Movie Review: EXTRAORDINARY TALES

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extraordinary tales
Gkids
2013
NR

“I don’t want my work to be lost forever. My work is eternal. I want that eternity. I want to be sure my words will survive me, that they will never be lost in time.”

  • Five of Edgar Allan Poe’s best-known stories are brought to vivid life in this visually stunning, heart-pounding animated anthology featuring some of the most beloved figures in horror film history.

Edgar Allan Poe. Any aspiring fan of the dark and morbid tales of yore know the name. I’m pretty certain that a collection of his short stories and poems are issued to you the moment you show any interest in the Goth subculture. I know I was. I remember the first time I encountered the stories of E. A. Poe: it was 7th grade Lit.*, and my teacher Mr. Wilberding describing the story of “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Of course, these stories are golden oldies trotted out every Halloween season; I, however, think that–like Halloween itself–these should be celebrated and read year-round.

Which brings us to the anthology movie Extraordinary Tales. This is a movie that takes five well-known Edgar Allan Poe** stories and animates them, each of them with a different animation style, and narrated by a different actor who has ties to the horror community as well. As a long-time horror enthusiast, I felt obligated to give this thing a watch.

There’s a wrap-around story involving a raven (of course) that supposedly represents the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe, having a bit of an existential discussion with a graveyard statue, worrying about whether his stories will live on long after he’s dead and gone. We then begin with “The Fall Of The House Of Usher”, which is narrated by the late, great Christopher Lee. The animation is flat, with CGI that looks like the finest a Playstation One game can provide. It’s not bad, just “eh”. The second story is “The Tell-Tale Heart”, which is narrated by none other than Bela Lugosi. How did this happen, you may ask? After all, as the song goes, Bela Lugosi’s dead. He’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead. A long time ago, I might add. Well, this sounds like an old recording he did reading the story, and the old lo-fi scratchy sound of the recording actually enhances the animation style employed on this one. “The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar” is a nice creepy and ghoulish tale that is narrated by Julian Sands, who was in the movies Warlock and Arachnophobia. This one’s animated style recalls the classic pulp comics, with the main character animated to look like Vincent Price. Neat. “The Pit And The Pendulum” is narrated by Guillermo del Toro, and if I have to explain who he is, you’re reading the wrong blog. The animation style is standard CGI, and to be forthright, this isn’t my favorite short story of his to begin with. I realize Edgar Allan Poe took liberties with historical accuracy with this story (who doesn’t, really), but the situations still make no sense to me no matter how many times I read this. The visuals here didn’t help things. And finally, we end with perhaps my favorite of all of Edgar Allan Poe stories, “The masque Of The Red Death”. Here, there’s no narration, but does feature the voice work of one Roger Corman as Prince Prospero, in the tale of the rich and prosperous locked inside a castle and partying while a nasty plague ravages the country. Given that I happen to be writing this at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic and all the panic that comes with it, this has the added bonus of being a bit close to home.

As adaptations go, they’re pretty standard. I should point out that the stories themselves were truncated, so you don’t really get the full stories. And neither do the adaptations have enough time to let the stories breath, like with Roger Corman’s famous adaptations from the 1960s. But, Extraordinary Tales works as a good perfunctory introduction to the works of one of the more legendary American authors of the Romantic Gothic period. And anything that works as a gateway drug to becoming a reading junkie gets my enthusiastic support.

[*kids, back then, that was short for “Liturature”, and not “exciting”, or “excellent”, although for nerds like myself, you might say Lit. class was actually “lit”]

[**you can’t just say “Poe”; you need to say his full name for full effect]

Movie Review: WORLD’S GREATEST DAD

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world's greatest dad
Darko Entertainment
2009
R

“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who made you feel all alone.”

  • Robin Williams stars as Lance Clayton, a man who has learned to settle. He dreamed of being a rich and famous writer, but has only managed to make it as an unpopular high school poetry teacher. His only son Kyle is an insufferable jackass who won’t give his father the time of day. He is dating Claire, the school’s adorable art teacher, but she doesn’t want to get serious, or even acknowledge publicly that they are dating. Then, in the wake of a freak accident, Lance suffers the worst tragedy and the greatest opportunity of his life. He is suddenly faced with the possibility of all the fame, fortune and popularity he ever dreamed of, if he can only live with the knowledge of how he got there.

