Review: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

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Everyone knows the classic story of the vampire, Dracula. It is one of darkness, gloom, and horror. And now…romance? Bram Stoker’s Dracula directed by Francis Ford Coppola adds a new spin to the vampire novel written so many years ago that works in more ways than one.

The film begins where the novel never went- Dracula’s tragic past. Vlad the Impaler fought in the crusades, only to come home and find the love of his life dead. This adds a new feeling of sympathy for Dracula that has never been felt by fans before. In a gruesome scene, Vlad is transformed into Dracula. Blood flows throughout the room, creating a chilling atmosphere, setting the tone of the film.

Coppola uses gorgeous sets and costumes, resulting in a dream-like setting. There are many bright hues of red and white, helping contrast the different characters. The most memorable scene evoking this use of color is one of Lucy, played by Sadie Frost. She is wandering outside at night in a beautiful, revealing red gown. It flows all around her as the wind blows and the music kicks up. The watcher truly feels as if they are part of Lucy’s trance.

Another strong character in the film is Mina Harker. Winona Rider gives a memorable performance as this pure, Victorian beauty. There is a stark contrast between Mina and Lucy’s characters, reminiscent of the novel. While Lucy’s portrayed sexual behavior does not lead to a good end, Mina’s goodness and purity help save the day. Coppola has heightened their sexuality in the film as a sort of social commentary of the roles of gender in our current time. Rider utilizes her innocent eyes and soft voice to add to the believability of Mina’s goodness.

The novel seems dark through and through, but Coppola’s film is not lacking in humor. Coppola uses the audience’s knowledge of the character, Dracula, to add to the comic relief of the film. In the scene where Harker first meets Dracula, his naivety is laughable because the audience already knows who Dracula is. Throughout the movie the director uses the viewer’s prior knowledge to his advantage, but he also throws in his own original backstory in order to keep the audience on the edge of their seat.

One aspect that doesn’t work so well is Dracula’s costuming. Although his character’s reactions to Harker are meant to be comical, I don’t believe his costuming is. However, when the audience sees the huge, heart-shaped hair and long ridiculous robe, the first reaction is to chuckle. Dracula’s character works. The wardrobe? Not so much.

The real question here is- does the backstory work? Is it believable? My answer is, yes. Dracula’s tragic love story is one that will shock audiences, whether fans of the novel or new viewers. Coppola strived to create something new out of a popular tale, and it works. Everyone loves a good tale of star-crossed lovers.

-B

Is There a Citizen Kane of Our Generation?

“What is the Citizen Kane of our generation?”

The answer is that there isn’t one. And there never will be. Citizen Kane is timeless.

I’ve seen Orson Welles’ groundbreaking classic multiple times, and each time I view it I find something new that strikes me. It changed everything about film. Citizen Kane was way ahead of its time and all movies since it have taken the film ideas and made them their own.

First of all, it was one of the first films to play with narrative structure. The storyline doesn’t follow a chronological order. Told almost entirely in flashback, the movie is presented from different character’s point of view discussing the past. Today we see films do this all the time. Reservoir Dogs, for instance, tells a nonlinear story. In 1941, however, it wasn’t so common.

The deep focus in Citizen Kane was also new and influenced following films. Rather than only having people or objects close to the camera in focus, the foreground and background were in focus. Welles’ film was the first to do this. For example, in the beginning of the film, a young Kane is playing in the background through a window, and his parents are near to the camera. In that frame, everything is clear and in focus. Modern viewers may think nothing of this when they watch it, but it was a big deal at the time.

Another new technique used by Welles was low-angles. Rather than using Hollywood sound stages that had wires and mics hanging above the actors and actresses. Welles decided to build full sets in order to show the ceiling. The camera would angle from the floor up, providing angle audiences had never experienced before.

There are so many other important aspects of the film. I could go into detail for pages. But, my point here is, how could there ever be a “Citizen Kane of our generation?” How could there ever be such an influential, groundbreaking film again?

