Tag Archives: movies that are better than I Frankenstein

The SportsAlcohol.com Frankenstein Studies: Frankenstein (2016)

SportsAlcohol.com cofounder Nathaniel moved to Brooklyn, as you do. His hobbies include cutting up rhubarb and laying down. His favorite things are the band Moon Hooch and custard from Shake Shack. Old ladies love his hair.

OK, Nathaniel, it’s time to talk about this Frankenstein 2016 redo that’s just come out on Blu-ray. I really should’ve sent this movie over to Rob and Sabrina with the probably foolish hopes that their contributions to the discussion could keep us from devolving into Josh Hutcherson fan fiction and analysis of the comic strip Luann, but we’ll do our best. This is such a new version of Frankenstein that it hasn’t even been added to the Wikipedia page of Frankenstein In Popular Culture (if you’re the one who updates this, please do), and it’s pretty stripped down. I’m sure some of that has to do with its direct-to-video origins, but I did see some value — perhaps more theoretical than actual — in doing up a “modern-day Frankenstein story” on pedestrian-looking city streets and sets that look a bit like redressed high school basements. Did the low-budget angle work for you, the Frankenstein enthusiast?

Yeah, I’m often skeptical of that kind of low-budget (and modern day) approach for stories like this. But here, in restricting the adaptation and point of view primarily to the portions of the story where the creature is off on his own learning the ways of the world, they found a way in to the story that actually feels fresh for a while, and kind of appropriate spending tons of time in vacant lots and empty irrigation canals or whatever generic concrete-and-chainlink environs they shot in. It’s definitely an immersive approach, dropping you right in with a POV camera and little in the way of exposition. And I dug the way that, since this version of the creature remains pretty inarticulate, they incorporated some of the text of the novel as voiceover (or at least voice over clearly meant to invoke the novel, since some seemed tailored specifically to what we see onscreen and I didn’t have a copy on hand to compare it). But placing us so fully in the creature’s perspective, and extending his “cast out & beset upon by the cruelty of the world” period to make up the entirety of the film, ended up making it feel punishing to me. The grubby grisliness of it all (and how about the gore in this movie?) makes for some pretty memorable imagery, but it also ends up a little monotonous. And it felt a little weird rubbing up against the numerous homages to the Karloff films. Xavier Samuel really goes for it (perhaps because we watched this shortly before the Academy Awards, it brought to mind DiCaprio playing another revenant, at least in terms of drooling, screaming, and dirt eating), but he’s no Karloff. So the winky stuff made me miss the pathos of Karloff’s performances as the last half hour of the film heaped even more misery on the monster. Did that bother you at all? Or did that stuff even read as specific homage anymore?
Continue reading The SportsAlcohol.com Frankenstein Studies: Frankenstein (2016)

The Best Movies of 2015

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

2015 at the movies: There were no fewer than three excellent and satisfying part sevens. 70mm came back to multiplexes. The cast of Ex Machina was in everything, even Star Wars. Women talked about things other than men. The same guy made The Cobbler and Spotlight. There was a fourth movie about singing chipmunks.

It was a weird year, and not without its eclectic, sometimes unexpected pleasures. For our yearly poll, SportsAlcohol.com’s certified heavy moviegoers Nathaniel, Jesse, Marisa, and Sara voted with our ridiculous hearts and came up with fifteen of the year’s strongest achievements in cinema. We also talked about it in an upcoming podcast. But before you listen to us, read us waxing rhapsodic about some of the year’s best.

The 15 Best Movies of 2015

Continue reading The Best Movies of 2015

The SportsAlcohol.com Bonus Mini-Podcast: Victor Frankenstein

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

As a bonus addendum to both the SportsAlcohol.com Thanksgiving summit in upstate NY and to our ongoing coverage of Frankenstein-related media, all of this site’s founding editors plus our buddy Derrick went out to see the new film Victor Frankenstein over the weekend and then piled into Rob and Sabrina’s five-seat hatchback car to talk about it. Rob was in the trunk. In this special bonus Victor Frankenstein podcast, We briefly discussed James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe, hunchbacks with too many jobs, the Sherlockification of Frankenstein, and the slashiest Frankenstein movie since we don’t know when. Check it out, why not? It’s only ten minutes and you’ll feel like you’re crammed into the car with us.

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HALFTIME REPORT: Margaret (2011)

Sara is big into reading and writing fiction like it's her job, because it is. That doesn't mean she isn't real as it gets. She loves real stuff like polka dots, indie rock, and underground fight clubs. I may have made some of that up. I don't know her that well. You can tell she didn't just write this in the third person because if she had written it there would have been less suspect sentence construction.

