Film

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Theatrical poster to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. From Wikipedia.

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Screenplay: James V. Hart

Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Starring: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, and Anthony Hopkins

Language: English

Running Time: 127 Minutes

Year: 1992

Prince Vlad Dracula in 1462.

Prince Vlad Dracula in 1462.

In 1462, Prince Vlad Dracula of Wallachia (Oldman) is at war with the Ottoman Turks and leaves his wife Elizabetha (Ryder) at his castle when he goes to war. While he is gone, the Turks deliver a false message carrying news of Vlad’s defeat and death, to which Elizabetha responds by committing suicide. Dracula returns victorious, but is crushed when he finds his wife has killed herself and cannot be given a Christian burial. The warrior then renounces God and vows to return from his death with the powers of darkness to avenge her. In 1897 English solicitor Jonathan Harker (Reeves) travels to the Eastern European region of Transylvania to help the mysterious Count Dracula (who we know is Prince Vlad) purchase property in London. While Harker is at Dracula’s castle, the count’s eye is captured by the sight of Jonathan’s fiance Mina (also portrayed Ryder), who the vampire believes to be the reincarnation of his long dead wife. The young Harker is kept prisoner at Dracula’s castle while he goes to London to rejuvenate and win the heart of Mina, but not before Dutch scientist Abraham Van Helsing (Hopkins) discovers that there is a vampire in their midst.

At the time of this film’s release in 1992 there had been many onscreen portrayals of Dracula. The most well known being Max Schreck (1922’s Nosferatu), Bela Lugosi (1931’s Dracula) and Christopher Lee for the Hammer horror films (beginning with 1958’s Dracula). For the first time since 1977 (in Count Dracula, starring French actor Louis Jourdan), we see the illustrious vampire count portrayed as written by Irish novelist Bram Stoker.

Old Dracula.

Old Dracula.

Gary Oldman portrays Dracula masterfully as both man and beast. He makes him sympathetic while still allowing the character to maintain his role as the villain. Oldman’s performance is at times very unnerving and frightening, but he is always interesting to watch. Just as in the novel, Dracula gets younger and younger as he drinks more blood. This is a fact not portrayed since Jess Franco’s Count Dracula (1970). Gary Oldman’s elderly makeup, and his more monstrous forms (like that of a demonic bat-like creature and a wolf-man) are very convincing. Gary Oldman’s appearance was clearly modeled after Vlad Tepes (or Vlad the Impaler), who is commonly said to be the real life Dracula (and is portrayed as such in the film).

Young Dracula.

Young Dracula.

Winona Ryder also does a very good job in the role of the troubled Mina, who is both worried about her missing fiance and her newly arising feelings for Prince Vlad (whom she does not know is actually Count Dracula). While the portrayal of Mina in this film is much more realistic than what is written in the book, I still think Mina we see in the books is a better character (for an accurate portrayal of Mina as written by Stoker, watch Philip Saville’s Count Dracula).

Anthony Hopkins, still riding on the shockwaves produced by his Oscar-winning performance as cannibalistic serial killer Doctor Hannibal Lecter in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, portrays a rather eccentric version of Professor Abraham Van Helsing. I think Hopkins did a good job as far as giving a good performance, but I don’t like his portrayal of Van Helsing. I’m all for an eccentric Van Helsing, but I believe he took eccentric a bit to far for this character. We do get some chuckles out of his performance (such as when he describes in detail the death of Mina’s friend Lucy Westenra while at dinner with her and Jonathan).

Now here is the performance everyone expected to be terrible: Keanu Reeves. The only purpose casting him in this movie serves is unintentional comic relief. The main part that comes to mind when I think about his dreadful performance is him, in a very wooden manner, delivering the line, “It’s the man himself! Look, he’s grown young!” upon seeing a youthful Count Dracula when he returns to London. Thankfully, the good performances are enough to forgive the utterly disastrous casting of Keanu Reeves.

The frightening and beautiful Sadie Frost as the vampire Lucy Westerna.