Bobcat Goldwaith. He’s a rather brilliant comedian, but I think he may be an even more brilliant movie maker. I’m not talking about the movies he was merely an actor in (the less said about Hot To Trot, the better…which reminds me, I need to do a review of Hot To Trot). No, I speak of the movies he’s written, directed and/or produced. These happen to be what you would call “uncomfortable dark comedy”, meaning he manages to take really, really uncomfortable topics and situations, and manages to make you laugh despite that squicky feeling in the pit of your stomach. But, lest you think he’s just being crass for crass’ sake, he actually crafts some subversive meaning underneath all the morbid humor.

I listened to an interview with Bobcat Goldwaith on a local radio morning talk show here in Omaha back in the day, and he was describing World’s Greatest Dad to them, when it was the newest movie he had made at the time. I remember thinking, “this is really, really dark and morbid. I must find this and watch it.” Of course, it tanked at the box office, but I managed to rent it when it was finally released on DVD.

So, Lance Clayton (Robin Williams!) is a high school English teacher and frustrated writer, who is also a single father to his son Kyle (Daryl Sabara!), a 15-year-old misanthrope with a very, very unhealthy addiction to porn. Things are not going well at the high school Lance teaches at: his son is on the verge of being booted out due to his behavior, his romantic relationship with another teacher at the school is utterly pitiful, and another kid is hanging out at his house to avoid his alcoholic mother. Oh, and one night Lance discovers that Kyle has died by way of autoerotic asphyxiation. Too soon to make an INXS joke? Yes? Okay, then. To avoid the stigma of the way he died, Lance then makes it look like Kyle committed suicide. Soon thereafter, the fake suicide note Lance wrote on his son’t computer to complete the facade is published by one of the students on the school’s newspaper, and that strikes such a cord with everyone that suddenly all the students that hated Kyle (which was all of them) started claiming to have been BFF’s and raving as to how deep and intelligent he was. This inspires Lance to strike while the iron’s hot, and write a fake journal that was supposedly his son’s before his death, and publish it. This becomes a phenomenon, and Lance finally gets the adoration he’s always wanted because of this. However, things start getting kind of out of control when he starts gaining national fame and celebrity, and there’s one student that thinks this is kind of fishy. Then, when the school principal decides to rename the school library in Kyle’s honor, things come to a head, and Lance says “I quit” in the manner I really want to go out on: by swimming naked in the school’s swimming pool.

So, let’s go ahead and address the proverbial elephant in the room, here. At the time when I watched this, we were maybe five years away from Robin Williams committing suicide by hanging himself. We had no idea this was going to happen, obviously. For me, this does make it hard for me to want to re-watch World’s Greatest Dad. But, it really shouldn’t, as this isn’t a movie about suicide. It’s a movie about loneliness, the craving for love and acceptance, and the lengths at which we will go to achieve all of this. This is the late, great Robin Williams at his peak best, emanating a pathos that gets under your skin, and while what he does is rather underhanded and despicable, you still get the sense that he did it all out of love for his son, who, it should be pointed out, was not the most lovable kid going. There’s an understatement.

Overall, World’s Greatest Dad is a brilliant dark comedy mixed with solid drama that, unfortunately, many won’t be able to get past the first half hour to truly appreciate. Trust me, though, when I say that you should definitely stick through the movie. It’s one that doesn’t merely go for the feels…it uses the feels as a speed bag while chomping on a cigar and blowing the smoke in your face. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: WALK HARD The Dewey Cox Story

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Walk Hard The Dewy Cox Story movie poster
Columbia
2007
R

“This is crazy, Dewey. Ain’t nobody gonna wanna listen to music like this. You’re standing there, playing as fast as you can, singing like some sort of punk!”

