Warner Bros Pictures
Sometimes a movie will sneak up on you, and hit you in just the right spot. That was my experience with Storks, the latest CGI-animated movie to hit theaters.
Without the backing of Disney or Pixar or the benefit a gaggle of A-list stars (sorry Jennifer Aniston, Adam Samberg, and Kelsey Grammer) voicing characters, the movie really wasn’t on my radar. I had no expectations other than the general thought “I hope it’s good” that everyone carries with them to the box office.
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Somewhat surprisingly, Storks was good. Don’t get wrong, it’s no on par with Zootopia or Finding Dory, two of the better animated animated comedies this year, but it is funny and touching enough to be a good selection for family viewing at a matinee or home viewing when released on DVD.
The conceit of the story is that storks have been pushed out of the baby-delivery into package delivery as Cornerstore.com following an unfortunate mishap that blows up into a scandal. Under the direction of Grammer’s character Hunter, who seems more like a bald eagle than a stork, Cornerstore.com has the storks on the rebound.
Junior (Samberg) is working toward joining Hunter as an executive and heir apparent when Cornerstore’s only human employee Tulip (Katie Cowan) activates the old machinery and a baby is produced. Tulip and Junior are then taxed with delivery the baby without letting Hunter know about the mistake.
From there the adventure ensues as Tulip and Junior make their way from artic to the U.S., encountering a hilarious pack of wolves led by Alpha (Keegan-Michael Key) and Beta (Jordan Peele), a taskforce of ninja-like penguins, and finally Hunter himself as they seek to deliver the little red-headed baby girl to her rightful parents and brother.
The movie delivers antics, action and laughs all along the way, but it really nails the ending, which is more than a bit touching. The film, written and co-directed by Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland may not go down as a must-see classic, but it is an entertaining family film that parents and the tykes won’t regret watching.
(PG) 1hr. 32 min
TCM celebrates Halloween with films of Frankenstein, Christopher Lee
With Halloween lurking on the horizon, the Classic Corner will be delving into the macabre for the month of October. Conveniently, Turner Classic Movies is in the Halloween mood, too, dedicating each Sunday night to films featuring everyone’s favorite man-made monster Frankenstein, or I should say the Frankenstein’s Monster. Frankenstein is the family name of Mary Shelly’s mad scientist, while the monster is his creation in the author’s 1818 novel, also known as The Modern Prometheus. Go to tcm.com for TCM’s full lineup of Frankenstein films.
Not only does TCM have a dozen Frankenstein films on tap in October, it also is dedicating Monday to one of filmdom’s greatest and most prolific monsters Sir Christopher Lee. Lee made his bones playing Dracula, the Mummy, and the Frankenstein’s monster for Hammer Films, but his varied career saw the menacing 6-5 actor perform a wide array of screen villains such as Francisco Scaramanga in the Man With the Golden Gun, Fu Manchu, Cardinal Richelieu in the 1970s Three Musketeers films, Rasputin, Saruman in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and Count Dooku in the two Star Wars films.
Ironically, Lee was a World War II veteran who served in the Royal Air Force as a Special Air Service (SAS) officer before getting into films. Who knew one of filmdom’s greatest villains was actually a real-life hero?
Go to tcm.com for TCM’s full lineup of Christopher Lee films.
TCM ups the fright factor even more, dedicating its Friday night schedule to fright films for the entire month of October. Films from the Silent Era will be featured on Oct. 7, while Horror Comedies will be on tap on Oct. 14. Evil Scientists and Doctors will have their night on Oct. 21, while Oct. 28 will be reserved for classic Universal and Paramount Horror movies. Go to tcm.com for TCM full lineup of Friday Night Frights.
Universal Studio’s 1931 adaption of Shelly’s novel wasn’t the first time Frankenstein and his monster showed up on the silver screen, and it certainly wasn’t the last. Thomas Edison actually produced the first Frankenstein flick way back in 1910, and just last fall, 20th Century Fox unleashed Victor Frankenstein, which could be viewed as sort of a prequel to Universal’s original film. However, director James Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein along with its 1935 sequel The Bride of Frankenstein are the best Frankenstein films because of the masterful performance of Boris Karloff as the misunderstood monster.
Whale’s direction and the set design on the two films sets a spookily atmospheric tone with its nods to German Expressionism, and make-up artist Jack Pierce’s monster design is iconic, but it is Karloff who breaths life into the character, bringing a level of pathos and terror to the misbegotten creature than no other actor has achieved in a dozens of films since. Even the great Robert De Niro couldn’t escape Karloff’s shadow in Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 film Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.
Like Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler, Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine, and Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy, Karloff’s performance as the Frankenstein’s monster will stand the test of time.
The Bride of Frankenstein
Few sequels match their originals and even fewer surpass them, but many feel The Bride of Frankenstein does. Whale returned as the director, and stars Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein and Karloff as the monster are also back in the movie that’s as much black comedy as it is a horror film.
The plot goes back to Shelly’s novel and picks up ideas left out of the first film, such as the Bride, played by Elsa Lancaster, and the creature’s rough and tumble life in an all too harsh world. In the novel, the monster learns much by observing a family, and Whale adapts and condenses them into a touching series of scenes in which a blind man befriends the monster and takes him into his home. Mel Brooks, Peter Boyle, and Gene Hackman superbly spoofed those scenes in 1974’s Young Frankenstein.
The heroes of the production, though, are Una O’Conner and Ernest Thesiger. O’Conner gives a cackling, daffy performance as Minnie, a servant at Castle Frankenstein. The campy Thesiger chews scenery in the Faustian role of Dr. Pretorius, who tempts and later blackmails Henry into returning to his laboratory to create a mate for his monster.
Whale infused the entertaining film with underlying themes of loneliness and unrequited love that accentuate the film’s many wonderful scenes. It’s Whale’s best film and the trophy piece of all the Universal monster films produced in the 1930s and ’40s.
Son of Frankenstein
Karloff returned in 1939 for the third movie in the series Son of Frankenstein, but it would be the last time he played the monster in a movie, although he did appear in the makeup a few more times for TV appearances, most notably the 1962 Route 66 episode Lizard Leg and Owlet’s Wing.
However, Whale did not direct, and it shows. Son of Frankenstein, directed by Rowland V. Lee, is good but not up to the standards of it predecessors. Basil Rathbone (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and The Mark of Zorro) played Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, who upon moving back to his family castle is approached by the weird blacksmith/grave robber Ygor (Bela Lugosi) about reviving the monster. Wolf resists at first, but not for long. He is a Frankenstein after all.
The movie contains several memorable scenes, particularly one between Rathbone and Lionel Atwill as Inspector Krogh, a man who lost an arm to the monster as a young boy. Again Brooks got a ton of laughs with a parody of this interrogation scene in Young Frankenstein.
Lugosi, who ironically turned down the part of the monster in 1931 following his iconic turn as Dracula earlier that year, upstages Karloff and Rathbone as Ygor. Other than Dracula, Ygor is probably Lugosi’s best performance in an American film.
The Frankenstein’s monster would appear in five more Universal movies over the next decade with three other actors (Lon Chaney Jr., Lugosi, and Glenn Strange) donning the makeup and heavy boots to varying degrees of success, but they were really just stand-ins. Karloff defined the role, and his performances are a key reason why Shelly’s monster continues to haunt pop culture today.