The frightening and beautiful Sadie Frost as the vampire Lucy Westenra.

The only members of the supporting cast that are worth mentioning are Sadie Frost as Lucy Westenra, Mina’s best friend and Tom Waits as the insane RM Renfield. First we’ll go into Lucy: she’s a bit of a slut for her time and is the total antithesis of the stereotypical chaste Victorian woman. She makes hilarious sexual innuendo about the size of the knife of one of her suitors (Quincy Morris, played by Billy Campbell). She’s very likable and a stunning beauty. When she becomes a vampire, she is one of the scariest you’ll see on film. Her innocent-natured flirting turns into a kind of Satanic-seduction, all the while she is wearing this reptilian looking wedding gown, causing you to forget that this was the fun-loving and romantic Lucy beloved by her friends and family. Musician Tom Waits is quite simply one of the best Renfields’ since Dwight Frye took on the role in the 1931 Lugosi film. His pseudo-religious petitions to Dracula for eternal life are brought forth in a very ecstatic manner. It’s difficult to believe that this man once had a capacity for sane thought. I’ve never seen Tom in anything else, but there is no question lingering in my mind that he’s a great performer.

Besides the performances, one of the primary things that sets this film apart from other Dracula adaptations is the erotic tone. This is a very fitting choice on the part of the director and screenwriter. Stoker’s novel has been read by many as a tale of sexual escapism for Victorians, and this is transferred perfectly into the film. The drinking of blood for a vampire is an act of both pleasure and is a part of procreation for them, much like sexual intercourse is for humans. There is a scene when Mina drinks blood from the Count’s chest, and he reacts as if he’s having the ultimate orgasm. The very voluptuous female vampires also help a lot with the sexual tone of the film, from Dracula’s brides sexually assaulting Jonathan to a near vampiric-Mina trying to seduce Van Helsing.

The costumes and effects in this film were another thing that set this film apart from other Dracula movies. The most notable costume in the movie has to be the old Dracula’s flowing red gown with golden dragon symbols imprinted on the front (a reference to Vlad the Impaler being a member of the Order of the Dragon). This is certainly the most well-dressed Dracula that’s been put to film! Another one of my favorite pieces from the movie is Dracula’s armor that he wears in the prologue scene, which some have affectionately dubbed the “licorice armor”. Eiko Ishioka received a well-deserved Academy Award nomination for her work on the costumes in this beautiful film. The special effects in this movie were achieved with no use of CGI. This was a return to classic special effects, and because of this the film is much more convincing. Dracula undergoes many transformations and not just from old to young. Dracula also morphs into the monstrous forms we mention earlier. Despite my knowledge that such creatures do not exist, the realism of these guises of Dracula defy your sense of reality versus fiction.

I highly recommend this film to fans of the vampire and/or horror genres. With the exception of Keanu Reeves, the film is very well acted. It’s also well written and well staged. This is probably Gary Oldman’s best and most terrifying performance as the infamous vampire Count Dracula. I hope you’ll give the movie a chance and enjoy!

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The Hunt (2012)

Director: Thomas Vinterberg 

Screenplay: Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Anika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrøm

Running Time: 115 minutes

Language: Danish

Year: 2012

This superb, Oscar nominated Danish film follows the story of Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a recently divorced kindergarten teacher in a small Danish town who is struggling to spend time with his son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm). He has many friends in town, including Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), who has a small daughter who goes to the school at which Lucas teaches named Klara (Anika Wedderkopp). Lucas frequently walks Klara to and from school and Klara seems to have a bit of a crush on Lucas. One day she kisses Lucas quickly while he is playing with the children and she gives him a heart, and after Lucas declines her romantic gesture in a polite manner, she tells the principal, Grethe (Susse Wold) that Lucas showed her his genitals. After these accusations become public, Lucas is shunned and persecuted by the town while even all of his closest friends turn against him, except for Bruun (Lars Ranthe). Marcus also comes to town to be with his father and also feels the effects of the hatred the town has for his father. Things only get worse for Lucas when more children come forward and claim that he molested them also.

