lunes, 22 de noviembre de 2010

Tangled: The Japanese Trailer


Ever wonder how Disney films are sold overseas? While the American marketing is selling Tangled as a grand family comedy, the Japanese trailer focuses more on the magic and even some of the emotions the story of Rapunzel displays.


Review #51: Beauty and the Beast (1991)



Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Starring: Paige 'O Hara, Robby Benson, Jerry Orbach, David Odgen Stiers, Angela Lansbury

Directed by: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise

Released by: Walt Disney Pictures

Synopsis: Once there was a spoiled prince who was turned into a horrendous beast by an enchantress due to the harshness that lied deep within his heart. The only way to turn back is to fall with a woman and be loved in return. But this proves to be emotionally distressing for the pressing as no one would fall in love with a hideous beast.

Review: Many Disney films are considered to be iconic by many generations of movie goers. For many children of the 80s and 90s like myself, Beauty and the Beast is that film. It was the second in what many like to call “The Fab Four”, a series of modern fairy tale films that became incredible successes at the box office and gave the Disney name even more presence in pop-culture. While the film isn't as perfect as some claim it is, Beauty and the Beast is nonetheless a very fine film.

Funny enough, many of its strengths and weaknesses lie in the story. Rather than fully adapting the classic fairy tale the writing team decided to borrow elements of said story and add many new elements that enhances its dramatic content. The title characters are fully present and they are quite wonderful and complex. Belle, voiced splendidly by Paige O'Hara, is a free spirited young woman that desires more out of her daily life. For many Belle defined the modern Disney princess by being a dreamer but at the same time being proactive in her affairs. Her main quirk is that she is a bookworm, a characteristic that many girls have identified with for many years. Another aspect is that she is indeed a beautiful leading lady, but what sticks out the most was her personality, shattering a bit of the misconception of the Disney Princess being more than just a beautiful being for the main characters to rescue. In many ways, she rescues the Beast from his fate.

Speaking of which, Beast, voiced by Robby Benson, is easily the best character in the entire film, for when you meet him he is terrifying. When he becomes the beast he embraces it, but mainly because he has lost faith in ever seeking redemption through the love of a significant other. But when he meets Belle and her spunk clashes with his short temper sparks really do fly, giving us one of the more complex relationships ever presented in a Disney film. In many of the movies the princess character quickly falls in love with the prince character, love at first sight as they like to call it. With Beauty and the Beast the relationship actually develops over time, which starts with fear, then hatred, followed by friendship, then true love. Belle changed her feelings towards the beast when he started to change his tune, and when he does he realizes that he has feelings that haven't been felt in years. This leads to an emotionally charged conclusion that is both satisfying and extremely heartbreaking, turning the fairy tale into one of one man's redemption.

Of course, for any relationship to succeed there needs to be an opposing factor threatening to destroy it. Beauty and the Beast's villain is none other than Gaston. Like the main characters, he too is interestingly complex. When we first meet him he is what we like to call “the likable jerk”. He flaunts his good looks and strength in a manner that you can't help but enjoy, and his constant antics to get Belle's approval are enjoyable. But as the plot develops and reaches darker areas of the human mind, Gaston completely changes. His change contrasts that of the beast. Just as the beast begins to transform into a human being Gaston reverses into a man that would kill and manipulate anyone just to get what he wants. It reveals his true nature, and any likability as a character goes down the drain when he begins to act this way.

The rest of the supporting characters do a fantastic job of creating a balance between humor and drama. Lumiere the enchanted candelabra, performed by Jerry Orbach, and Cogsworth the clock, voiced by David Odgen Stiers, are great characters with amazing chemistry in the classic buddy comedy routine Disney likes to display in their films. Mrs. Pots, voiced by Angela Lansbury, is the warmth of the movie and often the voice of reason when everybody else is too focused on accomplishing a mission. She teaches the beast that the way to Belle's heart is not by force but via sincere appreciation.

So with the film establishing a strong story and amazing characters what is exactly wrong with it? I admit very little, but there are a few notable quirks, mainly with the pacing. Problem is that at times it goes too fast, often failing to give us a realistic passage of time. We are told to believe that Belle has been a prisoner in Beast's castle for a while now, and this is shown through the changes of the seasons. And yet, the events feel like they happened one after the other. This makes the development of the relationship feel rushed. This was notable in the many sequels and spin-offs the Disney company released years later when the characters would jump back and forth between the personalities created in the first movie and the ones once it ended.

Fans have also argued a lot about Belle's true feelings towards the beast. It is shown that she does begin to care for him after a period of time, to the point where she doesn't see him as a threat but as a living, feeling being, and went out of her way to protect him when Gaston raided his castle. But there wasn't a physical expression of love (like a kiss) when the beast was still transformed. This has lead many fans to criticize the film for praising values about the beauty within the person, but at the same time not showing its lovers partake in any form of physical love.

Regardless, these are rather small issues that lie mainly in how the viewer interprets the film rather than actual comments about the quality of the film. It is in my honest opinion one of the more emotionally packed stories the studio has produced, Pocahontas being the best in that note.

But one element that has made Beauty and the Beast one of the more popular of the modern Disney films is the music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (who unfortunately passed away after the film was completed, the film was dedicated to his honor). The two men created a foundation for how modern Disney musicals should be made with their work on The Little Mermaid, and they manage to achieve the impossible, and that is to create an even better effort than the previous one. Nearly all of the songs give out a vibe of a grand production brought through life through the magic of animation. “Belle” quickly establishes the mood and feel of the character while at the same time gently mocking the conventional opening song where everyone sings the praises of the lead character. “Be Our Guest” is the show stopped created to give us a reason as to why the presence of Belle in the castle is one of great significance. Finally, we have the theme song “Beauty and the Beast”, which is the emotional climax of the character's relationship, and the crowning achievement of every sense available. These are the stand outs in a soundtrack with many high points, and I can't get enough of it.

Last but not least is the animation. Why did I decide to put this last? Because as pretty as the movie is it does have some tiny issues that bring it down a tad bit. The animation for Belle and Beast are astounding, despite some problems with keeping the characters on-model. Beast in particular is an achievement in itself due to his design being very a combination of many animals, and yet he is still able to convey human emotions. The supporting cast, especially in their enchanted form, look great as well thanks to a lot of imagination gone into their design and animation. You will believe that a metallic candelabra can do the can-can despite not having any legs and feet. Despite a few issues with the character animation the backgrounds are gorgeous, giving the film a warm yet classic feel that is basically the cherry atop a delicious ice cream. But easily the most amazing thing about the animation is the use of 3D animation to deepen the impact of a scene. Of course I am talking about the ballroom sequence where the characters are done in handdrawn animation but the camera is spinning around them in a third dimension. Simply it, the scene is breathtaking and one of the most romantic of all the Disney films released.