Strictly speaking, Margaret was never supposed to be a film of this decade. Principal photography began back in 2005 but ballooning budgets, disagreements between the studio and director Kenneth Lonergan over cuts, and multiple lawsuits had many wondering if it would ever see the light of day at all. By the time it received an extremely limited theatrical release in 2011, lead Anna Paquin was three seasons into her True Blood reinvention as an actual adult, and what was intended as a more immediate exploration of the emotions roiled up by the tragedy of 9/11 became a cinematic curio, sampled by critics and rubberneckers alike and mostly discarded as the year drew to its close, apart from a few “#TeamMargaret” diehards on Movie Twitter. While the critics may have been looking for a masterpiece and the rubberneckers hoping for a disaster, Margaret didn’t quite turn out to be either. What it is is messy, in the best possible sense — and the cult around the film, in particular the director’s cut that adds a half hour to the already bloated 150-minute runtime, has grown.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: there is nobody named Margaret in the movie. The title is a reference to the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem “Spring and Fall” which opens with the line “Margaret, are you grieving?” and is read in the film by Matthew Broderick, who plays the teacher of the lead character, Lisa, a high schooler on the Upper West Side who is the inadvertent cause of a bus accident that kills a pedestrian. The poem and the film are about youth’s first reckoning with death and a realization of the world’s existence beyond themselves; when Lonergan wrote and conceived of the film, emotions over 9/11 were raw and even many years on it has a nervy energy, a sense that at any minute it might run off the rails. It unfolds in an operatic register in a way that risks turning off many viewers. But this is true to the film’s characters who may be “small” people but don’t live small lives, at least not to them. This is reflected in the film’s sound design, which is Altman-esque: the conversations of passersby are constantly muddying the main soundtrack, imbuing the city with a sense of liveliness that many other films would take as a given. And like Altman at his best, this is a generous film (perhaps to a fault), allowing every character, even the most minor ones, a voice and depth. The camera is constantly lingering on the New York City skyline, panning across gleaming buildings and slow motion citizens, as if to capture it all before any of the rest disappears. There’s something oddly refreshing about watching Lonergan spread his cinematic paint everywhere, even if it isn’t always conventionally satisfying.

It’s also refreshing to see a film grapple so fully with a young woman’s tumultuous coming of age. Lisa is a melodramatic, selfish person in the way most teenagers are melodramatic and selfish, and the realism of her character may be unpleasantly confrontational for some viewers; it can be difficult at times to watch how she manipulates and tortures those around her. The film’s true trajectory reveals itself as Lisa’s simultaneous wish to become a good person and realization of how often the world makes that challenging for adults. We never hear Lisa’s thoughts on the Hopkins poem; the camera cuts right after Broderick speaks her name. And anyway, how she feels about it will likely evolve. It’s part of growing up. Margaret, which experienced its own pains to get to the screen, knows that above all and is all the more rewarding for it.

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Avengers Age of Ultron

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is the latest megahit from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s full of fun stuff to nerd out about. Rob, Nathaniel, Jesse, and Marisa saw the movie together over the weekend and talked about their Avengers Age of Ultron experience, touching upon superhero special effects, character balancing, the qualities of a good robot villain, comic book origins, the future of nerdery, and frenzied suggestions for post-credit tags that should have been. The discussion has many spoilers for the film so it will probably be more fun if you see the movie before listening to it.

This also marks the one-year anniversary of our foray into podcasting, with an episode featuring the same four nerds who got into Amazing Spider-Man 2 this time last year. If you like our thoughts on Age of Ultron, check out our past year’s worth of podcasts on sci-fi movies, superheroes, rock and roll, TV shows we love and hate, and plenty more.

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Major Cultural Event: Vampire Academy (2014)

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

Before I talk about Vampire Academy, let me get some stuff out of the way:

Vampire Academy is about an academy for vampires so obviously during the movie you wonder if Vampire Academy has rival schools that play them in sports and stuff, and think of additional schools such as:

Mummy College

International School of Werewolf Studies

Frankenstein Country Day

The Gill-Man Institute of Technology

The Mortal Instruments: Campus of Bones


But apart from that train of thought, I went into Vampire Academy ready and willing to take it as seriously as I needed to take it. Most of the movie, as it turns out, is an exploration of how seriously you should be taking Vampire Academy and, by extension, the life you’ve lead that resulted in you sitting in a movie theater on a Monday night watching Vampire Academy.

The presence of who are now billed, apparently, as the Waters Brothers, suggests that one should take the movie itself seriously (because a team-up of the guy who wrote Heathers and his brother who directed Mean Girls seems so natural that it also seems like some kind of a trick) while allowing the movie itself to not take it too seriously (because Heathers and Mean Girls are both very funny movies that puncture high school melodrama with non-vampire fangs). Daniel Waters and Mark Waters are ideally equipped to make a movie that casually and charmingly tear down the romantic dopiness of the Twilight series and replace it with snappier expressions of adolescent angst.

If they ever go back and make a movie about smart-mouthed vampire teenagers at a boarding school, I still think that could happen.

But Vampire Academy is not so much a movie about smart-mouthed vampire teenagers at a boarding school as it is a budget would-be franchise-starter based on a series of popular YA novels. So yes, some of the vampires are smart-mouthed and some of them are teenagers and there is a boarding school involved, but those easily understandable descriptions are too meager for the complex, multi-generational, heavily detailed and completely fucking pointless mythology that this movie is built around.

