Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992): Carried by a Strong Cast of Characters

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“Bram Stoker’s Dracula” was the first “Dracula” film I ever remember loving. It was years ago that I first saw it so I realize now how much of that was nostalgia but the film does still hold up, even if it is not as great as I believed it to have initially been. What really makes this film work is the presentation and the great cast as this time around the theme didn’t work as well for me.

The film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and written by James V. Hart.

The story begins with Dracula (Gary Oldman) returning home to Transylvania after victory over the Turks to find his wife has killed herself based on a lie planted the enemy. He curses God and drinks blood from a cross he stabs. After we get a time jump where Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) must go to Romania to complete the deal with Count Dracula that Renfield (Tom Waits) was unable to complete.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Cinematography – This is a beautiful film with tons of practical effects. Michael Ballhaus did a great job of bringing this world to life. It feels like an epic fairy tale.

Dracula’s Curse / Origin – The idea of Dracula turning on God and that is why he is turned into a demonic creature is fascinating. You can see why someone who already didn’t care much for humanity beyond his country would go full bad. It works and is a strong start to the story.

Framing the Story – I love how the film captures the essence of the book in how the story is framed. We have Mina’s diaries, Jonathan’s letters and also Van Helsing’s words as well. This was how the book was told and this film pulled it off as a narrative and framing device to let us know more of the characters.

Renfield – Tom Waits is wonderful as the crazy Renfield who above all else just wants immortality from Dracula. It is fascinating to see as he seems to be analyzing the world around him in as the manic being he has become. Any scene he is in, is strong due to the performance.

The Brides of Dracula – The Brides in Dracula have a purpose in this and aren’t just display! In this they are first introduced when they try to prey on Jonathan. All the actresses are charismatic and they are the ones who hold Jonathan hostage after Dracula travels to England and they are the ones who attempt to turn Mina and stop Van Helsing from destroying Dracula. This is easily the best portrayal they’ve had in any adaptation. Bellucci, Bercu and Kendrick did a great job.

Lucy – Sadie Frost does a wonderful job as Lucy. In this she has 3 suitors and each are compelling in their own ways. You can see why they are drawn to her as she is confident in herself and dreams. This is really where the tragedy comes in as like in the books she is one of Dracula’s victims, though she advocates for help before her death and is nearly saved. Lucy like the Brides, have their best portrayal in this film.

Lucy’s Suitors – Lucy’s suitors and friends are Quincey Morris from Texas, Dr. Seward and Arthur Holmwood. Each is unique in their performance and take an active part in the story and stopping Dracula. With Morris dying in the final attack against Dracula.

Dr. Jack Seward – Richard Grant imbues Jack with empathy but also a bit of madness too. You can see how Van Helsing has rubbed off on him and also his care for Lucy. He sees logic in Renfield and it is thanks to his getting Van Helsing that Dracula is stopped. He is the best version of the character put to screen thus far.

Arthur Holmwood – Cary Elwes gives us the best version of this character. He fights for Lucy, loves her and joins Van Helsing in the fight. I almost wish Elwes had been cast as Harker, as Keanu didn’t cut it where Elwes elevated a minor role.

Dracula as an Antagonist – Dracula is a great antagonist. You have this powerful night demon that still feels empathy and sadness and is extremely dangerous. is human and monster design are amazing too as one is classy and cool while the bat-demon form is almost wolf-like. He never doesn’t feel dangerous which makes him a great villain in a role Oldman owns.

Professor Van Helsing – Anthony Hopkins gives us a smart, crafty, and slightly mad version of Van Helsing. It is great and works. This is an old man who has been defined exploring the strange and supernatural and the film is made better when he shows up.

The Cons:

Dracula’s Roma – Dracula has a bunch of Roma followers and it is never explained why they follow him. They are also racistly referred to as Gypsies throughout the film so there is that negative too.

Keanu’s Performance – Keanu’s portrayal as Harker is so wooden and his English accent is bad. He isn’t a bad actor but he should not have been cast in this role. He like so many Harker’s prior, just ends up empty and bland.

Mina’s Role and Adapting “Dracula” – Winona Ryder is a good actress but her role in this feels ill-defined. She is a fridged character motivating Dracula so her role as Mina never fully exists as her being Dracula’s reincarnated wife defines their interactions. So Dracula gets away with murder and she becomes one willingly wanting to join. I hated this. There is no Mina, only Elisabeta in a universe where the rules of reincarnation aren’t even explained. Mina and Winona deserved to be full characters not Dracula’s motivation.

“Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is a beautiful and flawed film that I highly recommend. For all the flaws, the story is solid, the cast is amazing and Dracula is an awesome film that still holds up as a favorite.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

“Castlevania” Season 2 – Great Enough That the Show Could Have Ended Here

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As I’ve been reviewing the different parts of horror cinema I have found the vampire lore the most fascinating. With vampires you get immortal politics, tackling mortality and the reason of life and often times good action as vampire make-up is easier than werewolf. You also have an intelligent foe unlike zombies. It was in this exploration I realized I hadn’t reviewed Season 2 of “Castlevania yet. I’ve reviewed Season 1 and Season 3 but I hadn’t done Season 2 yet. I’m glad I went back to watch it again as is the best of the show and they really could have ended it here. I’ll get into the why further below.

The show was created by Warren Ellis on Netflix that is produced by Frederator Studios.

The story picks up where we left off as Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage), Sypha and Alucard seek Dracula to end his reign as politics unfold in Dracula’s Castle.

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Trevor Morris did an amazing job on this soundtrack. It truly captures the fun of the games and battle and emotional sequences feel epic.

The Action – The action is one thing this show has always done really well and we get that here. We have unique creatures and each of the members of the Vampire Court fight in unique ways too. There isn’t just a zombie army being taken on and it adds intrigue to the actions sequences.

