Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Movie – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

When most people think of “monster movies” they have images of fun but dumb movies, standard characters, perhaps cheesy special effects, bad accents, etc.  Academy Award level acting probably is not something most people expect when they sit down to watch one.  (Yes, the 2003 film Monster earned Charlize Theron a Best Actress Oscar, but the title refers to her character’s actions, not a physical monster.)  Well, in the perhaps unique case of the 1931 film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, based on the Robert Louis Stevenson 1886 novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, lead actor Fredric March won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in both title roles.  Off the top of my head I can’t think of any other Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, Invisible Man, Jekyll/Hyde, Zombie, Godzilla, etc. film that had someone win an Oscar for their acting in it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Movie – Spider-Man 2 (2004)

When Spider-Man came out in 2002 it was wildly successful.  I thought it was very entertaining and watched it more than once.  The questions began almost immediately – would the inevitable sequel be able to keep up, or would it disappoint?  As it turns out, the sequel didn’t just match the first one; it surpassed it.  It had all the right elements in it, some great acting in key scenes, and a very satisfying ending.  In fact, until The Avengers was released in 2012 I considered Spider-Man 2 to be the best superhero movie that had been made.

Note: this review will contain spoilers for Spider-Man (2002).

Friday, November 22, 2013

Movie – The Invisible Man (1933)

James Whale is probably best known for directing Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), but he also brought to the screen another of the classic horror characters – The Invisible Man.  Unlike the two Frankenstein movies, this 1933 adaptation was much more faithful to H.G. Wells’ 1897 short novel.  The movie not only pioneered some special effects techniques, but it also launched the film career of Claude Rains who “appeared” as the title character.  The film was a sensation and has spawned over a dozen versions of the concept since it was released, including comedic, horrific, and even erotic ones.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Movie – Burke and Hare (2010)

Burke and Hare is a dark comedy from director John Landis (Animal House, An American Werewolf in London).  It was his first feature film in more than ten years.  The film uses the real life case of William Burke and William Hare and how they “procured” cadavers for Dr. Robert Knox, a professor at Edinburgh Medical School in Scotland in 1828.  There had been a 1970s movie on the subject, but I had never seen it.  I had also never heard of this case, so the film was entirely new to me.  While it did play some with motivations, my understanding is the principal facts are generally accurate in this.  I like twisted humor, so this movie was right up my alley.  The subject and tone of Burke and Hare also fits in well with its other Ealing Studios counterparts such as Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) and The Ladykillers (1955).

Monday, November 18, 2013

Movie – The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Years ago I was in a store and came across The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on a bargain DVD.  It cost me next to nothing so I bought it even though I had not seen the movie and knew nothing about it other than it was old and I recognized the title.  Predictably, the DVD transfer wasn’t in very good shape, but I was still able to watch it. And what I saw was quite a surprise to me.  I was not expecting much and instead I got what may very well be the oldest film there is with a surprise twist/reveal in it.  I did not see it coming at all.  Don’t worry. I will not be spoiling it in this review.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Movie – The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

My first experience with The Rocky Horror Picture Show was not a positive one.  When I was in college VHS tapes of movies were exploding in popularity, but the people who owned the rights to this film refused to release it in order to keep people going to the theaters that were showing the midnight movies.  Somehow my college got the film and showed it on campus one evening.  I went in knowing NOTHING about either the film or the audience participation.  When it started and people were yelling “lips!” I thought it was a little funny.  I soon caught on that the people who did know the movie had all these rituals.  Unfortunately, I knew none of them in order to play along, so I just sat there kind of irritated because I couldn’t hear any of the dialogue or the songs.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Movie and Book – Frankenstein (1931)

Both the 1931 Frankenstein film and the book on which it was based – Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus – were massively influential in their respective media and in pop culture.  The amazing thing is that the two bear little resemblance to each other.  In the film the monster is a creature of low intelligence whose physical appearance is markedly different from humans.  In the novel the creature becomes an intelligent, albeit hideously ugly, man whose main physical difference is his great size.  It’s interesting to note that the common mistake of referring to the creature himself as “Frankenstein” pre-dates 1931 and had already started from the popularity of the novel.  It was the film (and the follow-up 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein) that cemented that misconception in people’s minds.  Both the novel and the film are worth checking out.

Monday, November 11, 2013

On this Veterans Day/Remembrance Day/Armistice Day

I originally posted this video back near the U.S. Memorial Day because it honors the sacrifices made by the families of military veterans.  It shows the families being surprised by the return of their parent, spouse, or child that is serving in the military.  It is also a good tribute to the veterans themselves and it feels like a far more fitting post for today from me than a movie review.

