Friday, October 29, 2010

Dracula (1931)***
Highly influential version of the Dracula story primarily due to the spectacular production design and some strange and interesting performances. Lugosi is startling as the Count and Dwight Frye as Renfield almost steals the picture. The only thing lacking is some stronger direction from Tod Browning who just doesn't seem to be interested.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)***
Entertaining take on the vampire legend, although claiming this is "Bram Stoker's" version is quite suspect. The venerable tale is enlivened by Gary Oldman's and Anthony Hopkins' performances and Francis Coppola's interesting and offbeat visual style. The sex is more explicit, the blood and gore more visible. Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves stand out as miscasts, although the entire project might not have happened were it not for Ms. Ryder so what can you do?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Omega Man (1971)**
I'm not quite sure what got into Charlton Heston in the late 60's/early 70's, but he made 3 iconic sci-fi dystopian pictures almost in a row: Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, and this one. Very cynical, very bleak, very depressing views of humanity, full of interesting ideas, but, except for "Apes", made on a shoestring budget and sorely lacking in imagination. I kind of admire Heston for taking chances like this even though he sometimes is woefully miscast. "Omega" is competent, kids will find it scary.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)***
Above average "is-my-husband-trying-to-kill-me" gothic melodrama, well-cast with a fine lead performance by a gorgeous Valentina Cortesa as the threatened wife. Robert Wise does a good job of creating atmosphere and maintaining the suspense. Alfred Hitchcock would have approved.
The Return of the TARP Lie About the Commercial Paper Market | Beat the Press
"This is worth mentioning now because this hoary lie keeps popping up. Let's be clear, it was important for the Fed/government to take steps to sustain a working financial system. But these steps could have included conditions that made Wall Street pay a huge price and change its mode of operation forever.

The decision to give the money essentially without conditions was a political decision that was attributable to the banks' political power. As a result, these parasites are more economically and politically powerful than ever. The public should know the truth even if they lack the money to do anything about it."

God, and/or Aqua Buddha, bless Dean Baker!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How to use, abuse, and leave Facebook Groups:
"There have been a number of criticisms since Facebook's original announcement about the Groups feature, the most prominent being that anyone can add you to any group, with or without your permission. You would likely find out about this by suddenly getting an influx of e-mail notifications about group activities, or watching the little badge at the top of your Facebook page constantly light up with new updates."

I tried out this supposedly new group thing and it hit me: Facebook is the new AOL. And they are going to be toast. And it is all because they do not care at all about the UI. Facebook is about maximizing the back end. That is where all their efforts and probably their best programmers are directed.

Either that or they are just plain incompetent.

They bill the "new" groups as a way for YOU to segregate your friends into groups that YOU want. But they didn't create a new feature, they just made making public groups easier. You could ALWAYS place your friends into different groups by creating lists of friends. And this was known only to you not your friends. These new groups go way beyond that. And try deleting the group once you create one. You have to remove each friend from the group then yourself and it magically "disappears" although that is questionable considering this is Facebook.

There is a HUGE window of opportunity for another player or two to step in with a user friendly social networking web app that actually works and is intuitive from a user standpoint.
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)***
Good, effective "re-imagining" of the oft-told tale of the mad genius who can't let dead dogs lie. Literally. Some great art direction, original ideas, and not as heavy handed with the music and closeups as subsequent Hammer films would be.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

And Then There Were None (1945)**
Earliest version of Agatha Christie's whodunnit stage play has problems with a whimsical tone while the bodies pile up. Apparently this is in keeping with the stage play but doesn't work well on film. At least not in this instance. Perhaps because the actors are too good in their roles?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Soylent Green (1973)**
Bleak, depressing vision of the now near future, 2022, but clearly dated to 1972. Extremely low budgeted and unimaginative art direction really hampers the film. The helmets used for riot gear by the police are not modified football helmets but ACTUAL football helmets spray painted grey. Hilarious. Except for Edward G. Robinson, a very poorly cast film. Heston doesn't even come close to being believable. Lots of huge plot holes.
The Ladykillers (1955)**
Energetic performances from Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers enliven the film, but the best it can do is be a droll bit of British caper-film whimsy.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Brain cells of rats used within experimental robots:
"...he [cyberneticist Kevin Warwick] argues that the field is advancing at a rapid rate, and that it won't be long before we have a cultured set of brain cells that rival the size of simple mammalian brains. At what point can we consider these robots 'alive', let alone 'intelligent'?"

Friday, October 08, 2010

Horror of Dracula (1958)**
Retelling of the Dracula story with Peter Cushing a fine Van Helsing and Christopher Lee a menacing and bloody Count. Lots of sexual subtext, but fairly genteel especially for a Hammer film.
Black Narcissus (1947)****
Gloriously photographed and directed with fine performances from Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron. Interesting, original story and script. A film almost more about color and composition than plot. A textbook on the proper use of closeups.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Son of Frankenstein (1939)***
Needs about 10-15 minutes cut, but surprisingly effective second sequel to the original 1931 classic. Bela Lugosi is unrecognizable as Ygor and turns in one of his better performances. Karloff is in fine form as the monster. Apparently this was the inspiration for Young Frankenstein as many of the setups in that movie appear here.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Review: "The Social Network":
"'The Social Network' is not a documentary. It is a dramatization, Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's take on recent history, adapted from Ben Mezrich's 'The Accidental Billionaires.' In an interview, Sorkin has said that Zuckerberg emerges in the film as a kind of 'tragic hero,' which is exactly what you would say if you'd just portrayed a billionaire as barely a human being.
But make no mistake, whether the movie is fair or horribly unfair - I know nothing of the actual facts and can't make that determination - its portrait of Zuckerberg is a hatchet job of epic and perhaps lasting proportions."

When Mark Zuckerberg's IM chats were made public it cemented my distaste for him and his creation. All it took though was Aaron Sorkin to make me almost root for the guy. And Sorkin has also caused me to re-think my position on bio-pics in general. Because of the unique power of film, filmmakers MUST stick to the facts as much as possible IF you are using real names or else make it glaringly obvious that the work is fiction as in "Inglourious Basterds". Sorkin does nothing of the kind and in fact what makes this film all the more repellent is how it is using Zuckerberg and Facebook to provide legitimacy and relevance and import to its product. Zuckerberg may well be a despicable human being but using despicable means to get back at him is just that: despicable.