So there you have it, Beauty and the Beast in a nutshell. While countless repeat viewings have convinced me that this isn't a flawless masterpiece its status as a beloved film is undeniably. You have some very fascinating main characters whose relationship will ring true in the hearts of many, an enchating soundtrack whose songs have become synonimous with the Disney company, and a look that is striking on the viewer. The pacing could have been better, and many will ponder on the actual meaning behind the relationship, but those can be easily forgiven thanks to a film that is both enjoyable and emotionally stimulating.

Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5



viernes, 12 de noviembre de 2010

Review #50: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)



Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Starring: Adriana Caselotti, Lucille Laverne, Pinto Colvig,

Directed by: David Hand, William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen

Released by: RKO Radio Pictures

Synopsis: The Wicked Queen is obsessed with beauty, endlessly consulting her magic mirror to see who is the fairest of the all. When the mirror answers that she is no longer the fairest and that the honor belongs to her stepdaughter Snow White she becomes consumed with rage, forcing the princess to escape into the woods and seek shelter in the home of the seven dwarfs.

Review: It is very rare to see a film director have a successful first feature film, but Walt Disney managed to accomplish this with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Most people know this to be the first full-length, animated feature ever produced (though technically, Prince Achmed is the first one to accomplish the task), and yet if you were to look at it you wouldn't know. That's because Walt Disney and his team of animators spent years honing their skills and even creating some new ones just to bring this one feature to life. But looking beyond its merits is Snow White the fairest of them all? Not quite, but it truly is a lovely feature.

To many hardcore Disney fans Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a inferior product when compared to the features that followed it. While the film does have some flaws it is far from a mediocre production. Most of the criticism lies in the character of Snow White. As the years went by, Snow White slowly became the representative of passive heroines for many, thanks to her hopeful ideas of love and the tendency of being reactive to the situations she finds herself in rather than being proactive. This is a rather subjective topic to cover as fans will find a lot to both love and hate about the character. My only complaint with Snow White is her voice actress. There's no denying that Adrianna Caselotti had a lot of talent, using every inch of it in order to bring the character to animated life. It's just that her voice is very high pitched, making her very childish. This is just my own perspective, however, as many fans have become enamored by her charms.

Like in many Disney features it is the supportive and villain characters that end up being the highlight of the film. The Wicked Queen was the first Disney villain ever created and clearly a lot of work went into her creation. As the beautiful Queen she is cold, intimidating, and even calculating. As the Old Hag she is the complete opposite, becoming the true woman hiding deep within her beauty. Both versions have become iconic, setting the standards high for the other Disney villains to come.

The Seven Dwarfs showcase the Disney belief of characters you can quickly root and cheer for. Each of the seven dwarfs have an unique personality that makes them very identifiable. Audiences quickly found a dwarf they enjoyed the most. Mine would have to be Grumpy, if only because his cynicism is very charming. Dopey is a great character as well, despite not having one line of spoken dialog. The writing team could have easily just create one character and duplicate it six more times, but having them unique in their universe gives the film a lot of incredible charm.

I understand why Snow White wouldn't be everyone's favorite film. This is because the plot is very light and a great deal of it is focused on a character that is captivating but not interesting enough for some. But to me the film is a great success in emotional storytelling. Every scene is packed with one sort of emotion, whether it be happiness, rage, fear, and of course sadness. Such effective was the film's emotional content that people quickly elevated it into masterpiece status. You have to realize that this is the first film of its kind, so the fact that the creators managed to strike a emotional chord in people in their first feature effort it is incredible. If Toy Story 3 is seen as one of the saddest movies this year then Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs should be thanked for being ambitious in this regard.

Everything works because of two key elements: music and animation. Many of the short films Disney produced during the 1930s were music heavy, so by the time Snow White was put into production they knew how to properly place the music within the narrative. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is constantly hailed as one of the best musicals. This is because the composers and story men made sure to only include songs during key scenes of the plot, using it as a way to enhance the emotional resonance within the audience as well as serve as a gate into the subtle thoughts of the characters. In other word, no song feels superfluous as each and every one has a purpose in the story. Snow White's “I'm Wishing” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” serve as the anthem for ideal love and the power of believing in one's dreams, while “Heigh-Ho” and “Whistle While You Work” are fun songs that take the mundane concepts of cleaning and working and turn them into easily whistleable tunes.

The effectiveness of the music, along with the score, gave depth to the film, and I would dare to say that without it the film would be boring, or at least not as endearing. The songs have been engraved deep into the confines of pop-culture, a feat only the best songs achieve.

Once again I state that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first of its kind ever produced in Hollywood. The animation shows that the creators really wanted to dazzle audiences. Most experts will notice that they did use some shortcuts, like rotoscoping when dealing with some of the more realistic characters, but for a first time Snow White highly impressive. Had it not been for its ambition the rest of the Disney films wouldn't have had a film to try and outdo. Some new techniques were created, such as the multiplane camera, a camera that allowed the animators to give the illusion of depth by painting a different part of the background onto a sheet of glass. While the idea was first implemented in “The Old Mill”, Snow White took great advantage of it.

Then you have small details like the colors on Snow White's face, the lightning, the squash and stretch of the Dwarfs, the Queen's dress reacting to the wind and many more that are quite small and hard to notice the first time, but once you do you realize that it adds a lot of the visual presentation of the film.

So in the end, film critics and experts will place Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on their “best of” lists simply because of its reputation of being the first animated film ever made and the impact it left in 1930 audiences. While the film should be respected for the contributions it made to progressing the art of animation, it is far from the perfect. But in my case, it is a wonderful experiment that you won't soon forget. There is a lot of love placed onto this film, and even if you don't enjoy the film it is hard to deny that fact.

Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5



jueves, 11 de noviembre de 2010

Review #49: Sleeping Beauty (1959)



Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Starring: Mary Costa, Eleanor Audrey, Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy, Barbara Jo Allen

Directed by: Les Clark, Eric Larson, Clyde Geronimi, and Wolfgang Reitherman

Released by: Buena Vista Distribution

Synopsis: The classic tale of the Sleeping Beauty is brought to life in stunning classic Disney animation. Princess Aurora is cursed by Maleficent to forever sleep when she pricks her on a spindle on her 16th birthday. While being raised by her three good fairies, she meets the dashing Prince Philip, unknowing that both are destined for grand things.

Review: The 1950s was seen as a good year for Walt Disney and his crew of animators. The studio had survived the war years, Cinderella was a smashing success, and even the smaller success of Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Lady and the Tramp would give the company a great sense of prestige and legacy. How do they close this era of film? By creating one of the most ambitious animated films of all time. Sleeping Beauty would be the film that would re-invent the Disney fairy tale in every way possible, especially in the musical and visual department. While the film didn't gain a following until later years it was too majestic to be ignored, and despite a few flaws in its narrative Sleeping Beauty remains a wonderful movie experience.

