Vampyr (1932) Review

When you hear early vampire movies the first ones people will mention are either Nosferatu or Dracula with Bela Lugosi. There were others, but those are either unknown, most of the film is damaged or gone completely. One of the least known ones is the 1932 German movie Vampyr by Carl Theodor Dreyer. On the surface, it looks like a generic vampire movie, but upon further inspection, it’s actually one of the better vampire movies to come out during this time.

One thing that needs to said before I proceed, there is no English language print of this movie since all were destroyed. You can only watch it in German with English subtitles.

With that, Allan Grey stumbles upon an inn where a man who breaks into his room one night leaves a package with the words “to opened upon my death.” That man dies, the package is a book about vampires and, curiously, his daughter is becoming a vampire.

While not a groundbreaking plot by today’s standards, it’s still pretty entertaining to see how the plot plays out. We see early on that the village doctor is in cahoots with the vampire and..you know what? Let’s talk about him. He looks absolutely creepy with that hair, mustache and glasses just make him look like the typical 1920s villain. Every time he’s on screen, you can’t help but feel disturbed by his presence.

In fact, what makes this movie worth watching is how well shot and creepy it is. For a movie that came out in 1932, some of these techniques are amazing. One of the best ones is when Allan is in a coffin and we have a bird’s eye view of what he sees. While something like this is easy to pull off today, back then this was a huge pain in the ass.

There are some things that do drag down the movie a bit. One of the most glaring examples is that entire scene when Allan is in a coffin. While the camerawork is excellent, why he’s in there and the circumstances are a bit confusing.

Vampyr is a great movie that’s creepy and has a ton of great filming techniques. If you can find, give it a try and enjoy this forgotten gem.

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Something Wicked This Way Comes (comic) Review

Time to sound like a broken record: I tried to like this. Yes, I tried to read the novel, failed and now I read the comic and even failed at that. Let’s just get on with it.

Two friends, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, decide to go to an amusement park that has just arrived in their town. This amusement park is operated by Cooger and Dark, two figures who, as our leads find out, are much scarier and have some grim ideas for their park.

Yes, this is the origin of all those scary amusement park stories that ever came out. Hell, this is a brilliant set up and a lot can happen. The only problem is this book is boring. Ray Bradbury was a talented writer and was able to write some excellent books. This is, sadly one of his stinkers. Both the book and the comic bored me because not much of interest happens. Yes, there are some moments and some truly disturbing imagery, but most of the book is about Will and his dad. While there’s nothing wrong with that sort of story, the main point of this story is that there’s an evil park run by evil dudes and I want to be scared dammit.

As far as scared, the only scary bits are what the characters look like and act. They don’t really do anything scary.  It may be more of a psychological terror, but even that doesn’t work.

The idea of an evil carnival/amusement park is scary because this is something many kids look forward to when summer comes. If there is some kind of danger, such as “you’re literally going to die,” it will scare kids and is something some parents have a fear of. People have died on rides, you know. Hell, freak shows scare some people because they’re afraid of the acts attacking them. Bradbury had that chance here, and while he did something with it, all came across as weak.

Ron Wimberly did the art for the comic adaptation. It does bring out the creepiness of the situation and the black and white works a lot better than if it were in color. The character designs, on the other hand, aren’t anything spectacular. They look like an average Saturday morning cartoon, making this look more like a Goosebumps comic than something Bradbury would write.

Something Wicked This Way Comes has a great setup and is the originator of said setup, but the overall story is dull and not scary in the least. The art in the comic version has some nice things but also doesn’t quite mesh well.

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Parasyte (Manga and Anime) Review

While I am an anime/manga fan, I admit I’m more of a casual fan than anything else. I will find series that are not mainstream from time to time and like them. One of these is Parasyte by Hitoshi Iwaaki which I only found out through Anime America (who are awesome by the way. Check them out.) The only reason I decided to look for this series is that the idea of an alien parasite taking control of humans interests me. So I bought the first volume and then the last seven volumes and now I have a few things to say.

