Vulcan’s Peak

Archive for the 'movies' category

Movie review: Dracula (1931)

November 6, 2009 2:41 pm

dracula1931posterWe don’t get trick-or-treaters here at the apartment, so we had another quiet Halloween at Casa de Pug. I wanted to do something in the spirit of the evening but I don’t generally care for thrillers or horror movies, so what we wound up renting was the 1931 Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi.

Pop culture is such a weird beast. It’s hard to begin to list the places where I might have heard or seen bits of this film. (A print in a catalog? A clip in a PBS documentary?) But somehow Dracula says “Children of the night — what music they make,” and you know it’s a famous line, an iconic delivery. The vampire seductresses come in through the mist in their trailing white gowns and shot is inescapably familiar. I was surprised by how many tiny moments like that the film held.

On the other hand, other things caught me entirely by surprise, despite knowing the book fairly well. Who would guess that Harker and Renfield could be conflated like that? (Anyone, obviously, who’s seen the movie in the seventy-plus years since it was made, yes.) That amused me quite a bit, as it’s a thoroughly pragmatic move. No need for Harker’s long captivity, escape, and illness, and the audience is already clued in to what’s going on with Renfield. On the other hand, it leaves movie-Harker a flimsy, two-dimensional character who has nothing to do but pick fights with Dr. Seward as they try to protect Mina — here, Seward’s daughter, as the Hollywood broom sweeps away subplots and minor characters.

Mina’s transformation from book to movie is even more sweeping. A character Van Helsing praises as the paragon of womanhood becomes a petulant girl who can’t be reasoned with. That was easily my least favorite aspect of the movie, and I’m tempted to tag it as a very early-Hollywood sort of move, but I don’t begin to have the data to support that. I know that the complete lack of incidental music is typical of the period, though. Interesting how that changes the pace of a film! Without it, scenes with little dialogue seem rather slower.

It doesn’t seem fair to make fun of special effects from the ’30s, but I have to admit that we did chuckle at their giant bat flapping on the end of its string. It made me think of the Count’s bats on Sesame Street. One bat! Two bats! Three bats, ah-ah-ah-ah! On the other hand, I love what you can do with mist and shadow on black and white film — so evocative, so pleasantly creepy. Where scenes between the human characters often tended toward high camp, the vampires were fabulous. Vamps belong in a world of black and white, I think.

Movie review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

August 2, 2009 1:42 am

hp6-posterBy the time I saw the latest Harry Potter flick last weekend, I had already heard mutters of disappointment from various friends and other reviewers, so I went in forewarned and had a good time. But the mutters were right: Like the previous Potter movies, this one moved retained the least possible amount of detail in order to tell the story. Not only were some favorite scenes cut, but it was only several days later before I remembered that yes, some of those moments were from this book.

What I’m really referring to is Harry’s chat with new Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour, in which he calmly gets to the heart of what Scrimgeour is slyly asking for, responding that he is “Dumbledore’s man, through and through.” (It’s a very adult moment, especially compared to the throes of teenage angst we see in the previous book.)

The gradual development of wizard politics throughout the book is a strength of Rowling’s storytelling. The reader’s understanding of what’s going on outside Hogwarts follows that of Harry and his friends as they begin to pay closer attention to politics — which I think is an honest depiction of being a teenager. But like many subplots, wizard politics don’t show up on the big screen.

Half-Blood Prince sticks to the bare bones of the Dumbledore plot, the Draco acting suspiciously plot, and the romance plot; one we see pretty much in full, one is severely cut, and one is actually expanded past what we get in the book.

Not surprisingly (since it involves a great deal of exposition), Harry and Dumbledore’s exploration of Voldemort’s past gets chopped down to two memories: the one at the orphanage that was in all the previews, and the vital but edited memory of Slughorn’s. I also say “not surprisingly” because many of their other excursions down memory lane serve not to further the plot of this book so much as to set up the next one: what sort of objects would Voldemort turn into Horcruxes? Presumably this knowledge will be hand-wavingly imparted to our protagonists in the next movie.

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Movie review: Watchmen

June 5, 2009 12:23 am

watchmen_posterPug and I discovered this week that we have a dollar theater across the street.  (For a loose definition of “across the street,” but you know, whatever.)  It’s in the same complex as our neighborhood Target and a former mall that’s now a private school (yes, weird).  For months, we’ve been driving past the sign for this place, but all it ever tells us is that Rocky Horror Picture Show is playing Saturday evening.

But Pug ran across the theater’s web site earlier this week, and sure enough, they’re a second-run theater, and they play all sorts of things beyond Rocky Horror.  And this week they were playing Watchmen, which we hadn’t seen yet, so we went.