Sleeping Beauty is one of those films that is character driven rather than plot driven. The story is a very basic one, taking many liberties when re-interpreting the original tale. It works good enough that it gives the characters a motivation to be proactive, but its nothing that you will fondly remember like in other Disney films. The central character of the film, Princess Aurora, is the main subject of criticism for some as her role is rather limited. But even if this a truth that some may find it hard to deny, she definitely has enough of a presence that it has landed her popularity in the hearts of many Disney fans. This is thanks to the vocal talents of Mary Costa, a then unknown opera singer who was chosen for her great musical range. In terms of a speaking voice she gives Aurora a very charming grace that has defined the concept of the Disney Princess for years, but her true strength lies in her gift of song. One listen and she will quickly win you over, regardless if you think she is just a glorified prop for the characters to interact with.

Faring a little better is Prince Philip, voiced by Bill Shirley. He is considered by many an improvement over the previous Disney Princes, but that is because by the time Sleeping Beauty was green lighted for production the Disney animators had gotten the hang of animating a realistic human character, and thus Prince Philip greatly benefits from this. He is a far more proactive character that earns his film presence. He is charming and full of personality, and for many the highlight of the film.

But to me, the ones that steal the show are the supporting characters who at times really drive the plot forward. The first of these are the Three Good Fairies, named Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. In each scene they are in they manage to grab your attention thanks to their amazing personality. Flora is the self appointed leader of the three while Merryweather is the most rambunctious in her actions. Fauna happily lies in the middle, always pleasant and willing to go on with whatever the other fairies decide to do. And they get to do a lot of things in the film, often giving the film a strong narrative through their actions. Through their powers they turn Aurora into what she is in the story, they protect her and ultimately guide the hero to his happy ending. It's why they are hailed as some of the best supporting characters in Disney film history.

But the hero and his supporters need someone to oppose them, and Sleeping Beauty as one of the best villains ever created in film. Maleficent, voiced by Eleanor Audrey, is terrifying in all her actions. What she lacks in subtlety she makes it up with grace, beauty, and a frightening disposition. She definitely earns the title of “Mistress of all Evil”, even if some of the actions don't have a strong personal backbone other that she is evil and must ruin everyone's life.

As you can see, the characters are the heart and soul of the film, and even though they are extremely strong to carry the whole film throughout it doesn't mask the fact that the story is very light. Granted, films like Snow White and the Seven Dwardfs and Cinderella had very light plots, but both had very solid reasons for their existence. Sleeping Beauty just feels light, but thanks to its characters and technical achievements it does provide a wonderful film experience.

Much has been said about the film's groundbreaking animation. The 1950s Disney films created their own style that would differ from the previous films, and Sleeping Beauty is the stunning culmination to that era of film making. The object of the film is to create a living, breathing illustration, one that would bear resemblance the lush detail of old paintings. This creates a stunning aesthetic that has made the film one of the most revered and most influential in terms of technical merits. The backgrounds are vibrant and are almost as much of a character as the other cast members. If there is only thing to complain is that some of the character animation is stiff and not as bouncy as previous scenes of character animation. Still, it is worth seeing if only for the epic dragon fight that has gone down as one of the most enthralling pieces of Disney animation ever created.

Nearly flawless, though, is the music, and it is easily my favorite thing about the movie. That's because the Disney team decided to use Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty ballet score to adorn the plot of the movie, and it is beautiful. The minute the opening credits sing the praises of the story we are about to see I can help but think it is magical. The film focuses on quality rather than quantity when working with the songs. Songs like “I wonder” are really good, but the winner here is “Once Upon a Dream”, a song that takes a segment of the ballet musical and turns it into a magical song about love at first sight. As previously mentioned this is where Mary Costa really shines as Aurora. Her vocal range is amazing, making sure the songs stay with you even after the movie is over. It's up there with Beauty and the Beast as one of the best scores and songs ever written for a Disney film.

Usually, if a film doesn't have a strong plot and just places emphasis on the sounds and visuals then it is considered to be shallow. But Sleeping Beauty is one of those rare cases where even if the plot is very light the presence of the great characters, the stunning animation and the unforgettable sound is good enough to place the film as one of the best ever made. It's not quite the ultimate Disney fairy tale as that fact can be easily debated, but it certainly is one of the more engaging. Whether you are a Disney fan or just a movie fan this is one tale that shouldn't be missed.

Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5



Friend Highlight #2: Brent Dodge, the WEDnesday Show, and From Screen to Theme


Hello and welcome back to another segment of "Friend Highlight". If you read my last "References" article, then you know what "From Screen to Theme" is. It is an excellent Disney reference book that details all the film references and tributes you can find at the Walt Disney World resort. But, "From Screen to Theme" isn't the only thing author Brent Dodge has done. He is the host of the weekly video podcast show, "The W.E.Dnesday Show" that also highlights the efforts of the Disney company. He also the curator of his own Disney website, the host of the Disney Movie Club and many, many other things.

I'll just let the man himself talk about it...

Hello Filmstrip Memories fans!

If I had to sum myself up in one word, it'd be dreamer. Unfortunately for you, I love to talk so you'll get a lot more than one word. I was born and raised in the wonderful state of Wisconsin. While growing up I was lucky enough to make several trips to the wonderful world of Disney on a somewhat regular basis.

I was hooked on the Disney parks and films and the two really helped shape me into the dreamer that I am today. I know what you're thinking, "You keep talking about being a dreamer, but that gets you no where unless you're a doer!"

I completely agree, but I didn't always. I often believed that you dream a dream and boom, that dream was fulfilled. Well, a lot of times dreams take an awful lot of work, and an awful lot of luck. While I was in college some representatives from the Walt Disney World College Program stopped by the campus to talk about this amazing opportunity they had for Disney fans like me. (Like I said though, I wasn't a doer, just a dreamer!)

So I didn't apply for the program and almost instantly I regretted it. The following year when they came back I jumped at the opportunity to join the College Program and was lucky enough to be a custodian. I know, being a custodian doesn't sound glamorous at all, but it's one of the few postitions that allows the cast member to walk around and interact with guests on a regular basis.

It's a good thing that was in the job requirement too, because one day while talking to a guest he asked where he could find all things Peter Pan throughout Walt Disney World. I pointed out every little detail I knew of, and while I was leaving the guest he said, "You know, there really should be a book about this." I thought, there really should, but kept sweeping the streets of Fantasyland without thinking about the man's insanely wise words.

A few years later while student teaching in a Kindergarten classroom, the class was watching Disney's Robin Hood for nap time. All of a sudden everything clicked with what that wise man told me years before and I began to write every reference to Robin Hood in the parks that I could think of. When I finished with Robin Hood I moved on to Aladdin, Lion King, Cinderella, and more.

Next thing I knew I was a doer. I began to work my butt off for a book that was called Disney by Movie. While talking to a friend, she pointed out that From Screen to Theme had a nicer ring to it, and I agreed.

Take a breath for intermission.

And we're back. While working on From Screen to Theme I realized I needed to promote my book, even though it wasn't released yet. I decided to start a chat room with a few people that knew about my book. I sat down in front of a webcam and they'd ask me Disney related questions in a chat room. We had so much fun that we decided to do the chat again a few days later. And again a few days after that. And then we decided to make it a regular thing that would occur on a weekly basis.