The story is a group of alien parasites come to Earth and take control of humans by crawling into their noses to their brains. One of them tries to do that to our lead, Shinichi Izumi, fails and ends up in his right hand. This causes the parasite to, basically, befriend Shinichi and now Shinichi must live a “normal” life and protect himself from other parasites. This does, however, have a huge impact on his personal life, especially with his girlfriend, Satomi Murano.

While this does sound like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it doesn’t escalate into the level. Of course, this series does bring up some tough questions about humans and animals. The main one is Shinichi is constantly calling the parasites monsters, but Migi (the parasite in his right hand)  tells him that they only kill to survive and humans do the same thing. Migi even brings up how humans kill animals for food and humans are OK with that while parasites killing humans for food which makes them monsters. It’s the same thing. Also, murder is brought up a lot and, again, Migi uses the whole (we do that to defend ourselves) thing.

Now, some people will read that and think it’s trying to sound more important than it actually is, but that’s really up to all in who reads it. Also, the manga doesn’t get preachy about it which is one of its strengths. Another strong suit is the writing. These are excellent characters that are well developed, even Satomi. Hell, Satomi’s reason for being in the story is to basically bring into question Shinichi’s personality. He becomes less human over time to the point where he no longer shows emotion over the deaths of people close to him (on top of having superhuman strength, speed and agility.)  Hell, near the end of the series you cry for a character you thought you wouldn’t.

The art may be 80s (this came out in 1988 and ended 1990,) but it’s so well done that it doesn’t look generic. Hell, even normal, everyday occurrences are drawn so well. This has to be one of the better-looking series to come out of that decade.

Then there’s the anime. While it does follow the manga 95% of the time, it is different. SOme characters were taken out, scenes shortened (the scene where Reiko Tamura is running around with part of her head missing is done a LOT better in the manga.) Also, there’s the whole updated thing. The art style and even year have had a major update. There are cell phones and tablets, for crying out loud. While it is understandable as to why they did this (probably to get more people to watch,) it’s not 100% as good as the manga. The artwork just doesn’t work.  The manga has this scary, gritty look to it that made it scarier. The anime is just too colorful. Plus, it’s not as gory as the manga.

While I still say the manga is better, the anime is still worth a watch because of how awesome the series is and for everyone to see how it looks as an anime. I do recommend both but, just be warned that the manga has an edge over the anime.

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The Marvels Review

I first found out about Brian Selznick from, like a lot of people, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. That was one of the most creative books I’ve ever read in that it has pencil images that tell a story combined with traditional novel writing. It was also an excellent story. He followed it up with Wonderstruck that was not as good as Hugo but was still interesting. His most recent book in that style is The Marvels and it doesn’t live up to the previous two books.

Joseph Jervis has run away from his boarding school to stay with his uncle Albert Nightingale in London during Christmas. It’s here that Joseph discovers The Marvels, a family of stage actors who started in 1766 but it all ended in the early 1900s. Now Joseph thinks these were his ancestors and is trying to find out the truth from his uncle.

The thing that made the previous two books great was that Selznick knew what the perfect balance of drawings and writing was. Here, we get almost four hundred pages of drawing and then nothing but text for two hundred pages and then fifty pages of drawings. Yes, I admit that this was done deliberately as explained by the ending, but it kills the pacing of the book.

Not to mention that Joseph isn’t really that interesting of a character, nor is his story. Hugo had a kid trying to not get arrested and Wonderstruck had a kid finding his dad my going to the Museum of Natural History. This is just boring.

The Marvels themselves are an interesting family as is their story, Joseph’s just doesn’t cut it. In fact, all the characters here aren’t that interesting. It’s a shame since Selznick does have talent.

The drawings are still amazing, so that’s something. Selznick has the talent to use drawings to tell a compelling story that doesn’t need words to describe what’s going on. I may go so far as to say that Selznick is a better story teller using art than with words.

I’d still read any further Selznick books. I do enjoy his imagination and artwork. It’s just that this book was a letdown when compared to Hugo and Wonderstruck.

 

 

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The War of the Worlds (book) Review

Ah, The War of the Worlds. This is the defining invasion from Mars novel that sparked a whole bunch of them in the forties fifties. Since it is the first, it must be the best, right?

For those of you who have never heard of this book, it’s a Londoner’s account of an invasion by aliens from Mars and its aftermath. That’s pretty much it. The story is basically the narrator going from one place to the next while the Martians decimate everything.

This style of writing is why there has been a ton of adaptations for screen, TV, comics and radio. It’s just non-stop carnage and then the narrator hiding from the aliens. That’s why it’s not that great of a book. Yes, it is influential in that it spawned an entire genre and was one of the reasons why space travel exists, but it’s more along the lines of popcorn summer blockbuster movie.

While there has been some debate about the philosophical meanings in the book, it all boils down to the strong will destroy the weak. This may have been scary and shocking for people back in 1898, today we’ve already seen a ton of these types of stories. Hell, the movie Mars Attacks makes fun of this idea. We as a people have stopped being scared of Martians attack that we’re making fun of it.

That’s not to say the book is crap, oh no. It’s well written and an interesting read. Wells does a fine job of putting us into the head of the narrator and we do feel whatever emotion he’s going through. When he’s scared we feel it. When he’s pining for his wife, we feel that too. This all gets buried in a plot that, to modern readers, is something that’s been done to death.

Does that mean that nobody should read The War of the Worlds? Of course not. The impact it’s had is too high to dismiss it as something that should be forgotten from a bygone era. Just don’t expect to be blown away by it.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review

Do you remember many years ago reading the first Harry Potter book? Do you also remember one of Harry’s textbooks was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? Do you also remember buying the actual book along with Griditch Through the Ages? Well, there’s a movie called just that. Now, the problem is, how do you make a movie out of a book that’s nothing but 70 pages of magical creature information? Simple: make it a prequel about the author, Newt Scamander, researching the book.

Newt Scamander has found his way to New York City with a magical case filled with magical beasts. While there, something is causing destruction to New York and the American version of the Ministry of Magic (Magical Congress of the United States of America or MACUSA) is investigating it.

All of this I had to look up because the movie is pretty forgettable. Most of the movie is just Newt and other forgettable characters screwing around New York looking for his escaped creatures. Oh, and then there’s this one magical evil that’s basically a kid creating evil magic from sheer will or something going on. It really goes nowhere until the third act where we get a huge battle scene taking place in the subway.

The best part is I also read the script for this movie which you can buy in all bookstores. Even after reading that I still can’t remember much from this movie.

At least the acting and creature designs were great. Eddie Redmayne is great as Newt. He pulls off the awkward person with some kind of weird hobby character nicely. Although props have to go to Don Fogler as Kowalski. He does everything he can to put on a great performance even with all the stuff hey have him do. The creatures do look nice and the CGI is spot on. The only downfall if that one creature that looks like a rhinoceros. It was boring beyond anything and the scene dragged on too long.

So, yeah, only watch this if you’re a Harry Potter fan who wants everything Harry Potter. Just don’t expect anything too memorable to come out of this movie.

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Batman: Year One Review

My Readers: “Where have you been?”

Me: “Family issues.”

Right, now that that’s out of the way, time to get to business. Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and art by David Mazzucchelli. Just say that to any comic fan and you’ll hear nothing but praise for it. Hell, it’s even considered to be the definite Batman origin story. I’ve had the comic collecting dust on my shelf for a year now and recently said, “right, time to read this.” After reading it, my thoughts can be summed up as, “really? This is a classic?”

So the story is about Commissioner Gordon, who was Lieutenant when this comic took place, just arrive in Gotham City and is trying to do everything to prove himself. His big chance comes when a vigilante dressed as a bat comes along and the city is starting to sing Gordon’s praises.

Notice how I barely touched on Batman? That’s because he’s a second fiddle character here. Yeah, a comic called BATMAN: YEAR ONE, the majority of the focus is on Gordon. It’s like those Star Wars novels where they have a character from one of the movies displayed prominently on the cover and when you read the book they’re only in it for, like, ten pages and the rest of the book is some new character that 9/10 dies at the end.

Oh, and Catwoman is in this comic. I can’t tell you why she’s in it because she really serves no purpose at all.

As for the story itself, it’s nothing special. It’s just a cop trying to be a good cop taking place in the DCU. The biggest problem is the pacing is all over the place. It’s either too fast or too slow. Not to mention Miller’s penchant for having his characters narrate. If this was a gritty noir story that’d be fine because that’s the genre. In a Batman comic, it feels off.

Another thing is the events that unfold just aren’t that interesting or are resolved too easily. I felt like skimming most of the story I was falling asleep.

The art is fine..for its time. While, yes,  when this comic came out the art was brilliant because there wasn’t anything like it at the time. Then every DC comic started looking like that and it got old. If anything, the art makes this comic look dated. It’s not terrible, the Batman outfit looks nice, but it’s just not that interesting to look at.

In all, yeah, Batman: Year One may have pioneered the Batman mythos back in the day, but so much has been written about Batman and a ton of origin stories written that this feels like a relic from a dark past. The story isn’t that great, Batman isn’t the star, and it’s not paced well. Just play Batman: Arkham Origin if you want a better Batman origin story.

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1984 Review

Yes, I am aware that 1984 is the go to book now because of recent events in the US, but I just want to make it clear that this review is for entertainment purposes only. This review will NOT contain any political talk or any of my political views. Everything written here will be about the book, George Orwell and Orwell’s views only. I would never put y political views in my reviews because I know better. Also, any comments that do not pertain to the discussion to the book or attacks on anyone will be deleted. I don’t want this to be a political discussion that will get out of hand. With that…

1984 is considered to be George Orwell’s magnum opus with some even saying Animal Farm is. For those who don’t know, 1984 is about Winston Smith who lives in what used to be London, England but now called Airstrip One in a mega country called Oceania ruled by a man named Big Brother. In this new world, there is only one government called Ingsoc that watches over everything people. Basically, a totalitarian state. Winston, a lower level party member, is having doubts about his government which is a crime called “thought crime.” His life changes when he meets the beautiful Julia who only strengthens his hatred for the government.

As a book, for the most part, the writing keeps the reader interested and the world is well developed. Winston is an interesting character and Orwell does a fine job of showing how scary this world is. There are TVS called telescreens that basically allow Ingsoc to see and listen to your every move and there’s the fear of being taken away as a thought criminal.

Orwell makes these characters interesting is how he shows how each character can be a potential thought criminal, even Syme who is fanatical about Newspeak (the official language of Ingsoc.) It creates tension in that Winston can be taken away and killed at any minute.

The big negative of this book is when Winston gets ahold of Goldstein’s book (Goldstein is basically the bad enemy and the leader of an underground rebellion.) While, yes, it does go into more detail about the world, it comes across as a massive info dump written in the dryest, most boring language you can think of. It’s a huge tonal shift that takes the reader out of the story and will make some people skim or quit outright (I quit the first time I read it.)

Now the hard part: Why has this book lasted so long? Simple, Orwell made it abundantly clear here, in Animal Farm and all of his writings that he hated communism. He also lived in a time where the threat of communism taking over was a real threat and he feared for humanity’s future. In the afterword of the Signet Classic edition of 1984 by Erich Fromm, one of Orwell’s fears was that people will basically become like mindless robots and just do what the government tells them to do.

Basically, this is a political doomsday essay written in the form of a novel. The difference here is that Orwell knows how to write a story and make an entertaining one. He also doesn’t become preachy like some stories of this kind do.

Sp. should you read 1984? Yes, but not just to quote from it but also read it as any other literature. Yes, it has a massive downer ending, but once you think about it that’s the point.