  • One of the most iconic figures in rock history, Dewey Cox had it all: the women (over 400 served), the friends (Elvis, The Beatles), and the rock n’ roll lifestyle (a close and personal relationship with every pill and powder known to man). But most of all, he had the music that transformed a dimwitted country boy into the greatest American rock star who never lived.

Something seems to have happened to the satirical comedy movie genre. Some time in the turn of the 21st Century, somehow the comedy movies that were spoofing other areas of pop culture were getting lazy, going more the zany route than actually well-crafted tongue-in-cheek spoof. Take, for instance, the classic Airplane!, and compare that to the likes of Epic Movie. Yeah, see the difference? Now, I’m not saying that every spoof comedy movie made in the 80s and 90s was comedy gold; but even the worst ones from that era (*cough* Spy Hard *cough*) had more meat to them than a lot of these dime-a-dozen blockbuster spoof movies nowadays.

Excuse me a minute, while I yell at the squirrels to get of muh lawn, dagnabit.

Anyway, all old man bellyachin’ aside (I just said “bellyachin'”…yep, I’m officially old now), I will say that not every spoof comedy movie made after 1999 is crap. Take, for instance, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. This is a movie that was made some time after the Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line, that stared Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as Johnny Cash and June Carter, respectively. But, rather than just spoof Johnny Cash’s early life, Walk Hard also includes some hilarious shots at the history of rock n’ roll, blues and country music pop culture in America all together.

We begin the story with a young Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly!) accidentally cutting his brother Nate in half in 1946. The trauma takes his sense of smell, but then he discovers that he has an affinity for the blues. Later, he preforms a song at his school talent show, which results in his father kicking him out of the house for playing “that Devil music”. So he leaves with his 12-year-old girlfriend (I should maybe point out that Dewey’s 14 at this time, although that may not lower the squick factor much), marry and have a baby. While working as a singer in a nightclub, he catches the ear of a record exec, who has him record a couple of tunes: a rockabilly rendition of “That’s Amore” (it doesn’t do well), and what would become his signature song, “Walk Hard”. The later song becomes an instant hit–literally, like in 35 minutes of its recording–and next thing you know, Dewey finds himself a rock n’ roll idol, and next thing you know he’s caught up in the lifestyle, trying drugs and sleeping around on his wife. Then his mother dies while dancing to one of Dewey’s records, which causes him to start using cocaine, and this is about the time when he meets choir-girl Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer!), who he records several hit records with while falling madly in love with. So they get married…only, remember he’s still married to his first wife? Yeah, that doesn’t end well, and then he’s jailed for drug possession. After his stint in prison, Darlene returns to him, they move to Berkeley during the counterculture movement, takes LSD with the Beatles, then becomes obsessed with recording his masterpiece. The band leaves him due to his growing erratic and abusive behavior, and Darlene then leaves him for Glen Campbell (ouch). After some more rehab and a visit from the ghost of his brother, Dewey now hosts a variety show in the 70s, manages to reconnect with his estranged father in the most bizarre way possible, he gets a visit from one of his many illegitimate children, which causes him to want to reconnect with family again, regains his sense of smell, and then reconnects with and remarries Darlene. Again. Suddenly he’s popular with the young kids again due to rapper Lil’ Nutzzak sampling “Walk Hard” for his song. He gets a lifetime achievement award, reunites with his band, and finally composes his masterpiece song. And then he died three minutes after that. The end.

Overall, as a pop music history junkie, who loves watching documentaries about music and bands whether or not I like them*, Walk Hard was a great send-up of rock n’ roll biopics and documentaries all together. John C. Reilly once again proves his comedy chops as the lead. Taken as a comedy itself, it’s pretty over-the-top but still rather funny. I would say that Walk Hard is up there with comedies like the immortal UHF and Spaceballs. Recommended.

[*my favorite one being the VH1 Behind The Music episode of Oasis…not because I like their music (I don’t), or found the history all that interesting, but for the fact that, even though the brothers spoke English, they still had to have English subtitles to be understood]

Movie Review: RETRO PUPPET MASTER

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retro puppet master
Full Moon Pictures
1999
PG-13

“Ilsa, this is Cyclops, Blade, Doctor Death, Drill Sergeant, Pinhead, and Six-Shooter.”