One viewer suggested we meet on Wednesday's since Walt Disney's initials (W.E.D.) were the first three letters in Wednesday. So out of that the W.E.D.nesday Show! was created.

In March of 2010 From Screen to Theme: A Guide to Disney Animated Film References Found Throughout the Walt Disney World Resort was published and I moved back down to Florida.

Yeah, things can get tough money wise from time to time, but I'm a dreamer and I believe everything will work out in the long run.
Now, don't you wish I would have stuck with a one word description of myself?

And there you go, folks! A dream made real! If you want to chat with Brent Dodge visit him and the rest of us friends at From Screen to Theme. The W.E.D.nesday Show happens every Wednesday at 9:30 PM.

Thanks for reading!


martes, 2 de noviembre de 2010

Classic Film References, Homages and Tributes: From Screen to Theme



As I've said in the past, the best way to measure the legacy of a film is to see how many times it is referenced in our daily lives and other forms of media. No company does this better than the Disney Corporation. They are aware that they have created some of the most influential movies of all time, and they capitalize on this greatly through merchandise, special events, cross-promotions and of course, theme park attractions. But what happens when you visit one of the theme parks and you spot a reference that isn't familiar to you, or you recognize it but don't quite have the right idea? This is where “From Screen to Theme” comes in.

Penned by Disney fanatic Brent Dodge, “From Screen to Theme” has captured many animated film references in the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, cataloging nearly every animated film the company has released in the last few decades.

In the event that you don't know about the film being referenced each chapter starts with a three paragraph description, giving the reader the opportunity to learn more about it before discovering the references at the parks. Brent Dodge doesn't discriminate and features every kind of film, from the very popular and beloved like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Beauty and the Beast to the less appreciated films like Dinosaur and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Pixar films have also been included.

There are some animated films that are missing, however, but this isn't the author's fault. Some movies didn't catch on with the movie going audience, so often Disney ignores them in favor of films that have created a lasting impact due to popular demand.

The book is exceptionally organized in chronological order, starting from the oldest film available to the newest, and goes through each park such as the Magic Kingdom and Epcot as well as restaurants, stores and special places within the parks. It also alerts you as to where you can meet the characters and if you need to book a reservation before attending a special dinner or event. Such details are important when planning a Disney World vacation, so the extra effort put into each film reference is very appreciated.

Since it's likely you'll be reading the book at home it can be hard to picture the reference at the park. Luckily, Brent Dodge describes in a very detailed manner what the reference is and where you can find it at the park, with the acknowledgment that references can disappear or change according to what the Imagineers decide to do at Disney. While I can't tell if he got them all, Brent Dodge tries to include as much references as possible, from the very noticeable to the very hard to find. It's an incredible thing for a Disney fan to do, and Brent Dodge accomplished it.

Best of all, the book isn't a bore to read. This is a common problem in fact/trivia books where all you keep reading is information that you likely already knew without any sense of fun or charm. But the author wrote it all with such casual and fun flare that it becomes an engaging read, especially when he tackles the movies you know and love by heart.

Some might say that a book about film references might be superfluous and silly, and that if you are a Disney nerd already some might say that a book about references isn't helpful, but think about it for a second. The reason people go to the Disney theme parks, especially children, is because they want to relive the magic seen in the films. So small stuff like hidden Mickeys to big stuff like rides can add to the presentation of the theme park, and the book does a really good job of showcasing the talents of the designers, the imagineers, and the cast members . And even die-hard nerds can miss some of the more cleverly disguised references, which Brent Dodge makes sure to point out.

Overall, “From Screen to Theme” is a must own for Disney fanatics, especially theme park enthusiasts. It provides a lot of information that emphasizes the hard word that often goes into maintaining the quality many fans demand. It's in-depth, but never manages to lose its sense of fun while being a loving tribute to a great American institution.

“From Screen to Theme” can be purchased at the official website here, and you can request a personalized copy by the author.


It's Tangled Month!



OK, OK... I know I didn't a good job with Halloween month... HALLOWEEN IS ABOUT RUNNING AMUCK, NOT STAYING INSIDE WATCHING MOVIES!

...Ahem! Moving on...

This month, Disney's 50th animated movie will be released! The film is "Tangled", the classic story of Rapunzel, the girl with the long, long hair, trapped in the tower by Mother Gothel. This is a movie that has been in development hell for more than ten years, starting as a traditionally animated film, then becoming a Shrek-like parody movie and finally, going back to the traditional Disney style, losing its director and receiving a new title.

I can't wait to see this movie. While originally I was put off by it, the early reviews indicate that this is going to be a special film, and regardless the medium and the issues it faced I don't care as long as everything has been worth it.

So I will try (see, honesty!) to post classic Disney film reviews, even more Disney related "Friend Highlight" and some Disney videos for everyone to enjoy.

Here's the Tangled trailer:

And remember, this ain't no princess movie ;)


sábado, 23 de octubre de 2010

Friend Highlight #1: Moonlight Movie Show


On this new segment of Filmstrip Memories I will highlight some of the content you can find online right now, courtesy of the talents of my friends. Make sure to support them!

For the first episode, I will highlight Moonlight Movie Show!

With so many internet reviewers roaming around cyberspace it can be hard to find one that is different from them all. Moonlight Movie Show may have been inspired by several movie review shows, but what makes it different is that the reviewer is actually a wolfman!

How did this came to be? The reviewer's name is Monty Moonlight, played by Nathan Lee James. He is actually a character from a comic strip called "Moonlight Motel" where classic movie monsters come in to have a rest and just hang out, regardless of what many horror film rules dictate.

Who is Nathan Lee James exactly? Well, I'll let the man introduce himself to you...

Well, I'm just a (single and looking) deceptively starving artist in Austin, Texas still trying to break in as an illustrator and cartoonist, and anything showcasing my minimal talents onscreen if ever possible, ha. I've been squeaking by for years as a freelance illustrator in a place with no use for freelance illustrators. I've recently moved to Austin, and now I'm looking for a day job so I can continue doing the same thing outside of my parents' house, ha.

The comic strip I do is called "Moonlight Motel", and it's about Monty Moonlight, a werewolf (that never takes human form) who has been given the job of running a rundown hotel in Texas by his billionaire uncle, Morty Moonlight (another werewolf, as yet unseen, but I intend to base him very much on comedian Ron White, whom I would love to play Uncle Morty in a movie someday) to prove he has some business talent and is worthy of a huge inheritance. Of course, all this plot stuff isn't discussed much in the simple humor strip, but it is the set up and will be in the first graphic novel I'm currently working on in my spare time. Anyway, the strip is purely humor largely based on banter between Monty, his staff, neighbors, and guests of the Moonlight Motel. Most often seen characters are "Fish" Gillman and Russell Scarecrow, Monty's longtime best friends and the motel's lifeguard and groundskeeper respectively, and Seymour the Bellhop, who is a smart alleck employee that has no choice but to hang out with Monty when no one else will (Seymour also happens to be a Muppet-like creature).

