REVIEW: BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA

CAST

Gary Oldman (Red Riding Hood)
Winona Ryder (Black Swan)
Anthony Hopkins (Westworld)
Keanu Reeves (Speed)
Richard E. Grant (Game of Thrones)
Cary Elwes (Saw)
Billy Campbell (Rocketeer)
Sadie Frost (Shopping)
Tom Waits (Fight Club)
Monica Bellucci (The Brothers Grimm)

In 1462, Vlad Dracula, a member of the Order of the Dragon, returns from a victory against the Turks to find his wife, Elisabeta, has committed suicide after receiving a false report of his death. Enraged that his wife is now damned for committing suicide, Dracula desecrates his chapel and renounces God, declaring that he will rise from the grave to avenge Elisabeta with all the powers of darkness. In a fit of rage, he stabs the chapel’s stone cross with his sword and drinks the blood which pours out of it.
In 1897, newly qualified solicitor Jonathan Harker takes the Transylvanian Count Dracula as a client from his colleague R. M. Renfield, who has gone insane. Jonathan travels to Transylvania to arrange Dracula’s real estate acquisition in London, including Carfax Abbey. Jonathan meets Dracula, who discovers a picture of Harker’s fiancée, Mina and believes that she is the reincarnation of Elisabeta. Dracula leaves Jonathan to be raped and fed upon by his brides and sails to England with boxes of his native soil, taking up residence at Carfax Abbey. His arrival is foretold by the ravings of Renfield, now an inmate in Dr Jack Seward’s neighboring insane asylum.
In London, Dracula emerges as a wolf-like creature amid a fierce thunderstorm and hypnotically seduces, then rapes and bites Lucy Westenra, with whom Mina is staying while Jonathan is in Transylvania. Lucy’s deteriorating health and behavioral changes prompts Lucy’s former suitors Quincey Morris and Dr Seward, along with her fiancé, Arthur Holmwood, to summon Dr Abraham Van Helsing, who recognizes Lucy as the victim of a vampire. Dracula, appearing young and handsome during daylight, meets and charms Mina. When Mina receives word from Jonathan, who has escaped the castle and recovered at a convent, she travels to Romania to marry him. In his fury, Dracula transforms Lucy into a vampire. Van Helsing, Holmwood, Seward and Morris kill Lucy out of mercy the following night.
After Jonathan and Mina return to London, Jonathan and Van Helsing lead the others to Carfax Abbey, where they destroy the Count’s boxes of soil. Dracula enters the asylum, where he kills Renfield for warning Mina of his presence. He visits Mina, who is staying in Seward’s quarters while the others hunt Dracula, and confesses that he murdered Lucy and has been terrorizing Mina’s friends. A confused and angry Mina admits that she still loves him and remembers her previous life as Elisabeta. At her insistence, Dracula begins transforming her into a vampire. The hunters burst into the bedroom, and Dracula claims Mina as his bride before escaping. As Mina changes, Van Helsing hypnotizes her and learns via her connection with Dracula that he is sailing home in his last remaining box. The hunters depart for Varna to intercept him, but Dracula reads Mina’s mind and evades them. The hunters split up; Van Helsing and Mina travel to the Borgo Pass and the castle, while the others try to stop the gypsies transporting the Count.
At night, Van Helsing and Mina are approached by Dracula’s brides. They frighten Mina at first, but she gives into their chanting and attempts to seduce Van Helsing. Before Mina can feed on his blood, Van Helsing places a communion wafer upon her forehead, leaving a mark. He surrounds them with a ring of fire to protect them from the brides, then infiltrates the castle and decapitates them the following morning. As sunset approaches, Dracula’s carriage arrives at the castle, pursued by the hunters. A fight between the hunters and gypsies ensues. Morris is stabbed in the back during the fight and at sunset Dracula bursts from his coffin. Harker slits his throat while a wounded Morris stabs him in the heart with a Bowie knife. As Dracula staggers, Mina rushes to his defense. Holmwood tries to attack but Van Helsing and Harker allow her to retreat with the Count. Morris dies, surrounded by his friends.
In the chapel where he renounced God, Dracula lies dying in an ancient demonic form. He asks Mina to give him peace. They share a kiss as the candles adorning the chapel light up, Dracula turns back to his younger self, and Mina shoves the knife through his heart. The mark on her forehead disappears as Dracula’s curse is lifted. She decapitates him, and finally gazes up at the fresco of Vlad and Elisabeta ascending to Heaven together.
A stylish production that does not cut any corners in terms of substance, this superb retelling of the story of Bram Stoker’s lengthy novel, Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dracula” stands as one of the most ravishing and enduring films in cinematic history.