Mads Mikkelsen as Lucas in “The Hunt”.

I just watched this film last night because of my being converted into a Mads Mikkelsen fan after watching Hannibal last year. I was introduced to Mikkelsen through Casino Royale, like most English-speaking film-goers but this movie is where he really shows his acting chops. Mikkelsen has a very subtle acting style that is usually used to play mysterious villains, but it equally well with the character of Lucas, who is easy to identify with due to his normality. The most well-acted scene in the film has to be when Lucas goes to the local Christmas Eve church service and tearfully confronts Theo in front of everyone about his innocence. I frequently found myself enraged at how the townspeople instantaneously took the word of a child instead of a well-respected man in the community like Lucas.

Annika Wedderkopp as Klara in “The Hunt”.

Annika Wedderkopp, the young actress who plays Klara, also gave a great performance. While she did cause Lucas the trouble in the film, she never intended to cause any harm. She plays Klara as an innocent who is troubled by what is happening to Lucas. For a while in the film, she does not even know whether she was actually lying or not due to what people are saying. Her mother (played by Anne Louise Hassing), unable to accept the possibility that Klara told a fib, tells Klara that she most likely suppressed the memory of Lucas molesting her. The final scene between Lucas and Klara, which shows that they have left the past behind as much as possible, really tears at your heartstrings.

The supporting cast was not wasted at all. You could sympathize with Klara’s parents even though they were completely wrong in believing the accusations against Lucas. Unlike the children, they are not innocents and do not have an excuse for blindly believing the lies the children are telling. You can’t help but find them despicable despite them being so easy to identify with. If your child accused someone of molesting them, you would instinctively believe them. The headmistress of the school, Grethe, is the one I really couldn’t stand because of her naivety of believing the children at all times.

The film really makes you think about what would happen to you if you were placed in an unfortunate situation like that. Would your friends stand by you or would they turn on you and assume the worst? When the film first shows Lucas hanging out with his buddies after a hunting trip, laughing and drinking, you would assume that they would all stick together no matter what, but even Lucas’s “best friend”, Theo, turns on him and does not give him the benefit of the doubt when his daughter makes the accusations. If I were in Theo’s position, I would want to believe my daughter over my friend also, but the film shows how terribly dangerous it can be to blindly believe everything someone, even a small child, says.

The court of public opinion is a very dangerous place. Presumption of innocence might apply to the court of law, but it isn’t so in the court of public opinion. It makes me wonder if even you are considered innocent until proven otherwise in the court of law? Is the jury always unbiased in their decision making? Whenever Grethe hears Klara’s accusations, she instantly believes her with no evidence to support the claim. She tells Lucas, “I always believe the children!” Grethe’s blind faith in the children at the school could have easily proven fatal to Lucas. These children who make the accusations against Lucas are innocents and most likely do not realize that their actions are wrong. They all clearly love Lucas, as you see him playing with them in almost every scene in which he goes to the school. The movie almost seems to make the case that innocence can be dangerous. Klara tells her father that she never anticipated the consequences to the lie she told.

Mads Mikkelsen (right) as Lucas. Lasse Fogelstrøm (left) as his son Marcus.

Now, here be SPOILERS. By the end of the film Lucas is acquitted and all looks well. Lucas is happily dating his love-interest Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport) and is finally able to see his son regularly. The townspeople are treating him normally too. They all go on a hunting trip after celebrating Marcus getting his hunting licence. While alone in the woods, Lucas is nearly shot in the head by an unknown shooter. This ending seems to show that Lucas’s life will never truly be back to normal and that the accusations made against him will forever cast a dark shadow upon his reputation. This reminds me of Arthur Leigh Allen, who was accused by author Robert Graysmith and several people of being the elusive Zodiac Killer when all evidence points toward his innocence. Many people still believe that Allen is the Zodiac Killer. The person who shot at Lucas (if it was intentional) symbolizes those who still believe that Lucas molested the children.