The World – The world is apocalyptic as you have the corrupt church at play, vampire politics and Dracula lashing out at the world with his only aim to wipe any of humanity who aren’t his Forgemasters. Season 1 we only got a little of it but 2 develops it so much more.

Dracula’s Court – Dracula’s Court is full of vampires from around the world as well as his 2 human Forgemasters. Each member of the court has a unique way of power and you can see why they were chosen. The weakest of all of them is Hector who is easily used by a member of the court to betray Dracula.

The Vampire Generals – The generals each get a moment of awesome and like the Bloodpack in Season 2 have unique designs that set them apart. You have the viking vampire Godbrand, you have Raman and Sharma two Indian vampires, Dragoslav a slavic Vampire, Zufall a German vampire, Cho a Japanese vampire and Carmilla from Astyria. You get to witness their unique fighting styles against our Trio and when they attack a town. The two factions that form are those loyal to Carmilla and those loyal to Dracula and it is here we witness the fascinating politics unfold.

Carmilla – Carmilla is ruthless and driven by what she sees as the corruption of man and the partiarchy, and she’s right. Her own master went insane until she killed him and took control of Styria and Dracula has no strategy because he is mourning a person who she thinks he only saw as a pet, given she was never turned. This provides a fascinating dynamic that ends with her forces invading the Castle until Sypha pulls it away.

Isaac – Isaac was abused growing up and hates humanity because of how they manipulate, use and lie. His only friend is Dracula and we see how deep that friendship is when Dracula saves his life hoping he makes his own path. In the end Isaac was more of a son to Alucard than Alucard in his eyes.

Trevor and Sypha – I’m putting Trevor and Sypha as one because it is the romantic relationship and opening up to each other that really defines this season. We see how they are both broken and how tied they are to their families. This leads to them resolving to adventure together after Dracula is defeated.

Dracula – Dracula’s war came from rage and besides his rage all he has is his hate and sorrow. This leads to us seeing his fascinating conversations in the recruitment of his Forgemasters and defines his final choices. His last acts were to save Isaac and to let his son kill him as he realized what killing his son was doing to him. It is powerfully done and Episode 7 is easily one of the best episodes of the show. Graham McTavish does an amazing job inhabiting this character with threat and also empathy.

Alucard – Alucard finally completes his arc and defeats his father, he also finds friendship with Sypha and Trevor only to lose it again. In this way we see him back in the loneliness he’s always known as he safeguards the Belmont and Tepes legacy alone. Alucard is the tragic hero and James Callis captures it beautifully.

The Cons:

Early Episode Writing – Early episode was a bit to “tell” rather than “show” and had some jokes fall flat between Sypha and Trevor. When we weren’t in Dracula’s Castle it felt like the writers were trying too hard in the first 2 episodes. Luckily, it did get better.

The Danger of an Open Ended Story – Dracula’s arc feels complete as he found his soul again and Trevor, Sypha and Alucard all had arcs where they grew in finding a higher purpose or learning about themselves. The story could have ended and I really hope they don’t ruin this story by keeping it going too long as it could have ended here.

“Castlevania” is a show I’d recommend to any fan of the games, action anime, vampire dramas or fantasy shows. This show captures all of these things and does it so well. I’m glad it got continued after that first initial small season as it has only grown from the great start it already was.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10 This season was great and I really hope we can see this level of storytelling in future stories since the story continues.

Blade: Trinity (2004) – Awful Writing, Bland Characters and a Terrible Villain Make This Trash

Blade: Trinity - movie POSTER (Style F) (11" x 17") (2004) - Walmart.com -  Walmart.com

“Blade: Trinity” is an awful film. David Goyer did a solid job with his first 2 scripts so I’m not sure what happened here but almost nothing about this film works. This is a film that has a terrible villain, bland characters and never makes the most of the interesting premise it first provides. Seriously, this whole team deserved better. Without going into spoilers, I don’t recommend this trash film.

The film was directed and written by David Goyer.

The story follows Blade (Wesley Snipes) who is being hunted by the FBI after he kills a human “Familiar.” At the same time a vampire faction lead by Danica Talos (Parker Posey) discovers and awakens Drakula (Dominic Purcell).

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The idea of the FBI and humanity going after Blade is compelling and should have been the story. The head FBI agent played by James Ramer is a good actor too and could have been the main antagonist. Sadly this base premise is forgotten with the Dracula plot and human agency is completely forgotten.

Dracula’s Origin – Dracula is an ancient warrior whose creation is unknown. He conquered and for some reason stopped until his discovery. The mystery and ancient warrior idea are really neat. Sadly this doesn’t end up going anywhere.

Abraham Whistler – Abraham Whistler shows up in this film to risk his life for Blade and die for good. Kris Kristofferson continues to be one of the strongest parts of this franchise and his dynamic with Blade is still great. It is sad it is only for a few minutes until he’s gone in a much worse death than in the first film.

Eric Brooks / Blade – Wesley Snipes like Kris Kristofferson is one of the few people actually trying and compelling in this film. Blade is shown to be compassionate as well as vengeful and more of Blade would have boosted this film. This film is called “Blade” but the other two folks on the poster have as much if not more development than him.

The Cons:

The Cinematography – The cinematography is ugly in this. It has a weird sheen to hit that I think was done to make it more gritty (and also to hide bad CGI) and it just makes the film look awful. The comic book feel from del Toro’s “Blade II” is completely gone and it looks like a film made for television.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack like the cinematography is lazy. It thinks it is awesome but it does nothing to enrich any of the scenes. All it does is illustrate how awkward and bad the scenes look. Ramin Djawadi and RZA did his and they both have much better work. I couldn’t even tell Djawadi was a part of this.

The Characters – The characters in this film are either horny, bland or embarrassing. I don’t know if that is what Goyer was going for in his script but given his direction and how scenes were written this is how the cast ends up coming off.