Some people argue that The Godfather could rival Citizen Kane, but I disagree. How could a film that uses so many techniques from Kane possible rival it? Coppola’s film took so much from Welles’ film. Without Kane, there may not be a Godfather. (That’s probably an exaggeration, a film probably would have come along that played with non-linear stories and aging greatly with makeup.)

What I’m trying to articulate is: you cannot compare a modern film to a classic film that influenced all of the elements the modern one has. There isn’t a film “greater” than Citizen Kane, because without it, the “greater” film wouldn’t exist.

-B

Hyperdiagetic Sound in Cry Baby

Sound design is a very powerful film technique. It helps create the world of the movie and directs the audience’s attention.

In John Water’s cult classic Cry Baby, the sound design is very important.  Throughout the film sound is used to enhance what is happening in the scene. Many of the sound effects put into the film are hyperdiagetic. For example, during the big fight scene between the Squares and the Drapes the punching sounds that are heard are highly exaggerated (38:00). A single punch thrown in a giant brawl would not normally be heard, but in order to direct the viewer’s attention to the person being hit, the sound is heightened.

There are many other hyperdiagetic sounds throughout the film, including the thunder and lightning, a crowd’s applause, and the breaks of a car. Another important aspect of film design in Cry Baby is the music. Music is almost constant in this film, even if it is subtle and in the background. A memorable scene that includes music is the opening of the film. No other sound is heard except for the song. It is setting the film up and letting the audience know how important music and signing is to the story.

Additionally, the song that is being played is called “Cry Baby”, presenting the title of the film. This song coupled with the different characters crying creates a visual representation of the title. In the film Cry Baby, sound is a prominent aspect of the story. The hyperdiagetic sounds illustrate a cartoon-like atmosphere and the music in the opening helps set up the story and introduce the importance of the different characters, particularly Cry Baby.

-B

Spy (2015): Sexist Tropes of the Espionage Genre

Spy manages to be an enjoyable comedy that destroys the sexist tropes of the typical spy movie.

The handsome and charming Bradley Fine (Jude Law) is attempting a mission while Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy), a bumbling and socially awkward desk agent, feeds information into his ear.  He is suddenly killed, in what is supposed to be an emotional moment for Susan, who obviously has feelings for him. However, rather than sitting around feeling sad, she decides to take his place in the field to help catch his killer.

The film relies on mostly physical comedy and crude language, but surprisingly, in contrast to McCarthy’s usual comedic performances, she shows she can do more than that. Her quiet performance in the beginning of the film, before she takes Fine’s place, proves that McCarthy can play down her physical comedy and show real emotion.  Later on, she takes a female character that usually blends into the background and forces the world to pay attention to her while illustrating all of the ridiculous sexist female tropes among the espionage genre.

Although Cooper is in love with her fellow agent, and has a couple other potential suitors, she remains solo throughout the entire film. She doesn’t let a guy be the hero, or end up choosing between the male characters. She is the hero.

On top of that, the film’s treatment of female friendship is quite refreshing. There is no competition between Cooper and Nancy (Miranda Hart), an awkward desk agent who serves as Cooper’s desk-agent when she’s out in the field, and their relationship seems to be the most important one in the film. This is quite different than other Hollywood films, where the love interest is viewed as the most important aspect of the movie.

The film’s jokes didn’t entirely revolve around the fact that Cooper is a woman. Most of the jokes surrounding the character were aimed at her personality, clumsy and awkward, personality traits that are seen in both men and women. In the CIA, many of the coworkers shown are women, including Nancy and Cooper’s boss, as well as another field agent.

Spy isn’t a movie about a female spy.

It’s just about a spy.

-B

 

 

Femme Fatale & Noir Anti-Hero in Double Indemnity

The 1944 film Double Indemnity is everything that classic film noir could possibly be. It has venetian blinds, hats and coats, pouring rain, and, of course, crime.

Two of the biggest noir elements in Double Indemnity are the femme fatale and anti-hero.