The theater is an empty place on a Tuesday night, the lobby dark and cavernous.  Walls plastered up and down with old movie posters.  You could have a long game of “I spy the poster for such-and-so” in that lobby.  You’d be sitting on fat red sofas and armchairs scattered around the lobby, or maybe perched on the stairs leading up to… the projection rooms, I assume.  I don’t know why the staircase was in the middle of the lobby.  There were signs apologizing for air conditioning problems in some of the theaters — from the fan in the back of ours, we assumed we were in one of the afflicted rooms.  But there were few enough people there, it didn’t even get unpleasant.

And the movie itself?  Read on…

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Movie review: Star Trek
(or, What’s old is new again)

May 8, 2009 2:43 pm

startrek-poster Pug and I went to see the new Star Trek movie last night, and I am declaring it a Good One.

And I’d say the Trek community was overdue for a Good One, so thank you, Great Bird of the Galaxy.

My biggest worry about this film was that the characters would seem like strangers.  That it wouldn’t feel like Star Trek and that the whole effect would be laughable.  But while there were a few moments when my suspension of disbelief was stretched a little far (space diving?  magic unfolding sword?), on the whole, I couldn’t be more pleased.

All our old friends were recognizable, despite having new faces, and they acted and spoke the way one expected them to.  Kirk is a reckless adventurer.  Spock is logical, conflicted, and is quickly developing a martyr complex.  McCoy doesn’t feel entirely comfortable with space travel.  And so forth.  The instant – but not unconditional – bond between Kirk and McCoy worked, and the gradual development of their relationship with Spock unfolded well.  None of it, mind you, quite the way I pictured it, but it worked and was consistent with the characters, and I liked it.

And I always love it when the other recurring characters get to come out of the shadows a bit.  Uhura got to show her chops at xenolinguistics.  Chekov has apparently become a boy genius – not too much of a stretch, since in the original series, he sometimes fills in for Spock at the science station.  (Although… I do want to know what a seventeen-year-old who isn’t Wesley Crusher is doing on the bridge of a starship.)  And Simon Pegg’s Scotty was a lot of fun, though I had trouble looking at him and thinking “Scotty” instead of “Simon Pegg.”

Some of the accents were a little… interesting.  Simon Pegg and Anton Yelchin probably had more authentic accents as Scotty and Chekov than their predecessors ever did, and though Chekov’s was a little strong, I thought the effect was charming.  McCoy’s accent seemed to come and go and never sounded quite right to me, but given that Karl Urban is a New Zealander, and was otherwise wonderful, I’m willing to give that a pass.

For those who would prefer to avoid spoilers, I’ll hide everything else behind the cut, but I do recommend reviews of the film from NPR and the New York Times, neither of which give away anything you won’t have gleaned from the trailers already.

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Rapidly aging nerd news

August 31, 2008 5:30 pm

That’s the news doing the rapid aging, not the nerds, in case you were wondering.

Harry Potter is also aging, though — the first book came out in the States ten years ago this September.  To wring a few more rubles out of the franchise celebrate, Scholastic is issuing an anniversary edition with a new cover.

UK bookstore Waterstones has been putting together a book of stories so short, they can fit on a large index card.  Most entries, apparently were gathered through a competition, but they also invited entries from well-known authors — including J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Tom Stoppard, and Margaret Atwood.  The JKR card was a snippet of a story about James and Sirius.  As the original has now been sold (proceeds to charity) for massive amounts of money, you can read the text here.

Warner Bros. continues to be over-protective of HP.  Seriously, guys.

Another story with castles (but no wizards):  California man from the Netherlands builds his own.

Four (maybe five) unrelated topics

August 4, 2008 4:17 pm

Some can almost be called news!  All things I’ve found interesting in the past week.

— Impressive, disturbing, and a dark sort of tribute to American capitalism:  we present the Wal-Mart virus.

— By this point, I think most of you have seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.  (And if not, it’s still available on iTunes; DVD to come out sometime soon.)  Shockingly, Pug and I thought it was fantastic, and still go about humming about freeze rays and Bad Horse.  Goodness knows it got a ton of media coverage, but I offer a couple of my favorites:  The Dr. Horrible oral history, because it amuses me, and the NPR piece, because I’m impressed that they picked it up.

— The fourth book in the Twilight series, which has been enjoying popularity among those inclined towards YA vampire-romances, came out this weekend to Potter-like midnight release parties.  I know that at least a couple of you have read the books and enjoyed them — and that at least a couple of you have read the books and offered your critiques on them.  I haven’t read any of them, but I thought this Salon article offered what seems to me like some particularly insightful commentary on them.  (And while we’re at Salon, the same writer had some worthwhile notes on Harry Potter 7.  Naturally, it’s an article from a year ago, but I just finished re-reading Deathly Hallows, so I enjoyed that one as well.  I think she’s pretty fair about Rowling’s strengths and weaknesses.)

