Frankenstein, Freedom Riders,
Free to Be... You and Me,
and a few more films

Frank Film (1973)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

#277  [archive]
APR. 15, 2024

Filmmaker Frank Mouris explains what you're seeing as images are flashed on the screen, but at the same time he's also reading a countdown to zero, a list of saints, his favorite foods, girls' names, auto parts, and a list of words that start with 'F'. 

You could plausibly complain that this is pretentious, and you might be right, but it's also delightfully weird, and at just nine minutes it's over before it can become annoying.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Frankenstein (1931)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

"Have you never wanted to look beyond the clouds and the stars, or to know what causes the trees to bud? And what changes the darkness into light? But if you talk like that, people call you crazy. Well, if I could discover just one of these things, what eternity is, for example, I wouldn't care if they did think I was crazy."

A mad scientist tinkers with things best left untinkered — life and death, and the creation of new life from bits and pieces of the dead. 

I must've seen this half a dozen times on Channel 7's Nightmare Theater when I was a kid, 11:30 on Friday nights. They ran it a lot, always with splotchy, scratchy prints interrupted by commercials for shady car dealerships. I've also seen it at a few theaters that showed nothing but old movies. And of course, there are all the sequels and remakes, and the Mel Brooks send-up, and The Munsters… There's so much Frankenstein in our culture, it's easy to forget how good this version is.

It's very good. There's no gore to speak of, but it's gruesome in your mind. Flowers in the water, torches in the night, and "It's alive!" I get goose bumps just typing it the morning after.

The sets are an invitation to nightmares — an old castle with slanted, curving dungeon walls probably doesn't exist but sure looks spooky as it's been assembled here, and the laboratory of sizzling lights and a slowly descending slab. The makeup and costume, making Karloff into the monster, are so shocking and convincing, almost all the follow-ups have tried to make their monsters look like this monster. 

We can all agree that Boris Karloff (billed here as '?') was the finest Frankenstein's monster on film, but don't forget Colin Clive, still the best at playing Frankenstein himself. 

It's not based on the novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, so much as it's based on a play by Peggy Webling, which was based on the novel. There are holes in the script, and boring bits, and for reasons unfathomable the novel's Victor Frankenstein and his friend Henry have switched first names. And none of that matters, because what the movie gets right is so completely right you might not notice anything it gets wrong.

Directed by James Whale (Bride of Frankenstein, Show Boat), and filmed in black-and-white as shadowy and concealing yet revealing as any noir. And this is a terrifically restored print, too — no splotches, no scratches, no ads.

"Crazy, am I? We'll see whether I'm crazy or not…"

Verdict: BIG YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life (1993)
Streaming free at YouTube

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic…"

This is an audacious and freaky short, in which Franz Kafka sits at his desk trying to write one of the most famous lines in literature, but he can't decide what gigantic thing Gregor Samsa should be turned into.

A gigantic banana, perhaps? And after that, there's a series of interruptions from nosy neighbors and dancing ladies and Christmas carols, as Kafka struggles to finish just that one sentence. 

It's written and directed by Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who), with Richard E Grant (Withnail & I) as Kafka, and it's held back only by the shittiness of copies available online. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Freaky Faron (2006)
Streaming free at YouTube

Faron is a teenage girl who's been held in a juvy prison since she was 11. The movie opens at her parole hearing, where we're given a recap of her crimes, and she seems to be both a psychopath and a sci-fi superhero. But still, she's sent home to live with her mom and attend a normal high school.

It's a strong setup for an ass-kicking grrrl-centric action movie, but after that opening, everything becomes very innocent, and it's a Nancy Drew-type story: Faron helps a couple of younger girls get their video game back, after it was confiscated in class.

It's OK in a kid-movie way, but it feels like a doublecross — the first scene promised a very different movie from what's delivered.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Free Radicals (1958)
Streaming free at YouTube

This is less than ten minutes of black-and-white abstract animation dancing around to some catchy drumming. What's it mean? No clues are provided, and researching it would seem like prying.

Does it have to 'mean something'? It's cool.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Free State of Jones (2016)
Streaming free at Tubi

A nephew or cousin of Confederate soldier Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) dies on the battlefield. Knight's been fine with killing other people's nephews and cousins to protect slavery, but the death of his own kinfolk is too much, so he walks away from the war. 

"You know they shoot deserters, don't you?"

"Hell, they shoot everybody around here anyway. Seems to make no difference where the bullet comes from."

Knight is a factual, not fictional character; he led a rebellion against the rebels during the Civil War, and proclaimed Jones County, Mississippi an independent nation, without slavery. "Every man is a man," says Knight in the movie. "If you walk on two legs, you're a man." 

Which sounds rousing and ought to be, but it isn't. The movie feels padded with unnecessary scenes, and offers Knight as a white Moses, single-handedly leading blacks to freedom, voting rights, equality, etc.

But the biggest problem with Free State of Jones is that it's never very interesting. The only character given much attention is Knight, and as played by McConaughey he's a dull dude who mumbles a lot.

An unintentionally hilarious conversation comes early in the film, as several Confederate soldiers talk at a campfire and use the word "negro" numerous times, very politely, very improbably. 

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Free to Be... You and Me (1974)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

This is a TV special made by Marlo Thomas (That Girl), full of of short skits and simple songs aimed at young children, with wise advise that kids need. 

Rosey Grier sings "It's All Right to Cry." Ms Thomas and Harry Belafonte sing a duet about parenthood. There's a delightful fable about a princess who doesn't want to get married. Alan Alda sings a song celebrating boys who play with dolls. Kids talk, and are given reassurance and comfort. 