  • Andre Toulon’s days before he became the Puppet Master were spent running an avant-garde puppet theater in pre-World War I Paris and loving Ilsa, the beautiful daughter of the Swiss ambassador. When he witnesses the heinous murder of Afzel, an Egyptian sorcerer, who has stolen the “Secret of Life” from an ancient god, Sutekh, he is forced into a life and death struggle with the servants of Sutekh who have kidnapped Ilsa. In a final confrontation, Toulon and his Puppets must make a stand against the deathless power of an ancient god–in order to save the woman he loves.

You may think that, since I’m a well-established fan of cheesy horror movies, that I would be familiar with Full Moon Entertainment’s Puppet Master series. Set your collective faces to “stunned”, because I am not. Oh, I’ve seen the myriad of titles setting on the video shelves, and came close to checking one of them out on more than one occasion. I don’t know why I held off for so long to go down that particular franchise rabbit hole. Maybe due to my traditionalist sensibilities–Freddy, Jason and Pinhead as the unholy trinity, all others pale in comparison. That kind of thing.

We begin things in 1944 in Switzerland (according to Wikipedia, this movie takes place just after Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge, in case that matters to continuity geeks), and the titular Puppet Master, Andre’ Toulon, is on the run with his little homicidal puppet friends. He stumbles upon the wooden head of one of his old puppets at an inn close to the Swiss border, and begins to wax nostalgic to his youth, circa 1902. The rest of the movie is a flashback to that time, beginning in Cairo, Egypt, where a really, really old Egyptian sorcerer named Afzel has stolen the secret of life (42, or something like that), and after taking out a couple of mummies dispatched by the Egyptian god Sutekh (Seth to his closest buddies) to steal it back, he sets off for Paris. As you do. Meanwhile, in Paris, a young Toulon is putting on a puppet show version of Dante’s Divine Comedy at a theater. In the attendance happens to be the daughter of an ambassador, who is obviously the forced love interest in this movie. Outside of the theater, Afzel is being beaten by a couple of thugs that were hired by a couple of other mummies dispatched by Sutekh to go after the fugitive, and is rescued by both the ambassador’s daughter and Toulon. Afzel decides to give Toulon the Secret to Life, by making his puppets come to life, resulting in the creation of Pinhead. After being roughed up by the Ambassador himself, Toulon returns to the theater to find the the mummies managed to break in and kill everyone inside, so he begins to put the victims’ souls inside his puppets. After another stand-off with the henchmen, he boards a train to escape, only the henchmen kidnap the ambassador’s daughter, so he takes his living puppets and goes to mount a rescue. A battle of…something ensue, Toulon taunts the henchmen with the sacred scroll containing the secret to life (I still say it has a big 42 scrawled on it), they fend them off, and Toulon and the girl rides away in the train together. Back to 1944, and the puppets re wondering what happened to the OG puppets, and then Toulon sets up some sequel baiting. The end.

Maybe Retro Puppet Master should not have been the one to watch as a first-time sampling of the franchise, but after watching this, I really have no desire to watch any of the other movies. I realize that Full Moon movies are generally cheesy low-budget fair, but most of the time, at least they’re somewhat entertaining. This movie, it was just painful to watch. Dull, uninspired, badly acted, and clunky. I’m going to pass on this franchise for now.

Movie Review: LITTLE NICKY

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little nicky
New Line Cinema
2000
PG-13

“Welcome to the party! It’s so nice to see you all here! I’m so proud of you. You’ve taken to sin with such minimal promoting. You’re acting as if there’s is no heaven or hell. Well, I’ve got news for you.”

  • When your mother is an angel and your father is the devil, life can be really confusing. For Little Nicky, it just got a whole lot worse. His two evil brothers have just escaped from Hell and are wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting earth. His dad is disintegrating and it’s up to Nicky to save him and all of humanity. Can Nicky find his inner evil in time to save the world?

So. Little Nicky. It was inevitable that I would be having to do the review this movie sooner or later. I’ve put it off long enough; it’s time to live this antacid flashback and put this demon to rest. Put very much intended.

