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

Shoot ‘Em Up (2007): A Dark Comedy Satire of Action Films

Shoot Em Up

       “Shoot ‘Em Up” is a film that is a lot of fun. When watching it was hard to know what was purposeful satire and what was what the director actually believes, but like “Lucy” it was one of those films that takes you on a ride and doesn’t stop until the end. There aren’t really likable characters in this film and each of them are a different action cliche, but they are each fascinating in their own ways as I would have hated this film if they weren’t actual characters and if the point was only satire. If you can’t tell an interesting story, you at least need enjoyable characters to watch.

     The film was written and directed by Michael Davis and produced by Susan Montford, Don Murphy and Rick Benattar.

      The film involves Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) protecting a baby after he is unable to save the mother was being hunted by a group of mercenaries lead by Hertz (Paul Giamatti) and seeks help from Donna (Monica Bellucci), a prostitute who is the closest thing he has to a friend. Together they must find out who is hunting the baby and why, before they and the child are killed.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography reminded me of Lucy and has a unique color feel to it. It feels vibrant and alive and has a great contrast of dark and light. It fit the feel of the film really well. Peter Pau did a great job on it.

Cliche Awareness – There is a level of cliche awareness in this film, which is why I call it satire. Hertz yells the hero is really good or they really suck at shooting after he’s lost 2 armies of men to Smith. He and who he works for also explain their plan to Smith rather than just killing him and forgetting about the baby as the plot was redundant after Smith killed the Senator.

The Action – The action is really great! It reminded me a Tarantino or Rodriguez film where the color of the blood splatters in such a way as to compliment the colors around. The use of rock and metal worked in this instance too to compliment the action.

Mr. Smith – Clive Owen is good at playing the anti-hero and even though we don’t learn much about him in this besides his eventually carrying about the Kid and Donna is that he like carrots and hates most people and things. In this way he is hilarious as he satires the tough guy macho role that appears in a lot of these flicks.

Hertz -Hertz is a creepy mastermind who is also a family man. We see him making a card for his kid and talking to his wife at multiple times throughout the film. He also is genre savvy and figures out where the hero will be running to next really fast. He’s the creepy average joe and seeing his downfall is rewarding. Giamatti created a great bastard with this guy who can’t see beyond himself, his ego and making his plans work.

Okay: Donna – Monical Bellucci does alright but she isn’t given much to do beyond call Smith out for being an ass and taking care of the baby. I don’t know if Davis knew what to do with her character, but when she does do stuff she is at least compelling. There was so much more they could have done! She could have been his partner and the one making connections on the outside when he went to take out the expendable army of mercenaries.

The Cons: The Writing – Just as I enjoyed the action cliches, there are things that could have been done better. Donna never gets the chance to fight for herself and always has to be protected, and we never learn Smith’s backstory or why Hertz’s wife left him (we have no idea if she knows what he does). So the story felt incomplete and rushed even within the guidelines it followed for itself.

The Other Villains – The Senator and gun manufacturer were two men I cared nothing about. They were blank slates and were empty suits compared to the charisma that Giamatti brought to his role. They weren’t even needed as characters and that brought down the script as they could have just been referenced by Herst but never seen.

Lack of Character Arcs – This is a film where no one really changes. We learn more about them and feelings that they had all along (Donna and Smith) are revealed but we don’t learn anything new. Our characters are exactly the same at the beginning of the film as they are at the end, so nothing has changed beyond them just being out of harms way.

    If you like dark comedies and action films that are mostly focused on action but have enough self awareness to satire themselves, you will probably enjoy this film. It wasn’t a favorite but I won’t deny that I enjoyed the ride. This would be a great film to see with friends who like this genre and with the added addition of drinks would be a really fun time.

Final Score: 7.4 / 10. Enjoyable but not great.