The Brides of Dracula (1960) - poster

The Brides of Dracula (1960) - poster

Following up on the successful The Horror of Dracula (1958), this Hammer horror film elects to pursue Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) while Christopher Lee sits this one out. Therefore we have no “Count” per se, but rather a mysterious and aristocratic family, the Meinster family, whom we soon learn were cursed by their encounters with the vampire. Their story is shrouded in mystery and loss, and they mostly keep themselves to themselves up on the mountain, while the village below is terrorized by some kind of supernatural predator.

Enter a young French teacher, Marianne Danielle (Yvonne Monlaur) who one night as she tries to make her way to her new employment is lured to the castle by the Baroness (Martita Hunt). It would seem the older woman has no sinister designs on the young woman, but the Baroness’ long-exiled son (David Peel) is revealed to be chained up in his room. He gains the trust of the young schoolmistress, and she frees him – but he is up to no good. He soon takes to wooing her personally (using his suave aristocratic charms) and at night, menacing the other young women at the school.

The Brides of Dracula (1960) - still

Directed by accomplished Hammer talent Terence Fisher, the film is neither scary enough nor titillating enough to genuinely shock; and in Baron Meinster, we barely have a villain and the movie seems to know that. That said, competent performances by Cushing, Hunt, and several English actors of film, stage, and television – Freda JacksonAndree MellyHenry OscarMona WashbourneVictor Brooks, and Miles Malleson (the latter as rather weak comic relief) – keep the film enjoyable enough. Freda Jackson as the enthralled servant, and Martita Hunt’s more stage-like theatrics, are particularly enjoyable. The Hammer colors are gorgeous and Cushing’s dignity (always present, even in silly films) goes a long way. A must-see certainly for any horror or vampire completist.

The Brides of Dracula (1960) - promo still

 

Space Mutiny (1988) - French DVD

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The Mole People (1956) - poster

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Shin Godzilla (2016) - poster

Shin Godzilla (2016) - poster

It’s almost impossible to review Shin Godzilla (2016) – roughly translated as “True Godzilla” and also released as Godzilla Resurgence – without weighing its merits according to the three general audiences who may view the film.

First, Godzilla as both a monster and film series is one of the most steeped-in-historical-allegory franchises in cinema. This inverse.com piece is a great Cliff Notes of sorts on some of these allegories – although keep in mind there have been many books written on the topic, and it is a vast one. The relationship of Godzilla (the monster) to the elements of war, vengeance, national pride (of Japan), cultural resentment (of America and postwar demilitarization), technology (particular nuclear armament), and disaster tragedies, has been a major presence in even the silliest of the canonical entries. So I believe fans of the franchise who appreciate the historical and sociological context, will not be disappointed. Coming upon the heels of current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s potential review of Japan’s military body, this film is – despite being violent and scary in many places – a rather hopeful one for the nation that tackles Japan’s militarization and global citizenry head-on, if it is a little less than subtle.

Then, there’s the second category of viewer: those of us who just love monster films, especially with a B-movie creative pedigree. I definitely fall into this category, and I was not disappointed in the least. The story – while more about politics and bureaucracy than a scaly critter doing the McRib Chomp on Japan’s capital – is never boring, and the film is evenly-paced. The special effects while occasionally less-than-state-of-the-art, are nevertheless winsome (particularly the mass-destruction of streets), and the monster is downright scary! In terms of ferocity – and without revealing spoilers – may I just say in the size and scope our eponymous sumbitch ain’t here to play. He (or she) has a few tricks up the scaly sleeve, and seems to suffer no discernible relationship to a human or mammalian motive. B-movie fans will enjoy this film.

And finally – there are the casual viewers, those not particularly interested in film history or artistic allegory, who might stumble across the film and wonder if Japan’s take on their homegrown monster is better than the American blockbusters of 2014 and 1998. These viewers – your “average” filmgoers looking for an entertaining action film – are bound to be frustrated by about 40 minutes of board meetings, cheesy (to the American blockbuster eye) special effects, and a lack of either romantic subplot or lantern-jawed jocks who punch people in the face.

