Category Archives: 1992

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992, Francis Ford Coppola)

On one hand, with the Wojciech Kilar score, Bram Stoker’s Dracula can get away with just about anything. On the other, with Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves playing leads… well, it needs something to help it get away with anything.

It helps neither Ryder or Reeves are the actual star of the film. Neither is top-billed Gary Oldman (as the Count). The star is director Coppola and his crew—cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, production designer Thomas E. Sanders, costume designer Eiko Ishioka (for better and worse), editors Anne Goursaud, Glen Scantlebury, and Nicholas C. Smith. And Kilar, of course. And whoever did all the amazing practical special effects; Bram Stoker’s is a very audiovisual experience. As the story itself belies reality, why should the film itself be any different an experience. Lots of inventive transitions, lots of creative composite shots to show Oldman’s faraway yet so close impact on the world of his victims. Shame James V. Hart’s screenplay isn’t anywhere near as experimental or imaginative. The script’s big deviation from the novel—in addition to Anthony Hopkins’s Van Helsing being crude—is Ryder falling in love with Oldman because she’s his reincarnated fifteenth century wife, who killed herself thinking he’d died in battle, which caused him to renounce God and become… a vampire.

The most interesting thing about Bram Stoker’s is how any of it would make sense. Like, Oldman’s castle is full of paintings done after Ryder’s death—Ryder the queen, not the young British woman with the questionable accent. Did he pay the painters or eat them? Because even though the film “humanizes” Oldman a little, it never makes him particularly reasonable as a character. Why, for instance, does he regrow a mustache when he de-ages himself and then shed it when he gets old again. Also, why does he get old again so often. Why did he get old in the first place? Wasn’t he eating enough villager? Seems like he was eating plenty of them.

Anyway.

None of those details matter because Bram Stoker’s looks great and has that Kilar score. Ryder can be bombing a questionably written scene—though, to be fair, it’s not like there are any strong performances in the film. Oldman’s got a few strong moments, a lot of okay ones, and some piddly ones too. But Kilar’s score can save the heck out of a scene. Given the lack of chemistry from Oldman towards Ryder and the lack of chemistry, accent, and acting from Ryder towards… everyone (save, maybe, best friend Sadie Frost), the melodramatic nineteenth century romance but kind of saucy scenes where Oldman has to remind himself to keep the fangs in are all mesmerizing thanks to how the music compliments the image. Bram Stoker’s is masterfully made. It’s far from a cinematic masterpiece, but Coppola does provide a solid facsimile of one. As long as you ignore the acting and the writing.

Whether Ryder would be better if the character were better—she falls in love with Oldman while fiancé Reeves is being held captive in faraway Oldman’s castle (it’s kind of hilarious how easily Reeves slips her mind—the film utilizes the novel’s epistolary format, turning the diary entries into narration from cast so we know she’s not thinking about Reeves); the falling in love while the dude’s away is literally her only thing. Ryder’s not even worried about Frost, who Oldman’s attacking every night because she’s slutty and Ryder’s virginal. Or something. It’s unclear why Oldman targets Frost in the first place, though maybe there was a scene explaining it… along with his London base being right next door to Richard E. Grant’s sanitarium, which is important but not really thanks to Hart’s script. It’s like Coppola came up with all the visual machinations to distract from Hart not having the best narrative.

Of course, it’d be disingenuous to the source material if Bram Stoker’s had a solid narrative.

And at least Ryder and Reeves are failing with questionable (at best) accents. Actual Brits Grant, Frost, and Cary Elwes all have extremely bad moments where you wish they’d just be screwing up accents. Grant can’t seem to take the thing seriously, Frost is out of her depth, and Elwes always seems like he’s just coming into the film for the first time, scene after scene. He makes no impression. Neither does Billy Campbell (as a very Texan Texan). In an extremely odd case of stunt-casting, Tom Waits disappoints as Oldman’s first solicitor, who’s gone mad and been committed and now eats bugs. Waits’s eccentric take seems more appropriate for a TV commercial than drama.

As for Hopkins… he could be worse. He’s not good, he doesn’t take the part seriously (how could he), but he could be worse.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a gorgeous exercise in technical filmmaking. And not much else.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola; screenplay by James V. Hart, based on the novel by Bram Stoker; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Anne Goursaud, Glen Scantlebury, and Nicholas C. Smith; music by Wojciech Kilar; production designer, Thomas E. Sanders; produced by Coppola, Fred Fuchs, and Charles Mulvehill; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Gary Oldman (Dracula), Winona Ryder (Mina), Anthony Hopkins (Van Helsing), Keanu Reeves (Harker), Richard E. Grant (Seward), Cary Elwes (Holmwood), Billy Campbell (Morris), Sadie Frost (Lucy), and Tom Waits (Renfield).


