Monday, March 23, 2015

Brandon Engel wants to explain why Coppola's version of Bram Stoker's Dracula is the greatest vampire tale to light up the silver screen

Today, my friend (and fellow author) Brandon Engel is guest posting. He's going to talk about why Francis Ford Coppola's version of Bram Stoker's Dracula is the greatest vampire tale to light up the silver screen. And if you have the time please be sure to check out these other articles written by Brandon in the past:

Today Brandon Engel remembers legendary writer Ray Bradbury for the magician he was

Today author Brandon Engel reminds you of why Arthur C. Clarke is considered one of the Deans of Science Fiction

And please check out my interview I did with Brandon's permission back in October 2014

Got twitter? You can follow Brandon @BrandonEngel2
Greatest Vampire Movie? You’ll Never Guess Our Pick!

Get together with any ten random horror geeks and the subject of vampires will inevitably pop up. But what about Dracula? When it comes to old fang-face himself, he's been done to death in film media. And somebody always starts the debate about which Dracula movie is the best. You can raise shocked gasps all around by simply dropping the title:

Bram Stoker's Dracula. Yes, the 1992 one. What could provoke such a claim?

In the first place, the star power has to count for something. This is Francis Ford Coppola directing and if The Godfather doesn't impress you, check out The Conversation sometime for an unknown gem. Coppola has even recently stated that both The Conversation and Bram Stoker’s Dracula were quite artistic films in an interview on The Director’s Chair on the El Rey Network (details here). This is evident in all aspects of the film, including the spectacular performances by the actors and actresses who portrayed the classic characters.
Legendary director Francis Ford Coppola
The big bat himself is played by none less than Gary Oldman. Take his Zorg from The Fifth Element or his Mason Verger from Hannibal and tell us he can't carry off a villain protagonist role. The rest of the cast is so stellar you almost forget Anthony Hopkins and Winona Ryder are in this.

But so much for name-dropping. What about the classic Dracula film canon? Surely Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee have claim to the best Dracula! Or even Klaus Kinski in Nosferatu, surely Gary Oldman can't hold up a cape to that infamous portrayal?

Yes, but stop and think about those films. We all love the poster but very few of us actually love the movie. As much as the Goth crowd has adopted Nosferatu on a T-shirt, very few of them can actually sit through the whole film. Try it sometime. You'll begin to realize after the first forty minutes that all the classic depictions of vampires are slow, plodding, drawn-out affairs paced like a chess match. The UK Dracula might be the most famous but UK horror films (especially of that era) tend to be dry affairs with long conversations in drawing rooms and not much biting going on anywhere. Classic Dracula is held back, restrained, and wrung out of every drop of passion.
I love Gary Oldman's unbelievably creepy wig.
Coppola's movie gets the story moving more in pace with modern audience expectations. At the same time, Coppola is one director who has done his homework. There's references to everything from Elizabeth Bathory (the bath-in-blood countess) to Vlad the Impaler (great fun at parties) here. Coppola follows the Stoker novel faithfully almost to a fault and yet captures it all with fresh intensity. This is important because it brings us back to what makes Dracula scary in the first place: the fact that he's a myth bred directly from the real life doings of famously savage people. Too often the classics of literature are performed with stiff respect by people who don't quite grasp why the material is important. Coppola starts with how legends of vampires hit people back when they first started and captures the spirit from there.

Dracula, here, has a backstory that makes sense, romanticism in his portrayal, a passionate motive for doing what he does, and ten times as much macho as the leading sparkly Twilight brand. With the exception of Keanu Reeves playing his usual drone, the parties concerned are confident with their job, almost panting with passion to bring their vision to the screen. And what does Gary Oldman get for his trouble? The fans complain that he's over the top.

Listen, if you think this is over the top, you'd probably also hate Al Pacino for his turn as Lucifer in The Devil's Advocate. When you're playing a larger-than-life mythic character who's been around for centuries, you'd better go over the top. Hammy is the only way you'll be remembered. Otherwise you're yet another dull high school drama club doing the stage version. The audience will politely clap at the end and move on to forget everything you said about the character fifteen minutes later. But if you pull out some stops and remind us that being an immortal bloodsucker who doesn't have to play by our rules is fun, you'll be remembered. Would the real-life Dracula care if we accused him of being a ham? No, he'll still be here a century from now when the rest of us are pretty much maggot chow.