REVIEW: STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION – SEASON 1-7

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MAIN CAST

Patrick Stewart (X-Men)
Jonathan Frakes (Roswell)
LeVar Burton (Roots: The Gift)
Denise Corsby (Dolly Dearest)
Michael Dorn (Ted 2)
Gates McFadden (Franklin & Bash)
Marina Sirtis (The Grudge 3)
Brent Spiner (Dude, Where’s My Car?)
Wil Wheaton (Powers)
Diana Muldaur (Born Free)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

DeForest Kelley (Gunfight at the O.K. Corral)
John De Lancie (The Secret Circle)
Michael Bell (Tangled)
Colm Meaney (Intermission)
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Elektra)
Brooke Bundy (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 & 4)
Armin Shimerman (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer)
Tracey Walter (Batman)
Stanley Kamel (Domino)
Marc Alaimo (Total Recall)
Majel Barrett (Babylon 5)
Robert Knepper (Izombie)
Carel Struycken (The Addams Family)
Dick Miller (Gremlins)
Amy O’Neill (Honey, I Blew Up the Kid)
Carolyn McCormick (Enemy Mine)
Katy Boyer (The Island)
Michael Pataki (Rocky IV)
Brenda Strong (Supergirl)
Vaughn Armstrong (Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue)
Vincent Schiavelli (Batman Returns)
Judson Scott (Blade)
Merritt Butrick (Fright Night: Part 2)
Leon Rippy (Stargate)
Peter Mark Richman (Friday The 13th – Part 8)
Seymour Cassel (Rushmore)
Ray Walston (The Sting)
Whoppi Godlberg (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Chris Latta (G.I.Joe)
Earl Boen (The Terminator)
Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer)
Teri Hatcher (Lois & Clark)
William Morgan Sheppard (Transformers)
Brian Thompson (The Terminator)
Clyde Kusatsu (Doctor Strange 70s)
Paddi Edwards (Halloween III)
Sam Anderson (Lost)
Robert Duncan McNeill (Masters of The Universe)
Mitchell Ryan (Lethal Weapon)
Nikki Cox (Las Vegas)
Lycia Naff (Total Recall)
Robert Costanzo (Batman: TAS)
Robert O’Reilly (The Mask)
Glenn Morshower (Supergirl)
Scott Grimes (American Dad)
Ray Wise (Agent Carter)
Andreas Katsulas (Babylon 5)
Simon Templeton (James Bond Jr.)
James Cromwell (Species II)
Corbin Bernsen (The Tomorrow Man)
Christopher McDonald (Fanboys)
Tricia O’ Neil (Titanic)
Elrich Anderson (Unfaithful)
Hallie Todd (Sabrina: TTW)
Tony Todd (The Flash)
Harry Groener (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer)
Dwight Schultz (The A-Team)
Saul Rubinek (Warehouse 13)
Mark Lenard (Planet of The Apes TV)
Ethan Phillips (Bad Santa)
Elizabeth Dennehy (Gattaca)
George Murodck (Battlestar Galactica)
Jeremy Kemp (Conan)
Sherman Howard (Superboy)
Beth Toussaint (Fortress 2)
April Grace (Lost)
Patti Yasutake (The Closer)
Alan Scarfe (Andromeda)
Bebe Neuwirth (Jumanji)
Rosalind Chao (Freaky Friday)
