Dracula(1931)

Released: February 1931

Director: Tod Browning

Not Rated

Run Time: 85 Minutes

Genre: Horror/Fantasy

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Cast:
Bela Lugosi: Count Dracula
Helen Chandler: Mina
David Manners: Johnathan Harker
Dwight Frye: Renfield
Edward Van Sloan: Van Helsing
Herbert Bunston: Dr. Seward
Frances Dade: Lucy

When I talk about people being inspired to be film-makers by films like Star Wars, you have to consider that the people who made movies like that were inspired by films and serials that date back all the way to the early 1930s, or even earlier.  When it comes to the genre of horror, a lot of folks who make movies in that particular genre will often talk about the early monster movies of the 30s and 40s as their muse and inspiration.  It’s not hard to see why.  The horror films of the early 20th century are some of the most iconic and memorable movies in cinema history.  With Halloween coming up in a little over a month, I thought it would be a really good time to start talking about scary movies.  For that, I would like to actually to start where they almost began, with films like Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, Creature From the Black Lagoon, and the granddaddy of horror movies:  Dracula.

Inspired by the Bram Stoker novel of the same name, Dracula follows the mysterious Transylvanian Count Dracula as he purchases a piece of property in England called Carfax Abby.  Using the realtor, Renfield as his servant, Dracula makes his way to London and begins to cause all sorts of havoc by seducing and attempting to turn young Lucy and Mina into vampires.  It’s a very simple set-up, but it works wonderfully for this film.  Having read Bram Stoker’s book, I noticed a few changes here and there to the story, but considering when the film was made, these nitpicks are of the extremely minor variety.  Overall, the story is paced quite well for a film that runs 85 minutes, and it gives us enough character development to care.  It’s a classic story, always has been, so I really can’t say anything negative about it.

These days, when you go to see a horror movie or a creature feature, film-makers try to shoehorn in some kind of backstory or tragedy for the human characters.  You know what?  That’s not what we go to monster movies for.  We go for the freaking MONSTER!!  Back in the 30s, 40s AND 50s, the human characters were secondary, because people came to see the monster.  People want to see Frankenstein’s monster wreak havoc, not Dr. Frankenstein having tea with a local girl.  While the human characters had their place, the focus was on the actual monster.  That’s what I love about those older monster flicks.  They didn’t waste time with overly complicated character development, they got right into it.  For the character of Dracula, who was loosely based on Vlad the Impaler during the 15th Century, there have been many people who played the character.  From Frank Langella and Christopher Lee to Gary Oldman and Luke Evans, not one of them did a terrible job.  I enjoyed them all.  But the actor that really made the character was Bela Lugosi.  When people talk about Dracula as a movie character, they think of Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee, no other actors have embodied the character the way these two did, but it was Lugosi who made it iconic.  Look at how Lugosi portrays Dracula.  Look at his mannerisms and listen to the way he speaks.  Nobody has done it quite the way Lugosi did.  Every actor that has come after, has modeled their performance on Bela Lugosi’s to varying degrees.

While the film’s  focus is on Bela’s performance, I have to give credit to the other actors for giving everything they’ve got with the material.  Dwight Frye, who plays Renfield, gives the character a very manic and disturbed performance unlike anything I’ve seen before.  It’s absolutely wild.  Edward Van Sloan gives his character of Van Helsing a very distinguished and gentlemanly performance as someone who has experience with the supernatural.  The ladies are your basic damsels in distress, nothing terribly special here.  Not terrible, but not terribly memorable, either.  Overall, the acting is phenomenal.  Obviously, Bela Lugosi steals the show in every scene that he’s in.  When he gives his famous stare, it’s genuinely creepy and unsettling.  For a film that’s almost 90 years old and it still manages to creep you out, that’s AWESOME!!

There is a massive difference between horror movies of today and the horror films of the past.  Horror flicks today rely on shock value and gore to make their audiences uncomfortable.  During the 30s and 40s there was no gore.  It wasn’t allowed.  So, the film-makers had to rely on genuine tension to scare people.  I’m not talking about jump scares, either.  How they managed to creep people out was through the use of atmosphere.  Now, the movies released during the 30s and 40s were mostly black and white, so that helped a great deal.  They also relied on big sets and matte paintings to get across how scary these things were.  Dracula’s use of these sets and paintings was phenomenal.  The journey to Dracula’s castle was not as elaborate as it would become in later films, but it was still hair-raising.  The castle designs were extraordinary.  Dracula’s castle was epic.  Cobwebs and rotting wood helped sell the setting.  The other thing that sells the atmosphere is the sound design.  For these old movies, the sound was fairly minimalistic, but the howling wolves was a very nice touch.