Phyllis embodies the classic femme fatale. She’s seductive, manipulative, and morally ambiguous. Throughout the film, it’s hard to know whether she is to be trusted or not.  From the moment we see Phyllis’s character it is obvious she’s meant to be the femme fatale. In the first glimpse the audience gets, she is undressed. The entire introduction between Phyllis and Walter is sexy and flirtatious. She is both seductive and powerful in the way she speaks to him. The scene perfectly captures her dominance as well as her charm.  Of course, Phyllis is basically the downfall of our protagonist, a frequent plot point in film noir associated with the femme fatale.

Walter is the classic hardened anti-hero led astray by his lust for the female figure. His costuming consists of a long coat and a hat that frequently casts a shadow over his face. He speaks in a quick manner, always wanting to get straight to the point. Walter shows a remarkable verbal wit, illustrated in many noir protagonists. He shows off his street-smarts by gathering information from different sources, like Keyes and Lola. He narrates most of the film, telling his tale of desperation and paranoia, two key themes that dominate noir films. In the end, Walter’s world is full of corruption and crime, and he is too tangled in it to come out.

Double Indemnity is a perfect example of the world of film noir, as well as a great introduction to the genre/style.

-B

The Original Rom-Com: It Happened One Night (1934)

The classic screwball film It Happened One Night directed by Frank Capra, starring the dashing Clark Gable and stunning Claudette Colbert, is easily one of the best romantic comedies of all time. There’s pouring rain, close embraces, and relentless flirting…all elements of the romantic comedy we have grown to love.

However, I found myself thinking about all of the clichés and cheesy moments I have seen over and over again. I realize that when it was made, It Happened One Night was original. It is the rom-com that started it all. I watched the film from the lens of 2016, when it was meant for audiences in 1934.

It can be hard to push away our modern viewpoints when watching an old film. We see them as cheesy, over-dramatic, and sometimes unoriginal. In reality, the films we have now are the ones that are unoriginal. It Happened One Night is the first film to present the now overdone story of a down to earth man growing fond of a rich, slightly spoiled woman. Roman Holiday (1953), Dirty Dancing (1987), The Notebook (2004) and so many others have taken ideas from that storyline. Mainstream movies still use the idea of two characters going from constant bickering to falling in love.

Watching from a modern viewpoint, people simply see it as a fun, silly film. However, at the time it was released, it was much more than that. The film provided an example to women in the 30’s on how they could be adventurous and take a bit of control in their own life. The movie also presented an idea of escapism for those affected by the Great Depression. The focus on the wealth of Ellie’s family and Peter’s budgeting skills exemplifies the way America felt about finances at the time.1934 was also the year that the Motion Picture Production Code was put into place, limiting what can be shown on film. It Happened One Night plays with this code, most notably in the scene where Peter undresses in front of Ellie. As he’s undressing, which isn’t ideal under the code, he is claiming he doesn’t wish Ellie to see him in the nude.

All of this was new and important in 1934, which is a good thing to know when viewing it from 2016. It Happened One Night is extremely significant to filmmaking and started a long list of romantic comedy standards. Next time you watch your favorite rom-com, take some time to appreciate the older films that came before it.

It Happened One Night is the original film to show “what love looks like when it’s triumphant.”

-B

Review: The Departed (2006)

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Leonardo DiCaprio and director Martin Scorsese always seem to make a great combo. Add Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson and you’ve got yourself an enjoyable, though a bit predictable, gritty urban thriller.

In the 2006 film The Departed, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Collin Sullivan (Matt Damon) are opposite characters, one being an undercover cop attempting to penetrate a dangerous gang, the other a criminal protégé, feeding the gang leader information about the cops. The gang leader is the violent and a bit quirky Costello, played by Jack Nicholson.

