like the Freudian dream sequences that were placed in this film. Little touches like this show that someone was thinking about the film critically and found a cool idea to add that would enhance the themes of the story... now if only the rest of the film had that original thought....

As with most remakes, I wish this film would have tried more to be it's own film. Instead I think it falls short because it's trying too hard to just leech off of the success of the previous version. Like the entire 3rd act is exactly the same as the previous film, which I didn't even like when they did it then!

I was let down by the cast in this film. I got excited seeing Lana Turner, Ingrid Bergman AND Spencer Tracy played the three leads but unfortunately Ingrid was trying to break typecasting and tries to play the down-and-out love of the protagonist and ends up coming off very sweet and innocent (not actually breaking type) and this kind of ruins the difference between her and Lana Turner's character (Dr. Jekyll's fiance) that the previous film had. And I gotta say Spencer Tracy plays a pretty boring Dr. Jekyll, and his Hyde while less crazy overall does achieve some pretty high levels of wickedness, just takes him a while to get there. Humorously supposedly Fredric March sent a telegram to Tracy thanking him for his biggest career boost, as his performance was often salvaged when compared to Tracey's. This is a fine example of the risk you run when remaking something that's still so recent in people's minds.

This film has really great cinematography. And overall I'd say the direction is greatly improved from the previous version and the full soundtrack score really helps to make this version a lot more tolerable than the previous one. Victor Fleming is the director who you will know from his previous two films, The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Gone with the Wind (1939) you wouldn't know from watching this one though, this film has nowhere near the same scale of those previous two but is refreshingly simple and still good comparatively.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) is more watchable than the 1931 version (which alone probably warrants the remake) but unfortunately I liked the actors better in the previous version. 3.5/5 stars.

Happy watching!

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Frankenweenie (2012)

DAY 28

"Your dog is alive!"

Frankenweenie (2012) is children's stop-motion animated horror film. When Victor Frankenstein's best (and only) friend, his dog Sparky, dies he gets the idea to try and bring it back to life.

This movie had a some surprisingly good world building going on, somebody did a good job of focusing on that and doing a lot of research. I liked the simple story in this film, I found it fun and interesting and not too convoluted. Also the story was very dark and really (for the most part) didn't hold back because it was a film for kids. I think this film did a great job of really capturing a lot of the same type of horror that the old universal movies did, which is really cool.

Also found it cool that this film has a lot of really cool references to Tim Burton's personal inspirations including Nosferatu, Christopher Lee as Dracula, Godzilla and obviously like all of the Universal monster movies and there's even a Hitchcockian Vertigo-shot in there I saw. I really enjoyed these.

I get that this is part of the "look" and design of the characters but I really didn't like how blank and emotionless some of the characters looked for a majority of the film. Victor especially, this is our main character and honestly for most of the movie I had no idea what he was thinking, he just had this blank neutral look on his face. This is something that you need to fight in animation, you want to make people forget that they're not watching real actors. Letting the design get in the way of that is pretty weak.

The movie is pretty slow for the first half, I feel like if I didn't have my love for monsters and horror I would have been pretty bored. Not sure if more interesting things needed to happen or if the characters should be more interesting or if they just could have used some more humor in the first half. Also I feel like they could have set up the friendship of Victor and Sparky in the beginning better. Instead we get shots of Victor not taking the dog outside when he wants to go and the dog playing fetch by himself, someone didn't think that one through.

And lastly I feel like the resolution in the end doesn't fit everything the characters went through and learned throughout the span of the movie. It works as a happy Disney ending but otherwise, not.

Best thing about this movie though is the really really well developed and detailed sets and how freaking great the lighting is on said sets. I was thinking about why this film doesn't feel like a stop-motion film when you're watching it, and I think this is due in great part to the awesome lighting.

And the animation is good too, probably nothing mind blowing but what I enjoyed is there's a lot of shots that you normally don't see in a stop-motion film like full body shots of multiple people walking or wide shots with a lot of people in frame because of the technical difficulty of these things. But I appreciate how this film didn't shy away from any of those shots because they're too hard.

Frankenweenie (2012) is good, but if you're a fan of monster movies or Tim Burton's films from the 90's you should definitely check it out. 4/5 stars.

Happy watching!

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Wolf Town (2010)

DAY 27

"Hey guys, I just saw a wolf."

Wolf Town (2010) is about a boy who likes a girl and in order to try and win her affection he invites her (and her boyfriend and his friend) out to an abandoned ghost town. But they quickly find out why the town was abandoned... because the town is populated by killer wolves.

The good thing is anything I EVER make will be better than this film.

Worst thing about the this movie is how bad the story is. It's not an interesting premise even remotely! On top of that it's poorly written, horrible dialogue and very very weak characters. Everyone is struggling in this movie to figure out what to do... pretty much the whole movie. Nothing interesting or smart ever comes up. No one decides to attack the wolves until the very end. It's just bad. I guess I would be a little weirded out if I ran into wolves who could cut the starter to a car or steal purses... but come on, really now?