Gary Oldman was the best Dracula. Try it on for size. He deserves some credit for at least making Dracula less wooden than the coffin he sleeps in for a change.


Thank you, Brandon.

Folks I'm taking off until next Wednesday's Insecure Writer's Support Group post. Good luck with the launch of A to Z you blogging fiends out there!

Friday, March 20, 2015

After watching Arrow I want to know if a League of Assassins under the leadership of Oliver Queen would be such a bad thing.

If it's one thing that I've grown to appreciate about the television show Arrow, it's that the tale manages to weave the plausibility that assassins armed with knives and arrows could triumph repeatedly over those who possess guns. This show pays no lip service to the saying, "Don't bring a knife to a gun fight" and we in the audience don't lose any sleep over this.

In this week's episode called "The Offer," our favorite bow slinging warrior of Starling City has been offered to head the League of Shadows and take Ra's al Ghul's legacy as the deadliest man alive...not deadly like Chris Kyle deadly...but deadly because he's a mean bastard with a sword. Suspend your disbelief. Swords and arrows rule the day and not guns. That's just the way it is.

It's an offer that John Barrowman in the role of Malcolm Merlyn insists is "not a choice," implying that should Ollie turn his back on this offer that there will be some horrible price to pay. Well, and there's this pesky prophecy that foretells if anyone survives a fight with Ra's al Ghul, he would take Ra's place in the League of Assassins. I would say, "Don't take stock in prophecies..." only this is a show that is clearly grounded in a universe where magical and wondrous things happen. So yeah, prophecies have weight.

So let's think about this "offer" for a moment and ponder the question "What does a League of Assassins actually do?" And then the subsequent question: "what would a League of Assassins look like under Ollie?"

Ra's al Ghul created the League of Assassins to hunt down and kill people he deemed a danger to society. All of its members go through a harsh and bitter training. Those that survive become incredible warriors. Think Nietzsche who coined the phrase, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." The League is very old-fashioned, has a medieval Japanese sense of honor (out of all the cultures on Earth, the Japanese took honor to ridiculous levels), and each member has a signature weapon. But most important, Ra's al Ghul's word is law. Whoever is in charge would change the chemistry of the entire group to make it a reflection of the one up top.

Interesting, right?

So what would it look like under Ollie? I'd like to think that (if he were to accept Ra's offer), then the League's incredible resources could be made to do some good in the world that (from a viewer's standpoint) appears awash in evil. I'm not really sure why Oliver Queen is turning his back on the offer from "Evil, Incorporated" other than he enjoys his personal crusade and doesn't really want help on that kind of a scale to accomplish his goals. Or maybe he just doesn't trust himself, and perhaps is cautious of the lure such power would bring and worries it could possibly corrupt him. Let's face it, Ollie isn't exactly a nice guy, having killed numerous people, tortured others, cheated on his girlfriends, and done any number of other horrible things. He's the quintessential anti-hero, and I suppose the offer from Ra's al Ghul really shines a spotlight on this whole hot mess of a guy and asks the question, can anti-heroes be entrusted with incredible power and responsibility?

What do you guys think? Perhaps the answer is clearly "no."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The wacky weirdness of the Flash resulted in the death of a beloved character in an episode worthy of being a season finale

Dr. Wells revealed his true nature last night, and yep, he's Eobard Thawne a.k.a. the Reverse Flash, and he's from the future and has been trapped in the present for fifteen looong years. Somehow his training Barry and pushing Barry to go ever faster feeds into a scheme ultimately designed to return Reverse Flash to his own timeline. Despite knowing he's a villain though, Dr. Wells didn't do anything that struck a nerve with me until last night. Spoiler alert: he killed Cisco.

For over an hour I felt like screaming at the television. Cisco Ramon is the coolest character outside of Barry Allen on the entire show. Watching Reverse Flash outright kill Cisco really stung. I kept waiting for Cisco to do something to outwit Dr. Wells, but it never happened. I kept thinking...Cisco fixed the problem with the device designed to trap Reverse Flash and he's gonna trick the villain into the field and bam, have him trapped. Or, Barry's gonna run in and save him...only there's a huge tsunami heading for Central City that's going to kill thousands of people so yeah...the Flash can't rescue everyone.