While those sidekick characters are based on friends of mine (there are other characters too), Monty is undoubtedly based on myself. Hey's a permanently lonely, hopeless romantic who identifies greatly with Charlie Brown but is a HUGE Disney fan and movie fan in general.

Moonlight Motel evolved from two other strips I used to do, one that I was shopping around for a publication for that was a comic purely based on myself and best friends in human cartoon form, and another that was a single panel strip I would do for on occasion called Wagner (Werewolf). I don't know how the magically evolved into what I have now, but it really did all just fall into place one day, and I came up with everything for Moonlight Motel with no trouble at all, even the hotel/motel setting. I know though, that at first the idea of Monty was from my idea to do an online or local horror hosting show starring myself as a werewolf (which I initially called slave2moonlight, my LONGTIME internet handle). I envisioned getting something going like Ernest P. Worrell or Elvira, doing local commercials and such. Though, I know nothing about setting up things like local TV shows, websites, and whatever. As a result, the comic strip is what happened, and now I'm back to the film stuff, as I've finally made Monty a live-action reality doing movie reviews on the Moonlight Movie Show on YouTube, a very new project for me that I'm still learning with. I hope I can figure out, somehow, someday in the near future, how to turn a profit on one of these projects, ha.

As for my art and other stuff, I started out as a Disney fan with dreams of being a Disney animator for a living. I couldn't really afford a college with any animation program though. I went to a local branch of U.T. and got a Fine Arts degree that has been useless, ha. Most people would have anticipated that, but I really didn't know what else to do since it was my one talent, ha. At that point, Disney was firing rather than hiring though, so even applying there was out. Anyway, my love of film and Disney too is a heavily influence in my art. I'm not really a gallery or show artist, I'm more commercial, and an illustrator and cartoonist is really what suits me best in the art realm; that's what I'd like to make it doing. Like a lot of other people on, I prefer to make art of film and cartoon characters, my own characters, and just really cute girls, and I prefer to do it with a combination of pencil and Photoshop. I do have another comic strip called Cloud K9, but I have yet to post any of that one online. Once I started doing Moonlight Motel, I became consumed with it, though a new installment has been held up for a while due to my recent move, job search, and experimenting with my Moonlight Movie Show. I'll be back to the strip soon though. It actually was published for 3 years or so in a South Texas magazine when I was living in my old town, but when I left, I pulled it from the magazine since it wasn't paying me anything anyway. Still looking for a true home for it, and a publisher or literary agent for the graphic novel when I'm done with it, and anyone who could one day turn the live-action stuff into something lucrative for me too, ha, though at the moment I know it's still a primitive project.

Anyway, that's been my project history in a nutshell, and sorry if this is way more info than you wanted. Let me know though if you have any other questions!


Thank you my good friend!

Despite his video show still being in the rough stages it has a lot of potential of being a great show that differs from the rest due to the high amount of character the reviewer has (seriously, what other reviewer has become a character from one of his or her works of fiction?).

You can find the Moonlight Movie Show here:

As well as Nathan's art gallery:

Remember to support the little guy as he or she may end up ruling the world ;) .



domingo, 10 de octubre de 2010

Review #48: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)



The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

Starring: Bing Crosby, Eric Blore, Basil Rathbone, Pat O'Malley,

Directed by: Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, James Algar

Released by: Walt Disney Pictures

Synopsis: Two of the greatest literary characters of all time, Ichabod Crane and Mr. Toad, are the stars in this Disney animated classic. Mr. Toad, from The Wind in the Willows, is an eccentric aristocrat whose good name gets tarnished when he is accused of stealing a motor car. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow follows Ichabod Crane and he arrives in Sleepy Hollow, enjoys good food, falls in love and ultimately faces the Headless Horseman.

Review: The World War II years were the roughest the Disney studio had ever seen. Not only did their ambitious films like Fantasia and Bambi fail at the box office, the military commissioned the studios to work on training films and morale boosting propaganda, limiting the funds the studio would receive as well the potential for new animated films. In order to combat this, the studio created what fans like to call “the package film”, a full length movie composed of different shorts, each telling their own stories. Often these would place emphasis on music and visuals rather than strong narratives. Due to this the films did well enough to keep the studio afloat, but aren't considered to be the best among Disney's line of animated classics. I find this to be a shame. Regardless of their limited narrative these films are memorable and captivating in their execution, and if you look at them as rehearsals to better films like Cinderella, Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty, you gain a whole new appreciation for them. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is one of these movies.

The film tells two stories, “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. What you should know is that the original stories are rich in linguistics, character development and detailed narratives filled with political themes, human drama and a silly sense of reality in Wind in the Willow's case. This movie is not a faithful adaption of the books. They are condensed re-tellings that focus on a handful of events rather than the whole plot. If you come to the movie expecting a loyal adaptation of these books you will be disappointed.

That being said, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad succeeds at capturing the essence of the stories while creating over the top interpretations of its famous scenes and characters. “The Wind in the Willows” is known for its whimsical look at English life through the eyes of animals, and by this time Disney had mastered this art of whimsy. The main characters are animated and voiced perfectly with a manic charm that turns them into comedic gold. Mr. Toad, voiced by Eric Blore, is phenomenal, being charmingly mad from the minute he appears on screen until the very end. He's the kind of person you would love to hang out with... until he gets into a trouble that is. This is balanced by Angus McBadger, Ratty and Mole who serve as the emotional anchor to all of Mr. Toad's endeavors. Cyril Proudbottom is a great supporting character, while Weasly is the type of antagonist you love to hate. He is slimy throughout the whole film, with his defeat being very satisfying.

The film achieves enough success that it has become a favorite many Disney purists, even receiving a ride at the Disney theme parks, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. The attraction would become popular despite the obscurity of the film. As of now, the ride only stands at Disneyland in California. It's unfortunate that Disney never thought of adapting the rest of the book in the same style and manner as the short film version. It would have been one of the most memorable takes on the classic English story yet.

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” isn't really a happy and bright story. It is quite dark and horrific, making you wonder why Disney chose the story to adapt into an animated film. The truth is that it's actually a very different take on the classic Headless Horseman story, one that is very colorful, highly humorous and filled with satire... until the last moments of the film. Simply put, the last scene of the movie with the Headless Horseman is hailed as one of the most frightening in Disney history. This is achieved thanks to great staging and a creepy atmosphere that turns it into a delight to watch on Halloween.

But what about the other half of the story? Think of it as being the lollipop before you are given the bad news. As previously stated, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is told as a colorful folklore, with catchy music by Bing Crosby and highly caricatured characters. Ichabod Crane is a walking stick that loves to eat and is interested in women just for their money and cooking skills. Katrina is a beautiful gal that knows how to use her charms for her advantage, and is the hard headed town hero that wants all competition taken care of. Seriously, these characters may be some of the most dysfunctional ever put on an animated Disney film. And you know what? That's why the story works. It's actually kind of fun seeing these flawed people trying to achieve their goals, creating some very funny scenes in the process.