The Nightstalkers – The only members of the Nightstalkers who have story are Abigail (Abraham’s daughter played by Jessica Biel) and ex-vampire Hannibal King (played by Ryan Reynolds). Everyone else is just kind of there, have no defining moments of awesome against a threat we take seriously and are killed off by Dracula or captured by him. Abigail having to find her father has nothing that defines her and Hannibal King is all snarky jokes. Everyone else is making bad sex jokes or trying to act cool. Goyer, you did the Bloodpack in “Blade II” how could you write a team so bad? In the last film the Team was one of the best parts.

The Villains – The villains are really lame. We have Danica Talos who spends most of her time getting pissed off by her ex-Hannibal King and failing at fighting the good guys…but she isn’t the biggest embarrassment and she has a minion with vampire dogs. The biggest embarrassment is the worst version of Dracula I’ve seen put to the screen.

Drake / Dracula – Dominic Purcell is great in DC CW shows. He does a comedic anti-villian/anti-hero really well. This is not Dracula who goes by the stupid name of Drake and looks like he walked out of “Jersey Shore.” His first act walking around as Drake is to kill two people in a Hot Topic store with Dracula lunch boxes because he got pissed off. The character is a joke and he never felt threatening. He also spends more time running from Blade than fighting him. Why are we supposed to take this guy seriously? He has none of the charm or threat from past versions of the character and should not have been in this terrible film.

The Dialogue and Writing – The writing and dialogue are either telling you character backstory, making bad sex jokes or character quipping at each other. Honestly the biggest surprise is that Blade and Abraham Whistler aren’t destroyed in the writing. They are the only positive.

Goyer was the writer in the last 2 films and those are enjoyable to great so I’m not sure what happened here. Was Goyer given too much control or was this a trashfire made by the studio? If you know feel free to post in the comments section. This entire film is embarrassing and a terrible end to an intriguing franchise.

Final Score: 2 / 10 Almost nothing works about this film.

Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) – An Underrated Mel Brooks Comedy

Amazon.com: DRACULA DEAD AND LOVING IT Deluxe Widescreen Presentation  Laserdisc (LD NOT DVD) Leslie Nielsen Mel Brooks: Movies & TV

“Dracula: Dead and Loving It” was a film critically panned when it was released and I’m not sure why. This is a film that knows exactly what it is, it is a satire and comedy about “Dracula” and from there your humor may very since it is subjective. I for one found it solidly good and will explain why deeper in the review.

The film was directed by Mel Brooks who co-wrote the screenplay along with Rudy De Luca and Steve Haberman.

The story follows Renfield (Peter MacNocil) when he arrives at Dracula’s Castle to complete the purchase of Carfax Abbey for Count Dracula (Leslie Nielsen). The story unfolds from here.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Allusions – This film pays allusion to a few films I have scene, those being “Dracula” from 1931 and the Hammer films with their emphasis on gore. These things do work but it doesn’t make the film any deeper. I felt like this film could have been great if it had depended less on parody.

The Characters – As someone who thought the Lugosi “Dracula” of 1931 was a a solid good horror, this is a solid good satire of that. It doesn’t go beyond that but I appreciate the effort.

Renfield – Peter MacNicol does a good job with the ham is just is just more inept. This works given how driven he is initially. He is also one of the stronger parts of “Ghostbusters 2.”

Dr. Van Helsing – This is the Mel Brooks character and he works. He is the only one who critiques characters and is the only one one aware of a film. I thought this would possibly annoy but it doesn’t here. He still has chemistry with the cast.

Count Dracula – Leslie Nielsen does a good job of playing up the comedy of his role while still being a threat. He still does all the tropes and can still play the laughs while still being competent. That is not easy to do. As a threat for an hour and half he carries this. So I don’t get the hate.

Mina, Lucy and Harker – These are all characters who were blank slates in the initial review. This one gives them some level of depth. Mina is flirtatoious, Lucy does the “Jekyll and Hyde” extremely well and Harker has something going on. Originally he was a prop, at least he is sexually conflicted here.

The Comedy and the 3 S’s of Mel Brooks – This film captures the 3 S’s you will find in any Mel Brooks film. Sex, Satire and Slapstick. This film has all of these and caused me to chuckle consistently through the film. Comedy is subjective but Mel Brooks does the 3 Ss really well and is easily one of my favorite comedic directors.

The Cons:

Overdependence on Prior Films – One of the things that hurts the film from reaching levels of greatness is it does depend too much on the films it references. The story is Lugosi’s “Dracula” just with jokes so it never quite fully has it’s own identity.

No One Performance Can Carry – Tying into the fact that it doesn’t quite have it’s own identity none of the performances really stand out. The performances are good but they never reach the level of Lugosi or Lee so the film is never elevated.

After watching this film I don’t understand why it is so hated. It has all the Mel Brooks comedy tropes and does them well. I was never bored during the film and I enjoyed the takes on the characters even if there weren’t any great performances. Suffice to say, if you are a Mel Brooks fan, this is worth a watch.

Final Score: 8 / 10 Solid Mel Brooks Comedy.

“Dracula” Season 1 Retrospect – Solid Stories That Fail at the End

Dracula: Critics applaud 'energetic and fun' revival of vampire classic - BBC News

     Moffat and Gatiss have a pretty mixed record when it comes to ending shows. “Sherlock” went from one of my favorite shows to having one of the worst endings of any show I have watched. Moffat also was this way in how he handled Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor’s run and the show “Jekyll.” Thankfully this time though the show doesn’t stick to landing it is overall a stronger story than the ones I have mentioned above. It never reaches the greatest episodes of “Sherlock” or “Doctor Who” but it doesn’t have to and I’ll get into what works and doesn’t work within each individual episode. Overall I’d say if you are a fan of “Dracula” the first 2 episodes are at the very least worth checking out.

As stated above, this was a Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat project.