This episode tonight felt like a season finale. There was so much stuff going on, so much second-guessing, and multiple villains doing things that raised the stakes of everything to ridiculously high levels. In recap we had:

1) Captain Singh potentially brain-damaged and paralyzed by lightning from Weather Wizard. It was awesome that they allowed the captain's same sex partner in to see him as he was the captain's fiancee and essentially "family."

2) Eobard Thawne confirmed as Reverse Flash and yes, sharing the same name as Eddie (Iris's boyfriend) who is obviously a descendant.

3) Dr. Wells plunged his vibrating hand into Cisco's chest and crushed Cisco's heart. You bastard!

4) Barry and Iris acting on their feelings toward each other with a great kiss and then the ultimate reveal to Iris that he is indeed, "The Flash." It felt like Spiderman 2 all over again.

If there is one request I want to make of the show's writers it's this: please please please bring back Cisco Ramon. Sigh. Somedays I think Game of Thrones has changed television too much. I kinda miss when characters I loved were safe.

Monday, March 16, 2015

If you could have eternal youth would you view it as a curse or a blessing?

The trailer for the Age of Adaline (due to hit theaters April 24th) offers up for the viewer the intriguing premise: what if an event happened in your life that froze you in time. To be clear, it froze Adaline in what appears to be her mid-twenties (which is quite an awesome age to be frozen) and then she doesn't ever age beyond that basically forever. Of course the trailer treats this as a kind of curse. But is it really?

The idea of immortality or eternal youth is not a new one at all. For example, it's a characteristic of many religions that seek to define paradise. So I guess the torture/curse aspect is that all of your friends and loved ones would grow old and die around you, hence the popularity of vampire culture/books/fiction because vampires can beget "children" usually through an "embrace" of some kind (that's often sexually charged) and thus create a companion for the ages.

So the thing I started to think about basically has to do with sharing a human experience with others. Is there nothing of value if it can't be shared? Eternal youth just means a person has virtually unlimited time. But what if we changed the situation a bit and made it unlimited money? Is essentially unlimited money worthless if it can't be shared? What about unlimited food? Or unlimited power? Is there no value to some supply even if the rest goes wasted?

What do you guys think? Do we need limits on things in order to truly see them as a blessing? I remember an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which the Q Continuum was so bored because they had everything that they could ever desire. I'd like to think that, if given the chance, and I were "cursed" with eternal youth that I'd somehow make the best of it, growing wealth over time to become a huge philanthropist to all mankind, to have enough time to read every single book ever written, and to have a body that doesn't suffer from aches and pains brought on by arthritis.

But maybe I should just see the movie in April and look at how the character Adaline deals with this supernatural curse. Or maybe she doesn't. Maybe she just ends up thinking everything is hunky dory.

Friday, March 13, 2015

This season Game of Thrones will surpass the written works so I guess winter is now upon us

When this book is published in October, I shall buy it on the first day and stop
blogging until I've read it to completion. This is my "heads up." :)
I'm talking Game of Thrones spoilers. You have been warned.

Entertainment Weekly, the "go to" magazine for all things Game of Thrones, covered the upcoming fifth season just a few weeks ahead of show time. After reading it, I'm fairly certain that this is the first season in which us fans of George R.R. Martin's books venture into lots of unknown territory, meaning that this is where the television series is going to decidedly leave the novelization behind.

Am I kind of sad? Yeah. But that's okay. I want to know what's going on and there promises to be lots of reveals. The first thing I learned? We're getting close to the end. David Benioff wants to conclude the show with seven seasons. For those of you out there doing the math, that's only thirty more episodes. All of this (of course) depends on money. With Game of Thrones being one of the most bankable/popular television shows in history, I imagine there might be a conversation or two that takes place between actors who have survived, writers (like the author George R.R. Martin), and the producers, etc.

George R.R. Martin is also lobbying to conclude the series with a full-blown Hollywood-style feature film. I'm not sure how I would feel about this, but I'd definitely go and see it. I suppose it worked for Firefly, right?

