Drácula (1931, George Melford)

A lot of Drácula’s hundred minute runtime is spent with Eduardo Arozamena talking really slow to José Soriano Viosca and Barry Norton. Arozamena’s Professor Van Helsing (so nice to have such a familiar “brand” you can just talk about the characters and assume some passing familiarity) and Viosca and Norton are the guys who need to believe him about vampires. Dracula–played by Carlos Villarías–is after Norton’s fiancée Lupita Tovar. Viosca’s her father, though the film never really does anything with it.

Viosca and Norton are basically just around to hear Arozamena’s exposition. Director Melford does all right with it, actually. He seems to understand how much information they’re conveying because he usually breaks it up with some of Pablo Álvarez Rubio’s antics (as Renfield). Through some luck, screenwriter Baltasar Fernández Cué understands Rubio’s importance in the film. He opens the picture, he introduces the viewer not just to Villarías but to himself. Rubio is the only actor in the film to get a scene (or two) to himself. Everything else in the picture involves regular cast members. And Rubio’s really likable. It makes him a great tormented victim.

So Drácula is long. There’s no music and very little ambient sound. It’s often just watching Villarías walk around (in what appears–oddly–to be a London After Midnight homage). Melford’s lucky to have Tovar, who’s able to get enough sympathy from the audience just from her performance because there’s really not much character in Cué’s script.

As Tovar’s friend, Carmen Guerrero only gets two scenes and the script gives her more character. She’s good too (or gives the impression of having the ability to be good, but the film dumps her early).

Besides Norton, who’s terrible, and Viosca, who’s ineffective, Drácula is well-acted. Villarías’s got to play a walking, talking monster, which–when the film doesn’t give any character to said monster–might be the specific problem of Dracula adaptations, and he does stumble. But Melford gets a genuinely creepy conclusion when he finally kidnaps Tovar.

Tovar’s great. Did I already call her out?

Arozamena’s kind of fun as Van Helsing. He almost plays it like a comedy.

There are some editing problems (cutting in the footage from Tod Browning’s English language problems Dracula), but Arthur Tavares does well with this version’s footage. And George Robinson’s photography is magnificent. He’s so graceful Melford’s often employed dolly shots come off well.

Drácula’s pretty good. Not great, but pretty good.



Directed by George Melford; screenplay by Baltasar Fernández Cué, based on the screenplay and play by Hamilton Dean, John L. Balderston and Garrett Fort and the novel by Bram Stoker; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Arthur Tavares; produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Carlos Villarías (Conde Drácula), Lupita Tovar (Eva), Barry Norton (Juan Harker), Pablo Álvarez Rubio (Renfield), Eduardo Arozamena (Van Helsing), José Soriano Viosca (Doctor Seward), Carmen Guerrero (Lucía), Amelia Senisterra (Marta) and Manuel Arbó (Martín).




Maniac Cop (1988, William Lustig)

There are good things about Maniac Cop. Not many and director Lustig doesn’t know what to do with them, but there are good things about it.

James Lemmo and Vincent J. Rabe’s photography is excellent. Lustig never asks them to do anything interesting, but they’re clearly capable of it. The stunts are also pretty good. They’re ambitious, which is strange, because nothing else about the movie is ambitious.

Lustig, as a director, can’t work with actors–the most annoying thing about Maniac Cop is it should be all right. Lots of elements should be good. Lustig can’t get acceptable performances out of actors like Tom Atkins and Richard Roundtree. If you can’t get acceptable performances out of character actors, there’s something seriously wrong with your approach.

Larry Cohen’s script isn’t great–it’s similarly unambitious after a layered first act–but had Lustig kept the film interesting until the last act, it would’ve been better. The revelation of the evil spree killing cop is a dumb twist, but Cohen’s plotting of it is inept. It’s so inept, Lustig can’t even impair it.

Inordinately bad music from Jay Chattaway doesn’t help things. David Kern’s editing isn’t scary or exciting; Maniac Cop has this ornate, incompetent chase sequence where there’s clearly time put into it, but without good result.

Eventual lead Bruce Campbell’s okay. He manages to make a dip of a character likable and he has some fun playing the damsel in distress for a bit, but Lustig wastes him. Cohen writes a good character for Laurene Landon and Landon has some decent moments. Not enough, thanks to Lustig’s inability to direct his actors.

Maniac Cop plays like it is going to get markedly better at any moment. It never does.



Directed by William Lustig; written and produced by Larry Cohen; directors of photography, James Lemmo and Vincent J. Rabe; edited by David Kern; music by Jay Chattaway; production designer, Jonathan R. Hodges; released by Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment.

Starring Tom Atkins (Frank McCrae), Bruce Campbell (Jack Forrest), Laurene Landon (Theresa Mallory), Richard Roundtree (Commissioner Pike), William Smith (Captain Ripley), Robert Z’Dar (Matt Cordell) and Sheree North (Sally Noland).

The Watch (2012, Akiva Schaffer)

The Watch deals in caricature and stereotype. Ben Stiller’s the anal-retentive, Vince Vaughn (can anyone even remember when he tried acting) is the aging bro, Jonah Hill’s the kid in his early twenties who lives with his mom (and hordes guns, which dates the film) and Richard Ayoade’s the deadpan, socially awkward British guy. If anything, hopefully The Watch at least got one person to see Ayoade’s good work.