Sleepwalkers (1992, Mick Garris)

Sleepwalkers is a very peculiar motion picture. Director Garris never quite composes the shot right, even though he’s really close. Maybe he needs a wider frame or just to zoom out a bit. Instead it always looks like he’s shooting for the home video pan and scan. Rodney Charters’s photography is totally fine, unless they’re trying to do an insert then he never matches and there’s only so much he can do for the CGI morphing scenes.

Sleepwalkers opens with dictionary text setting it all up–Sleepwalkers are these monsters who suck on the life force of female virgins. Cats hate them. Then the action starts. Mark Hamill in a “really? why?” cameo. Then the opening titles. And cut to small-town Indiana–but that Southern California smalltown Indiana with the mountains and all–where teenager Brian Krause is sitting around shirtless and cutting himself.

But, oh, isn’t he kind of a dish. Because it’s weird. Sleepwalkers is always weird, but it actually starts ickier than it finishes because even though the film–mostly writer Stephen King–wants to be really explicit about Krause’s love affair with mother Alice Krige because it’s sensational… and then never does anything with the attention it brings. It’s just icky, then tedious, then annoying because Krige’s performance gets worse as the film goes along.

She’s Mama Monster, which means she stays at home while Krause goes to high school and finds a target. He’s going to feed on the target, then share with Krige. Sleepwalkers is a mix of bad thriller, not great gore, weird monster-based sci-fi, and the incest thing. If Garris and King weren’t making a terrible movie, who knows, maybe they’d have created a new sub-genre. Or at least not made this godawful thing.

But it’s really interesting to see how these disjointed pieces all fight together. Ingenue Mädchen Amick starts the film with Garris trying to make her seem like a slutty virgin. She’s at work at the movie theater, listening to fifties rock on her Walkman, dancing seductively as she sweeps up popcorn. It’s weird. And a little icky but nothing compared to Krause and Krige’s sex scenes; Sleepwalkers’s icky spectrum is long. So then Amick meets Krause and he’s kind of creepy then he’s not, even though the film thinks him reading his story about him and his mom to his English class is a good scene. It’s really bad. But kicks off a “is Krause going to be redeemed” subplot, which doesn’t really matter because Sleepwalkers ends up being a monster movie for most of its run time. Like people running from monsters.

Somehow I’ve missed the part how the first act is also about Krige and Krause torturing cats. Krige’s homebound because she’s deathly afraid of cats. Maybe. It’s unclear. But it sure seems like it. For such a long movie–Sleepwalkers is a long ninety minutes, not in a good way because Garris is astoundingly uninventive–King’s script doesn’t really do character development. Even as scenes often go on way too long. Like the ones with Cindy Pickett and Lyman Ward as Amick’s parents, in a tedious “is this a Ferris Bueller reference” or isn’t it subplot. Everything in Sleepwalkers is tedious.

Some really bad acting throughout. Including the King cameo. Krige’s terrible, though it’s hard to say how much of it is her fault. Though she did take the role. So. Krause kind of has an interesting arc but his performance starts bad, gets worse, gets better, gets worse than worse.

Ward and Pickett aren’t good. Pickett’s worse but only because she’s in it more. Ron Perlman’s really bad as a state trooper. Glenn Shadix is the pervert school teacher out to blackmail Krause. He’s really bad.

Amick makes it through. She’s never good, she’s never terrible, she’s occasionally sympathetic. She’s not trying. Amidst all the trying aspects of Sleepwalkers, Amick weathers the storm. She never seems like she’s in such a bad movie. Krause and Krige always do.

Interesting music from Nicholas Pike. Not terrible. Uses Enya well, even if it does make Sleepwalkers seem like a Cat People ’84 rip-off, eight years too late. Sleepwalkers is in a hurry to get to the monster stuff and then the monster stuff isn’t even cool. They can make objects disappear and change appearance–Krige and Krause–but their reflections in the mirror are of their monster forms. The monster forms are more gross and awkward than scary. And they’re annoying, because they’re not very good. Sleepwalkers is this mish-mash of tone, narrative distance, genre–and it never lets up. Sleepwalkers consistently makes unique and bad choices through its runtime. Including the ending. And it never does anything right. Garris and King don’t pull off a single thing.

It’s the type of movie where the monster woman in her hippie disguise trying to find a virgin to feed her son and lover shoots a car and it blows up. Sleepwalkers is either accidentally ambitious or wholly incompetent. If they’d pulled it off, the film would’ve been amazing. Instead, it’s astounding. And bewildering. And frequently icky bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mick Garris; written by Stephen King; director of photography, Rodney Charters; edited by O. Nicholas Brown; music by Nicholas Pike; production designer, John DeCuir Jr.; produced by Michael Grais, Mark Victor, and Nabeel Zahid; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Brian Krause (Charles Brady), Alice Krige (Mary Brady), Mädchen Amick (Tanya Robertson), Dan Martin (Andy Simpson), Cindy Pickett (Mrs. Robertson), Lyman Ward (Mr. Robertson), Jim Haynie (Sheriff Ira), Ron Perlman (Captain Soames), Cynthia Garris (Laurie), Monty Bane (Horace), and Glenn Shadix (Mr. Fallows).