It may be hard to believe for some of you youngun’s, but there used to be a time when the thought of watching an Adam Sandler movie wasn’t accompanied by a shudder of revulsion. They may have been more low-brow as comedies go, but there was a certain charm buried in them, and once in a while Sandler could surprise you with an actual good movie.

Little Nicky, released in late 2000, doesn’t necessarily fall under the later part of that statement–not even close–but it’s not entirely irredeemable.

So, in Little Nicky, it’s been about 10,000 years (give or take a century or two), and the Devil (Harvey Keitel!) is supposed to pass on the torch, so to speak, to one of his three sons: the devious Adrian, the cruel Cassius (“Tiny”!), and his personal favorite, Nicky (Adam Sandler!). This causes some sibling rivalry, to say the very least. The Devil decides that none of his boys are ready to take the throne, so he’s staying on it himself. This doesn’t jive well with Adrian and Cassius, so they decide to create and rule their own Hell on Earth, and as a parting gift, they freeze shut the gates of Hell so that no more souls can come in. This results in the Devil starting to decompose. So he sends Nicky to Earth with a silver flask that will trap whoever drinks from it inside. After a few test runs, he meets a talking dog, rents an apartment with an actor, and falls in love with a design student (Patricia Arquette!). Nicky is then able to capture Cassius at a Globetrotters game, where he also meets a couple of hessian metalhead Satanists (Happy Gilmore regulars Jonathan Loughran and Peter Dante!) who become his minions. After another setback, involving the chief of police being possessed by Adrian and accusing Nicky of mass murder, Adrian then manages to push his father aside in Hell and take the throne, and begins to party in Central Park. Nicky then discovers that his mother (Reese Witherspoon!) is actually an angel from Heaven, and is told about a secret power he has because of that lineage. He then has a showdown with his brother, which Nicky wins thanks to the help of Ozzy Osbourne. The Devil is restored, and Nicky marries his girlfriend and has a baby. The end.

Little Nicky falls squarely under the “Guilty Pleasure” file; it’s a bad movie, yes, quite dumb and tasteless…but I can’t help but be bloody entertained by it at the same time. It has all the standard Happy Madison regulars, including a couple of characters reprised for cameos, a bunch of celebrity cameos (including the aforementioned Ozzy), and the soundtrack is pretty awesome. I am inspired to have the opening riff to “Rock You Like A Hurricane” start jamming whenever I enter a room anywhere. And blantant product placement with Popeye’s is fine, but we all know KFC is far more metal than any other chicken place around.

Overall, while it’s not a movie that I’ll rent any time soon, if I happen upon Little Nicky playing on a cable channel somewhere, I wouldn’t mind just leaving it on there. Take that as you will.

Movie Review: AD ASTRA

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ad astra
20th Century Fox
2019
PG-13

“The zero G and the extended duration of the journey is affecting me both physically and mentally. I am alone. Something I always believed I preferred. I am alone. But I confess it’s wearing on me. I am alone. I am alone.”

  • Thirty years ago, Clifford McBride led a voyage into deep space, but the ship and crew were never heard from again. Now his son — a fearless astronaut — must embark on a daring mission to Neptune to uncover the truth about his missing father and a mysterious power surge that threatens the stability of the universe.

Ad Astra was one of those movies that I almost never noticed in its initial theatrical run, until one of my surrogate nieces posted to Facebook about her disdain after having watched the movie herself. Boring and pointless, she mentioned it was. So I looked it up, and found out it was a science fiction movie starring Brad Pitt, of all people. Reading the synopsis, I concluded this may be one of those “serious science fiction” movies that a lot of Hollywood A-listers have been making in last couple of decades, like Gravity and Solaris. Sunshine started off like one of those, but then turned into Event Horizon in the last act. But, anyway, I decided to watch this for myself when it came out on streaming rental, just to see what the ire was all about. And…well, let’s just say we’re going to have to agree to disagree there, kiddo.