— And Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (remember A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich ?) passed away this weekend.

Later: Woah!  They’re making a Gatchaman movie?  Carmen, did we know about this?  I don’t really expect this to be what you would call… good, but Cartoon Network ran a dubbed version called G-Force that my brothers and I enjoyed when I was nine or ten, so it might get a few nostalgia points.

Well, now that’s six unrelated topics.  Or five.  Oh well; the title sounds better as it is.

“A More Perfect Union” …and other links

March 21, 2008 7:44 pm

I’ve finally gotten a chance to take a good look at Obama’s speech about race that has been in the news since Tuesday. I’m very impressed.

Watch it here: the Tube of You.
Or read it here: the NY Times.

Or hear the puppets from Avenue Q deliver the same message (well, roughly, with added cheese!). I did get to go see Avenue Q on Tuesday — the house was packed, and it was huge fun. Knowing the soundtrack meant that I knew about 75% of the show, but it’s still funny and watching the puppets is a lot of fun. See? (YouTube again.)

Moving back to the campaign for a moment, I’ve been amused by these for the last few weeks: The original Obama version and the parody, a McCain version.

As long as we’re wandering around, let’s add the 10 Most Historically Inaccurate Movies. Ending with…2001??? Heh. Am also amused that Mel Gibson makes up almost a third of the list. Though of course some of these are really good movies (but I’ll never understand the appeal of 2001. Sorry, Sir Arthur. Be at peace).

To end on a totally random note, here are two photos that aren’t mine:
Everyone is Irish. No, really. Everyone. (I was not at this parade, but this is hilarious.)
And I just love the angle on this one. You can picture me here…all the time.

Pi Day nerd fest

March 14, 2008 4:56 pm

In honor of Pi Day, let’s be unabashedly nerdy.

First, an editorial I particularly enjoyed about NASA, Star Trek, and the presidential campaign: The Next Space Frontier. While exploring the final frontier is hardly a high priority for our next president, it’s nice to see that the three front-runners all express support for the space program. (There are links to specifics within the editorial.)

And a few items that make you feel good about the Star Trek movie due out in summer 2009:

  • In an interview with the Australian Herald-Sun, Simon Pegg (cast as Scotty) said with regard to whether the film will be “serious science-fiction”:

    Very much so. It’s not at all ironic. It’s not a jokey take on the original series. It’s a faithful and loving installment in the ongoing mythology of the show.

  • Leonard Nimoy (who will be in it) seems to be very pleased about it. So does Nichelle Nichols (who is not).
  • And if you haven’t seen it yet, check out the trailer (fyi, video begins when the page loads). It makes me happy.

And hey, look what happens when I ignore the Harry Potter news sites…the seventh movie is actually going to be the seventh and eighth movies: they’re splitting Deathly Hallows into two films. This means that Half-Blood Prince will be released next Christmas, Deathly Hallows, part I a year later, and Deathly Hallows, part II the following summer.

Now go eat some pie! I plan to!

In memoriam

March 7, 2008 8:46 pm

Three parts Dungeons & Dragons, one part The Seventh Seal (clip). Brilliant.

xkcd honors Gary Gygax.

Now, for something completely different.

January 16, 2008 11:56 pm

Spamalot! So much fun.

The strength and challenge of this show is that it is so closely based on the cult-favorite film. The very mention of swallows and the first hint of a French accent got huge laughs long before a punchline was even suggested. But though some scenes are almost verbatim from Holy Grail, the story has been slightly restructured so that it can be a musical! (jazz hands!) Scenes from the movie that feature Random Person #53 become scenes about the knights — Lancelot and Robin are in the “bring out yer dead” scene (and then go off to enlist as Arthur’s knights), and the “help, help I’m being oppressed” peasant is transformed by the Lady of the Lake into Sir Galahad.

The Lady of the Lake turns out to be (A) everywhere, (B) Guinevere, and (C) a huge ham! Most of her songs are very meta-theatrical — she has three versions of “The Song That Goes Like This,” in which she explains that it is time for the lover’s duet that ends with a kiss or the torchy ballad or what have you. And naturally she marries Arthur at the end to fulfill that box on the formula checklist (no ambiguous semi-ending this time!)

Of course the Camelot dance sequence is still there, but much bigger! …And Camelot is basically Vegas. Best use of coconuts: Arthur joins a row of tap-dancing knights, but instead of dancing, he just sticks out a foot and Patsy does the taps! Clever.

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