As I wrote back when I originally posted it: “I don’t care what you may think of the military; this is about human beings.  I try not to judge people I haven’t met, but if you are completely unmoved by this video then you must be dead inside.”

Friday, November 8, 2013

Movie – Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor: The Dark World does not really fit into the spirit of this Evil Doctors and Mad Scientists category that I am currently doing, but it was so entertaining that I wanted to write about it now instead of weeks from now.  And it does literally have a “mad scientist” in it: Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) is much the worse for wear after the events of The Avengers (2012).  Having had Loki in his head for so long has left him a little bonkers.  He’s raving about “convergences” and such.  But is he mad, really?

This film is a worthy successor to The Avengers.  It is definitely better than the first Thor film and I would rank it just below The Avengers and equal to Iron Man (2008) in regards to the best Avengers-related films.  Joss Whedon’s hand is definitely on display. No, he didn’t write or direct this film, but Marvel has placed him in charge of all of their Phase 2 films, which are the post-Avengers ones.  I detected some definite “Whedonisms” in this film and it is the better for them.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Movie – The Skin I Live In (2011)

The Skin I Live In is a very interesting film from Pedro Almodovar.  It’s sure to surprise many, upset some, and maybe even traumatize a few.  It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Golden Globe and won the BAFTA for Best Film Not in the English Language, beating, among others, A Separation (2011).  It was nominated for 16 Goyas (the “Spanish Oscar”), winning four of them.  It’s a film that may challenge you with the moral and ethical questions it raises, but it is definitely worth your time.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Movies with Evil Doctors and Mad Scientists

“She’s the Dr. Doom to my Mr. Fantastic, the Dr. Octopus to my Spider-Man, the Dr. Sivana to my Captain Marvel.  [pause as realization hits]  You know, it’s amazing how many supervillains have advanced degrees.  You’d think the Masters programs would do a better job of filtering them out.” – Dr. Sheldon Leonard, The Big Bang Theory

I’m doing this category only after a little bit of hesitation, and partially because I just really like the quote above.  I hesitated because as someone with an interest in science and knowledge it often bothers me in films when a similar character almost inevitably ends up being evil, or at least led astray and harmed by his/her thirst for knowledge.  The evil scientist is as much a stock character as the bad guy with a foreign accent.  Unlike the latter archetype, nobody is out there protesting when smart people turn out to be evil.  It’s apparently okay to dump on them because, well, they’re smart.  Beat them up in school, see them suffer in movies; it’s all connected. 

One of the reasons I like the film Contact (1997) so much is that it is the rare film that treats science and scientists with respect.  It’s also a rare film that treats faith with respect.  To have both together in one movie is nothing short of remarkable.  You can read my review of it here.

Films have used these kinds of evil characters almost from the first days of the invention of the movie camera and they have continued right up to the films that are still being released today.  That doesn’t mean that all movies that use it are bad, though; far from it.  I will be reviewing some of the classics of the genre.  And the fact that the mad scientist is such a cliché makes it ripe for parody and reinvention.  I will review a couple of those kinds of films, too.  In all, I will be posting ten new reviews.

I won’t be including any James Bond movies since almost all of them would qualify and this category would end up being one on Bond instead.  I also won’t be including Bond parodies like Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) – starring Vincent Price and Frankie Avalon, no less!  I do like the title, though.

You will not find any torture porn horror movies such as The Human Centipede here.  I haven’t seen it, but I know what happens and you couldn’t pay me to watch that.

Finally, you may be expecting me to include the film Dr. Strangelove (1964), but Peter Sellers’ mugging for the camera as the title character is actually my least favorite part of that movie.  I will be including a film which references that character, though.

As I review the films I will come back and add the links for them here.

The City of Lost Children (1995) – posted January 11, 2011
X-Men: First Class (2011) – posted June 11, 2011
Iron Man 3 (2013) – posted May 3, 2013
Young Frankenstein (1974) – posted September 5, 2013

On to the reviews…

Friday, November 1, 2013

October Movie Status – And Can You Help Me Locate Some Films?


I saw 85 new movies in the month of October, plus re-watches of 5 TV show seasons.  After completing the original 1,001 Movies list last summer I mentioned I might work on some “low hanging fruit” – lists where I had only a few entries to go to complete them.  After a couple months of hardly watching any movies, the month of September got me re-energized with watching all the new additions to the 1,001 Movies list.  In October I took aim at the Time Magazine All-Time Top 100 Films, as well as the Sight & Sound Directors (SSD) Top 100 Films.  I completed both of them. 