Honestly, I don’t think there’s much more that I can say that hasn’t already been said by other people.  Dracula is a classic in every sense of the word.  Of all the monster movies that would follow, Dracula is the one that stands out as the most iconic.  Bela Lugosi’s performance is otherworldly and creepy.  The visuals and the costumes are second-to-none and the whole thing is just extraordinary.  I hadn’t seen this film in over 20 years and it’s just as good as the first time I saw it.  If you are a fan of vampire movies or Dracula in general, this is a must-own.  If you like classic cinema, this is a must-own.  This is a movie that needs to be shown in film classes around the world.  This is absolutely recommended.  No score will be provided, because no score is necessary for a film like this.

 

Good Idea/Bad Idea: Terminator 6

I want to do something different when it comes to discussing movies that have been announced or are on their way to being released.  Usually, I just post a preview with a trailer and some information about the film, but they just seem kind of bare-bones.  This is a different kind of preview format as it were.  This format, though, will only be used for certain kinds of movies like sequels, reboots or stuff like that.  Otherwise, I’ll just use my previous format.  So, in the first section, Good Idea, I’m going to talk about the potential good stuff that is being brought to the film in terms of casting, director, or story line.  The second section I will use to give my opposing thoughts to said movie or project.  The first topic of discussion for Good Idea/Bad Idea(which is no way, whatsoever, in any form related to the skit on the Animaniacs cartoon) will be for Terminator 6, which was announced some time ago.  So…let’s get into it.

GOOD IDEA:

When Terminator Genisys hit theaters, it was met with mostly mixed and negative reviews.  While the film picked up ticket sales in China, the American release of the film was a complete disaster.  As a result, Paramount Pictures decided to put the franchise on hold for a time while decisions were being made about the future of Terminator.  As it turns out, Arnold Schwarzenegger had expressed interest in returning for another film.  Over the past few months, things started coming together, and Arnold is indeed slated to return in the franchise that made him a super-star.  That’s a good thing for sure, as Arnold has been one of the main reasons why people go to these movies in the first place.  Next up, the director of 2016’s Deadpool, is slated to direct Terminator 6, or whatever it will be called later on.  Deadpool was freaking awesome and one of the best comic-book movies ever made.  I think Tim is going to be a perfect fit as the director.  Now, HERE’S where it starts getting interesting:  James Cameron, who wrote and directed the original two films is coming back to the franchise that kick-started his career.  Obviously not as a director, as he’s busy directing the next 4 Avatar movies.  Bringing Cameron in as a producer allows him to have more direct control over things are done.  While Miller will direct, Cameron is going to be making sure it’s done right.  This is a HUGE win for the franchise right now, as the rights are slated to return to Cameron in 2019.  For some recent news, Linda Hamilton, who played Sarah Connor in the original two films, is being brought back to reprise the role.  This is important for a number of reasons:  One, Terminator 6 is said to be a direct sequel to Terminator 2, which means the film in some fashion will ignore the events of Terminators 3,4 and 5.  Two: There is a possibility that the new film could be based on the T2 sequel novel trilogy which were released in 2001, 2003, and 2004 respectively and were written by S.M. Stirling.  As far as I’m concerned, those books were a proper Terminator 3.  I don’t know if the new film will go that way, but it will be interesting to see if it does.  Overall, I’m genuinely interested in seeing what happens here.