On the technical side of things, both segments in the film have their own unique art style that served as inspiration for the films that followed it (like Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland). Wind in the Willows is very bright, with captivating character design for the animals as well as some of the other protagonists. The backgrounds are very detailed and give the film a lot of warmth. But easily the best is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. This is thanks to stunning backgrounds by Mary Blair, one of Disney's most accomplished artists. Rather than playing with the dark themes of the book, she creates a colorful take on classic, rural America, and will use dark colors when the scene demands it. The character design is both realistic and exaggerated, a style that would be seen in the films that followed it. Overall, it might not be the shining example of what Disney animation can be, but it is a visually stunning film due to its aesthetics.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad may not be the greatest adaption of classic literature ever presented on film, but it deserves far more recognition than it gets. You get two see many facets of Disney animation at work here. Fun characters, catchy music, smooth animation and even lots of horror, the film is a classic that no film or Disney fan should miss.

Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5



jueves, 7 de octubre de 2010

Review #47: Monsters Inc. (2001)



Monsters Inc. (2001)

Starring: John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Jeniffer Tilly, Steve Buscemi, James Corburn, Bob Peterson, Mary Gibbs

Directed by: Pete Docter

Released by: Walt Disney Pictures

Synopsis: In the world of Monstropolis, the screams of children give power to its citizens. Monsters Inc. is the primary provider, recruiting top scarers in order to keep the city running. James “Sulley” Sullivan (John Goodman) is the top monster in the company. When he accidentally leaves a door to the human world open, a child who he named Boo, sends the city into hysterics due to the fear of human children being toxic.

Review: Let's face it, at one point in our childhoods we were afraid of the dark, of the monster in the closet, under the bed and in our dreams. Even if we eventually realized that it was all a product of our imaginations the thoughts stay with us as precious memories of our infancy. Such is the premise behind Monsters Inc., Pixar's fourth film and their second original story. Pete Docter and his team of story men expanded on the idea of the monster in the closet and created an amazing universe where the monsters are actually quite nice, and they are just doing their jobs. This is just the beginning of the a series of events that are some of the most complex ever put on film.

What do I mean? Well, the whole story is about facing your fears and realizing that not everything that looks scary means harm and that often the danger is in our minds. This is expressed through the fact that in Monstropolis the belief is that human children are toxic, and if one came into contact with a monster they treat it in the same manner as experts would deal with a bomb threat. This brings me to a more sadder note about the movie. Monsters Inc. was released in November of 2001, two months after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. At the time I didn't realize this, but the film became very relevant to everybody. Fear and paranoia was taking over the world as rumors of wars and more attacks invaded our hearts. With the film being about conquering what scares you it brought audiences a lot of laughter and relief in a time of uncertainty, and this is why it's one of my favorite Pixar films.

In addition, the film deals with the subject of limited resources. Monstropolis runs on the screams of children, which is what Monsters Inc. provides. Problem is that children are becoming desensitized to the idea of monsters, creating less screams and providing less power to the city. Despite the silly concept of screams being a power source in an alternate reality if you think about it this is a very real issue, one that can easily be replaced with clean water, fuel, food and other elements we need in our daily lives. Combine this with the idea of a whole society being controlled by fear of what might kill and Monsters Inc. becomes more than just a standard family film. Best of all, though, none of it feels forced. The script is so well written that all of these concepts are developed in the story through the actions of the characters, rather than stopping the movie in order to deliver a message to the audience. It's a very smart and sophisticated way to make what would have been a silly movie into a film that has heart and soul.

That doesn't mean that the film takes itself seriously. Monsters Inc. is first and foremost a fantasy comedy, and a great one at that. The characters are instantly likable thanks to their voice actor. John Goodman as James “Sulley “ Sullivan is fantastic. He brings his trademark fatherly warmth to the character, giving us a character we can easily relate to and cheer for during the film's greatest scenes. Billy Crystal as Mike Wazowski really hits the spot in the comedic department. He is comedic without never going overboard. He expresses fear and concern (almost to the point of paranoia) in a way that you understand him while still laughing at his misfortunes. He plays off of John Goodman's straight man charm very well, creating a nearly perfect comedic duo. Then you have Steve Buscemi as Randall Boggs, which in my honest opinion is so good that he isn't really playing a character but being himself. Buscemi has the knack of creating likable characters out of sleaze balls and while his turn as this character may border on type casting, you can tell that he is having fun.

James Corburn as Waternoose nearly steals the show with his performance, mainly because of how the story develops him. He is a gentleman above all, very calm, collected and easy to trust, the kind of boss you would love to have. But, without spoiling anything, his character evolves in such a way that you never see it coming, and the voice acting changes alongside it. It stands as one of the best moments in all the Pixar films, and once you see it you'll understand why.

Finally, you have the smallest characters whose voice actors complete the whole package. Jennifer Tilly brings a lot of air-headed charm to Celia, Mike's love interest. She doesn't do much in the whole story but her appearance will always be fondly remembered. Story man Bob Peterson is a hilarious Roz, an old, bitter woman that delivers her lines as dry as possible, much to the dismay of Mike and the delight of the audience. Last but not least is Mary Gibbs as Boo. The directors were looking for authenticity rather than an inspired performance, and even though I think Boo is supposed to be much older than the voice acting suggest she is adorable and you feel as if Boo is a real child having an adventure with these cuddly creatures (as she sees it of course).

Since the film's release Pixar has gotten much better at creating digital worlds and characters, with the recent Toy Story 3 giving the classic characters an updated look and a toy world that is remarkable. Even then, Monsters Inc. remains a masterpiece of digital design. The hair on Sulley alone still remains an achievement, with each strand reacting individually to his body movements. It's very realistic and captivating to look at. The designs of the monsters are appropriately creepy, but very fun. Best of all, despite their exaggerated proportions the Pixar animators have animated them very well. Mike in particular is incredible. Even though he only has one eye he is very expressive. They got a lot of mileage out of Mike's face, limitations and all. The locales are very pretty, but I find it kind of disappointing that they didn't make them as surreal as the characters than inhabit it. The textures and designs are realistic, but I wish they took more liberties when creating an all-monster world.

If you want something more family friendly but at the same time its very smart, Monsters Inc. is it. Since its release Pixar has done better movies in technology and storylines, but Monsters Inc. remains a fantastic humor full of heart and humor.

Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5



martes, 5 de octubre de 2010

Review #46: The Wolf Man (1941)



The Wolf Man (1941)

Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Warren William, Ralph Bellamy, Patric Knowles, Bela Lugosi

Directed by: George Waggner

Released by: Universal Pictures

Synopsis: Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) returns to his ancestral home in Llanwelly, Wales to reconcile with his father, Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains), after learning of the death of his brother. While there, Larry becomes romantically interested in a local girl named Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers), who runs an antique shop. As a pretext, he buys something from her, a silver-headed walking stick decorated with a wolf. Gwen tells him that it represents a werewolf (which she defines as a man who changes into a wolf "at certain times of the year.")