And if you actually make it to the end? So after an hour plus of trying to figure out what to do... what is the final solution? Kill all the wolves (except one) and casually walk away. The most undramatic uninteresting end to a movie ever.

Even the direction and acting in this movie is really atrocious. Sorry to say there's not really any good reason to watch this movie.

I kind of find it magnificent they actually used real wolves for this film.... not well but they did!

Wolf Town (2010) is would be very educational if you wanted to know how not to write/direct/shoot/make a movie. So bad it's funny... so there's that? 1/5 stars.

Happy watching!

Please don't buy this film, don't waste your money. But if you are really desperate for a laugh or two you can buy it here:

Friday, October 26, 2012

Jonah Hex (2010)

DAY 26

"Get lost or get dead."

Jonah Hex (2010) is a (kinda) horror western action movie loosely based on a comic book character. Jonah Hex almost died once, and as a result he can communicate with the dead.

Props to this movie for using real prosthetic on Jonah's face (and later his bullet wounds), could've looked a lot worse if they tried to do it in CG. And for what it's worth I liked Jonah's special ability, even if it wasn't used in the coolest way... I liked the idea behind it. I was surprised that this is actually not something from the comics but invented for the film!

Overall the direction and especially sound design in the action sequences was pretty entertaining. I found it caught my attention and kept me interested when usually I don't like action scenes at all.

First and foremost this film has a TON of exposition, and I mean PACKED! The film starts with 6 minutes of backstory and exposition shoved down your throat! The movie's only 80 minutes long! You could have taken the time to show us that backstory and it could have only take 20 more minutes! He'll meet characters along the way then they'll bring up how they know each other and talk about things just to establish that they exist in the most poorly written way ever! This would be fine if it happened once but this happens literally every time someone is introduced. If I ever watch this film again it'll be with a stopwatch in hand, in order to find out what percentage of this film is just bad exposition! (Spoilers: it's a lot!)

The story in this movie is really not all that interesting. There's really not much more than the fact that he's after John Malkovitch's character, who by the way really must be the most boring and uninteresting antagonist ever seen on film (or at least near the bottom of the list). But it's not just for his own personal revenge for some reason the U.S. Government wants him and hires Hex to do a job that he already wanted to do?

It's hard to get a good feel for how this world works, yeah I get the spiritual or undead, magical aspect of it but then the weapon technology isn't integrated well at all... that and the weapons are supposed to be really clever I think? But end up just coming across as really really dumb. They don't make sense, they aren't cool and they are revealed in a way that they're supposed to be really cool... which just makes them look worse.

I'm a fan of one-liners but this movie overdoes it! Everything that comes out of Hex's mouth is a poorly written, "trying to be cool" one-liner. It's bad. And it's not just his character, probably whatever is left of the script that's not bad exposition... is bad one-liners, from everyone! Also it's obvious that Josh Brolin has a hard time talking under the facial prognostics which makes his dialogue pretty hard to understand sometimes... why didn't they just dub over it? Seems like a pretty normal practice. You can't even understand his bad one-liners!

Thank god there's little CG in this film, because when it's used it's very bad.

Two magnificent things about this film, one how did a script this bad ever get green lit? Second it's sad that the amount of really amazing actors that are in this movie couldn't overcome it's really bad script. I mean if Josh Brolin, John Malkovitch, Michael Fassbender and Michael Shannon couldn't save this script, nothing can.

Jonah Hex (2010) is a pretty mindless movie, but the direction is passable and the some of the characters are almost interesting enough to warrant a watch... let's just say it's not the worst movie I've ever seen. 2/5 stars.

Happy watching!

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Frankenstein (1931)

DAY 25

"Crazy, am I? We'll see whether I'm crazy or not."

Frankenstein (1931) is a classic monster movie, loosely based on Mary Shelly's original novel.

I really love the story of this classic film. They opted to not follow the novel very closely at all, but there are moments that were obviously lifted. Instead this movie tells an mostly different and original story, but still manages to be very dark and creepy. The film poses some cool questions about religion and god that I love, and (although different from the novel) still paints The Monster in a somewhat innocent light.

Director James Whale's sense of humor is present in this film, as all of his other films I've seen. While not as prevelant as in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) this film still has plenty if you're not too busy being horrified! Also want to mention that I was surprised how modern the camera workis on this film. It's got moments that don't really work, but you can tell that someone put a lot of creative thought into the camera moves and setups.

Like many movies from this era the film seems a bit dated when viewed today, although interestingly not half as bad as Dracula (1931) which came out the same year and was produced by the same studio. Some of the dialogue is weak, character throughlines aren't fully completed and some elements are a bit forced into the story soley for their thematic impact.