BAD IDEA:

With the announcement of a new Terminator film comes a number of problems.  One, people are getting tired of sequels, reboots and stuff like that.  The box-office performance of 2017’s summer is proof of that.  Also, having only one stellar sequel that was followed up by three weak-ass entries, Terminator 6 is going to have some serious issues getting people to put their butts into seats, especially if you consider that the last two films were rated PG-13.  6 movies in a franchise that didn’t need to go past two is going to be a hard pill to swallow for a lot of people.  I didn’t hate the other movies, but everyone pretty much agrees that Terminator 2 is the best sequel in the series, bar none.  Trying for a direct sequel to one of the greatest films ever made is going to be a major challenge and not a lot of people are going to go for it.  This is not like Star Wars where the universe is extremely vast.  There are very few directions that this could go.  It was also announced that T6 would be the first in a new trilogy.  Here’s the problem:  Terminator Genisys tried to be the first in a new trilogy, but everybody knows how that one turned out.  It’s a gamble, but they really need to nail this one if they ever want the franchise to continue.  It also needs to be rated R from here on out.

CONCLUSION:

I’m being cautiously optimistic about this for a number of reasons.  One: James Cameron is going to be directly involved.  Two: Linda Hamilton is coming back and that’s possibly going to add some more emotional heft to the story.  Three: It’s going to potentially side-step the third, fourth and fifth movies entirely as a direct sequel to the second film.  Terminator 6 is going to have some major hurdles to get over, but I’m starting to get excited about an honest-to-God good sequel to Terminator 2.  Time is going to tell whether this one gets knocked out of the park or is locked in the dog house…..with the T-1000 coming to put it out of its misery.  Please be good.  Please be good.  Please be good.

A Look Back: Summer 2017

A couple of weeks ago, there have been some reports of how the box-office was doing during the summer movie season.  While these reports didn’t hand out specific numbers, they basically said that the summer of 2017 was the worst summer for movies in 25 years.  That sounds suspiciously like hyperbole to me.  So, being the intrepid movie blogger I am, I decided to actually try and take a look at the numbers and see if those reports were accurate.  Bear in mind, that a lot of these numbers are not going to include marketing costs.  Also, they aren’t necessarily going to be one hundred percent accurate because some of these companies refuse to release their numbers.  One more note before we begin, my numbers come from Box-Office Mojo.  So, if you want to take a look for yourself, I’ve included a link to their website.  So, let’s see how bad the summer of 2017 was for movies.

The first thing I did was compare this year’s summer draw to that of previous years going all the way back to 1992.  Here are the numbers, starting with 2016 going back to 1992:

2016: $4,452,138,253
2015: $4,460,872,561
2014: $4,058,023,698
2013:  $4,851,137,978
2012: $4,305,232,111
2011: $4,326,713,619
2010: $4,215,426,660
2009: $4,303,984,081
2008: $4,160,697,308
2007: $4,210,520,687
2006: $3,732,453,450
2005: $3,567,356,579
2004: $3,842,295,369
2003: $3,751,162,389
2002: $3,597,801,083
2001: $3,378,160,693
2000: $3,001,153,212
1999: $3,199,354,115
1998: $2,824,208,840
1997: $2,465,428,506
1996: $2,391,455,399
1995: $2,311,108,408
1994: $2,348,735,086
1993: $2,177,675,687
1992:  $1,656,748,641

Those are the totals for each summer going back 25 years.  These are the actual(or as close to the actual numbers as we can get) numbers for each year.  As you notice, once you get past the first decade, the numbers seem to shrink considerably.  Again, factoring in inflation, the numbers tend to get skewed a little bit.  But, as you can see, for each consecutive year, the numbers are quite impressive.  At least, until you hit 1992.  That was NOT a good year for movies at all.  It had some major hits, but it was not the most spectacular of summers.  Now, let’s take a look at the summer of 2017: $3,735,494,165.  Seems pretty impressive, right?  Wrong.  When you adjust it for 1992, this is what you get: $1,656,811,800.  That’s only SLIGHTLY better than 1992.  So, the question is: Are the reports about the 2017 summer movie season being the worst in 25 years correct?  The answer is yes.  So, what happened?

To get a sense of what went wrong, I’m going to take a look at a few of the movies that were deemed box office bombs during the summer.  I’m only going to look at the domestic take.  The first film I’m going to look at is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.  According to Dark Horizons, Jerry Bruckheimer came out and defended the film’s performance.  Now, the final take of the film was about 800 million, but that’s including the foreign market, where it did far more business than it did here in the states.  In the states, the film didn’t even come close to hitting it’s budget.  At 173 million dollars on a 230 million dollar budget, that’s considered a big-time flop.  Most American movie studios would prefer that their movies perform better here in the states first, before relying on the international market.  While Bruckheimer is well within his rights to defend his movie, I hope he understands that Pirates 5 is nowhere near as successful as the previous films were.  I’m not saying the film wasn’t successful, but it was certainly the weakest entry in the series, both critically and financially.

