Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Dracula (BBC-One, 2020)


Dracula (BBC-One creation for Netflix, 2020) -- by Guy Malone, Researcher

It's been a while.  We've been busy bingeing the old Robert Young dramedy Father Knows Best, each episode of which makes me ask myself why I didn't know better.  I did take time out to cheer up with the recent BBC-One reimagination of the classic, Dracula on Netflix.  You should know, I'm a Dracula scholar (I say with all humility), going back to the time, as a precocious 10-year-old, I dyed a sheet black for a cape, combed my hair straight back using shoe polish as pomade, and cut a set of wooden teeth on a jigsaw, all with the intention of convincing the neighbors I was a vampire.  It worked; no one ever invited me in again.  All of this is to say that I'm a hard man to please when it comes to Dracula, and if you mess with the legend, you're messing with me.  Well, they messed with the legend, and I liked it.  A lot. 

BBC-One's limited series--three 90-minute episodes--departs from the original.  This is the latest creation from the brains behind BBC's Sherlock: Mark Gatiss (who also plays the fly-loving servant Renfield here) and Steven Moffat.  They keep the erm, skeleton of the Stoker tale, but they flesh out new details, updating the characters, the tone, the legend itself.  In short, it is a new look that took a little getting used to, but it soon eased me into the atmosphere with the belief that it's all right to revive a 123-year-old story with fresh blood.  

As befits a BBC show, it has strong production values and edges into Masterpiece Mystery territory.  The characters are well-drawn and charismatic, none more than Claes Bang's interpretation of the Count and Dolly Wells as Sister Agatha VanHelsing (yes, in this iteration Van Helsing is a female and a nun).  Here, Dracula is no longer the stoic, quietly mesmerizing sophisticate, he is a witty, gleefully verbose sophisticate.  [After draining one man, Dracula takes the victim to his home; once there he goes to the bedroom, aiming to kill the man's wife.  She awakes, and when Drac sees the cross on the necklace the woman is wearing, he backs off, explaining that he drove her husband home from the bar.  The woman demands, "Is he drunk?" to which Dracula responds, "In a manner of speaking, yes."]  

That's brilliant writing, and Claes Bang delivers lines like these with a twinkle in the eye and a toothy grin.  And never fear, traditional lines, "I never drink ... wine" and "Ah, the children of the night ..." remain.  Dolly Wells' Van Helsing brings dogged determination and no-nonsense scientific reasoning, which plays perfectly off of the flamboyant Count and is reminiscent of Inspectors Morse and Lewis, and, yes, even Sherlock.  It's just very intelligent stuff.  The supporting cast is equally up to the task, with the aforementioned Gattis' Renfield, John Heffernan as the tragic Jonathan Harker, Morfydd Clark as Harker's fiance' Mina, Lydia West as party-girl Lucy Westenra, and Matthew Beard as the lovelorn Dr. Jack Seward.

Not all is peachy, though.  Once we got used to the more modern tone and updating of story details, Chapter One hums along, leaving us with a nice cliffhanger.  With Chapter Two, we've settled into the vibe and it's even better than the previous night, though it leaves us with a WTH cliffhanger.  Chapter Three veers into a variation of the Hannibal Lecter trope, and after an impressive buildup, the ending is original, but frankly a bit of a letdown considering the very cool buildup.  Oh, and one more thing, you may want to forego snacks, particularly during Chapter One.  These are minor quibbles, though. If you love intelligent British mysteries with a bloodthirsty creature as icing on the cake, you will want to see this.

8.0 out of 10

The Old Guard

The Old Guard -- a Review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

First, let's take it as gospel that when Charlize Theron is in a movie, it's usually worth watching (Aeon Flux notwithstanding).  Not to give our assessment away up front, but just so you know.

Her new Netflix sci-fi superhero flick is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball and Beyond the Lights), the first Black woman to direct a big-budget film, and she proves herself a force for the future. She has fun source material to work with: Greg Rucka's graphic novel series that he is adapting for the screen.  His story is rich in mythology but firmly rooted in today's realities of predatory capitalism and man's inhumanity to man.  Which sets up our vicarious identification with a small band of immortal warriors that rights society's wrongs.

"The Old Guard" is a covert band of immortal warriors.  They owe allegiance to nothing but their own moral rectitude, They are mercenaries who pick and choose where and when to fight good fights.  Andy (Theron), the oldest and leader of the Guard, has tried to be secretive, but her feats have become legendary.  Her closest friend on the team is Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), the youngest but most intelligent--and most troubled--of the immortals.  Rounding out the crew are ancient compatriots and lovers Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli).  Andy feels an obsessive protectiveness of her crew since she lost her oldest ally, Quynh (Van Veronica Ngo) centuries ago, a burden she has carried ever since.  But that is just part of Andy's existential and moral baggage.

The plot engine begins to roll when a CIA operative named Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) hires them for a black-ops mission that goes awry.  Around the same time, another immortal is discovered: Nile (KiKi Layne) is a Marine who has been mortally wounded; miraculously, she not only survives but thrives.  Nile is the first new immortal Andy has discovered in centuries. She believes the botched mission and the newly discovered immortal mean something, but what?

This is a perfect role for Theron.  In quiet moments, she is subtle and pensive, and her easy grace is that of a jungle cat, one always on the watch and poised for action in an instant.  And action there is.  The fight scenes are choreographed things of beauty, though the battles, at times, stop just short of John-Wickian carnage.  The Belgian actor Schoenaerts is inspired casting.  He is a commanding physical actor who can match up to Theron onscreen, yet he also can switch his innate intensity to bare-wire sensitivity that is magnetic on the screen.  Kenzari and Marinelli are able sidemen who carry some humor as well as the film's romantic interest.  Harry Melling (Harry Potter's Dudley Dursley) even shows up in a pivotal role.  The weak link is Layne, who has improved since If Beale Street Could Talk, but placed opposite the likes of Theron, Schoenaerts, or Ejiofor, her line readings are exposed as absolutely oaken.  Unfortunately, it seems that she's been set up as one of the major players as the story moves forward.

And believe me, ladies and gents, if ever a film was set up for at least one sequel, this is it, a well-deserved sequel, in our minds.  The Old Guard is not great art; it's a graphic novel turned film that's fun.  FilmZ, the Czarina, Czarito Number One, and I haggled over a score and give it a charitable
7.0 out of 10

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