Movie of the Week 69
Horror of Dracula 1958 horror drama
When looking for a top-shelf, vintage British horror film, certain elements must be considered. Is it from either Hammer or Amicus Studios? Yes, it’s from the former. Does it star either Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee? In fact, it stars both of those fine actors. Does it feature Michael Gough in a supporting role? It sure does! Was it directed by Terence Fisher or Freddie Francis? Indeed, this is a Terence Fisher classic. At this point, the film’s plot, which revolves around vampire hunters crossing swords with Count Dracula, is beside the point: it’s already a must-see.
Christopher Lee's towering performance turns the Count into a seductive monster, who sinks his fangs into the porcelain necks of his pretty co-stars as their bosoms pant with excited abandon. Director Terence Fisher definitely knew what his audience wanted, and mixes sex appeal with bursts of violence (crucifixes burnt into foreheads, wooden stakes plunged into vampire hearts). Meanwhile, lush cinematography transcends the production sets of Dracula’s castle and misty graveyards to Gothic splendor. Watch this film in splendid color on the 2010 Warner Bros DVD enhanced for modern widescreen TV. The bright red blood dripping from Dracula's white fangs and eyes flashing crimson with bloodshot menace are sure to please old school British horror movie fans.
Movie of the Week 68
Season of the Witch 2011 drama horror historical
I'm fascinated by movies and stories with Book of Job themes in which the protagonist(s) struggles to believe in a loving God despite ample evidence to the contrary. These dark tales are timeless and cut to the heart of human craving for meaning and hope in the midst of despair, in this case, the dreaded Black Plague of 14th century Medieval Europe. The film fares better than most flicks in the horror genre because of good performances from the three lead actors; Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman are two bad-ass knights (Beymen and Felson) and Claire Foy plays “The Girl” accused of being a witch and causing the Black Plague.
In a key scene in the movie, our two knights are arrested and brought before the Cardinal (Christopher Lee) who has the plague and is on his death bed. The scene has a sense of realism – the four or five doctors attending the Cardinal are all wearing plague masks. The primitive masks had large beaks which were stuffed with dried flowers and herbs to block the bad smells of the open plague sores. The Cardinal decrees that for the knights to earn their freedom, they must escort a caged wagon to the Abbey of Severac. The girl in the cage has been accused of witchcraft and will be tried by the Monks at Severac using the sacred Book of Rituals. A priest, Debelzaq, is put in the charge of the expedition.
The journey begins with a guide, 4 guards (including Bayman and Perlman) and the priest driving the wagon. The landscape is rugged mountains with narrow trails – I had the feeling the setting was high in the French Alps. As you would expect, the journey has plenty of action to keep the tension level and the viewer's interest high from start to finish. What I really liked about the film wasn't so much the swordplay, but that things are not as they seem: Initially we think that the priest is a misogynist who enjoys killing women, but this proves to be not the case at all. Also the girl is quite extraordinary – beside being physically very strong, she could skillfully transition herself into being a frightened innocent girl one moment to being very manipulative and menacing the next. Claire delivers an amazing performance in her first feature film debut. We are buffeted with conflicting information regarding the girl and the priest all the way to Severac. What is the real truth here? Eventually we find out, but not before the SHTF and swords are drawn in a fight to the finish. No spoilers.
Movie of the Week 67
Here in Colorado the seasons are changing. Fall has arrived and the aspens are turning gold and orange. The cool weather is perfect for outdoor hikes and picnics, and when the sun goes down you might find yourself in the mood for a spooky movie. Here are some suggestions for your Halloween watch list.
A Quiet Place 2018 drama horror
A Quiet Place is a post-apocalyptic thriller co-written, directed, and starring John Krasinski with his real-life wife, Emily Blunt. The couple (Eve and Lee Abbott) and their three kids (not-real life) are living in rural isolation and silence to avoid a pack of mysterious, seemingly indestructible, creatures that are blind and hunt by sound. The monsters are vicious killers. In the opening scene the family is “shopping” in a deserted drug store. In fact, the whole town is deserted. We watch them quietly go about the store, barefooted and close mouthed. They use sign language to communicate. A sense of doom hangs in the air and the suspense tightens – When will something happen? No spoilers, but when the monster strikes it is shockingly fast and brutal. I was riveted to the screen.
Not only the horror aspect was good, but the dynamic between the family members is also very well done and gives the film a heart. I liked these simple characters and truly felt that this is a family that loves each other. The family home is not specified, but judging from the large corn fields and grain silos, I have to guess somewhere in the Midwest. The Abbotts do a heroic job of surviving a catastrophe – putting food on the table, home schooling the kids, and all the mundane chores of day-to-day life in the face of constant danger. We are in awe of their resourcefulness and bravery. Then it all goes terribly wrong – how will our characters survive?
No spoilers, but I will add that John Krasinski has come a long way from quarreling with Rainn Wilson over paper clips and action figures (dolls). I suggest you put this movie on your Halloween list. It’s the best monster movie I have seen in years.
Movie of the Week 66
A Star is Born 2018 drama, music, romance
Bradley Cooper makes his director debut and co-wrote the screenplay as well. He is a well-known A-list actor. Lady Gaga, in her first starring role in a major film, was a bit of a wildcard, but she nailed it and was Oscar nominated for best actress for her performance. I had only seen Lady Gaga perform once -at a Superbowl half time show – which is not the same as this work. Can I refer to her as “LG” for short?
Much to my surprise, my wife and I enjoyed the 2018 A Star Is Born. It was even better than the hype. It is so captivating and emotionally powerful with some great musical numbers. The film is perfectly paced and wastes no time introducing the two stars and getting a romance going. Bradley Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a 40-something rock star whose music seems like country or folk interspersed with dynamic rock guitar riffs. His music style reminded me of the Black Keys; one of my favorite groups. Maine is a brooding artist type with an alcohol and drug problem. He is also losing his hearing, which adds to his isolation and despair.
One night, after a concert, Maine is looking for a place to continue drinking and ends up at a drag bar where he sees Ally (LG) perform “La vie en rose.” She really belts it out of the park and brings the audience to their feet. “La vie en rose” is about the bliss and blindness of love, which foreshadows what is to come. They make eye contact and Jackson is smitten. He persuades Ally to hop in his limo, and off they go for an all-nighter of talking and singing. Jackson says to Ally, “Can I tell you a secret? You might be a songwriter.” He is in love, but she is a bit wary and not a typical groupie.
I was much impressed with LG’s performance as an actress. There is not a flat or a false note in her dramatic scenes. Just freshness and authenticity. She was outstanding in the musical scenes, but that is not too surprising. I suppose that the character of Ally is not too far from LG herself. Both Cooper and Gaga brilliantly portray artists because, well, they are artists. The reason Star Is Born gets remade over and over again is very obvious: it is the archetypal vehicle for a Diva. LG with her amazing singing voice, great acting and dancing skills make her the most powerful triple threat in the biz. No one today really compares to her. This is not to dismiss previous actress in the same role. Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand or Janet Gaynor, while in their prime, would most likely receive the same praise.
I won’t say much about the plot of this 2018 version – there already exists an immense amount of film commentary about all four A Star is Born versions (1937, 1954, 1976, 2018). I approached the movie naïvely and enjoyed it all the more. Through some miracle, I didn’t even know the ending. I don’t want to deny you the same pleasure. I highly recommend A Star Is Born – and turn up the volume for the music.
Written by Ben Clark. Copyright 2016-2023. All rights reserved.