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Vanilla Sex (1992, Cheryl Dunye)

Vanilla Sex is the combination of a short anecdote from director Dunye, which she recounts to someone else, set (mostly) to a series of photographs scrolling up the screen. Occasionally, the footage changes to what seems to be home movie of Dunye and some other people playing around, nude (until Dunye shows up, it almost seems like it’s historical nudist footage), in the great outdoors. Fun playing not sexy playing. Fun non-sexy playing.

The photographs are of Dunye and a couple other women. They appear to be process photographs–they’re trying to stage, presumably, another photograph or installation piece–but it’s not clear it doesn’t matter. What matters is how they relate to the anecdote, which is about a time Dunye went to California and heard the white California lesbian definition of “vanilla sex”–no toys–versus her own, East Coast, Black lesbian definition–a Black person with a white partner.

At least one of Dunye’s friends in the photographs is white–the other appears to be Gail Lloyd, because even when Dunye’s short subjects have no narrative (or even titles or credits), there are familiar faces–and the anecdote echoes off the imagery. Same with the home movie footage. It doesn’t directly relate, other than showing how Dunye’s community, but it does echo with that anecdote.

Vanilla Sex doesn’t have a narrative (at all, even as the series of photographs gets more and more interesting, they don’t have a conclusion); instead it’s a visualized musing, with its three elements–the monologue, the progression of photographs, the wilderness party footage–playing off one another, informing one another. Dunye’s got a superior sense of filmic narrative, even when she isn’t doing narrative.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Cheryl Dunye.


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Glengarry Glen Ross (1992, James Foley)

The first half of Glengarry Glen Ross is phenomenal. David Mamet’s screenplay is lightning fast during this section, moving its characters around, pairing them off for scenes or moments–the brevity is astounding. Half the movie is over and it feels like just a few minutes. Then the second half hits and the pace is still good, but the energy is different. It meanders. Apparently the only thing keeping director Foley going was having different locations and different camera setups–many questionably framed for pan and scan; in the second half of the film, set entirely on one set, Glengarry Glen Ross starts to fizzle. The actors keep it viable for as long as they can, but then it becomes clear Foley’s just composing for one actor, one performance, not all the actors, all the performances. The film never solidifies and it’s so fast, it’s almost over before it becomes clear Foley’s not going to bring it together. He instead relies on James Newton Howard’s peppy smooth jazz score. It’s never a good idea to rely on smooth jazz, peppy or not.

Every performance in Glengarry Glen Ross is outstanding. Foley’s problem isn’t giving the actors time to act, he does fine with that aspect of his directing. Sure, even in the first half, he isn’t directing their scenes perfectly, but he’s definitely giving them room to act. Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin, Jonathan Pryce, Alec Baldwin. They’re all great. Pryce and Baldwin don’t have particularly great parts, but they’re great. Baldwin gets a big speech, which he nails. Pacino, Lemmon, Harris and Spacey get the meatier parts (Spacey the least, Harris and Pacino just through force). Lemmon’s the lead for most of the film. Only not so in the second half, which Mamet might be able to cover if Foley knew how to stage the second half. He avoids doing an adaptation of the play–Glengarry Glen Ross was a play first, also by Mamet–for the first half, only to be forced into it in the second half and have no idea how to do it. Arkin doesn’t get much meat, but he still turns in a great performance. The performances are impeccable.

And impeccable performances, along with strong dialogue, keep the film going for quite a while. There aren’t even any danger signs until Harris and Arkin’s subplot in the first half, when Howard E. Smith’s editing seems to be elongating and distracting their conversations instead of curating and appreciating them. Glengarry Glen Ross isn’t a mystery. There’s a mystery in it–sort of–and Foley stumbles when trying to integrate it. All the humanity in the film is from its actors essaying the screenplay. None of it comes from the filmmaking itself, which is a big problem.

Again, Pacino, Lemmon and Harris are all phenomenal. None of them have great characters to work with–they have some great material, but not great characters. As an example of excellent acting, Glengarry Glen Ross works. As a film? Not so much.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Foley; screenplay by David Mamet, based on his play; director of photography, Juan Ruiz Anchía; edited by Howard E. Smith; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Jane Musky; produced by Stanley R. Zupnik and Jerry Tokofsky; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Al Pacino (Ricky Roma), Jack Lemmon (Shelley Levene), Alec Baldwin (Blake), Alan Arkin (George Aaronow), Ed Harris (Dave Moss), Kevin Spacey (John Williamson) and Jonathan Pryce (James Lingk).


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