The premise is a modern adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic Novel told over the course of 3 episodes.

SPOILERS ahead

1 – The Rules of the Beast

“The Rules of the Beast” is easily the most straightforward adaptation of the Novel, with the biggest change being Van Helsing being a Nun, Sister Agatha Van Helsing. Her role is still the same though as the story starts with a undead looking Jonathan Harker who she is trying to learn about Dracula from in order to find his weaknesses. Things escalate when Dracula shows up and threatens the Nunnery and after the reveal of Jonathan’s fiancé Mina we see he has been made Dracula’s creature and tries to kill himself. He doesn’t succeed and it is the weakpoint in Van Helsing’s defenses as Harker invites Dracula in, in order to die. It is only through Van Helsing’s bravery that Mina is saved and the story ends with Dracula taking Van Helsing hostage.

There was a lot that worked about this episode as we Dracula become bats and wolves and seek a victory through fear. We also see when he was dying and how he twisted Jonathan into the near dead form he is as Jonathan’s strength is now his. This story overall worked and was nearly great, here is what didn’t work. The cinematography at Dracula’s castle and the Nunnery are also fantastic.

Jonathan had no free will in the end. In the end he stopped fighting and was willing to forsake all the innocents just so he could die. This didn’t fit the man we had met who was willing to die to protect Mina. The role of the brides didn’t make much sense either. We get hints at who they were before, but it is never explored which wasted a way the story could have gone in a different direction and added depth to characters who are usually just minions of Dracula.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10 Little more than solidly good. Enough of the story works, even with the cons.

2 – Blood Vessel

“Blood Vessel” involves Dracula traveling to England with Sister Agatha Van Helsing in tow. The story is framed as him telling her the setup of everyone on the vessel and their relationships. The mystery is good as the situation is almost like “Alien” as the crew must battle against this unknown supernatural terror, with the only one that can help them, locked up by the very thing they are fighting.

We meet a lot of fascinating characters on the ship and seeing how they deal with the terror as people end up dead and how prejudices interplay among them makes for some great drama. This was all largely solid as was the fear factor in regards to Dracula and how the ship is shot.

What doesn’t work is that it starts out really slow. This was an episode I had to go back to because many of the characters Dracula frames in the narrative initially just aren’t interesting. It is the already established members of the crew who really make the drama work and I wanted more of that. The fact that Sister Agatha isn’t an active factor for a while either also hurt the narrative as her interplay off Dracula in episode 1 was one of the strongest parts.

Final Score: 8 / 10 This was a solidly good horror story.

3 – The Dark Compass

In “The Dark Compass” we jump into the future where Dracula is captured by Dr. Zoe Van Helsing and her organization that was founded by Mina and Van Helsing’s relatives in honor of Jonathan Harker. Dracula soon gains his freedom though when his lawyer Renfield arrives on the scene.

Dracula in the modern day world is such a cool idea. He is seeing all this technology that is beyond his imagination and he has all the wealth that has been growing since he’s been gone. Fighting Dracula with science rather than religion is also a really cool idea too. Sadly these are the only compliments I can give it.

It is in modern day we meet our Lucy who is a party girl who Dracula decides to make his bride. They have a cool conversation about immortality but that is the only compliment I can give. Her ex Dr. Seward is a creep and stalker and is made out to be a hero and in the end Dracula decides he will die because it is the one thing he can’t defeat and I guess he loves Van Helsing? It is a mess and hurts the strong first 2 episodes.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10 The setup was great but Van Helsing and Dracula are the only real characters this episode and the premise of Dracula in modern day is completely wasted.

“Dracula” was an extremely flawed show and like Moffat and Gatiss’s other projects, it does not stick to landing. Overall it is stronger though because it never gets as bad as those, and since we only have one season they aren’t given the chance to make things worse. If you are a fan of “Dracula” I’d at least recommend the first 2 episodes but you can skip the third. I’d only recommend the third episode if you are completionist.

Final Score for the Show: 7.6 / 10

“Penny Dreadful” Season 3 – Great Character Beats With Incomplete Endings

Eva Green in Penny Dreadful (2014)

    “Penny Dreadful” is a show that doesn’t quite stick to landing. This season we are introduced to more characters (all of whom are interesting) and the cast is seperated after the end of Season 2, so it is at a disadvantage given the main cast having scenes and playing off one another is part of what made the first season as enjoyable as it was. There are a lot of things that I liked about the final season and a lot of things I found disappointing. I’ll get more into that below. John Logan said that this was his vision for how he wanted to end the show, but given all the things that do not work, I have trouble believing that was the case.

The story picks up after Season 2 with Malcolm traveling to Africa to bury Sembene, John Clare in the North, Ethan being transported back to the United States to face justice for his crimes, Victor seeking help from his past friend Jekyll to deal with Lily and Lily and Dorian beginning their path to power as Vanessa faces her depression and isolation. Dracula also begins making his moves to bring about the apocalypse.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Vanessa’s Depression – Vanessa’s depression is what starts out the show and as someone who faces it himself it was powerful to see. The empty house is a mess and she is simply eating to exist. It takes a visit from Lyle telling her to see a therapist to pull her out of it and you see how it never goes away, it is simply faced.

Dr. Seward – Dr. Seward (played by Patti LuPone who played the Cut-Wife in Season 2) is such a great character. She is the one who helps Vanessa heal and his is a brutally honest character with a dark past. In the end she becomes friends with Vanessa and comes to believe she has multiple personalities with Vanessa’s core personality and that of Lucifer and Dracula. Her story ends with her on the new Team Vanessa when the apocalypse finally comes. She survives the show too.

John Clare’s Story – John Clare’s story starts out slow but has some amazing payoffs. He starts in the North and remembers some of his life prior (his wife and child). He seeks them out and after an amazing talk with Vanessa eventually reunites with them. It is his first brief moment of happiness as his wife accepts him but it comes at a cost. Their son is dying and she asks for John to go to Victor and resurrect him after his death. He refuses sighting that his life is a curse and that their son is finally at peace. This leads to him being alone once more and the last time we see him is mourning the death of his friend.