Review: Out of the first three Universal Monsters films I have reviewed so far I would say that The Wolf Man is the most brutal of them all. While the violence is tame compared to today's horror standards, the film is a very tense and exciting thrill ride starring one of the most fascinating creatures of all of fiction.

In order to understand why the film is violent when compared to other movies let's analyze the monsters. Dracula was terrifying, but had a lot of charisma and exotic charm that you couldn't help but love. He dealt with his victims and enemies in a smooth manner and only reacted harshly if his life was in danger. Frankenstein was a victim of circumstance, created to defy the laws of life by an ambitious but misguided scientist and became feared by everyone in the process. If he attacked someone it was because someone approached him harshly or it was all an unfortunate accident. The wolf man I would say is both a victim and a villain. That's because the victim with the wolf man's curse can't control when he turns into the monster, and once he does he loses all consciousness and all he thinks of is attacking and killing, even those that are close to him.

That's why The Wolf Man delivers a lot of tension. Everyone is a victim, including the wolf man himself, and anything can happen once his raging instincts take over. The story is also rich in fantasy and mythology, making the wolf man more than just a random creature that came out of nowhere. It's because of this that the story is not only exciting but fascinating as well. There is a mystical reason for the creature's existence, rather than the hand of man guiding its creation. The creature must be disposed of in an specific manner that won't come easy. It gives the film a subtle amount of depth not seen in other movies of it kind.

If there's one thing I would talk against the film is that it's not as dramatic or even as human as other movies. What I mean is that while both Frankenstein movies dealt a lot with the subject of life and death as well as man's acceptance towards the strange and unusual. The Wolf Man is a simpler story rich in mythology and danger, but light in human drama. It doesn't help that many other movies based on the Werewolf curse had a much more expansive story where the mentality of the victim was explored and thus the consequences of his actions were far worse. In comparison, The Wolf Man feels slightly weak. This isn't really an issue as the film is still enjoyable regardless, and not everybody will see it this way, but after witnessing how Frankenstein dealt with this beautifully it's a shame that the plot in The Wolf Man didn't have more to it.

In terms of cast performance it is solid if slightly forgettable. Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot and the Wolf Man is believable, going through many emotions such as doubt, denial, desperation and anger that further complicates his situation, and as the wolf man he is scary and beastly. The rest of the cast didn't strike a chord with me. Most of them are there to provide a reaction towards the actions of the monster (friends and family) or to expose his character (the gypsies). The film, however, does have a great appearance by Bela Lugosi as one of the gypsies and the first victim of the wolf man's curse.

In terms of staging the story, The Wolf Man looks really good though it is far more simpler, creating an atmosphere that is similar to Dracula's. The film takes place most of the time on the foggy forest. This gives the creature ample opportunity to catch his victims by surprise, and shocking the audience in the process. The costume design for the wolf man is really good despite the era it was made. Transformations are subtle but indicative of the man's suffering and his sting as the creature is great to watch to say the least.

Overall, I would place The Wolf Man between Dracula and Frankenstein in terms of quality and enjoyment. It is far more exciting than Dracula thanks to a very good sense of pace and an engaging mythos that makes the monster that much terrifying. But it also lacks the human depth that made Frankenstein such a great series of films in my eyes, and the cast isn't as good as in previous movies. The Wolf Man, however, is far from a bad film and if you enjoy classic horror and the Universal Monsters franchise then this film is worth at least one viewing.

Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5



lunes, 4 de octubre de 2010

Review #45: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)



Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Ernest Thesiger, Elsa Lanchester, Una O' Connor

Directed by: James Whale

Released by: Universal Pictures

Synopsis: Frankenstein's monster (Boris Karloff) is still alive and roaming the country, spreading fear and chaos. During his journey he learns about human compassion and cruelty, realizing that the monster may indeed be more human than anyone living.

Rating: They say that people never learn from their mistakes. While this train of thought applies to the characters in the movie, it doesn't apply to the creators of this movie. I felt they kind of missed the mark with Dracula, Frankenstein was an enjoyable piece of horror with a complex story and dramatic characters. So you can imagine my shock when I realized that Bride of Frankenstein tops it in every way imaginable. From the opening you will see that the film is inspired in its narrative.

One of the things that stood out the most to me in the first film is how human the monster was. He was imposing, intimidating and most importantly, frightening. But, he was portrayed as a victim to a world that never understood him and the mistake that was never meant to happen. Bride of Frankenstein goes even deeper into the heart and soul of the monster, once again played wonderfully by Boris Karloff. He goes from being a growling lost creature and turns into a man of some cohesive thought. He learns what love and compassion is and that first appearances are indeed valued more than what lies in the soul of the person. This keeps evolving until Frankenstein's monster becomes the hero, one that shows mercy towards his enemies and sacrifices himself for the well being of the world.

Less striking is the titular bride, played by Elsa Lanchester (who in a rather creative twist, also plays Mary Shelley, the original writer of Frankenstein, at the beginning of the film). While her appearance in the film is memorable enough that she has become an icon of her own, she is only in the film for a few scenes, and very little is done to her except being the element that angers the monster. Colin Clive returns to play Henry Frankenstein. Like the monster he created Frankenstein is now aware of his mistakes, and any experiments he makes he was forced to. This turns him into a grounded character, not unlike the mad man we met in the first film. This makes way for the film's real villain,Doctor Septimus Pretorious. Played by Ernest Thesinger, he is what Frankenstein was in the first movie times two. He shows far less contempt towards the ideas of life and death and really wants to play God. This makes him a despicable man that is worse than the monster people are chasing after.

The look of the first movie was basic in execution but created an iconic look that is still remembered to this day, and Bride of Frankenstein proudly continues that tradition. The sets are varied, giving us detailed Victorian homes in front of thunder storms, quaint forest cabins and threatening ancient castles. The monster looks the same as before, but the Bride looks a little bit wacky. It's a look that oddly keeps her beauty but gives off the fact that she is an inhuman creation. There is even some neat special effects when the doctor shows Frankenstein some of his creations.

Bride of Frankenstein stands as one of the best sequels ever released. It takes the winning concepts that made the first film a classic and polishes it to near perfect. Frankenstein's monster is a creature you will both love and fear and his story will captivate you till the very end.

Rating: 5 filmstrips out of 5



domingo, 3 de octubre de 2010

Reviews #44: Frankenstein (1931)



Frankenstein (1931)

Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Dwight Frye

Directed by: James Whale

Released by: Universal Pictures

Synopsis: Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), an ardent young scientist, and his devoted assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye), a hunchback, piece together a human body, the parts of which have been secretly collected from various sources. Frankenstein's consuming desire is to create human life through various electrical devices which he has perfected.