All this is absolutely corny, but c'mon, it's aimed at 5-year-olds. They'd love it, learn from it, and grow into better people.

Every boy in this land
    grows to be his own man
In this land, every girl
    grows to be her own woman
Take my hand, come with me
    where the children are free
Come with me,
    take my hand, and we'll run
To a land where the river runs free
To a land through the green country
To a land to a shining sea
To a land where the horses run free
To a land where the children are free
And you and me are free
    to be you and me

Verdict: YES, and BIG YES for kids.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Freedom Riders (2011)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

This is a tremendous documentary from PBS, about the 1961 'freedom rides' to challenge segregation in the South.

Black and white activists boarded Greyhound and Trailways buses together, and stopped at stations and sat in the same waiting rooms illegally. And it wasn't illegal like jaywalking; the South's redneck bigots took their segregation very, very seriously. 

"It was America. It was interracial, it was inter-regional, it was secular and religious, it brought together people of different political philosophies. There was a sense of unity and purpose that I'm not sure the movement ever had before. It was a shining moment."

Yes it was, but it was ugly and terrifying before it got to the shining part. The riders had been trained in non-violent techniques, and the film even shows some footage from the training sessions, but they weren't trained for what to do when people firebombed the bus.

Some things I learned from this:

I'd always assumed they rode chartered buses, but no, they rode on regularly-scheduled routes. Which means, un-involved passengers were on board, people just trying to get from one place to another, who didn't have any idea what they'd stepped aboard when they stepped aboard.

It also means, instead of 50 passengers standing together, there were perhaps half that, with the rest of the people on the bus bewildered at everything going on.

Very few people thought the rides were a smart strategy. Martin Luther King thought it was foolhardy, and refused when invited to ride along. John and Robert Kennedy were opposed to the rides, and most of the civil rights movement was not on board. The freedom riders were among the most radical of the radicals of their time. 

And perhaps most terrifying, instead of housing the arrested freedom riders in city jail, Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett had them taken to Parchman Farm. That's the maximum-security Mississippi penitentiary infamous then and now for its cruelty and harsh conditions.

Many of the riders are on camera for the documentary, and their stories and memories are often astounding, heartwarming, even funny. There ain't words to do justice to the courage of these men and women who changed America.

Liberty and justice for all — what a concept.

Verdict: BIG YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Freedom River (1971)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

This is animation and storytelling in the style of Rocky & Bullwinkle but without laughs. It's a 7-minute storybook tale of liberal values — free immigration, don't be a bastard, help the needy, etc. There's nothing radical about it, but it's colorful, and Republicans would hate it.

Narrated by Orson Welles.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Freeway (1988)
Streaming free at YouTube

A serial killer keeps shooting people on the freeway. A reporter investigates, not because it's news but because her friend or sister (it's unclear) was one of the victims. There's a perv chasing the reporter. The serial killer keeps shooting people on the freeway. 

The perv comes from Central Perv Casting, the reporter is pretty, blonde, and has no life other than reporting and being stalked, and the freeway murders are precisely what pops into your mind when you read 'freeway murders'. Nothing interesting happens, and it's in no hurry to not happen.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Freeway (1996)
Streaming free at The Archive

Reese Witherspoon plays Vanessa, an illiterate teen with a rough home life and a rougher future. Her mom's a hooker, stepdad is a layabout and creep, and when they're both arrested Vanessa is destined for foster care.

She's not interested in that, though, so she runs off in the family's beater station wagon, and when it breaks down she encounters the delightfully vile 'Bob' (Kiefer Sutherland).

The movie takes a while to get up to speed, but eventually it's doing 65 mph. It's a gritty tough chick movie disguised as a fairy tale. Innocent but also guilty, this kid Vanessa refuses to be victimized no matter what, and there's a lot of 'what'.

This was the directorial debut of Matthew Bright, who's gone on to do nothing else interesting. It features a grating score by Danny Elfman, and the best performance Witherspoon has ever delivered.

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

Freewheelin' (1976)
The French Connection
The Freshman
Friday Foster

... plus schlock, shorts, and surprises

— — —
Now accepting recommendations
for movies
starting with the letter 'G'.
Just add a comment, below.
— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. Dude, Matthew Bright did Tiptoes, a total masterpiece.

    As for Freeway, the same basic type of story was told a million times better a year later in Álex de la Iglesia's Perdita Durango.


    1. Tiptoes was a long movie about short people, but as I recall I couldn't see over Gary Oldman.

      I have my doubts about Perdita Durango from the description at that link. Rape as entertainment and all. Guess I'm old-fashioned. It goes on the list, though.

  2. The movies in alphabetic order is begtter, by the way. It feels like slipping through one of those old "Movies on TV" paperbacks.

    I saw FREE STATE OF JONES a while back and liked it more than you did. But I do remember the mumbling.

    GLEN OR GLENDA, GOG, and GUNCRAZY (1992) are all G movie trash you might enjoy.

    Keep it coming, Doug. Fuck getting a job, we need the movie reviews.

    1. I remember those books. My favorite was by Lenny Maltin, and I always *knew* I had to see the movie if it wasn't in the book.

      Ed Wood has never done anything for me. I recognize that his movies are bad, but they never wrap around again to be somehow enjoyable. They're just bad. That's probably what I'll say in my review, but all three go on the list, thanks.

    2. There's always room at the bottom and that's the problem with bad movies. Of course you get to enjoy Glen or Glenda and Dictator Dad, but bad movies rarely circle around. And you don't get to enjoy Dictator Dad and pan Abbey Road. Or, rather, you do, but people will start wearing gloves before reaching out to you.



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