What else to expect this season? Characters that are alive in the last book die. That's going to be a huge spoiler. There's also going to be three weddings: probably Tommen and Margaery, Daenerys and Hizdaher zo Loraq, but I've no idea who's all involved in the third. Ya know, I just can't wait to see the Mountain come back as an unkillable zombie, see Drogon fly off with Daenerys, and see Cersei doing the walk of shame. Maybe Cersei will get the best of Margaery and kill her after the Mountain wins the trial by combat. That could be very interesting, indeed.

What say you? Are you excited for the return of season five of Game of Thrones? Valar Morghulis and check out this trailer that has a very impressive Drogon flying over Mereen at the end.

But perhaps all is not lost. George R.R. Martin announced that he's finished The Winds of Winter. It gets published in October, so at least I can read it before season 6.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Are thoughts germs and can they be transmitted to other people via the internet just like a disease? The answer will surprise you

I saw this on io9 yesterday, and as the video actually requests for all viewers to share then you are the people I've chosen to infect. It begins with a premise: are thoughts germs? Can they be transmitted from one person to another? Watch this and explore the psychology of how a one-standard deviation increase in the amount of anger an article evokes can increase the odds (for example) that it will make the most e-mailed list by 34% on The New York Times. Sure, it's a wee bit long but it has advice that should you follow it, may just aid in helping you keep a healthy mind. And who doesn't want a healthy mind?

Monday, March 9, 2015

On Forget does the Walking Dead ask is it human nature to be mad at those who haven't had to suffer?

The Walking Dead is masterful at the art of reinvention. This week's episode called Forget basically asks the question: is it human nature to be mad at those who haven't had to suffer? When Rick's group first went through the gates of Alexandria last week, they looked like feral animals. Every single one of them had been pushed to the point of exhaustion, and Glen even said, "I think we were almost out there too long."

Now this week the people in charge of Alexandria threw a party at their house, Carol made cookies, Michonne put on a dress, and Sasha completely lost it when a friendly neighbor asked her what her favorite dish was so that she could make it. "I'm worried that I'd get it wrong," she says to Sasha which causes the meltdown with her yelling, "THIS IS WHAT YOU WORRY ABOUT?!"

Then there's Carol breaking into the gun storage. Sure, the first thing she steals is more chocolate from the freezer, but then she gets down to business stealing guns for them to carry (because they don't have the ability to trust anymore). A small boy follows her through the window to the gun storage and surprises her. His motivation? He was hoping she'd bake him more cookies. Carol responds by threatening to remove him from the safety of his bed and leave him outside the wall, tied to a tree, and screaming while the dead come for him to eat him alive if he tells anyone. It was truly frightening and really shows how the zombie apocalypse has turned her in particular into a psychopath.

However, to get back to my original point (that being is it human nature to be mad at those who haven't had to suffer) I'd have to say yes. Who among us who has had a hard time at various stages of life doesn't experience some kind of jealousy or resentment for those who appear to have had it easy? How many times do you come across articles on Facebook where people disparage those coming from wealth or privilege? It's fascinating that five seasons into this show, we are now tackling this very modern question having to do with income inequality and society. To effect, it's incredibly creepy and awkward and contrasts so hard against the harshness of reality that even those in that world (a.k.a. Sasha) say, "This isn't real!" Why? Because life's too good, right? You're only alive if you're, there has to be some catch to it. And this is after facing communities of cannibals and communities where rape is institutionalized and communities where the living are in denial of the dead and just think of them as being sick and end up getting eaten.

It makes me wonder, can we put up our own psychological barriers that keep us from enjoying life? Can a hard life make us feel undeserving of something good when it comes our way. It's frightening to think that can be true, but with the financial success I've been having lately, I found myself realizing that it took some time to get used to the fact that I've earned my success and deserve it, rather than looking at it as if it somehow could evaporate or that it wasn't "real." Maybe I've looked at things so pessimistically with a "this has to fail" attitude that I've closed myself off from real opportunities. And it's so strange that it took an episode of a tv show to realize that I may be the feral human that's been invited into an Alexandria (of sorts) and have been suspicious of it ever since I moved in. Maybe all of us could take a moment and ask ourselves the question: am I truly ready for success when it comes or will I be terrified of it because it means it will change my life?

What do you guys think?