Tuesday, July 27, 2004

I'm behind of film reviews again so let's wizz through a few, eh what?

DRACULA 1931 SPANISH VERSION

I was pretty much right on the nose.  It's a better film as far as cinematography, basic blocking, and lighting than the English version, but the Spanish actor who plays Dracula, Carlos Villarias, is nowhere near Lugosi.  In fact part of what makes this a film worth seeing is that it reminds one how great of an actor Lugosi really was.  In spite of the fact that Lugosi had much of the melodramatic indicating movements that were ubiquitous in that era, he really gets into the role and delivers a believable role as something not human.  The Spanish Dracula mainly played the part with googly eyes and a comically depraved smile. 
Other parts were good.  The Spanish Renfield was totally different from the English version but no less great of a performance.  The same with Van Helsing.  I'm glad I finally saw it.  It's an important piece of film history and a great companion to the original.

DRACULA'S DAUGHTER

Yeah, remember I got the set of Dracula DVDs?  Now you do.
Dracula's Daughter taught me something.  Universal made some of the greatest monster films ever made.  Those classics (the first two Frankensteins, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, the Spanish and English Draculas) have been around and readily available for decades.  The lesson I learned is that just because it's a Universal monster movie doesn't mean it's a great film.
This one wasn't too bad.  They kind of rehash the plot.  The same Van Helsing returns.  There's a great homoerotic scene when Dracula's daughter goes after a female "model."  Dracula's daughter's assistant, Sandor, is really creepy in the "kick sand in that guy's face" kind of way.  And the hero is kind of like Noel Coward and Fred Astaire's illegitimate son who finds himself in a bad horror film for no good reason at all.   
But in the end it's really too close to the original in a really uncreative way.  And there are too many unanswered questions.  What happened to Mrs. Dracula?  What was the birth and rearing like?  Where did they register for their baby shower?  Why is Dracula's daughter so outgoing in spite of the obvious fact that they would have had to have home schooled her?

SON OF DRACULA

Here's the most unfortunate Dracula I've come across yet.  First of all, nobody in their right mind would believe that Lon Chaney Jr. is Hungarian.  That's right off the bat, as it were.  Then the writer of the film is way too proud of having figured out how to spell Dracula backwards.  I knew I was in trouble in the first ten minutes when I saw how clever they thought that was.  It continues down hill.
I hope I don't ruin it for anybody, but he isn't even the son of Dracula.  He's actually Dracula.
I love Lon Chaney Jr.  I love him because he really pulls off the "big, sweet American who is plagued unjustly by fear and sorrow."  I have a hard time thinking of a modern actor who plays that type.  I might if I were in film.  But here he is terribly miscast.  They manage to make him look somewhat elegant (that's Lennie from Of Mice and Men in his nicest clothes) but he opens his mouth and that accent comes out. 
The other actors are pretty dismal.  The story is kind of a Dracula goes west kind of story.  There's no explaination why they have the novel of Dracula where he dies at the end and yet here he is walking around.  No explaination why a town that looks like swamp people probably live about five miles out of the town's border has in it a Hungarian folklore expert.  No explaination why the sherriff seems to hate everyone.  The guy who goes mad seems pretty sensible throughout. 
The best thing about this film for me was the special effects.  They still looked cool to me in 2004 even though I knew it was an animated bat turning into Lon Chaney Jr.  The scene where Chaney drifts across the water to the morbid girl is spooky even though it's really only Chaney being pushed on a raft through a wet soundstage.  And they do cool things with animated smoke too.  That's why I'm glad I saw it.  Actually, with both of the children of Dracula films, I enjoyed watching them even though they weren't great films.

COFFEE AND CIGARETTES

Quick change of style here.  I was really excited when I heard this had finally come out.  I'm a big fan of Jarmusch and I'd read about this years ago.  I'd read that there was a film starring Tom Waits and Iggy Pop called Coffee and Cigarettes.  Then I learned it was a short film.  Then I learned that he was filming more bits of it.  Then I didn't hear anything until I saw an ad for it.  Then it came to the Pageant here in Chico.
It's many short films where people have coffee and cigarettes and things happen.  You'll be a much cooler person if you go see this film.
I thought every segment was great.  My favorites were Waits and Pop, Roberto Benigni and Steven Wright, Cate Blanchett (who proved to me again what a great actress she is.  She not only makes fun of herself but pulls of a great performance of a character type I've never seen her play before and, given Hollywood's safety blanket needs, might never see her do again,) Joie and Cinque Lee with Steve Buscemi, Bill Murray and the Wu Tang Clan (possibly the funniest,) and Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan (very likely the best of the lot.)  Although the William Rice/Taylor Mead segment was by far the most beautiful. 
So well put together too.  Jarmusch really made a great film out of a bunch of short films.  He put just the right mixture in and in the perfect order.  It's the best new film I've seen this summer and quite possibly my pick for best new film I've seen so far this year.

 


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