Review: If you guys read my Dracula review then you know that I was very underwhelmed by the horror classic. The performance by Bela Lugosi is fantastic and the atmosphere is chilling, but everything else falls flat and at times its boring. Afterwards, I approached every classic monster film with caution, expecting something bad instead of classic. This was a big mistake as Frankenstein is not only a great horror film ,it fixes all of the mistakes done by Dracula.

Based on the classic horror book by Mary Shelley, Frankenstein greatly succeeds in suspense and pace. Every event in the story flows smoothly, nary a scene feeling superfluous to the narrative. Also differently from Dracula is the amount of drama the plot has. There are some scenes that deal deeply with some human concepts, such as the frailty of life and the acceptance of those different from us. There is even a death that while unintentional leaves a very deep impression in the viewer. The reaction afterwards is nothing short of heartbreaking. It creates an unique type of horror film where there is a lot of horror to experience but also you get to see inside the psyche of the characters, a rarity in this kind of film.

This is greatly aided by some great performances from the actors. Colin Clive as Victor Frankenstein is magnificent, evoking both the ambition and madness that made the doctor one of the most amazing characters in fiction yet. He is both a hero and a villain, and ultimately becomes the victim of his own desires.

Frankenstein the monster, played by Boris Karloff, is an interesting enigma. Unlike Dracula where he possessed the smarts and charisma to create a well rounded character, Frankenstein is a juggernaut of a monster, moving left and right without any clear direction and knowledge of his existence. And yet, for such a one dimensional character you can't help but feel bad towards him when he creates dangers by mistakes. Like the doctor he too is a victim of circumstance. He wasn't asked to be an experiment nor defy the laws of life. He was set loose on a world that is terrified by him. It's rare for a monster to be this sympathetic, but Frankenstein does it.

One fascinating piece of trivia is that when the film was first released, Boris Karloff was not credited as the monster. Instead in the opening credits when the cast was shown, the monster always had an interrogation mark. Eventually, everyone learned who was the actor behind the make-up, but it's interesting that they wanted to create a monster so fascinating that they would hide the identity of its performer for years just to make sure that the effect was convincing and thus more haunting.

The technical merits are impressive for its time. It deals away with the haunting imagery of Dracula to scenes that are intense and filled with danger. Everything from the scenes in which Fritz is looking for human parts to when the villagers rally against the monster is filled with tension that adds greatly to the drama. The special effects in particular are great, giving us grand thunder storms that resonate with the madness brewing inside the character's heart.

The make-up effects are also worth noting. While the art of make-up effects has evolved in a way that monsters and otherworldly creatures can easily be made a reality, Frankenstein does really well with in this department. Boris Karloff evokes both fear and presence thanks to how he looks, and even if it looks a little primitive it all works to great results.

Overall, Frankenstein washes away the sour taste left by Dracula's slow narrative. The story is deep but never forgets to be thrilling and chilling. The movie monster is terrifying but we the audience learn to accept him as a victim of his master's misguided ambitions, and best of all it all flows very well, creating an enjoyable escapist evening at the movies. Best of all, the sequel is much, much better.

Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5



Welcome to Halloween Month!




Throughout the month of October I will be reviewing classic horror movies as well as post Halloween related entries and more! Hope you guys enjoy this new event.

In the meantime, enjoy this neat video!


sábado, 25 de septiembre de 2010

Review #43: Bringing Up Baby (1938)



Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Starring: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Charles Ruggles, Walter Catlett, May Robson, Fritz Feld

Directed by: Howard Hawks

Released by: RKO Radio Pictures

Synopsis: David Huxley (Cary Grant) is a mild-mannered paleontologist beleaguered by problems. For the past four years, he has been trying to assemble the skeleton of a Brontosaurus but is missing one bone (an "intercostal clavicle"). To add to the stress, he is about to get married to a dour woman, Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker) with a severe personality and must make a favorable impression upon a Mrs. Random (May Robson), a wealthy woman who is considering donating one million dollars to his museum. The day before his planned wedding, David meets Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) by chance on a golf course. She is a free-spirited young lady and, unknown to him at first, happens to be Mrs. Random's niece.

Review: Throughout film history there are movies that at first fail to ignite reaction from audiences, either because the concept was too ahead of its time or too surreal to comprehend, or it was simply bad. But thanks to theatrical re-releases, home video releases and word of mouth from people that gave it a chance, films once deemed as the worst of its kind quickly find an audience and are hailed as the best ever made. Bringing Up Baby is one of these films. Originally a box office flop, big enough to deem many of its actors “Box Office Poison”, now, it is labeled as one of the best screwball comedies ever made, and I agree one hundred percent with that sentiment.

I have said it before, but Cary Grant is a fantastic actor that can turn any role, be it comedic or dramatic, into a shining example of extraordinary performances. Bringing Up Baby isn't an exception. The story demands for near manic performances and Grant passes it with flying colors. He even has one of the most controversial and simply hilarious lines ever mentioned on film. I won't spoil it for you, but have to see it to believe it.

Best of all, Katharine Hepburn is able to keep up with Grant and at times even surpasses him. Hepburn is known for playing strong, highly spirited women that can stand up to any man but still be very feminine and graceful. Bringing Up Baby changes things up a bit with a character that is clearly ditzy. Always well intentioned, but ultimately screwing things up with her good intentions. Still, Hepburn evokes a strong presence and is far from the stereotypical dumb broad. She is physical and outgoing in the way she sees life, and we can't help but be fascinated by it.

Integral to the plot is Baby, a real leopard that drives the entire story. Surprising for the era, the leopard interacts directly with the actors and while the potential for danger is there, the actors do very well. In fact, you can even tell who is comfortable having a leopard around ('s Katharine Hepburn!) and who is secretly afraid (hint hint...he wears a pink bathrobe later on!). But regardless, the leopard creates a lot of comedic scenes and is easily one of the most memorable characters in the movie.

Another element that makes Bringing Up Baby a classic of comedy is the writing. In many ways the film was ahead of it time in how dialog and character interaction is written. Nearly everything that comes out of the character's mouth is comedy gold, fueled even further by dynamic delivery. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong in nearly every scene and it's all a wonder to witness thanks to the energy of its actors, something very important when creating a comedy like Bringing Up Baby. The pacing is excellent, it never drags nor does it all go by too fast.

Normally, I would be talking about the film's flaws, be it major or tiny in this section of the review. But looking back, there is very little to hate or complain about Bringing Up Baby. The only real complain I can muster is that it may feel too episodic for some. Each scene is an event on its own that ties to the main narrative. While many movies do this, some fans are not appreciative of this story concept. Even then, the film handles this very well and it shouldn't be too big of a distraction.

In the past, I have said that it gets hard to rate a comedy film since humor is subjective, and what may be considered funny by some might not be for someone else. But Bringing Up Baby is excellent in its writing, pacing and characters I can't give it a low rating. It's unfortunate that the film didn't find an audience when it was released decades ago. Time, however, was kind to this film, allowing fans to discover its maddening brilliance. Cary Grant fans, Katharine Hepburn fans or even leopard enthusiasts shouldn't miss this film.

Rating: 5 filmstrips out of 5