So, we have an astronaut (Brad Pitt!) that’s working on a really, really long Earth-based antenna, when he gets into a bit of an accident. But, he’s fine. However, the shock wave that caused the accident is the reason why he’s called in by the U.S. Space Command (SpaceCom if you’re nasty). Turns out, this astronaut is the son of a rather famous astronaut (Tommy Lee Jones!) that headed up a deep space mission 29 years prior, to search the furthest reaches of the Solar System in search of some sign of intelligent life. However, nothing’s been heard from him and his team once they reached Neptune, and that was sixteen years ago. And those mystery power surges that threatens all life on Earth? They seem to be originating from the same spot the exposition stopped at. So, the astronaut was chosen to see if his dad’s still alive, and maybe be able to communicate with him at a Mars-stationed base. So, he flies to the moon, meets up with one of his father’s old associate (Donald Sutherland!) and heads out to the SpaceCom base on the moon. However, they’re beset upon by Moon Pirates*, and although they managed to narrowly make it to the base, the elder of the two begins suffering a heart attack and can’t go with him. He then gets in a ship with a bunch of scientists bound for Mars, and everything seems to be smooth sailing from there…until they receive a distress call from a Norwegian biomedical research station, in which they stop by to see if they can help. They encounter a couple of angry space monkeys**, who bite off the face of the Captain. Yadda yadda yadda, everyone who still has a face and is breathing manage to make it to the Mars base, where the astronaut is led to make some transmissions to Neptune, imploring his father to respond. However, he kinda starts ad libbing the script, which gets him kicked off of the project. But, instead of heading home to Earth like a good gov’ment lackey, he instead stows away on the same ship that he came on, because as it turns out, they were headed out to Neptune to try and terminate the derelict vessel his dad may or may not be still alive to stop the power surges. It goes well He inadvertently kills all the scientists pretty much right when he enters the ship as they take off, and now he’s floating around for a few months on his way to Neptune, reflecting on his personal relationships with his father and his estranged wife (Liv Tyler!). He finally makes it to the station, discovers that his father is still alive (the others, not so much), and the power surges causing all of the trouble are coming from the ship’s malfunctioning antimatter power source. Seems daddy has gone a bit loopy, refusing to stop his search for intelligent life beyond them, essentially tells his son that he never loved him or his family and no longer considers Earth his home. His son responds by arming a nuclear device, his dad floats off to become a trans-Neptunian object in a space suit, and Number One Son manages to ride the resulting blast wave back to Earth, where he gets a new lease on life after discovering that the data gathered by his father pointed to Earthlings being the only intelligent life in the galaxy (optimism by nihilism, I guess), and meets his estranged wife for drinks. The end.

Personally, I rather enjoyed Ad Astra. Then again, my expectations were probably a bit different than what a lot of movie watchin’ types would expect from “entertaining sci-fi”. I’m not trying to sound like a snobby nerd, but here we are. I was expecting more of a hard sci-fi movie, which this is; others were maybe preferring sci-fi fantasy? I don’t know, they won’t say beyond “this movie sucks.” For some, that’s their whole review. I tend to need to use more words to express why I think something sucks. And this movie doesn’t suck.

Ad Astra is one of those science fiction movies that moves in a slow, some would say lethargic pace, taking its sweet time with the plot buildup. And this is over two hours in length. So Ad Astra falls squarely in the 2001: A Space Odyssey (or, perhaps closer to Star Trek: The Motion Picture), rather than Star Wars. If anything, outside of some brief action scenes (see “Moon Pirates” and “Space Monkeys”), this is more a big ol’ character study on a nihilistic, emotion-bereft character having himself an existential quandary while staring into the literal void of space, and eventually embracing life after coming to terms with the hopelessness of living itself. And I must say, this movie was very effective in portraying just that.

Overall, it may be that I’m just older and have more insurance have seen more movies like this, and have developed an appreciation for them that my younger self didn’t have the patience for. It’s just that, I find myself in the camp of having enjoyed Ad Astra for what it is, and recommend giving this a watch.

[*you have no idea how much I’ve been waiting to write that]
[**and I’ve been waiting even more to write that one… this is just freaking awesome]

Movie Review: RED DRAGON

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red dragon
Universal
2002
R

“Remarkable boy. I do admire your courage. I think I’ll eat your heart.”