This film focuses on the balance between Costigan and Sullivan. The scenes continuously cross-cut between the two men’s lives, comparing the current happenings. There’s a clever scene in which Costigan talks on the phone, and the scene quickly cuts to Sullivan on the phone, but each man is talking to a different person. The two Bostonian characters represent the different paths that a man can take, and offer a perfect counterbalance. They even fall for the same woman, which is the only place in which the films overwhelming coincidences go from paralleling the two characters to a bit unbelievable.

Nicholson takes on one of his scariest roles in this film. His character doesn’t just like violence, he IS violence. It is second nature to him. He laughs after he shoots a woman because “she fell funny”. There are a few scenes where his hands are covered in blood. This isn’t a campy villain that causes chuckles from the audience, like the Joker. Costello is terrifying because he legitimately enjoys crime and all the violence and gore that comes with it.

Although the film has interesting characters and an intense story, it’s nothing new or groundbreaking. The cat-and-mouse plotline has been done before. The viewers find themselves wondering how nobody has caught the rat on either side. The only woman in the film is used to drive a love triangle. I, personally, was expecting more from the second-half. Not that it wasn’t enjoyable, it certainly had its tension-filled moments. But in the end, it felt a tad predictable.

This film by no means “blows the house down”. It is however, a well-edited and well-told story. The dialogue is quick and divulges much of the plot, proving that the screenplay was well-written. There are moments at which the audience is on the edge of their seats. DiCaprio displays his brilliant acting skills using his eyes to illustrate his character’s rage and desperation. Damon portrays a man torn between the way he was raised and the woman he loves. Nicholson proves himself a worthy villain.

Scorsese makes a film that has its downsides, but all in all is worth watching.

-B

 

 

Bridge of Spies: Communism in Modern Film

Steven Spielberg’s film Bridge of Spies is all about the Cold War the United States was engaged in with Russia. In the past, the Cold War was presented in a different light in the film industry compared to the way it is portrayed now. The majority of citizens alive during the Cold War were terrified of communism and HUAC condemned many different actors that were seen as sympathizers or even communists themselves. Many films made were used as propaganda to try and sway the public to hate communists threatening the safety of the USA. Bridge of Spies utilizes similar content, but from a more modern viewpoint.

In the past, films such as Trouble in Paradise (1932) and Comrade X (1940) portrayed “commies” in a negative light. Communists behaved like crazy people and had no sense of humor. Anyone that was even slightly related to communism was feared. Although there were a few pro-soviet films, such as The North Star (1943), for the most part pro-communism films were looked down upon. In Bridge of Spies, the suspected communist spy (Rudolf) is a very sympathetic character. Spielberg worked hard to evoke a sense of empathy among the viewers. Rather than being portrayed as “deranged” or having “no sense of humor”, Rudolf is given a small amount of wit and cleverness. He remains silent for many of the scenes and when he speaks he acts in a calm manner. This is drastically different from the way communists were depicted during the Cold War. If anything, the CIA is looked at as the bad guy. The story makes the viewer want Rudolf to succeed, in a way.

Additionally, Tom Hank’s character could be seen as a communist sympathizer. However, rather than being seen in a bad light, like in previous films involving communism, the communist sympathizer is the protagonist (Donavon) of this film. His efforts to secure Rudolf’s freedom are not purely out of duty to America. He genuinely cares that Rudolf lives and has his life back. Donovan sees the communist as a person, not just “the enemy”. During the Cold War, this film would have been seen as pro-soviet. Spielberg would be attacked for making a communist film. HUAC would have gone after actors like Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance. Most people in Hollywood would have wanted to purge the industry of their radical views.

Bridge of Spies does not present a new theme in the film industry. Movies about communism and the Cold War have been made before. However, Spielberg’s film does present a new way of viewing the Cold War, as well as communists. The filmmaker worked hard to tell both sides of the story, not just simply staying anti-Soviet and pro-American.

There are many parallels between Bridge of Spies and the current situation with the Middle East. American’s are paranoid that any Islamic person in our country is a suspected terrorist. This film not only presents a new viewpoint of the Cold War and how we treated suspected communists, it is also a social commentary on how we should be acting in modern times.