In the course of doing this I found a good source for a number of the foreign films I had not yet seen.  This carried over to the Sight & Sound Critics (SSC) Top 250 Films list, every one of which is also in the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They (TSPDT) list, so even though I had more than 300 left to go on that one, things snowballed from there.  Since some of these also crossed over with the 101 Genre films lists put out by the same folks who do the 1,001 Movies list, I also knocked off some of those.

Readers of prior monthly statuses may be wondering about my ongoing quest to see all of the Oscar Best Picture nominees.  While I only saw a couple in October, I did check off Trader Horn (1931), which was the last one for which I had not been able to track down a source.  It aired on TCM during the month.  While there is still one film presumed to be lost, and one or two others that only exist as single copies in the UCLA film vaults, I should be able to watch all of the others I have remaining.

All of these different lists can be seen by clicking on the names of them.  They link to my Lists from Chip posts on them.


Now, I mentioned in the post title that you may be able to help me.  Just like the 1,001 Movies list, critics like to name films that are difficult, if not impossible, to find.  It’s especially difficult to find the TV miniseries that they can’t seem to help placing on top MOVIES lists.  The apparent rule of thumb is that if it is long, then critics put it on the list, whether it is a 9 hour Chinese documentary on industry or a 1979 Portuguese six hour TV remake of Romeo and Juliet. 

Here are the films that I simply cannot track down, but need to in order to complete these various lists.  Note – the only pay service I have looked at so far is Netflix since I am already a member.  I suppose if enough show up on another pay service it might be worthwhile to join to see them.  I’m hoping to keep costs as low as possible, though.  If you have a good source for them, but do not want to tell the world by leaving a comment here, then please email me at with your suggestions.

101 Genre Films:

City Streets (1931) – a gangster film with Gary Cooper, directed by Rouben Mamoulian
The Red Badge of Courage (1951) – a war film directed by John Huston
The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960) – a gangster film directed by Fritz Lang

Sight & Sound Critics Top 250: (I only have 7 films left, but 4 of them are trouble.)

Out 1, noli me tangere (1971) – a 12 hour “film” on the 1968 uprisings in Europe from director Jacques Rivette.  (See also the TSPDT list for another Rivette film).  I’ve actually found a downloadable version, but it is 30 freaking gigabytes.  I just want to see it, not burn DVDs of it.  I’m hoping someone might know of a reasonably sized version.
Kings of the Road aka Im Lauf der Zeit (1976) – an early Wim Wenders film.  (See also the TSPDT list for another Wenders film.)
Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (2003) – a nine hour documentary on the falling industry in a region of China from director Bing Wang.
Flowers of Shanghai aka Hai shang hua (1998) – a period film from director Hsiao-hsien Hou.  (See also the TSPDT list below for another film from him.)

They Shoot Pictures Don’t They:

Alice in the Cities aka Alice in den Stadten (1974) – an early Wim Wenders film.  (See also the SSC list above for another film from him.)
Empire (1964) – Andy Warhol’s experiment to see if he could do anything and still get film critics to fawn over him.  It worked.  This is an 8 hour shot of the Empire State Building from dusk to 3:00 AM.
Anatahan aka Ana-ta-han (1953) – a Japanese film from Josef von Sternberg
Minamata aka Minamata: The Victims and Their World aka Minamata: Kanja-san to sono sekai (1971) – a Japanese documentary on industrial chemical poisoning.  I swear that this exists only on the TSPDT list and on IMDB and nowhere else on the internet.  Even IMDB has little information on it.
Liebelei (1933) – an early Max Ophuls film
Carnival in Flanders aka La kermesse heroique (1935) – a film from director Jacques Feyder
Doomed Love aka Ill-Fated Love aka Amor de perdicao (1979) – a six episode Portuguese TV mini-series from Manoel de Oliveira retelling Romeo and Juliet.  Believe it or not, I tracked down the video.  Unfortunately it has Portuguese audio and hardcoded Italian subtitles only.  I’ve searched and English subtitles do not exist, but I found one comment that said that someone had done a rough translation of the Italian ones embedded in the video and had posted them at  Unfortunately, that site appears to require that you be invited by someone else to even view the forums.  I don’t need an invite, but if you have access to it, could you please save the English subtitles to someplace where they are available?  Or you could email them to me since the files should be small.
Dust in the Wind aka Lian lian feng chen (1987) – another period film from director Hsiao-hsien Hou.  (See also the SSC list above for another film from him.)
Out 1: Spectre (1974) – Jacques Rivette’s shorter companion to Out 1: noli me tangere (1971) (see the SSC list above for the other.)  This follow-up is “only” 4 hours long.  Unlike the other one, I have not found any source for this.
Under the Bridges aka Unter den Brucken (1946) – a film from Helmut Kautner
Variety aka Variete aka Jealousy (1925) – a film from E.A. Dupont
The Italian Straw Hat aka The Horse Ate the Hat aka Un chapeau de paille d’Italie (1928) – a film from Rene Clair

Any help you can provide in tracking these down will be most appreciated.