Jennifer Hetrick (L.A. Law)
Michelle Forbes (Powers)
Theodore Bikel (Babylon 5)
David Ogden Stiers (Two Guys and a Girl)
Gwyneth Walsh (Taken)
Paul Winfield (The Terminator)
Ashley Judd (Divergent)
Bob Gunton (Daredevil TV)
Leonard Nimoy (Transformers: The Movie)
Malachi Throne (Batman 60s)
Henry Darrow (The Hitcher)
Daniel Roebuck (Lost)
Kathryn Leigh Scott (Three Christs)
Pamela Adlon (Better Things)
Erick Avari (Stargate)
Matt Frewer (Watchmen)
Ron Canada (Wedding Crashers)
Elizabeth Hoffman (Stargate SG.1)
Stephen Lee (Wargames)
Kevin Peter Hall (Predator)
Richard Cox (Alpha House)
Liz Vassey (Two and a Half Men)
Kelsey Grammer (Frasier)
Ed Lauter (The Number 23)
Tony Jay (Lois & Clark)
Famke Janssen (X-Men)
Shay Astar (3rd Rock From The Sun)
Thomas Kopache (Stigmata)
Susanna Thompson (Arrow)
Richard Riehle (Texas Chainsaw 3D)
Alexander Enberg (Junior)
Lance LeGault (Stripes)
Mark Margolis (Breaking Bad)
Richard Cansino (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers)
Anne Ramsay (Mad About You)
Diedrich Bader (American Housewife)
Suzie Plakson (How I Met Your Mother)
Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes)
Max Grodénchik (The Rocketeer)
Lanei Chapman (Rat Race)
Barbara Tarbuck (S. Darko)
Mike Hagerty (Overboard)
Michele Scarabelli (Alien Nation)
George Coe (Kramer vs Kramer)
James Doohan (Some Things Never Die)
Olivia D’Abo (Conan The Destroyer)
Ronny Cox (Robocop)
Clive Revill (Batman: TAS)
Jean Simmons (Spartacus)
David Warner (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II)
Stephanie Beacham (The Colbys)
Reg E. Cathey (Fantastic Four)
Scott MacDonald (Jack Frost)
Alexander Siddig (Game of Thrones)
Cristine Rose (How I Met Your Mother)
Richard Herd (V)
Tim Russ (Samantha Who?)
Patricia Tallman (Babylon 5)
Salome Jens (Superboy)
Andrew Prine (V)
J.C. Brandy (Halloween 6)
Alan Oppenheimer (Transformers)
Eric Pierpoint (Alien Nation)
John Neville (The Fifth Element)
Ned Romero (The Lost Child)
Stephen Hawking (Futurama)
Mark Rolston (Aliens)
Joel Swetow (The Orville)
Bruce Gray (Starship Troopers)
Richard Lynch (Puppet Master 3)
Robin Curtis (General Hospital)
Julie Caitlin Brown (Babylon 5)
Kirsten Dunst (Bring it On)
Lee Arenberg (Pirates of The Caribbean)
Fionnula Flanagan (Lost)
Mark Bramhall (Alias)
Stephen Root (Dodgeball)
Terry O’Quinn (Lost)
Penny Johnson Jerald (Bones)
Jonathan Del Arco (The Closer)
Brian Markinson (Arrow)
Alexander Enberg (junior)
Ellen Albertini Dow (The Wedding Singer)
Brenda Bakke (Hot Shots 2)
John Pyper-Ferguson (Caprica)
Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas)
Erich Anderson (Friday The 13th 4)
Lawrence Tierney (Reservoir Dogs)
Robert Ito (Quincy M.E.)
Vyto Ruginis (Moneyball)
Richard McGonagle (3rd Rock From The Sun)
Time Winters (Thinner)

