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Red Dragon Review

Red Dragon movie poster“Red Dragon”

Red Dragon opens with an orchestra playing. One of the musicians fumbles a note and falters. The orchestra continues playing. The camera rises over the orchestra and pans down into the audience to show a familiar figure enjoying high culture. He winks at the musician again and the musician fumbles another note.

In the next scene a ponytailed Lecter is serving pieces of that same musician to his unsuspecting guests. It’s suspenseful, disturbing and yet without the excessive gore that sometimes characterized Hannibal. Red Dragon has its quota of horrific scenes, but the camera rarely lingers on the atrocities and doesn’t glorify them. And some of the movie’s most horrific scenes are implied by the character’s reactions to unseen material, like Lounds watching Dolarhyde’s slides.

Subtlety is not something you go into the movie except from Rush Hour’s Brett Ratner, yet the result is a movie that is a closer companion in mounting suspense, police procedurals and a battle of wit to Silence of the Lambs, rather than Hannibal, even serving as a very explicit prequel to it in a notable scene.

Like Lambs, it moves between ominous windy landscapes, lifeless greenish lit workplaces and the more ancient stone and wood habitats of the two killers. Dante Spinotti, the cinematographer on the original Manhunter, brings a more ambitious visual look to the movie without being garish and Ratner’s direction is formulaic, rarely venturing into the showy, even in the movie’s few action scenes. There are times when the movie lags, mainly during scenes with Graham’s family, but Ratner manages to keep some of the fairly unwieldy material moving along while maintaining the suspense.

But Red Dragon is more of an actor’s movie, than a director’s or writer’s movie. Chock full of talented actors like Hopkins, Ed Norton, Fiennes, Emily Watson and Philip Seymour Hoffman; Red Dragon is really a collection of singular performances rattling around within what is now a fairly conventional narrative for a serial killer thriller. Even Harvey Keitel has a supporting role as Graham’s gruff but sympathetic boss.

The one unique thing that Red Dragon has to offer is Hannibal Lecter himself, who has since become a phenomenon, and so the movie makes sure that Lecter is on-screen even when he’s off-screen. And it is Dr. Lecter again, the sociopathic monster in a cage, rather than the somewhat humanized version we saw in Hannibal. The movie begins with him and ends with him and even when he isn’t on screen, his presence is still there. Anthony Hopkins doesn’t bring anything new to the role, but by now he has the character polished well enough so that Lecter’s grim jokes and mind-games roll out smoothly.

By contrast Fiennes as Dolarhyde is more a collection of awkward mannerism, than a personality. Fiennes is at his strongest portraying Dolarhyde’s human side as brought out in tender moments with Reba and at his weakest in portraying the Dragon. Unlike Hopkins, he’s never at home in the character. And he isn’t helped much by the movie’s decision to remove almost all the background on Dolarhyde aside from a brief Psychoesque introductory scene for the character, the movie’s credits which play over the now conventional Sevenish leafing through Dolarhyde’s scrapbook and Graham’s brief posthumous summation of Dolarhyde as ‘suffering years of abuse.’

Ed Norton’s performance is just as problematic. Physically he seems too immature for the part and is never convincing as a man tormented by the dark insights he has into the psyche of human monsters like Lecter and Dolarhyde . The choice to play Graham as a male counterpart to Clarice, as an unassuming and private man who is overshadowed by most of the movie’s personalities fails mainly because unlike Foster, Norton never displays the force of will to stand up to Lecter or anyone else. He barely manages to hold his own even in scenes with Keitel, let alone in the classic jailhouse scenes with Lecter.

Lecter taunts him but none of the taunts seem to register. The confrontations between the two never produce any real sparks, despite the two men’s bloody histories because like Fiennes, Norton seems to be sleepwalking through the movie and doesn’t display much in the way of emotion except when he’s fighting for his life. Where Foster was tightly leashed, Norton just seems laid back. It’s the wrong acting choice for the movie and it turns Graham into a creature of the plot who stumbles from one plot point to another without ever reaching any kind of self-awareness.