Vanessa’s Conversations – Vanessa’s conversations are some of the best parts of the show and have been since the first season. We get some wonderful conversations with John Clare, Dracula, Dr. Seward and Catriona to name a few. Eva Green carries this show and it is because of these conversations and relationships. If these relationships and scenes didn’t happen I would have hated this season as Eva Green’s Vanessa is the heart of the show.

Vanessa and John Clare – I’m giving Vanessa and John Clare their own section as we have two of the best conversations with them this season. We have when he is the orderly at the asylum and her only advocate for her who comes to be her friend and as “The Creature” where they discuss being outcasts and that it is worth taking a chance on happiness given that not taking a chance just means they’ll be the same alone they are. The scenes are amazing and Eva Green and Rory Kinnear deserved more scenes together.

Hecate – Hecate is the one character who carries over from last season and is the devil on Ethan’s shoulder. They end up falling in love as we learn about the family abuse they’ve been through and both of their murderous pasts. In the end she is killed but this season redeemed her character as she isn’t as stupid as she was in Season 2 and is Ethan’s protector throughout their time in the United States.

Catriona – Catriona is the newest member of Team Vanessa and is recommended by Lyle when he goes to Egypt for his work and to retire and be safer from persecution. She is such an awesome character. She is a fighter and her scenes with Vanessa feel like dates as their chemistry is amazing and you can see why they trust one another. This friendship is short and I wish we could have learned more about her time as a warrior. She studies death and is the one who helps Vanessa find out who Dracula is.

Ethan and his Fathers – Ethan and his relationship to his fathers are one of the storylines that work this season. We have biological racist Jared Talbot played by the always fantastic Brian Cox, who is a dark reflection of who Malcolm once was. You have his Apache father Kaetenay played by Wes Studi who is also a werewolf and Ethan’s vengeful side and you have Malcolm who is that balance and his connection to Vanessa. In the end Malcolm spares from patricide and kills Jared Talbot and in the end makes some form of peace with Kaetenay.

Dracula – Dracula was a character I thought I’d hate, given when I first saw a picture of him I was unimpressed. This season that was the point. He is so average and unassuming that it makes him so threatening given how he uses his thralls and his arc is fascinating too as he falls in love with Vanessa. This was an interpretation I didn’t expect and even though I hate that he isn’t defeated at the end, the leadup to the ending is really great. He takes the appearance of a zoologist Dr. Sweet and we learn that he’s a shapeshifter who takes different forms through time. In the show we sadly never get to see his true form though. He always stays in the form of a man even if he empowers some of his abilities. Christian Chamargo did a wonderful job.

Lily Frankenstein – Lily Frankenstein is my favorite role I’ve seen Billie Piper play and I’d love to see her play the Doctor the Master in “Doctor Who,” ideally opposite Eva Green in the opposing role. This season we see her revolution to destroy corrupt men as she recruits prostitutes to kill abusive and horrible men and pushes Dorian out of power in their relationship. This sadly blows up in her face when she is captured by Victor when Dorian betrays him to her but Victor does not change her and lets her go and we are left as she and Dorian are facing each other at the end. This season we learned about the daughter Brona lost and what inspires her pain and vengeance. She is easily the best character this season and her death cult really deserved an entire season for Team Vanessa to face.

The Cons:

Missing Scenes – This season feels unfinished. There are scenes missing in many core relationship arcs through the film. Lyle after recommending a therapist to Vanessa only shows up to leave. We never get a scene of her thanking him. We don’t even see Vanessa in the penultimate episode so we don’t know why she went full “Mother of Evil” or if she is still fighting within herself. Victor never meets up with Vanessa even though they are friends in the same city and he never takes up Lyle on offer to help. We also never see the see leading up to Dorian’s betrayal when he calls upon Victor’s aid.

The Ending and Fridging – Vanessa is killed by Ethan and Dracula escapes and Lucifer never shows up (even though his role was setup with Hecate and Ethan). There are far too many missing pieces and the fridging of Vanessa wasn’t needed. We basically just got a repeat of the Mina story from Season 1, just replace Malcolm with Ethan and it is the same beats. Vanessa deserved so much better.

Lily and Dorian – Lily wanted a revolution but Dorian just wanted to be entertained when at the end of Season 2 it seemed like they had bigger goals. Hell, Dorian even mentions wanting to rule the darkness but that doesn’t connect to Dracula or Lucifer. The whole role of immortals is never fully explored and we are left with nothing when Lily and Dorian reunite once more. Lily is my favorite character on the show and in the end they do nothing with her plot since Dorian neutralizes her and than the writers forgot how to end their story.

Victor Frankenstein and Jekyll’s Plot – Victor is the worst character this season and Shazad Latif’s acting is the only thing saving the underwritten character of Jekyll. Jekyll never transforms into Hyde by the way and Victor is a worthless antagonist to Lily for the entire season as he pines after her. Thankfully he doesn’t ruin her character too with Jekyll’s serum which would have stolen her memories…but that is the only thing I can say. Harry Treadaway was wasted this season.

This season started out really strong and the character moments for Vanessa, John Clare, Ethan and Malcolm are all fantastic. Sadly toxic Victor and the ending do bring down the season. Dracula and Ethan’s dad are at least better villains than the witches of Season 2 but in the end I’m giving it the same score as Season 2. It had the chance for greatness, especially with all the threads and characters and it did not payoff those arcs. I’d still recommend watching it for how the show ends though, if you’ve enjoyed the ride so far as I did. I still like the show but the flaws through all seasons are very obvious.

Final Score: 7 / 10 An incomplete show that was still a fun ride.