Here are the 85 new movies and TV show seasons I saw in October.  Highlighted movies are ones to which I would give at least three stars out of five.  I will single out the four and five star films, as well as the worst films, in the paragraphs below the lists.

Oscar Nominees (2): San Francisco (1936), Trader Horn (1931),

101 Genre (4): Army of Shadows (1969), Chelsea Girls (1966), The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), Ivan’s Childhood (1962)

Time (12): Band of Outsiders (1964), Nayakan (1987), Ulysses’ Gaze (1995), Mon oncle d’Amerique (1980), Leolo (1992), The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936), Mouchette (1967), Pyaasa (1957), The Last Command (1928), TV – Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980), Baby Face (1933), TV – The Singing Detective (1986)

SSD (3): Opening Night (1977), Husbands (1970), I Am Cuba (1964)

SSC (23): Tropical Malady (2004), Death in Venice (1971), The Turin Horse (2011), The Devil, Probably (1977), Werckmeister Harmonies (2000), A Moment of Innocence (1996), Day of Wrath (1943), I Was Born, But… (1932), Blissfully Yours (2002), Touki Bouki (1973), The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), By the Bluest of Seas (1936), Histoire(s) du Cinema (1998), Sicily! (1999), Floating Clouds (1955), Stromboli (1950), The River (1951), The Life of Oharu (1952), Love Streams (1984), Where is the Friend’s Home? (1987), Imitation of Life (1959), The Passenger (1975), Germany Year Zero (1948)

TSPDT (33): Tale of Tales (1979) (short), Rose Hobart (1936) (short), Le sang des betes (1949) (short), Un chant d’amour (1950) (short), The Seasons (1975) (short), Not Reconciled (1965), Numero Deux (1975), The Green Ray (1986), El (1953), India: Matri Bhumi (1959), Charulata (1964), The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), Man of Aran (1934), French Cancan (1954), The Wind (1928), Teorema (1968), My Friend Ivan Lapshin (1986), Passion (1982), Accattone (1961), El Sur (1983), Que Viva Mexico (1979), Late Autumn (1960), Placido (1961), Vive L’Amour (1994), The 47 Ronin (1941), Wild River (1960), Antonio das Mortes (1969), Chikamatsu Monogatari (1954), Days and Nights in the Forest (1970), The Executioner (1963), From the Clouds to the Resistance (1979), La Region Centrale (1971), The Tiger of Eschnapur (1959)

Other Movies (8): The Revisionaries (2012), Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 (2012), The Whale (2011), Clark Gable: Tall, Dark and Handsome (1996), This is the End (2013), Your Sister’s Sister (2011), Jack Reacher (2012), Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

Re-watches (0):

TV Series (5):  All re-watches: The Big Bang Theory Seasons 2-6

I had no five star movies in October.  Here are the four star films I saw:

The Last Command (1928) is a very clever “meta” film from more than 80 years ago.  It is loosely based on the true story of a Russian general who after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution ended up in Hollywood as a film extra.  This movie stars Emil Jannings and he justifiably won the first Best Actor Oscar ever handed out.  I was expecting nothing and got a very moving film.

Placido (1961) is my best surprise so far from the TSPDT list.  It’s a screwball comedy from Spain.  It may have the fastest dialogue I have ever encountered in a foreign film.  I had never heard of director Luis Garcia Berlanga, but he also did another dark comedy in the list that I liked – The Executioner (1963).

Your Sister’s Sister (2011) is a far better than average comedy/drama about complicated relationships and it works despite the somewhat out there concept.  Mark Duplass (Safety Not Guaranteed) scores again, and this film also features the best performance I’ve seen from Emily Blunt.

Jack Reacher (2012) features one of my favorite characters that Tom Cruise has ever played.  I don’t know if there will ever be another movie, but it’s made me interested to check out the book series that the character comes from.

I just reviewed Much Ado About Nothing (2013).  You can read it here.

I had several one star films in October, but I will only mention one of them.  La Region Centrale (1971) is from Michael Snow – the man who brought us Wavelength, a 45 minute zoom at a wall, which is the 206th best movie ever made according to a critics' consensus.  Now comes this film.  Forget about a puny 45 minutes of wasting our time. This features THREE HOURS of nothing but a camera rotating in place and sometimes spinning. And it's the 425th best movie ever made, according to a critics' consensus. And they wonder why people think they are out of touch.