  • A set of grisly murders brings FBI Agent Will Graham out of retirement and puts him in search of an atrocious killer who’s driven by the image of a painting. Yet his only means of survival and success are to seek the help of another madman, whom he himself captured: Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Marked by past scars and quickly running out of time, Graham finds himself tangled in a heap of madness, sacrificing his work, his family, and above all his own life, to put an end to pure evil.

After the success of the movie Hannibal, which followed Dr. Lecter after the events of Silence Of The Lambs, I guess the suits in Hollywood decided to strike while the iron was hot, and crank out the movie version of the novel that started it all, Red Dragon. Only, as I mentioned in the Silence Of The Lambs review, it already had a film adaptation, under the title of Manhunter in 1986. And by “crank out”, I mean that this movie was released a year and a half after Hannibal was out. I didn’t care. Anthony Hopkins and Edward Norton in the same movie? My butt was in the theater opening night.

So then, after a flashback of sorts showing how Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins! but, you knew that) was captured by FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton!) back in 1980, a traumatic night which resulted in Graham retiring from the FBI, he’s visited several years later by Special Agent Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel!) at his Florida home. Seems there’s a new serial killer, nicknamed “The Tooth Fairy”, who has stalked and killed two entire families during sequential full moons. Another full moon is coming up in a couple of weeks, and they want Graham to head up developing the killer’s psychological profile. Turns out, the Tooth Fairy Killer is a film developer named Francis Dolarhyde, who carries out these murders at the behest of an alternate personality called The Great Red Dragon, who turns out to be a fan of William Blake paintings. Well, one in particular. He goes so far as to have a back tattoo based on that painting, which I have to admit is rather impressive, butt crack shot or no. He believes that every victim he murders brings him closer to becoming the Dragon. We get some allusions to his abusive upbringing at the hands of his grandmother, so that may have something to do with all of this cosplaying gone horribly wrong. Meanwhile, a sleazy tabloid reporter (Philip Seymour Hoffman!) is hounding Agent Graham for information on the killer to use in his paper, which Graham decides to use to his benefit, and gives an interview that deliberately trolls The Tooth Fairy in an attempt to anger him out of hiding. Which works, kind of…because next thing you know, the tabloid reporter is kidnapped, super-glued to an antique wheelchair, and tortured by the Dragon to record an apology, then bites his lips off, sets him on fire and wheels him down to the police department. Kind of a surprise side romance develops between Francis and a blind coworker (Emily Watson!), which doesn’t set well with his alter ego, as he is compelled to kill her. Bro’s before ho’s, and all that. With Graham closing in on the killer, Lecter decides to have some fun by giving the address of Graham’s family to the Dragon, thrilling spine-chilling action and intrigue ensue, and Graham sails off into the sunset with his family. Literally.

I remember leaving the theater with a warm satisfied glow after watching Red Dragon. It had shades more akin to Silence Of The Lambs rather than Hannibal, as the character of Dr. Lecter was more of a periphery character that shown brighter than the main antagonist, as far as movie villains go. The Francis Dolarhyde character was definitely one of the better sympathetic villains in the movie, what with his capacity to actually care for someone, and his tragic back story. This, of course, doesn’t excuse the utterly horrific murders that he’s committed, insanity plea or not. And believe me, this guy is way more chilling than Buffalo Bill in Silence Of The Lambs.

As always, everyone does a great job here. Loves me some Edward Norton in my movies, and he’s great as ever as Agent Graham. I can understand the decision to go with Harvey Keitel as Agent Crawford, as it’s pretty well known that some of the things that Scott Glenn did while preparing for the character in SotL pretty much scarred him for life, and he didn’t want to reprise the role. And although the role was a brief one, Philip Seymour Hoffman was excellent as the sleazeball tabloid reporter. Also, this movie may be the reason I have a slight fanboy crush on Emily Watson.

Overall, I rank Red Dragon right up their with Silence Of The Lambs, and, like that one, I tend to watch at least once a year. It’s a fantastic movie. Highly recommended.

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