One of the most amazing things about this film is the acting. There's a great cast and they pretty much all play very memorable parts. Shining star of the film would have to be Dr. Henry Frankenstein played by Colin Clive, he dances the line of insanity and ernest so well it blows me away everytime I see it. Followed closely by Boris Karloff's portrayal of The Monster, he brings such an awesome level of depth to something that could have easily just been a man in a monster suit. Comic relief is mainly split between Henry's amusing hunchbacked assistant Fritz, played by the always amazing character actor Dwight Frye, and Henry's father the Baron Frankenstein (played by Frederick Kerr) who's humorus comments bring a lot of light to some otherwise very dark moments.

Looking back on this film it's easy to forget to mention Jack Pierce's makeup and design of The Monster. This image for the Monster is so engraved into us these days that it's interesting to wonder about Peirce's inspiration for this design. The end result is a very original look that really makes you forget there's an actor behind all of it and let's you just see The Monster in front of you!

Frankenstein (1931) is a bit dated today but one of those very early movies that shows a lot of thought and potential, and is still very enjoyable in my opinion. And this movie was crazy infuential, there's parts of this movie that everyone knows (or at least knows of). Such a wide impact like that from a film is very hard to come by. 4/5 stars.

Happy watching!

For further stimulation:
Check out my review of the wonderful sequel to this film: Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

Also check out my good friend Daimeon's recent review of these films here.

And be sure to see his great review of the original novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Part of his awesome series 13 Frightening Fictions (for free!)

Did you know that Universal just released 8 of their classic monster movies on blu-ray in one set!? You can support this blog by buying this film (and 7 other classics) through these links:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Birds (1963)

DAY 24

"I keep telling you, this isn't 'a few birds'! These are gulls, crows, swifts...!"

The Birds (1963) is a movie that starts like a very typical romantic comedy and then slowly transforms scene by scene into a supernatural horror movie. Tippi Hedren plays a rich prankster named Melanie Daniels who gets a taste of her own medicine when she is fooled by Rod Taylor's character Mitch Brenner. She follows him to his second home in a small town above San Francisco to exact her revenge when things suddenly start to get strange in this small town and the birds are suddenly acting very strangely.

I like the story in The Birds I think the way the story changes and evolves is very well done and very interesting, and keeps you guessing about what is coming next.

I think what Hitchcock did with the soundtrack is really interesting. There's no traditional score at all in this movie, a couple incidental songs, but mostly the movie is silent with some kind of electronic manipulation to make bird-like noises when necessary. This adds a whole level of drama and intensity to scenes that I would have never imagined. I was fortunate to see this film with a full theater recently, and I swear there was parts where you could feel the whole audience holding their breath, the entire theater was very quiet and kind of amazing actually.

Although I liked the theatrical dialogue for the most part there were some scenes where I felt it didn't work as well as others and instances where characters would divulge opinions or talk about thinks in ways that seemed very forced or unnatural. And there's some very dialogue heavy scenes that seem to stretch on for next to forever, I'm not sure if this is just a consequence of having no musical soundtrack or if these scenes are actually just excessively long.

While most of the effects in this movie still hold up there's whole parts where I felt the dated techniques and technology get in the way of the illusion, like the scene where the birds are all coming down from the chimney the scale of the drawn birds didn't match the image of the humans batting them away and there's a whole bunch of parts where birds were obviously cut and pasted on top of shots, the outlines of said birds aren't cut very well so they leave very awkward and unnatural shapes... I found this a bit too distracting.

I'm really fond of Tippi Hedren's performance in this film. She plays the lead, the rich playgirl prankster Melanie Daniels. Somehow she looks absolutely fabulous even while being attacked by a crazy swarm of birds! It's really hard to imagine this is her first major role in a film because it really seems like she has years and years of experience based on how great her acting is. She really brightens a lot of scenes and is a delight to watch.

In this film, I really like how well thought out and developed the characters are, there's a very complex web of each person's different relationships to others and it's handled superbly. This is a film that would have been very easy to half-ass the characters but because they didn't, it really makes the film extra enjoyable.

There's a lot of really specific scenes and moments in this movie I really love. There's a diner scene where a bird-expert, a drunk and a few other lively peoples share their opinions on the strange occurrences. And there's some really awesome dialogue exchanges and scenes with Annie Hayworth and Melanie Daniels and also between Mitch Brenner and Melanie Daniels.

But the thing that really blew me away in this movie is how amazing the suspense is in this film. Especially in the scenes where characters are slowly trying to walk past birds and all the attack scenes in the boarded up house at the climax of the movie. I couldn't believe how these scenes affected me, even today and I'd seen the movie before! Something about the way Hitch slowly builds up the attacks makes the ones toward the end of the movie that much more effective!

The Birds (1963) is a very interesting and inventive film that still today, works very well. There's not a lot of movies like this, and less that are actually pulled off this well. 4.5/5 stars.

Happy watching!

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