When the TNG series premiered in 1987, it wasn’t greeted well by many of the old-time Trek fans, including myself. It didn’t help matters that one of the earliest episodes, “The Naked Now” was a superficial retread of the classic “The Naked Time” from ’66. The new episode should have served as a way of spotlighting several of the new crew, but all it did was show them all in heat. I wasn’t too impressed. What did work was keeping the central theme of exploration (something lost in the offshoots, DS9 & Voyager). The new Enterprise was twice as large as the original, with about a thousand personnel aboard. Capt. Picard (Stewart) was a more cerebral, diplomatic version of the ultimate explorer we had known as Capt. Kirk. Again, Picard wasn’t too impressive in the first two awkward seasons, as some may mistake his caution for weakness. The Kirk-like first officer Riker (Frakes) was controlled by Picard, so the entire crew of Enterprise-D came across as a bit too civilized, too complacent for their own good. It’s interesting that this complacency was fractured by the most memorable episode of the first two years, “Q Who?” which introduced The Borg. All of a sudden, exploration was not a routine venture.

Other memorable episodes of the first 2 years: the double-length pilot, introducing Q; “Conspiracy”-an early invasion thriller; “Where No One Has Gone Before”-an ultimate attempt to define the exploring theme; “The Big Goodbye”-the first lengthy exploration of the new holodeck concept; “Datalore”-intro of Data’s evil twin; “Skin of Evil”-death of Tasha Yar; “11001001”-perhaps the best holodeck story; and “The Measure of a Man”-placing an android on trial. Except for “Q Who” the 2nd year was even more of a letdown from the first. Space started to percolate in the 3rd season. I liked “The Survivors”-introducing an entity resembling Q in a depressed mood, and “Deja Q” with both Q & Guinan squaring off, as well as other alien beings. A remaining drawback was the ‘techno-babble’ hindering many scripts, an aspect which made them less exciting than the stories of the original series. As Roddenberry himself believed, when characters spoke this way, it did not come across as naturalistic, except maybe when it was Data (Spiner), the android. The engineer La Forge (Burton), for example, was usually saddled with long, dull explanatory dialog for the audience.

In the 3rd year, truly innovative concepts such as the far-out parallel-universe adventure “Yesterday’s Enterprise” began to take hold, topped by the season-ender “The Best of Both Worlds,part 1” in which The Borg returned in their first try at assimilating Earth. After this and the 2nd part, the TNG show was off and running, at full warp speed. There are too many great episodes from the next 4 seasons to list here, but I tended to appreciate the wild, cosmic concept stories best: “Parallels”(s7); “Cause and Effect”(s5); “Timescape”(s6); “Tapestry”(s6); and the scary “Frame of Mind”, “Schisms” and “Genesis.” There’s also the mind-blowing “Inner Light”(s5), “Conundrum” and “Ship in a Bottle”(s6), “Second Chances.” The intense 2-parter “Chain of Command” was almost like a film, and the great return of Scotty in “Relics” was very entertaining, though it showed you can’t go home again. The show also continued to tackle uneasy social issues, as in “The Host”, “The Outcast”, “First Contact” and “The Drumhead” as well as political:”Darmok”, “Rightful Heir”, “Face of the Enemy” and “The Pegasus.” The series ended on a strong note, “All Good Things…” a double-length spectacular with nearly the budget of a feature film. But it wasn’t really the end. A few months later, an actual feature film was released “Star Trek Generations”(94). It’s rather ironic that the TNG films couldn’t match the innovation and creativity of the last 4 seasons of the series. “Star Trek Insurrection”(98) for example, is a lesser effort than any of the episodes mentioned above.

REVIEW: GHOST TOWN

CAST

Ricky Gervais (Muppets Most Wanted)
Téa Leoni (Tower Heist)
Greg Kinnear (Mystery Men)
Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer)
Kristen Wiig (Ghostbusters)
Dana Ivey (Two Weeks Notice)
Aasif Mandvi (Analyze This)
Alan Ruck (Speed)
Betty Gilpin (The Hunt)
Danai Gurira (Black Panther)
Brian d’Arcy James (Spotlight)

The film begins as married New York City businessman Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear) is accidentally killed while trying to buy an apartment for his mistress. Shortly afterward, cynical dentist Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) has a near-death experience while under general anesthetic during a colonoscopy. When he recovers, he is able to see and communicate with ghosts who populate the area. The ghosts annoy Bertram by asking him to help them with personal business that was left unfinished when they died. Frank promises to keep the other ghosts away if Bertram will break up an engagement between Frank’s widow Gwen (Leoni), a professional Egyptologist, and Richard (Billy Campbell), a human-rights lawyer who Frank says is dishonest. Bertram eventually agrees to the deal and tries to woo Gwen away from Richard. Bertram’s past rudeness to Gwen makes this difficult, but he attracts her interest by analyzing the teeth of a mummified Egyptian Pharaoh that she has been studying.

When Bertram has dinner with Gwen and Richard, he decides that Richard is not as bad as Frank claimed, but Bertram himself begins to fall in love with Gwen, and she enjoys Bertram’s sense of humor. At another dinner, Gwen reveals that she learned of Frank’s mistress the day he died, and when Richard visits Bertram for some dental work, Bertram drugs him with laughing gas in order to make him reveal that Gwen has broken their engagement. Frank doesn’t understand why he is still on Earth if his “unfinished business” was to break up Richard and Gwen.

Gwen, not being engaged to Richard any longer, says yes to a proposal that would send her to the Valley of the Kings in Egypt for six months. As a going-away present, Bertram gets her a new key chain from a fancy jeweler’s, as she had earlier mentioned that she desperately needed one. But when he mistakenly reveals information about Gwen that only Frank could have known, she demands the truth, and Bertram tells her the whole story about the ghosts. Gwen doesn’t believe him and demands to know what Frank’s worst nightmare was. Frank lies to Bertram, telling him a fake nightmare, and Gwen, thinking that Bertram has been lying to her and playing some kind of game, walks away and cuts him off. Bertram demands to know why Frank lied to him about the nightmare, and Frank points out that Bertram only cares about his own needs.

Bertram sinks into a depression and asks a fellow dentist (Aasif Mandvi), for medication that will help him forget Gwen. His colleague instead convinces him that his life would be better if he decided to stop being selfish and start helping people. Bertram begins helping the ghosts around him with their “unfinished business” on Earth, bringing comfort to people they left behind and enabling the ghosts to depart. As he does this he realizes that the ghosts were still on Earth not because they had unfinished business, but because the people they were close to were not finished with them. He begins to appreciate life and the people he encounters.

Bertram realizes that the reason Frank cannot leave is that Gwen has not let go of him yet. He confronts Gwen who asks him to ask Frank why she wasn’t enough for him, and Frank says he’s sorry for hurting her, which Bertram tells Gwen. Gwen is incredulous that after his infidelity, all Frank would have to say was ‘sorry’ and thinks that Bertram is making it all up. He rushes after her and while trying to persuade her to believe him, gets hit by a bus. Bertram, now a ghost himself, watches with Frank as people crowd around his body and Gwen sobs over him. Richard arrives on his way to the reception and tries to revive Bertram with prayer and CPR. Seeing how distraught Gwen is, Frank gives Bertram ‘some advice’ that will be useful in case he is resuscitated, and tells him that Gwen’s tears are for Bertram, in other words she loves him. After saying this, Frank is finally allowed to leave the earthly plane.

Bertram wakes up alive in the hospital. Later Gwen, who needs dental work, comes in for an appointment with another dentist but finds Bertram’s office to say hello. Bertram tells Gwen of Frank’s real nightmare—that of losing his way home, which was the advice Frank told him, and then assures her that Frank has ‘found his way home.’ The movie ends with Gwen saying, “It hurts when I smile”, to which Bertram replies “I can fix that for you”Overall there’s not really anything negative I can say about this great little comedy other than it has been extremely over-looked. If you’re after a nice, heart-warming and hilarious comedy then look no further than this! I highly recommend it to anyone.