Written and co-directed by Hideaki Anno, a prolific Japanese writer and director known for animated films, Shin Godzilla is not sophisticated in it’s symbology – nor have any of the 28 other films been particularly so. The cast here, while given silly lines now and then, is more than adequate for the energetic conversational script. The film relies on a competent ensemble as well as the charisma of young Japanese actors Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara, and Mikako Ichikawa (Hasegawa and Ishihara both featured in the fan-beloved Attack on Titan live-action offering), and if their characters aren’t particularly three-dimensional, they aren’t unappealing either.

This is a must-see for any fans of Godzilla or Japanese monster films; but will also be an enjoyable diversion for fans with less arcane tastes.Shin Godzilla (2016) - still

Suicide Squad (2016) - poster

Suicide Squad (2016) - poster

“Worst. Heroes. Ever.” reads that tagline for DC “dark action epic” Suicide Squad. Except: really, the film is like any other “underdog hero” film – of which we’ve seen precisely eleven thousand – and there is nothing really new here – and a whole lot of old music hits and hot babes trying to convince you that you’re having a great time.

Boasting a feel-good soundtrack, an energetic production design, and a charismatic cast, Suicide Squad nevertheless performed rather poorly with critics. I think everyone’s just cranky over the superhero film scene, personally. But hey – superhero films are hard to do. Can you make the die-hard comic fans happy, in a two-hour runtime – especially considering the very retcon nature of the genre? Can you make the story compelling to viewers who don’t care about the sacred history of the graphic novels and just want a good action story? Even if you could do either – can you do both simultaneously?

Briefly, for plot: top brass baddie Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) gets permission to put together a group of criminals – most with supernatural/superhero powers, and a handful of sociopathic and skilled thugs – to pull off naughty black ops. The concept is easy: the squad are a bunch of dirtbags who no one will miss if they have to be killed. They are held hostage by money, blackmail, that sort of thing. Oops! One of the supernatural baddies gets loose. Waller sends the others after it. Meanwhile, will this ragtag bunch of creeps find their humanity and band together against all odds? Why, yes. Was anyone wondering?

The most talked about controversy in the film (besides the comic fans that hate what was done with it) is that of the character Harley Quinn (one of only four women in the film’s important roles). Played with a lot of zeal by Australian Margot Robbie, Harley is by turns defended as a legitimate action character in her own right, and decried as being a really gross actualization of an abusive relationship (with the Joker), as well as overly and unfairly sexualized. I agree with all the above – and although I was pleased to see Harley get more lines than I thought she might, it was still really grody how many times the camera cut to lingering shots of her bod. (Imagine how ludicrous it would feel if every five minutes we were subjected to Will Smith’s buns in hot pants providing the, “be-BOOP!” punchline to sassy jokes!).

Suicide Squad (2016) - still

As awesome as Harley is at times, this film relies on silly tropes where women are concerned. No one is surprised, I know (especially considering an all-male massive writing team). Besides Davis and Robbie we have a witch-lady thingie (Cara Delevingne) and stoic assassin Katana (Karen Fukuhara) – a Japanese woman once again subject to a role as near-silent egregious window dressing. There’s not a covered midriff in sight. Maybe they spent too much licensing the music? I hope our ladies weren’t too cold.

As for the rest of the players, we have a decent cast diversity – they’re not all white guys! – and a great deal of acting talent. Unfortunately, the film’s writing and plot don’t hold our anti-heroes to best advantage. Will Smith and Joel Kinnaman (as Deadshot and Rick Flag, resp) play exactly the kind of guys you think they’re gonna, with exactly the story arc you guess at. Jared Leto‘s Joker is saved up a bit because you know they’re going to trot him out a lot more in a later film. And while his performance annoyed people, the guy’s got a tough act to follow as so many still miss Heath Ledger’s turn as the character. Jay Hernandez‘ role of Diablo, despite getting short shrift in the storyline/character department, was nevertheless another charismatic entry in the ensemble.

So, I sure didn’t hate Suicide Squad as much as so many others seemed to. If I have one regret, it’s that I’d seen most of the film’s good scenes (and fun characters), through one avenue or another. The film would have been more fun had I known nothing going in. And in any case, it was a lot more enjoyable than DC’s Batman v Superman (2016), a dour violence-fest with little going for it.