REVIEW: BRAM STOKERS 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: 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.