This film isn’t one for everyone. Many might think it is slow, but I was totally engrossed in the film and invested in the characters (especially Lucas and Klara, of course). Despite it not being extremely violent, it is still very disturbing because of how far the accusations and their impacts go. It is scary to think that this could happen to anyone! Mads Mikkelsen took his place as the lead actor and held onto every scene he was in. I really wish he was applicable for Best Actor, but at least the film has been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. This is easily one of the best films of 2012.

GoodFellas (1990)

Year: 1990

Genre: Drama

Length: 146 Minutes

Based On: Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family by Nicholas Pileggi

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Screenplay by: Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi

Starring: Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci

Language: English

What would it be like to be a foot soldier in the Mafia? Would it be exciting? Would it be frightening? Violent even? Or would it be a similar lifestyle to what is portrayed in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather trilogy? In Martin Scorsese’s mafia classic Goodfellas you get an amazing look into the life of a gangster. This is based on the best-selling and critically acclaimed true-crime novel, Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family by crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi (who also co-wrote the screenplay with director, Martin Scorsese) which is the first hand account of Irish-Italian Lucchesse crime family associate turned FBI informant, Henry Hill. This movie tells the story behind many infamous crimes such as the 1978 $6,000,000 Lufthansa Air Line robbery which led to the murders of ten people. This movie also includes a fabulous rock/pop soundtrack with songs such as the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter and Sid Vicious’ My Way.

Christopher Serrone (left) as a young Henry Hill. Robert De Niro (middle) as Jimmy Conway. Joe D’Onofrio (right) as a young Tommy DeVito.

The story begins as an Irish-Italian twelve year old boy, Henry Hill, later played by Ray Liotta, admires the Mafiosi that operate in his neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, including Lucchesse crime family caporegime Paul ‘Paulie’ Cicero (based on Paul Vario), played by Paul Sorvino, who soon recruits the teenager into his gang and later becomes a fatherly figure to him. Paulie then introduces Henry to some of the most violent mobsters in New York City; James ‘Jimmy the Gent’ Conway and the sociopath Tommy DeVito (based on Jimmy Burke and Tommy DeSimone), played by Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. The three “goodfellas” then begin a twenty-five year rise and fall in Mafia hierarchy.

Joe Pesci (left) as Tommy DeVito. Ray Liotta (middle) as Henry Hill. Robert De Niro (right) as Jimmy Conway.

This is probably the best mob movie I’ve ever seen and also has my nomination for a few Academy Awards! Goodfellas is as exciting as movies can get. The violence is very realistic and accelerates the flow of the movie. Martin Scorsese directs a top-notch cast whose acting is flawless. In Goodfellas, Joe Pesci plays the role of a psychopathic Italian Mafia triggerman even better than Jack Nicholson plays the psychotic writer in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining! Nobody else in the world knows the Mafia underworld better than Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pilleggi. Scorsese is truly able to portray the lifestyle of this particular organized crime group.

Ray Liotta (left) as Henry Hill and Paul Sorvino (right) as Paul Cicero.

In one scene, Martin Scorsese perfectly captures the mentality of almost all Mafiosi. Tommy, Henry and numerous other gangsters are seated at a table listening to Tommy telling jokes and Henry tells Tommy that he is a funny guy. An apparently insulted and enraged Tommy asks how he is funny. Henry begins to show fear as his volatile Mafia partner acts more and more aggressive. Tommy then reveals he was only kidding with him. Henry was obviously afraid Tommy would kill him, that’s the way it is. Later in the movie during a voice over, Henry states that “People would get over arguments over nothing and before you knew it one of them was dead,” This scene shows the paranoia and fear that all mobsters experience at some point during their careers. In a Martin Scorsese career profile called Scorsese on Scorsese, Scorsese states that the “funny guy” scene in Goodfellas is the most realistic segment of any of his Mafia pictures.

I recommend Goodfellas as an outstanding movie to all gangster, true-crime, and biopic film fans. Goodfellas is often held as the most authentic film portrayal of life in a Mafia family ever captured on screen. If you are interested in watching a good crime-drama; sit back, relax and enjoy!

Here is the trailer: