Thursday, November 8, 2012

Dracula (1992)

Today is Bram Stoker's 165th birthday so its a perfect time for this post! I had actually seen Bram Stoker's Dracula (this movie's full title, apparently for legal reasons) before in high school around the time I read the book for a class. However it has been a while since I last saw it and I've actually read the book again since.

The main thing I remembered from watching it years ago was that Keanu Reeves has a terrible British accent. And upon re-watching Dracula his accent is just as bad as I remember! To be fair Reeves does a decent job expressing the confusion and unpreparedness Jonathan Harker faces while meeting Dracula in Transylvania. The main problem is that every time he opens his mouth he sounds like his character Ted from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure attempting a British accent. Other than Keanu, the rest of the cast is very good with Gary Oldman dooing an amazing job in the title role. Anthony Hopkins is a little over the top but fun as vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing, and Winona Ryder plays Jonathan Harker's independent fiancee, Mina Murray. Monica Belluci, who was in the last movie I wrote about (Shoot 'em Up), has a small role as one the female vampires who attempt to seduce Jonathan Harker at Castle Dracula.

I really liked how the movie managed to keep the epistolary form of the book by showing us characters writing letters, composing diary entries, making phonograph recordings, etc. There is also a scene done in the style of early movie camera, which while a bit ahead of this time period technology wise with color film, looks great. The visuals in Dracula are fantastic and the best part of the movie, though the makeup, costumes, and special effects look great as well. The practical effects hold up nicely after 20 years, just another reminder that CGI isn't perfect. Dracula won three Oscars for Best Costume Design, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Makeup. It was also nominated for Best Set Decoration.

The pacing could have been better, but keep in mind that this is a long book and it would not be practical to film everything from it. The movie also features the backstory of how Dracula became a vampire with Mina being a reincarnation of his wife, which was not in Bram Stoker's novel. Despite this part being an invention of the film, it works here to make Dracula a somewhat sympathetic villain, include more tension with Mina, and to tie in with the historical figure Vlad the Impaler. Again, its been long time since I've read the book but overall this is a solid adaptation that also works well on its own.

I've seen several vampire movies, a few of which I've reviewed on this blog, but this is actually the only Dracula movie I've seen so I have some catching up to do in that department. Speaking of films I still need to see, the only Francis Ford Coppola movies I've watched are this one and Jack... So many movies, so little time!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Shoot 'Em Up (2007)

Shoot 'Em Up (2007)
All I knew about Shoot 'Em Up before watching it was that it was an action movie released in 2007 starring Clive Owen. I had no idea what to expect, which when watching films can lead to great surprises or big wastes of time. Luckily Shoot 'Em Up ended up being tons of fun!
The opening scene sets the tone for the entire movie as we have a drifter, Smith, eating a carrot at a bus stop who then helps a pregnant woman being attacked by a hitman. Smith (Clive Owen) helps the woman give birth while being shot at (a bullet cuts the umbilical cord) then kills the hitman by stabbing him in the eye with a carrot! However, backup assassins arrive led by Karl Hertz (Paul Giamatti) who end up killing the woman. Smith escapes with the baby who tries to figure out why this woman was murdered and plan his next move, which involves getting help from a prostitute!

Shoot 'Em Up
is oodles of violence combined with over the top action and great one liners. This is what I was hoping Hobo with a Shotgun would be and while I liked that movie I doubt I'll ever watch it again due to its grim tone. I still need to see Grindhouse which came out the same year as Shoot 'Em Up. There is some cool gun play like somewhat similar to Wanted (2008) but think that type of action works better here.
Shoot 'Em Up is basically a grindhouse exploitation movie combined with live action Looney Tunes. The characters played by Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti certainly have a Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd type relationship and at one point their banter even leads to the phrase "Wascally Wabbit" being used!
This type of movie only works with a good cast who understand what the film is trying to accomplish and that is certainly what we have here. Clive Owen does a solid job as the lead. He had some great dialogue to work with his and the habit of eating carrots was pretty unique. Besides the zingers and quirks Owen does make us care about his character as well. Paul Giamatti was awesome as the villain, especially because I'm used to him playing nebbish supporting roles like in Paycheck. Giamatti crafts an interesting character in Hertz, who besides his goal of trying to kill a baby also disgusts the audience when he feels up a dead woman. Hertz has marital problems (not a huge surprise after reading that last sentence, right?) which were depicted through phone calls to his wife who we never actually see.

Italian actress Monica Belluci (best known to me as Persephone from The Matrix sequels) pulls off a fun but surprisingly nuanced performance as a hooker who specializes in lactation fetishes. Although she was in her early 40s when filming, it made sense to have her character the same age as Clive Owen and she still looks fantastic. Stephen McHattie plays a secondary villain named Hammerson who is in cohoots with Hertz. McHattie is a great character actor who shows up in tons of movies and TV shows with over 165 credits and counting on IMDB. He had recent memorable roles in 300 as a Loyalist and Watchmen as the first Nite Owl. I have refered to McHattie as "Not Lance Henriksen" since the two look alike and even played twin brothers once on the TV show Beauty and the Beast.
Shoot 'Em Up is not without its flaws. For example, the bone marrow and gun control subplots could've been tied together better. However, the movie makes up for it in sheer/pure entertainment value. I had a blast watching this with a bunch of friends who all enjoyed it.
Although Shoot 'Em Up did not perform well at the box office, I think that it is on the way to gaining a cult following. This movie isn't for everyone and is rated R for a reason. But if you are older than 17 and in the mood for a fun, sleazy action movie that never takes itself too seriously check it out!