REVIEW: ROCKETEER

CAST
Billy Campbell (Bram Stoker’s Dracula)
Jennifer Connelly (Hulk)
Alan Arkin (Argo)
Timothy Dalton (Flash Gordon)
Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas)
Terry O’Quinn (Lost)
Ed Lauter (The Artist)
James Handy (Alias)
Jon Polito (Miller’s Crossing)
William Sanderson (Blade Runner)
Margo Martindale (Orphan)
Eddie Jones (Lois & Clark)
Max Grodénchik (Star Trek: DS9)
Michael Milhoan (That 70s Show)
Clint Howard (Apollo 13)
Melora Hardin (17 Again)
Rick Overton (Eight Legged Freaks)
Dick Warlock (The Abyss)
 
In 1938 Los Angeles two gangsters in Eddie Valentine’s (Paul Sorvino) gang steal a rocket pack from Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn). During their escape, they find themselves on an airfield, where they hide the rocket, ending up in an auto-airplane accident while escaping, the police in hot pursuit. Stunt pilot Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell), whose Gee Bee racer was totaled during the accident, and airplane mechanic Peevy (Alan Arkin) later find the rocket pack hidden in a bi-plane cockpit. Meanwhile, famous actor Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton), who hired Valentine’s gang to steal the rocket, sends his monstrous henchman Lothar (Tiny Ron) to question the injured getaway driver, who tells him him the rocket is at the airfield. Cliff’s aspiring actress girlfriend Jenny Blake (Jennifer Connelly) has a bit part in the latest Neville Sinclair film. On set, Sinclair overhears Cliff attempting to tell Jenny about the rocket pack, so he invites her to dinner. Afterward, at a local air show, Cliff uses the rocket pack (and Peevy’s newly designed face-hiding finned helmet) to rescue his friend Malcolm (Eddie Jones), who is drunkenly piloting a bi-plane. Having been seen by the newsreel press in the airshow audience (and Valentine’s gangsters), “The Rocketeer” becomes a media sensation.
Sinclair sends Lothar to Cliff and Peevy’s home to find the rocket pack. The FBI arrives, but Cliff and Peevy escape, while Lothar steals its detailed schematics drawn up by Peevy. Later at the airfield diner, Cliff and Peevy, trapped by several Valentine mobsters, learn that Jenny had a date with Sinclair and of the actor’s involvement in the hunt for the rocket pack. The diner patrons overpower the gangsters, while a bullet ricochet punctures the rocket’s fuel tank, which Peevy temporarily patches with Cliff’s chewing gum. At Sinclair’s home, Jenny discovers that he is a Nazi secret agent and Jenny knocks him cold. She is later detained and forced to leave a message for Cliff to bring the rocket to the Griffith Observatory in exchange for her life. Just before he is arrested by the FBI and taken to Howard Hughes, Cliff hides the rocket pack. Hughes reveals his rocket is a prototype, similar to one that Nazi scientists have been so far unsuccessful in developing. Secord asks what the interest is the rocket pack, and Hughes shows a horrifying propaganda film depicting flying soldiers invading the United States and hoisting a Nazi flag over the White House. When Hughes demands the return of the rocket, Cliff explains that he needs it to rescue Jenny; he escapes, inadvertently leaving behind a clue to where he is headed.
Cliff flies to the rendezvous where Sinclair demands the rocket. He divulges to the mobsters that the actor is a Nazi spy; Valentine turns his weapon on Sinclair and Lothar. Sinclair summons 60 heavily armed Nazi S.A. commandos hidden at the observatory. The Nazi rigid airship Luxembourg appears overhead to evacuate Sinclair. FBI agents suddenly announce their presence, having secretly surrounded the area; they and the mobsters join forces to battle the Nazis. Sinclair and Lothar escape, dragging Jenny with them aboard the airship.
Cliff flies to and boards the airship, but during the ensuing showdown, Jenny accidentally sets the bridge on fire using a flare gun. Sinclair takes the rocket pack to save himself, saying “I’ll miss Hollywood”. This proves an ironic statement, as Cliff removed the makeshift chewing gum patch from the tank which is now leaking, causing Sinclair to plummet to his death near the “HOLLYWOODLAND” sign, and the resulting explosion destroys the LAND part. Lothar is engulfed in flames as the airship explodes, but Cliff and Jenny are rescued at the last moment by Hughes and Peevy flying an autogyro. Hughes later presents Cliff with a brand-new Gee Bee air racer and a fresh pack of chewing gum. As Hughes leaves, Jenny returns to Peevy his rocket blueprints that she found in Sinclair’s home; Peevy decides that, with some modifications, he can build an even better one.