“Penny Dreadful” Season 2 – Some of the Best Character Moments and Worst Written Villains

   “Penny Dreadful” continues to be my trash and after this season I’m really curious to see how it all wraps up. This season is not as good as Season 1 and that is due largely to how the characters are written to get to the climax and the villains. God, I hate these villains. They are trash and do not work and I’ll get into the why below. I still think this show is worth your time though due to the strong character moments this season brings.

The show was created by John Logan.

The story picks up with Nightwalker Witches lead by Evelyn Poole targeting Vanessa and her team. At the same time Lily is finding her footing in undeath and John Clare seeks work once more as Inspector Rusk investigates the most recent spate of murders tied to Ethan.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Abel Korzenioweski is an amazing composer. This season really illustrates it well too as some of the plot is real dumb but his soundtrack still elevates the emotion or threats of scenes. The opening theme song is also worthy of praise as it captures the melancholy tone of the show.

The Lore – This season has some great lore reveals. The greatest lore is reveal is Lucifer has a brother named Dracula who was also cast from heaven and thrown to Earth. I’ve never seen a gothic fantasy show do something like this. I’m very curious to see how this plays out later.

The Characters – The main characters and most of the supporting characters continue to be the strongest part of this show. John Logan is good at bringing nuance and depth to our protagonists and newcomers and this season that is fully on display.

Lyle – Lyle is wonderful. This flamboyant, gay and Jewish egyptologist is under Evelyn Poole’s thumb as a double agent at first but he uses every opportunity to fight back. He even kills one of the witches and is one of the few characters at the end giving Victor a listening ear. I thought he’d die this season but was very glad to be proven wrong.

Angelique – Angelique is one of the coolest minor characters this season. She is a transgender woman who works as an uptown prostitute who becomes the lover of Dorian Gray. She is wrestling against abuse and prejudice and for much of the series Dorian supports her, until he meets Lily Frankenstein and until Angelique finds his painting. Her death illustrates Dorian’s depravity in a way we haven’t seen in the show as it was only his inability to trust that lead him to do it. She deserved so much better.

Sembene – This is the season we get Sembene’s backstory. He is an outsider as he was once a former slave trader and we know he dealt with other beings like werewolves, as when Ethan is revealed to be one he accepts Ethan. Hs story ends in death when he is trapped when Ethan transforms in a very stupid witch’s plot. Like Angelique I wish we had gotten more of his story.

Ethan and Vanessa – One of the strongest relationships this season is that between Ethan and Vanessa. We learn Ethan is “The Wolf of God” and the one thing the forces of darkness fear. We also have Ethan’s inability to open up about being a werewolf to anyone outside of Sembene, but in Vanessa and Ethan’s protecting of each other we see a deep friendship become a complicated sort-of romantic relationship. I loved their scenes together and am curious if this arc is going to pay off next season.

Victor and Vanessa – Victor and Vanessa have a lovely platonic friendship that was needed on this show. Vanessa helps Victor in his courting of Lily (they even go dress shopping together) and she is one of the few he will listen to in facing his addiction. I hope we get more moments of this relationship next season.

Victor and his Creations – This season we see Victor’s guilt tied to his creations and the reasons why. He loves Brona who he turned into Lily Frankenstein but is so jealous that of course it will only end in tragedy. He also created Lily for John Clare (Caliban’s new name). John Clare is a constant shadow over his life as we see the guilt Victor feels in the pain in John’s creation and John’s killing of Proteus. His relationship to his creations is what defines him and when Lily becomes a powerhouse beyond his control he loses himself in addiction at the end of the season.

John Clare – John Clare has a healthy friendship this season, and it is with Vanessa Ives. She sees beauty in him and they talk philosophy and poetry and she even teaches him to dance. Sadly him being the monster leads to his job at a waxworks ending in him captured to be a freak on display. In the end he kills the owners and escapes, and after his understandable rejection by Lily and then her offer of power that he refuses, he asks Vanessa to run away with him. She is afraid to hurt him though and stays in London, leading to him heading north like in the novel “Frankenstein.”

Dorian Gray – Reeve Carney has really come into this role. The season starts out with a broken-hearted Dorian being greeted by Angelique. It is this forwardness that entrances Dorian and for much of the season he is building up her confidence in her as he claims to believe in her. Sadly this ends when he meets Lily Frankenstein and we see Dorian is only interested in what he sees as the newest person to entrance him who can give him new experiences. We also see the depths of sociopathy when he kills Angelique after she still loves him even after seeing the deformed, undead painting of his true self. It is this undead nature that brings Lily to him and at the end of the show they establish an alliance as undead faction with plans to rule all.

Lily Frankenstein – Billie Piper has some amazing range that is really on display this season. We see her rebirth from Brona into Lily and relearning herself and new identity in relationship to Victor. Her arc from here is transcending this as we see her murder a “john” and throw John Clare around when he attempts to force a relationship calling out the abuse of men before offering him power and a chance to rule. This offer ends up being accepted by Dorian, and when Victor tries to kill her we learn that for sometime she has remembered who she once was and has greater plans to rule as an immortal. It’s excellent and I can’t wait to see what she and Dorian do.

The Cons:

Contrived Main Character Idiocy – Most of the idiocy this season is tied to the witches and their plots. I really think the writers didn’t know what to do so they wrote the story to force character action, rather than characters making organic choices that made sense. This really comes to a head in the final episodes that I’ll get into below.

Characters Going Alone – Malcolm is under Evelyn Poole’s spell for much of this season and once he is freed he goes to face the witches alone, when he’s never done that before and last season the whole point was acting as a team and trusting each other. This happens again with Vanessa going alone to save Malcolm and finally Ethan goes during a full moon, knowing he’ll be a danger. He does this again when he turns himself in to Inspector Rusk. This only happened so we could isolate the protagonists to separate them at the end when nothing last season or this season would set this up. I hated it.