Oh, and Rosemarie DeWitt’s the sturdy, but doesn’t have enough to do wife (to Stiller). Actually, more than anyone else in the cast, Will Forte has the most to do as the dumb local cop. He at least gets to emote. Vaughn should get to emote because he has a whole (lame) subplot with daughter Erin Moriarty (who, like DeWitt, Forte and Ayoade, acts instead of apes), but it’s Vaughn and he doesn’t. Obnoxious charm is supposed to carry him, just like awkward charm is supposed to carry Hill and persnickety charm is supposed to carry Stiller.

Watching The Watch, I couldn’t help but think of it as ephemera. None of the jokes are smart enough on their own– Jared Stern’s script, with a credited revision from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, has no aspirations. Not even to be appreciated multiple times. The Watch is designed to amuse once and never too much. Thanks to Akiva Shaffer’s mediocre direction, comes off like an unambitious episode of “Home Improvement.” One with a lot of product placement.

But, thanks to the cast, it’s amusing enough. They’re good at their schticks and the movie does move rather well. It’s a little too forced with its attempts at edgy humor, but the whole thing is too forced. Shaffer’s doing an alien invasion movie without, apparently, any knowledge of any alien invasion film ever made.

Really bland photography from Barry Peterson doesn’t help anything and Christophe Beck’s music (which starts all right) doesn’t either.

In trying too hard to be dumb, The Watch occasionally succeeds. Though the pointlessness of Billy Crudup’s (uncredited) supporting role sort of sums up the entire misdirection of the film.

Everyone should watch “The IT Crowd” instead.



Directed by Akiva Schaffer; written by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg; director of photography, Barry Peterson; edited by Dean Zimmerman; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Doug J. Meerdink; produced by Shawn Levy; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ben Stiller (Evan), Vince Vaughn (Bob), Jonah Hill (Franklin), Richard Ayoade (Jamarcus), Rosemarie DeWitt (Abby), Erin Moriarty (Chelsea), Will Forte (Sgt. Bressman), R. Lee Ermey (Manfred) and Billy Crudup (Paul).


Northern Limit Line (2015, Kim Hak-soon)

Northern Limit Line opens connecting the historical events portrayed in the film directly to the World Cup. Frustratingly, in 2015, I can’t determine whether or not Chol Soon-jo’s source book also has the connection to the World Cup. As literary flourish–and to make the book resonate (it’s also unclear if it’s a novel or book) with a general readership–the connection makes sense. Actually, thinking about it now, it makes more sense for it to have been in the book, because director Kim doesn’t do anything with it. The World Cup is a plot point; the characters in the film–the crew of a South Korean patrol boat–are invested in the Cup, but there’s no attempt to weave the actual games into the narrative. That aspect of them isn’t important.

What is important to Kim is getting across the characters. He works and works at it. He’s invested and he follows through with it. There are titles explaining the film’s historical content and there’s a brief flash forward opening the film as well, but Kim puts the battle off. He keeps a fair distance from the characters too, even though he shows their personal lives, their personal struggles with their service in the Navy and so on, but he never lets the viewer get too close.

That distance helps a little, as Kim knows where the story–and the characters–are going, but it also walls off the film too much at the end. Kim’s tied to history for how the film is going to on fold, but he doesn’t do anything with it. He doesn’t exactly go for the melodramatic, but he does go for the heartstrings. There’s no filmmaking in the last third, no decisions. Tragedy gets displayed in standard tragic tropes, right after Kim cuts to actual historical news footage, which–as always–breaks the film’s conceit.

That problem aside, Northern Limit Line is a good film. Kim’s a restrained director; he changes when for the battle scene, becoming far more expressive. The film’s extremely violent and should always be hard to watch, but Kim finds a way to keep it open. He doesn’t desensitize though (or attempt to do so). He’s playing on the audience’s strong connection with the characters, which he’s been building up for almost an hour (or maybe even seventy minutes). Kim goes for perseverance to get the viewer connected, not blunt force.

Good acting from all the principals–Kim Mu-yeol, Jin Goo, Lee Hyun-woo. Jin’s the connecting element in the relationships between the crew members, something the film rushes through establishing. Kim (the director) has a problem relying too much on dates on screen, not in the story; time doesn’t progress well enough from scene to scene.

Really good photography from Kim Hyung-koo and Bill Kim too. There’s a lot of digital composites (especially when at sea) but, even when the composite isn’t great, the effect comes through.

As a director, Kim’s sincerely invested with Northern Limit Line, but he lets that investment constrain him too much.



Produced and directed by Kim Hak-soon; screenplay by Kim Hak-soon, based on a book by Choi Soon-jo; directors of photography, Kim Hyung-koo and Bill Kim; edited by Steve M. Choe; music by Mok Young-jin; production designer, Shim Jeom-hui; released by Next Entertainment World.

Starring Jin Goo (Staff Sergeant Han Sang-Kook), Lee Hyun-woo (Medic Park Dong-hyeok), Kim Mu-yeol (Captain Yoon Young-ha), Lee Wan (Major Lee Hee-wan), Lee Chung-ah (Captain Choi), Chun Min-hee (Ji-sun), Kim Ji-hoon (Jo Chun-hyoung), Jang Joon-hak (Hwang Do-hyun), Joo Hee-joong (Seo Hoo-woon) and Kim Hee-jung (Mrs. Park).


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