Meanwhile Emily Watson and Philip Seymour Hoffman turn in crisp performances in supporting roles that end up being more memorable than the performances of either Fiennes or Norton. Hoffman inhabits every sleazy inch of Lound’s rumpled oily body and yet never lets him become cartoonish but maintains his humanity in the worst of his ordeal. Watson is not really breaking new ground here, but what with another actress might have been a disposable victim, her Reba is at once a shockingly fragile and strong person. She’s a plausible anchor to Dolarhyde’s own humanity and wonderfully real in every single scene, down to the last. Mary Louise Parker’s Molly though never registers as anything except the stereotypical agent’s worried wife, despite her significant role in the plot.

Red Dragon is hurt by Norton’s miscasting and the rather weak performances from Norton and Fiennes. Lecter is grimly entertaining, though the movie spends a bit too much time having him frighten Graham and sundry others by getting too close to the glass. It is a quite different film than Mann’s original Manhunter even restoring the novel’s original ending, nevertheless many of the ingredients that made Lambs a hit are there in Red Dragon and will likely appeal to the same audiences that loved it. Despite all its flaws, RD is still one of the better police procedurals in recent years and is easily superior to most similar thrillers.

Blade Trinity plot rundown and review: Somewhere Blade fans are still weeping into their first editions of Blade vs Blacula

Blade Trinity movie posterBlade Trinity shows pretty much what would happen if you brought in some random comic book fan off the street and told him to make a movie about Blade. He’d drag back in parts of the first two movies, throw in some lame worn out cliches and stuff he thought was cool from the Matrix and lines that his friends like to yell at each other and a voiceover ripped off from Terminator 2 and produce something aimless and shambling that looks a B-Movie made with a top line budget. Except Blade Trinity wasn’t made by some random fanboy, it was written and directed by David S. Goyer, who was responsible for the scripts behind Blade in the first place; which is why there’s very little excuse for Blade Trinity to begin with.

Blade Trinity isn’t the disaster Blade II is, mainly because things actually happen in it, there’s some element of plot and the movie doesn’t feel like it lasted only 15 minutes. Blade II had a cool opening and the rest wasn’t even a movie but pretty much what a Blade video game would look like, with occasional cutscenes interspersed with the action.

Blade Trinity though is dumb. As dumb as any B-Movie with occasional glimmers or intelligence and coolness that just make it worse by reminding you of what it could have been.

We begin with Blade killing a human familiar of the vampires. Apparently we’re told Blade has killed over a thousand of them over the years, but this one we’re told is a “big mistake.” The familiar tells Blade he’s being set up. Does Blade do anything about it, like say change his hideout, nope. Then we see newscasts talking about Blade and his belief in vampires. At no point before did we ever hear that vampires or Blade were public knowledge. Anyway Whistler warns Blade that the vampires are mounting a PR campaign to get him. It’s not clear why since the vampires control the chief of police and from the previous movie seem to just about control the world.

But not that Whistler and Blade actually take precautions. Instead Whistler lets himself get followed to his lair. By now vampires have followed and found Blade’s lair in all of the three movies. They find it twice in Blade Trinity alone. Which should give you some idea of how dumb this plot is.

Instead of vampires though a SWAT team invades resulting in a firefight and Blade’s capture. This already gives us a lameness factor of +17 because Blade has fought off vampire hordes and now he’s captured by a bunch of guys in helmets. Then we get a bunch of FBI agents yelling at Blade in dialogue that sounds like David Goyer trying to do David Mamet and sounding like Kevin Smith instead. This is a pattern that continues throughout the movie.

Meanwhile we’ve been introduced to Jessica Biel’s Abby, who’s apparently also a vampire-human hybrid. Remember how Blade was the only one, well apparently he’s not. Maybe he can join a club now. Her introduction scene reminds you of the first Blade movie and why this was all cool in the first place. It includes a weapon that’s a cross between a lightsaber and a Klingon Bathlet, that’s incredibly cool and hardly gets used in the movie… which is the kind of brilliant thinking that made Blade Trinity the runaway success it wasn’t.