Spielberg’s film is a salute to past Cold War films as well as symbolism of the political situation our country is in today.

-B

Ride Along 2? No Thank You.

What has happened to the idea of originality in film?  Every time I turn around there’s another unnecessary sequel. Fast and Furious 7, Ride Along 2, Dumb and Dumber Too…none of the original ones exactly required another. If I remember correctly, the first Ride Along didn’t exactly blow up at the box office.

Not only is Hollywood pumping out ridiculous sequels, they’re also creating remakes that nobody every requested. Ghost Busters is about to be rebooted (although this time it has an all-female cast, which is super cool for equality). Last year Jurassic World was released. Annie was rebooted in 2014. A few years back we saw a remake of Footloose. We’ve had a never-ending list of Godzilla films. I could go on and on.

The confounding thing is, we keep seeing these films. I myself am guilty of paying money to see a sequel or a remake from time to time (I have a particular weakness for superhero films. Thanks Marvel). The two highest grossing films of 2015 were Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World. Although I thoroughly enjoyed watching both films, I couldn’t help but notice they were both sequels to old franchises.

I can see the lack of originality and the ways in which these films make money, but I can’t help but wonder when Hollywood lost its creativity. It seems like there are more book adaptations, sequels, and remakes than original films. Where are all the Alfred Hitchcock’s? The Orson Welles’s? Not that any directors could ever replace or even replicate their brilliant films. My point is, where are the people that actually care about the art form?

Of course, we have directors that strive to create original films and form their own ideas, like Tarantino or Scorsese. But every time I see a trailer for a movie like Ride Along 2, I think that original filmmakers are growing scarcer. I understand why studios pump out unoriginal remakes and sequels. It’s easy and a lot of times, they make money.

I suppose that we’ll always have money guzzling sequels. Marvel seems intent on draining my bank account of its funds. I just wish that in addition to the countless sequels we are bombarded with, there was a little more originality.

-B

Aesthetics of 12 Years a Slave

The film 12 Years a Slave is a very interesting film narratively as well as aesthetically. Although the film is controversial and can be hard to watch, there are pleasing aesthetics that help bring emotion to the story. The film portrays the time period in which slavery was occurring very realistically. The viewer experiences the violence, torture, and brutality along with the actors and can feel empathetic towards the characters because of the way the film is written as well as shot.

This movie is not a movie of simplicity or of generalities. The director was obviously going for a bloody, brutal, and truthful version of the historical period. This can be seen with the violence and torture in the film. At the same time, this movie show beautiful landscapes. The plantation land and trees are visually pleasing to the audience, contrasting drastically with the blood and pain the characters endure. Some of the most noticeable aspects of the aesthetics in this film are the framing and the angles at which the scenes are shot. The composition of this film is vital to the emotional part of the story.  A particular scene with interesting framing is the scene in which Solomon is hung by his neck and left for a long period of time. The long shot is necessary because it shows not only what is happening to Solomon, but also what is happening around him. After the initial shock of the hanging is over, in the background the viewer can see people slowly going back to their normal routine. The way in which this scene is shot informs the viewer how normal this kind of situation was for slaves and slavers.

Narratively, the film definitely meets the emotional expectations that the audience was anticipating. The characters are realistic and the acting provokes a sense of empathy among the viewers.  They are complex characters with deep issues. This movie impacted people in the way it was expected to. It exposed the brutal reality of slavery in the 1800’s without delving too much into a fictional world. The stories are real and the actions actually happened. 12 Years a Slave is a controversial film that reveals the truth of society’s wrongdoings in the past. Viewers find themselves getting irritated or angry over issues that happened decades ago. Characters like Solomon affect people in a way that characters in typical films do not. Watching this film can cause some discomfort, but that is the point of it. 12 Years a Slave is meant to shock the audience and brings to light the issues of the past that are talked about but not fully understood. Seeing the cruelty is different than simply hearing about it in a history class. This film represents slavery in an accurate way and it is beautifully done.

-B