Sembene’s Death – Sembene dies from contrived character idiocy and characters going alone. We saw Ethan turn down going out twice before because of the danger of becoming a werewolf and him doing so is how Sembene dies as he is trapped when Ethan transforms. It is real dumb. He is also the only person of color on the cast so his death stands out even more as a toxic trope. Why couldn’t his story continue? He was in the main credits so the showrunners saw him as main cast.

The Witches – The dumbest part of this season is the witches. They are trying to have Vanessa become Lucifer’s wife but none of their tactics do anything to make that possible. When they aren’t failing in basic tasks, they are peacocking around like they’ve already won. They are never scary because they rarely succeed, and beyond staying young they can’t even really control others all that well. In the end nearly all of them are killed by Team Vanessa, with only Evelyn’s daughter Hecate escaping after she uses Ethan the werewolf to kill Evelyn. She clearly has plans for Ethan but I don’t care. She is just as idiotic as her sisters and she only lived due to most characters being hit with the “stupid stick” in the last few episodes.

This season isn’t as strong as season 1 but it has stronger character moments than season 1. In the end I’d still recommend watching on though as that is what I plan to do. I want to see how things end in season 3 as I care about Team Vanessa and see potential in the deep lore that was largely wasted this season.

Final Score: 7 / 10

“Castlevania” Season 3 – An Exploration of Hope Lost

Image result for castlevania season 3 poster

  Season 3 of “Castlevania” is really good filler. There are a lot of pieces moving and characters are developed, but there isn’t the core driving action that was last season. I still highly recommend checking it out though if you are a fan of the show. There are 10 episodes this season and none of them are wasted. Warren Ellis has truly crafted an amazing story and I’m curious to see where the story goes next.

This season was directed by Sam and Adam Deats and written by Warren Ellis.

The story follows Sypha and Trevor uncovering the mystery behind a town, two twins befriending Alucard in his isolation, Carmilla’s plotting of conquest and Isaac as he creates an army in his quest to get revenge against those who betrayed Dracula.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Saint Germain – Saint Germain is a fantastic character. He is Lindenfeld seeking a portal in order to get back to his wife. He find allies in Sypha and Trevor and it is wonderful seeing them interact as he sees himself as above everyone but them. In a depressing season he is such a fun character who brings levity and humor to all that happens this season. He also helps save the day by closing the Portal to Hell when the Priory in Lindenfeld is trying to summon Dracula back from Hell.

The Sisters – Carmilla and her 3 sisters make up a Vampire coven in Styria who is planning conquest. In order to conquer they need troops though and this involves her sister Lenore seducing and tricking Hector into being their slave. I thought it was handled well as she showed a soft power approach and diplomacy compared to how blunt most of her other sisters are. Striga is the warrior who loves battle, Morana is the strategist and Carmilla is the spark and planner. They have a fascinating dynamic and I can’t wait to see Isaac, Sypha and Trevor take them on.

Sypha and Trevor – Sypha and Trevor are such a cute couple. In this we get to see how much they enjoy killing monsters and protecting people. Sypha especially revels in combat. They play off each other really well and it is the first time we really see a more happy Trevor…until the end. At the end they discover the Judge of the town they couldn’t save was a serial killer the entire time. Once happy fighting evil they discover the evil in humanity again and they have each other, but that is it. By the end of this season, they feel alone. They really should go back to Alucard.

Isaac – Isaac has a fascinating arc this season. He is driven by Dracula’s goal to exterminate humanity, though he still is willing to give people a chance. We see him spare those who show kindness and his conversations with a merchant, a captain and another Forgemaster make him realize that he should shape his own destiny. It is powerfully done and I can’t wait for him to take on Carmilla and her sisters.

Alucard – Alucard is alone and going mad until two hunters, Sumi and Taka seek him for training. He believes them at first until they try to kill him. This loneliness and betrayal breaks him and he puts their corpses outside the Dracula’s Castle as a warning, beginning to embrace the practices of his father, who also had lost all hope humans. He really needs Sypha and Trevor to bring him back to balance.

Hopeless Humanity – Isaac is attacked by multiple groups who are destroyed, Sypha and Trevor discover the evil in the town they couldn’t save and Sumi and Taka show that even those who appear good can do evil. This was the theme this season and is meant to explore why Dracula was the way he was. It is really well done and a proper way for filler to be handled.

The Cons:

The Twins – Sumi and Taka were slaves of Cho’s court. Cho was one of Dracula’s generals from Japan and we see how in control she was over the populace, even letting hunters in for fun. From this I can see why they don’t trust vampires but Alucard killed Dracula. Them trying to kill Alucard wasn’t fleshed out enough, they needed more development for the turn the story took.

Feels Like Filler – In the end what does bring it down is that it does feel like filler. It is good filler, but knowing a show could be canceled at anytime I tend to see filler as a waste. This was a good use of filler but the problem of it still happens. This was really good but if the show ended here it wouldn’t be a good end to “Castlevania.”

I really enjoyed this season. It is depressing as hell but the character development is well handled. I also love how big this world is. This season was largely setup for the big events that will no doubt play out and I think it handled it well. The only con was really the twins as I get why they existed (to make Alucard more like his father and lose hope in humanity) but their motivations needed much more development. I hope Alucard catches a break soon, he’s one of my favorite characters on the show and it sucks seeing him go through all this. Can’t wait to see how the upcoming wars go.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10 Boosted slightly by the good character work.

“Castlevania” Season 1 – Of Origins and Building the Party

Castlevania promotional poster in highest quality avaliable I guess  [2400x3600] : castlevania

   “Castlevania” is a great video game adaptation. This is a series that explores Dracula’s motivation and really lets us explore and get to know the world before it gets into the action. Without going into spoilers, the only issue is how short it is. The first Season is only 4 episodes long and each of those episodes is only 20 minutes. It could have easily had 8 episodes just off of the characters and the world and I’m really that it has been renewed for future episodes. The fact that this is an adaptation of a video game is all the more amazing given the track record of suck projects as they usually always end up sucking.

