Thursday, September 17, 2009

Saludos Amigos

Saludos Amigos is the first of Disney's "Look how cool Latin America is" double feature. It includes Donald Duck and Goofy cartoons, and a cartoon about an airplane, in between live action segments about Disney animators taking a trip to South America.
The movie was followed with The Three Caballeros, which I've seen about a bajillion times and couldn't help but draw comparisons to. Here's what I came up with:
Saludos Amigos is more informational than The Three Caballeros. The Three Caballeros is more entertaining than Saludos Amigos.
That isn't to say Saludos Amigos isn't entertaining. It's just that the live action segments aren't as much fun as the cartoons. And, honestly, I wasn't thrilled with the airplane cartoon. I would have liked another Donald or Goofy cartoon instead.
Saludos Amigos comes from a bygone era when people really gave a damn about their educational films. Actually, I don't know if it was all people or just Disney, but still.
These days if someone was given the assignment to make a movie about the people and lifestyle in South America they'd probably take some cameras, interview some people, shoot some crowd footage, write some dull narration and edit together a completely boring and unwatchable documentary for school children to groan about and ignore, or to air on PBS to an audience of none because the only good stuff PBS shows are Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers and the occasional filmed-for-television live musical.
I digress. My point is that there was a time when educational films were a lot more like Saludos Amigos and Hemo The Magnificent (a movie about blood and the heart, directed by Frank Capra). Sure, they tell you stuff, but they're entertaining too. People are much more inclined to remember things if they had fun learning them.
At any rate, Saludos Amigos is a little dryer and a little less fun than The Three Caballeros. It doesn't have the Aracuan or a crazy, senseless, tripped out sequence near the end. What it does have, though, is actual information. I don't think The Three Caballeros was as successful as an educational film as Saludos Amigos is. If I was supposed to learn about Latin America from Three Caballeros, it's news to me. I thought it just happened to take place in Brazil and Mexico.
Best parts of the Saludos Amigos: the Goofy cartoon and the Jose Carioca cameo.

End of line.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Monster Squad

"One hundred years before this story begins... It was a time of darkness in Transylvania... A time when Abraham Van Helsing... and a small band of freedom fighters... conspired to rid the world of vampires and monsters... and to save mankind from the forces of eteranal evil... They blew it."
So now it's up to The Monster Squad to clean up Van Helsing's mess.
Count Dracula is leading Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolf Man, a Mummy and a Gillman in a campaign to take over the world. There's a magic amulet that, if smashed at midnight on a certain date, will throw off the balance between Good and Evil and the monsters will rule.
Luckily, this is an '80s movie. That means the kids in the movie are smart, resourceful wiseasses. They know what's going on and they will save the day.
Members of the Monster Squad are the Sean, the leader; Patrick, his right-hand man; Horace, the token fat guy; Rudy, the token tough guy and Eugene, the token fraidy-cat. For good measure, we also have the One Adult Who Knows What's Going On and the Adorable, Precocious Little Sister.
They know their stuff when it comes to monsters, challenging each other to figure out a way, other than a silver bullet, to kill a werewolf. They're on the job the second they figure out there's a threat.
The movie is fun and light and a good all-ages monster movie. I have to admit I never actually watched it back when I was little and my brother rented it a lot. I did, however, memorize everything he told me about it so I could tell my friends at school about it. (I was too afraid to watch horror movies when I was little, but in spite of that I was still a fan.)
If I had been brave enough to watch The Monster Squad back when I was six, though, I would have loved it.
Extra points go to Duncan Regehr as Count Dracula. I don't know if it's the fact that they didn't try to tack a pointless, cheesy love story onto him or what, but he is the most dignified, effective and downright meanacing Draculas I've seen. (In spite of his costume, which looked like it came from a Halloween store. It was one of the more expensive Halloween store Dracula costumes, but still, it's not great.) I would not mess with this particular Dracula.
And there are some Draculas that I would totally start a fight with if I needed to.

End of line.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I went in with an open mind, I swear. I've never seen any movie adaptations of it or anything. The most I knew about the Frankenstein story was that a dude creates a monster out of dead folks. That's it.
I had no idea, for instance, that Victor Frankenstein is the First Original Emo Kid. He creates his monster, all right. Then, the second it comes to life, he decides he hates it and he shouldn't have made it. He proceeds to spend the rest of the book wangsting about it: "Oh, everything bad that's happening to me is my fault because I created that horrible demon!"
Well, no, not exactly. Everything bad that's happening to you is your fault because you created that horrible demon and immediately abandoned it. If you'd stuck around and educated him and showed to him that, in spite of his unpleasant appearance, someone did care about him, he wouldn't have run around killing people.
The monster doesn't really show up after his creation 'til the middle of the book, where he monologues for six or seven chapters about what he's been up to the past couple of years. I never would have guessed, based on what I know of Universal's Frankenstein, that the monster not only speaks, but is as "eloquent" and long winded as everybody else in the book.
During his seven chapter ramble, we get to find out what led him to murder: "Nobody likes me." So the monster's a bit of an Emo Kid, too.
Anyway, the monster offers Victor the chance to stop his (the monster's) murderous ways and the doctor, rather than just do it so everyone around him will stop dying, whines and complains and whinges and eventually doesn't do it because he's too busy dwelling on the "what ifs" to realize the "for certains." Namely: If You Build It, He Will Stop Murdering Members Of Your Family.
Mary Shelley is the master of eighty gajillion word sentences that don't actually tell you anything. The book is nearly impossible to follow, and only really started making sense when I started to imagine Victor Frankenstein with Jim Parsons' voice. Once he became Doctor Sheldon Frankenstein he was a lot easier to understand.
Also, I am sick and tired of people talking about how things "made them wretched." It's apparently the only synonym for "depressed" that Mary Shelley knew, and she used it at least once every three pages. The word "depressed" shows up a total of zero times. I'm pretty sure the same goes for good, old fashioned "sad."
My final complaint about the book is a little uncertain because it has to deal with foreshadowing. Basically, she was lousy at it. So lousy, in fact, that I wonder if she was really trying to foreshadow, or if she was actually flat out telling you "This is what's going to happen a few chapters from now."
For instance, at one point Doctor Frankenstein is talking about how enthusiastic his traveling companion was, then says "And where does he now exist? Is this gentle and lovely being lost for ever? ... No, it is not thus; your form so divinely wrought...has decayed, but your spirit still visits and consoles your unhappy friend." Golly gosh, I wonder what's going to happen to that guy? He doesn't get killed for another three or four chapters, but any surprise that I would have felt at his death was completely squashed dozens of pages before it happened.
Were people so dumb in the 1700s that they could be beaten over the head with clumsy foreshadowing and still be shocked by the outcome? Am I just a cynic who can see plot twists a mile away? Or was she just lousy at hinting?
I can honestly say, with all due respect to Mary Shelley, that Frankenstein bites. Reading the novel has cured me of any interest in seeing any film adaptation of the story. Two hundred pages of a guy whining and complaining about something he did, that he could have easily fixed, is not my idea of a good time.

End of line.