A smashing piece of escapism, no pretensions or ideas above its station. The willingness to tap into the basic premise of a comic book actioner and entertain in grand Hollywood terms, A must see.

REVIEW: LIZZIE BORDEN TOOK AN AXE

 

CAST

Christina Ricci (The Addams Family)
Clea Duvall (Heroes)
Gregg Henry (Slither)
Stephen McHattie (300)
Shawn Doyle (Big Love)
Sara Botsford (The Fog)
Hannah Anderson (Backlash)
Andrea Runge (The Wisher)
Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer)
Andrew Gillies (Mutant X)

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With Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, Lifetime is finally having some fun. Instead of a serious and somber tone, the television movie’s account of the infamous unsolved murders takes a lively approach (at least, as much as it can when portraying a double homicide). It’s also clear that Christina Ricci (Monster), who stars as Lizzie, relishes every moment of her portrayal, turning up the volume on her crazy eyes without spilling over into camp. The production’s choice of modern music also further ingrains the idea that this is a funkier retelling of the story, which has developed over the years from a tale of horror and media frenzy to becoming part of a schoolyard rhyme and pop culture.


There are many possible ways to tell the story of Lizzie Borden, who was put on trial and acquitted for the gruesome hatchet murders of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Mass., in 1892. The case against her was completely circumstantial, but convincingly so (and Lizzie herself didn’t help things by getting rid of pretty clear evidence). Still, there remain, then and now, several other possible scenarios regarding the crime and its perpetrator. Stephen Kay’s (The Mod Squad) script chooses a linear narrative without alternative scenarios; they may be hinted at, but there is one clear murderer, whose guilt is ultimately made unquestionable.


In addition to a fervent Ricci, the cast features Clea DuVall (Argo), as Lizzie’s stoic and loyal sister Emma, as well as Billy Campbell (The Killing), in a small role as the family’s attorney. But the movie really belongs to Ricci, whose seductive Lizzie takes some liberties with libertine behavior, giving retorts about being a Sunday-school teacher “only on Sundays,” with a devilish curl of her lip. After the murders, she often creeps up on her sister and the family maid, smiling with unblinking eyes. Though the jury of the day could not believe a woman to be such a “feral … insane fiend,” (to quote the prosecution), Ricci makes it easy to visualize the kind of nature that would have led Lizzie on such a spree.


As for the nurture, the portrayal of the Borden household as repressive and unhappy is brief though clear, with many salacious suggestions that there was abuse, and potentially incest, between father and daughter. But the bulk of the movie focuses on the aftermath of the murders, including Lizzie’s strange reaction and behavior, and the trial. While the courtroom scenes essentially rehash known facts — both from within the movie and for those generally familiar with the case — Nick Gomez’s (The Blacklist) direction keeps viewers engaged, and occasionally startled, with a number of stylish and gory flashbacks to the crime scene.


Lizzie Borden Took an Ax makes its position on her guilt very clear, and that alone makes it a distinctive offering in the canon of material on the subject. The movie is not interested in delving deep into Lizzie’s psyche, or creating a horror thriller, or even giving a full historical account about society, women, and the law. But the major and minor facts of the crime are all there, along with an inventive soundtrack that gives the sinister tale a strangely light tone.