Let’s take a look at The Mummy next.  Domestic take?  80 million dollars, give or take on a 125 million dollar budget.  The movie fell flat on its face.  Why?  It’s a movie that nobody asked for with very highly questionable marketing and PR.  King Arthur: Legend of the Sword: 39 million on a 175 million dollar budget.  It crashed and burned.  Alien Covenant?  74 million on a 94 million dollar budget.  Not entirely a flop, but a major disappointment.  20th Century Fox is reassessing the future of the franchise as a result.  Transformers 5: 130 million on a 217 million dollar budget.  Are we starting to see a pattern here?  A lot of these movies aren’t even coming close to hitting the mark, at least not domestically.  Some of them have been saved by the international market, but that’s no guarantee that we’ll ever see a sequel or follow-up.  Terminator: Genisys got saved by the market in China, but Paramount Studios put a hold on any direct sequel.  We’re getting another film, but it’s not going to be a direct sequel, at least, not as far as I can tell.

So….why did these movies crash and burn and basically take the summer movie season with them?  Ultimately, I feel it was a combination of bad decision-making on the part of the studios, viewer fatigue, and rising ticket prices among other things.  Now, we’ve also had film-makers and directors come out and slam Rotten Tomatoes for the piss-poor film performance during the summer.  Even without the numbers, I can tell you that is nonsense.  Film-makers are underestimating their audiences like they have the past couple of years.  People are getting kind of tired of sequels, re-makes/reboots, and everything in between.  Not to mention the ticket prices.  The average ticket price today is about $8.85, give or take depending on the theater and location and whether or not the film is in 3D.  Let’s face it, more people are going to be spending their time in front of their TV’s and computers when they have options like Amazon, Netflix and Hulu.  These platforms also have some very incredible material to draw from, so people are not going to the movies unless it’s something worth going to see.  The summer of 2017 has proven that the summer movie season is not as strong as it used to be.  The strongest movies are being released late winter/early spring and during the holiday season.

Now, be aware that this is MY personal observation on the 2017 summer movie season, so it may not jive with someone else’s point of view.  With the exception of Wonder Woman, Galaxy of the Guardians, and Spider-Man: Homecoming, 2017 has seen the weakest summer in a very long time.  Hopefully, things will improve next year.

Live By Night

Released: January 2017

Rated R

Director: Ben Affleck

Run Time: 125 Minutes

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Genre: Crime Thriller

Cast:
Ben Affleck: Joe Coughlin
Elle Fanning: Loretta Figgis
Remo Girone: Maso Pescatore
Brendan Gleeson: Thomas Coughlin
Robert Glenister: Albert White
Matthew Maher: RD Pruitt
Chris Messina: Dion Bartolo
Sienna Miller: Emma Gould
Zoe Saldana: Graciela

The gangster film has been an absolute staple of American cinema since the early 1930s with films like Howard Hawke’s Scarface, Little Caesar, and The Public Enemy.  Gangster movies would often take place from the perspective of the gangsters being portrayed.  The genre has endured for decades and reached a new milestone during the 60s with films like Bonnie And Clyde.  But the genre would be set in stone as one of the best genres due to the release and success of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather in 1972.  The Godfather changed everything about the gangster film and elevated American cinema to all-new heights.  From The Godfather, not only did we get an astounding sequel, but we saw more and more gangster movies being made as a result.  In 1983, Al Pacino would star in the Brian de Palma re-make of Scarface which would become iconic in its own right.  Serpico, Carlito’s Way, Goodfellas, and Casino would also leave an indelible mark on the industry.  It made absolute sense that film-makers would try to recreate the success of The Godfather with films like Heat, Public Enemies, American Gangster, and Ben Affleck’s recent gangster opus, Live By Night.