The series was written by Warren Ellis and directed by Sam Deats.

The story involves Dracula’s origin and what lead him to turn against humanity (turning it into the depressed hellscape of the games). After the origin we pick up with the last of the Belmonts, Trevor Belmont as he wanders the hellscape, just trying to survive and find purpose.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Dracula’s Origin – Dracula’s hate is born out of tragedy. It begins with him as an illusive immortal lord who falls in love with a woman who wants to help the people through the medical sciences. Sadly they turn on her and we learn she married Dracula. Out of anger for the loss of his love he raises the army of hell and puts them on the population, leading to the status quo of the games. This is the first time in any of the games where he has actually been explored as a character and I love the character choices they made for why he became a monster.

People are Hell – A major theme of the story is that people are hell. The Church kills Dracula’s wife for being a “witch” and through the story we see murders who joined the church as enforcers and the general apathy of the general populace and our supposed hero Trevor Belmont. This theme is great at giving justification to Dracula and the question of hope even exists in this world.

Hope in Strange Places – Thankfully there is hope, both in the Speakers, travelers like the Roma who pass on stories of old who end up finding another hero, Alucard who is Dracula’s son who wants to stop his father since he knows the monster he’s become is not what his mother would have wanted. In the end Sypha (the speaker who finds Alucard) and Alucard show Trevor their is hope and give him a reason to fight. Also James Callis voices Alucard and Richard Armitage voices Trevor Belmont. Both these were brilliant casting choices and I really wanted more with both of the characters.

Okay: The Church – The Church is the Catholic Church and we only really deal with the corrupt members. One priest helps in the final fight but we never get his name or any of his story. Large organizations should have more complexity or their drive for power better explored…I hope we get both these things in the next season.

The Cons: Length – The show is only 4 episodes long and because of it the Church feels underdeveloped and we only get hints at the demons having their own agenda outside of Dracula. This is a shame as these were interesting ideas that could have been explored so much more. Regardless, I highly recommend this series. The writing is solid, the characters are fascinating and Netflix has once again made a great show.

Final Score: 9 / 10 Solidly great start to a series. Netflix has done it again.

Nosferatu (1922): Visually Stunning But Not a Great Adaptation

Nosferatu

     As we get closer to Halloween I’ll be reviewing more films associated with the holiday (or Day of the Dead as well). We start with “Nosferatu” a film that is visually brilliant but not a great adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I’ll go into the reasons why in the assessment.

      The film was directed by F. W. Burnau, produced by Enrico Dieckmann and Albin Grau and written by Henrik Galeen based of course on Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

        The story mirrors Dracula with some characters changed or deleted (No Doctor Van Helsing) but the premise of the hero (in this case Thomas Hutter) is sent by his employer as he is a solicitor to sell the home nearby to Count Orlok. He leaves his wife Ellen behind to make the trip. He travels to Transylvania and people react in fear when he says where he is going. He meets the count and finds himself having nightmares and after the Count signs the contract of ownership over the home he prepares to travel to Wisborg all the while feeding off of Hutter. Hutter is left behind and has to make escape as Orlok heads to his hometown spreading “The Plague” along the way.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The World – The world is lived in, you feel the desperation of the people and the plague feels very real. From bringing plague rats with him, to all the coffins that are in every area…whether Wisborg or Transylvania. You can see how Count Orlok and vampires fit into this world.

The Music – The film is a silent one and the orchestra does an amazing job showing emotions…from Thomas and Ellen’s joy together, to the horror of Orlok. Hans Erdmann did a fantastic job!

Cinematography – The visuals in this film are the best part besides the world and music, which is needed as the characters aren’t all that interesting. There are good uses of shading and shadows, especially when Orlok stalks his prey. This I think is what made Count Orlok such a memorable villain. Fritz Arno Wagner and Gunther Krampf did a good job at creating great visuals.

Count Orlok – Max Schreck plays a very memorable monster, he is both visually scary with his large clawed hands and dark gaunt face and also has a very high body count. He has great power too and gets to Wisborg without needing a crew for the ship as he controls it with magic and Knock is his slave even before he arrives and is the one who is blamed by the townsfolk, keeping Orlok protected from suspicion. It takes a lot to bring him down, which I appreciated.

The Ending – The characters aren’t all that memorable…the couple is young love and you don’t get their motivations, and the Doctors are their simply for exposition and to make comparisons between other predators (venus fly traps, etc.) to Vampires. But in this Ellen saves the day. She lures Count Orlok out and he stays to feed on her leading to his demise as he is up until the dawn and the light kills him. I liked this twist as she was the only character who actually did anything and in Dracula the character she is based off is only there to be rescued.

Okay/Con: The Characters – The best way to describe the characters is one dimensional. They have a single desire and that is it. Knock wants money and later to serve Orlok, Ellen and Hutter want each other, the Doctors just want to study and later just stop the plague and even Orlok just wants blood. The thing is in the end the only active agents are Orlok and Ellen. Ellen figures out how to stop Orlok and Orlok just keeping reeking havoc. This is a pretty big issue as I would have cared more about Ellen’s sacrifice if I’d gotten to know her character more, I would have cared about the townspeople if I’d seen what it was they valued. You don’t really get any of that, which brings the film down.

     This is a classic horror film and it is worth checking out. It is not the best adaptation of Stoker’s Dracula as in the book and some other versions I’ve seen the characters have more than one dimension and I care about what happens to them…not so much for this film. It is worth it though for the music, cinematography and monster design. Count Orlok looks amazing as a monster and I can see why so many shows post this film have called upon his visuals for their monsters.

Final Score: 7 / 10. It was okay.