Here is a little tip for screenwriters and YA writers and pretty much anyone putting pen to paper about teenagers and magic, years too late to save Beautiful Creatures or The Mortal Instruments or any other movie I’ve seen in the past year-plus that chokes on mythology and then turns blue and purple on screen as the mythology stays lodged the throat of its corpse:

Mythology is not cinematic.

It sounds cinematic, I know! Mythology! Maybe you picture Greek Gods or centaurs or minotaurs or Middle Earth when you hear the word! But mythology is not just the fun of centaurs and/or minotaurs. Mythology, if it is made into a crucial component of your movie, is actually just a form of exposition, or at least requires a fair amount of it. And exposition is usually non-visual information. And movies, at least in theory, are a visual medium. So while mythology may make your movie sound grand and epic, it may actually weigh your movie down with information about something that is so clearly made up that no one really needs additional information about it.

Of course, as with mythology, there are ways to cleverly work exposition into your movie. I to this day cannot believe that people have a problem with Ellen Page’s character in Inception, supposedly because she exists to have the rules of the Inceptionverse explained to her and to ask questions on behalf of the audience. But the thing is, Ellen Page’s character asks way smarter questions than I would ask about this stuff, and is also a character with thoughts and opinions, and who moves the story along quite handily. She is the proverbial new kid being shown around the cafeteria on the first day of school. Hey! Speaking of that: Mean Girls! Mark Waters directed a movie that used voiceover, exposition, and a high school version of mythology (more like anthro, I guess, but still) very, very well.

Vampire Academy goes as far as to actually tee up a cafeteria-intro scene and call attention to it, and then, I guess because Daniel Waters imagines he is poking at convention here, then doesn’t actually have that scene where we meet a bunch of Vampire Academy students, organized by lunch table. I guess he thought that would be too cliché, or beside the point, or maybe there is so much goddamned mythology in this movie that there is no room for anything else that takes up more than half a minute. It engages in a lot of “world-building” while ignoring just how much world-building the title has already done: it’s a school for vampires! Got it! Done! But this movie would rather explain the hierarchal process by which Vampire Academy administration happens to be formed than, you know, have anything to do with vampires going to boarding school.

Here’s what I was able to glean: there are three types of vampires at and around this academy, except one kind aren’t really vampires. There are the bad vampires, who are presumably not welcome to matriculate, who want to kill the pretty good royal vampires (who don’t kill humans, at least as far as we can see), and the non-vampires who protect said royal vampires. This movie is about Rose (Zoey Deutch), a non-vampire protector who has bonded with pretty good vampire Lissa (Lucy Fry). So a semi-reverse-slayer, basically. Rose can sometimes see what Lissa sees, a power that allows her to both better protect her and absorb even more exposition, in part concerning a mystery about who is trying to intimidate and/or kill Lissa and/or Rose. There are also, by my rough estimate, forty to fifty boys in the movie, subject of various crushes and entanglements that the movie finds far less interesting than the (again, by my rough estimate) one thousand different types of royal vampire families who blah blah blah blah arrrrgggghhhh. There’s one who looks like a lil’ Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, one who got my attention by also being named Jesse (SUCH a hot name right now), and then Rose naturally, by which I mean creepily, falls for the one who’s actually an adult man. In general, the I-hate-high-school backstabbing and gossiping and hooking up feels like an afterthought as Important Mythology Characters jostle for screentime with characters who might actually be funny or affecting. The gossip in Vampire Academy conceals itself within the elaborate mythology, which could be a sly joke if the delivery was remotely interesting.

Vampire Academy 2

The most disappointing thing about Vampire Academy (the movie, not the higher-ed institution) is that Zoey Deutch, who I’d never really heard of before, is quite good in it. She’s the one who displays the most frequent signs of Daniel Waters wiseassery; at least fifty percent, if not closer to seventy percent, of her wisecracks don’t really land, but they come a lot closer to landing than they should because there’s something appealingly brusque and no-nonsense about Deutch’s delivery. I may have mentioned Ellen Page earlier because Deutch has a similar fast-talking vibe, and she looks like Page crossed with Rose Byrne. Her performance and character in this particular mythology-flooded enterprise left me with the odd sensation of thinking, boy, I’d like to watch a whole movie about her instead — during a movie where she is, in fact, the main character.

So Vampire Academy isn’t painful to watch, mainly because of Deutch and the stray good lines Daniel Waters feeds her and a lucky few. But it plays uncomfortably like a pilot for a show that gets better seven or eight episodes in, shortly before its cancellation. It also gives the distinct impression that I could read Vampire Academy books all day every day and still not learn a goddamned thing about Vampire Math, Vampire Art, or Vampire Biology. I guess it’s off to Vampire Summer School for me. In related news, be sure to check out SportsAlcohol.com Presents: Vampire Summer School, coming to an e-reader just as soon as we can make up a bunch of stupid backstory.