Ben Affleck stars as Joe Coughlin, a former World War I soldier who has seen too much bloodshed and is out to live by his own rules.  After robbing a bank, he hooks up with Emma, who also happens to be the girlfriend of the notorious Irish gangster Albert White.  White is in a war with his Italian rival, Maso Pescatore.  After running afoul of Albert White, Joe ends up being left for dead.  As a result of three cops being killed, Joe, with the aid of his father, Tom Coughlin, is sentenced to three years in prison.  After getting released from prison, Joe goes to Pescatore for help settling a score with White.  Joe is then allowed to take over rum-running operations in Florida to compete directly with White.  Along the way, Joe falls in love with Graciela, who happens to be the sister of a Cuban gangster.  Joe realizes he may have bitten off more than he can chew when the KKK begin to interfere along with Albert White’s men.  Setting the film during the Prohibition was a very interesting idea.  The original Scarface was set during this period and there’s a lot of story potential to be had during this turbulent time in American history.  Prohibition gave rise to people like Al Capone who would become the main source for alcohol….for a price.  Setting Live By Night during that period was an interesting idea.  However, the story suffers from an overabundance of subplots, including one that involves a police captain’s daughter being involved in blackmail to get the police chief to give up his brother-in-law who is a member of the local chapter of the KKK.  The subplots are interesting enough on their own, but when you put them in a film together, it brings the entire experience to a halt.  As a result, the pacing is very uneven with story that is not as fleshed out as well as it could be and characters that aren’t really that compelling.  For a gangster movie set during Prohibition, these issues bring the film down a great deal.

While the story and characters may have taken a major hit, everything else about the film is simply top-notch.  The production values are absolutely amazing.  This film is beautifully shot, with amazing sets and costumes.  There is certainly a level authenticity involved as some of the film was shot on location in Boston which played heavily into the gangster activities during the 20s and 30s.  The film was also shot in Savannah, Georgia.  It’s not just the sets that are spectacular, but also the environments.  It’s a beautiful film to look at.  The costumes are absolutely phenomenal.  The detail on the suits and the Fedoras are just incredible.  Everything is very period-specific, even right down to the jewelry that the women wear.  Ben Affleck spared no expense making Live By Night look as authentic as possible.

The acting is another area in which the film excels.  Everybody here, including Affleck himself, brings their A-game and are just really, really good.  Robert Glenister really gives Albert White a very menacing and evil persona as the Irish mobster.  Remo Girone is equally fantastic as the Italian.  One of the biggest surprises of the film was Elle Fanning.  She gives her character of Loretta a very innocent and naive quality that initially makes her quite endearing.  But after a traumatic incident, the character changes to a religious and very anti-crime preacher that may not believe what she’s preaching.  Chris Cooper plays her father, Chief Figgis.  He’s absolutely magnetic whenever he’s on screen.  Cooper is that damned good.  Zoe Saldana is lovely as Graciela.  She gives Joe something that he’s been missing for years:  The opportunity to become a better person.  The relationship between the two feels real.  Ben Affleck, for all his faults, is on top of his game here.  While his Boston accent slips from time to time, there’s no denying that Affleck throws everything he’s got into the role.

Live By Night, being a gangster film, has some really fantastic action set-pieces.  The opening sequence in Boston, basically show a city at war with the Italians and the Irish gangs laying waste to each other.  People are gunned down with Tommy guns and gangsters are thrown of rooftops.  It’s surprisingly brutal.  There is a car chase after the first robbery or two that is just mind-blowing considering the cars being involved.  There are a couple of action sequences peppered throughout the film, but the film’s climactic battle sequence is really freaking awesome.

Ultimately, Live By Night is not a terrible movie.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  The problem is that it tries to do to much and doesn’t connect enough.  Ben Affleck, who serves as the film’s producer, director and lead actor, I feel has stretched himself far to thin to really make the film a more compelling experience.  If the characters and story were more focused, this would have been another knockout film for Ben Affleck.  As it is, Live By Night is his worst directorial effort to date.  That being said, if this is the worst that Ben Affleck has to offer, I don’t necessarily think I’m worried about future projects that he may be involved in.  I just hope he learns to rein himself in and not take on too many responsibilities.  So, can I recommend this film?  Yes, I can, if not for the story, but for the visuals, the action and the performances.

My Final Recommendation:  When someone makes you an offer you can’t refuse, run.  7.5/10