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Let’s Talk About Winnie the Pooh

Ah, Winnie the Pooh. That lovable silly bear who loves honey so much he even got caught in a tree filled with honey. Don’t forget his friends Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Tigger, Rabbit, Owl, Eeyore and Christopher Robin. All owned by Disney and their many movies about them. What many people don’t know is that, like a lot of things, these stories were originally in book form written by A. A. Milne with art by Ernes H. Shepard. It’s a good thing these stores have been rereleased in The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie the Pooh.

Thing is, only the first two parts are Winnie the Pooh. The other two are poems where a handful has characters that look like Winnie the Pooh characters but are not named.

For those who don’t know what Winnie the Pooh is, what rock have you been hiding under? Basically,  it’s a bunch of stories about the stuffed animals of a boy named Christopher Robin and one of them is a yellow bear named Winnie the Pooh who isn’t that bright and loves honey. This is the imagination of a six-year-old.

Now, the reason why these stories have lasted so long is because we’ve all had favorite toys as little kids and came up with little adventures with them. These stories are pretty much that. Yes, they were written at a different time and most kids won’t be able to identify most of the stuff here, but overall they will find themselves in Christopher Robin.

Then there are the poems. The only word to say about them is cute. There’s one where Christopher Robin is just hopping. It’s a kid talking about hopping. Just imagine any six-year-old saying this poem and you’ll see how brilliant it is.

For adults, this is one of those examples where you’ll think you were a kid again. Come on, read any of these stories/poems and tell me you weren’t six years old again. That’s another reason why adults will enjoy Winnie the Pooh (besides “aw, how cute.”) Adults, please, talk to your kids about what you just read with them. You’ll be surprised with what they have to say you may even learn something from then.

Yes, I just advocated bonding with your kids by reading. I don’t have kids, nor am I a teacher. I just think bonding over kids books is a great idea and will help with imagination and emotional growth. I’m no expert, so take what I said with a grain of salt. It worked for me, anyway, but everyone’s different.

So, Winnie the Pooh will be with us for a long time because of how it resonates with everyone. Get the book, get the movies from Disney and just enjoy them with the family.

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Why Do People Love A Charlie Brown Christmas?

‘Tis the season for non-stop Christmas specials, and there’s no way of escaping them. One of the more popular ones is A Charlie Brown Christmas. This special has been aired on TV since 1965 and practically everyone is obsessed with it. I’m obsessed with it. Hell, I even bought the tree Charlie Brown bought. Here’s the real question: Why DO people like it so much.

First, let’s look at the plot. Charlie Brown is sad because he can’t the true meaning of Christmas, so Lucy tells him to be the director of the school play which will boost his confidence. It goes about as well as you’d expect.

There really isn’t that much of a plot here. The conflict is easily settled, and most of the cartoon is just the Peanuts gang dancing or playing in the snow.

On top of that, the animation isn’t all that great, even for 1960s standards. The later Peanuts specials and even the series was drawn much better. Hell, sometimes the characters look like they’re staring into the abyss and a lot of the animation is reused (look at the dancing scenes.)

Also, the voice acting, though not bad considering these were kids, sometimes sounds awkward.

Even with all those flaws, it’s still worth watching. The main reason is because this special has a lot of heart and soul to it. It makes you fell things. Happy things. You want to see Charlie Brown happy. You love the tree he buys and you get angry when the kids laugh at him. It’s a story that many people can relate to because there are people who are sad during the holidays.

The best part of the special is the music. The second you hear any of the songs you instantly start smiling, singing or even humming these songs they are that memorable. The music sets the tone for each scene perfectly that it just sucks you in.

While the plot the basic, there are a ton of memorable scenes. The ice skating scene at the beginning, the dance scene and even the tree buying scene many people can recite by heart. And that ending, man, if you don’t cry or start singing along in that ending you’re dead inside.

While the later Peanuts specials are better on a technical level to A Charlie Brown Christmas, this is a classic that gets air time every year for a reason. It has heart, it gives you happy feelings and gets you into the Christmas mood better than anything will. So go out and buy that little tree and put it right next to the big tree just to show that this special does matter.

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