Now Abby and Hannibal King, played by Ryan Reynolds come to rescue Bla… let’s back that up for a second. Yes Ryan Reynolds is playing a vampire killer in this. Because you can’t have a team of vampire killers or night stalkers without comic relief and a wacky cast of characters. When Blade comes to their lair, he meets the fat guy who’s good with gadgets, the blind woman with her daughter who’s making a virus to kill all the monsters and there may have been others but I wasn’t actually paying attention.

Blade, the first time out, was all alone except Whistler, facing a dark corrupted world. Blade Trinity has more sidekicks than Jay Leno and David Letterman put together. Of course the ones who can’t kill people, will obviously be killed off. Anyone who doesn’t see that coming is blinder than Summerfield, the blind woman. (Who thought of recruiting a blind woman to fight vampires? Couldn’t they find any wheelchair bound vampire killers, what about multiple amputees?) Good bye dark world, hello lots of punchlines and goofyness. And a cute little girl. And references to Oz and the Twilight Zone and who knows what else. You’d think the group would include more people who can actually kill vampires in hand to hang combat, but apparently one is more than enough as long as she’s a girl who takes naked bloody showers.

Oh and meanwhile the vampires have woken Dracula. Yup Dracula, who was in Syria for some reason. It’s the beginning of the movie and I would have mentioned it then but my mind actually edited it out because I’d seen the same bloody scene in 400 movies. In any case Dracula is back. After all only what, every Vampire movie made in the last decade thought that would be a great plot. Hell Van Helsing, hello James Woods vampire movie whose name I forgot based on Vampire$ the novel, hello Wes Craven produced vampire movie starring Jerri Ryan of Star Trek Voyager whose name I can’t be bothered to remember.

After two scenes keeping Dracula out of sight and setting him up as the most fearsome thing on two legs, we meet Dracula. Prepare yourself to be chilled. Dracula is Russell Crowe. Well not actually Russell Crowe, because Crowe wouldn’t do this movie and the producers couldn’t pay him enough. But just imagine Crowe’s character from Gladiator playing Dracula and that’s pretty much Dracula in this movie. He’s big. He wears vaguely grecian armor. He talks with a faint australian accent. He looks like Russell Crowe, if Crowe worked out more. Are you terrified yet?

Well you better be because Dracula in this movie is scary. Terrifying really. How terrifying you ask? He wears poncy white shirts. He can walk in sunlight just like Blade and Deacon Frost and apparently any vampire who wants to wear protective clothing. Also he can shapeshift. That’s right. Tremble before Dracula, mighty warrior, who can make himself look like other people. Ryan Reynolds character tells us that this is because he’s got lots of tiny bones. It’s not clear how tiny bones can change his eye color, skin tone or clothing. Probably there’s tiny bones in his clothing too.

So of course Blade and Co. come looking for ole Dracula because his DNA is pure and the virus blind woman is developing to wipe out the vampire race needs his blood to work. This doesn’t make much sense but don’t worry about it. So Blade and Co. are hunting human vampire familiars. And what’s the best way to show that off? Well of course you do a 70’s style split screen montage of Blade, Abby and Hannibal kicking down doors. That’s right, 70’s split screen montage of Blade and his gang running around beating up people in grimy housing. At this point the movie just turned Blade into the opening of a 70’s cop show. And it gets worse.

Blade and the gang confront Dracula, the first vampire, feared and terrifying monster. The movie previously showed us how terrifying he was when he came into a goth vampire shop and killed two goths. Somewhere is the sound of the audience still laughing their asses off. Now Blade and Dracula face to face. A confrontation between legends. A battle that will live on fo… Dracula runs away. That’s right, Dracula runs away. He doesn’t fight Blade, he runs away in his poncy white shirt.

Blade runs after him. Dracula runs away some more. They run around inside some buildings. Jump around a bit. Run some more. Then Dracula juggles a baby on a rooftop. Pause to contemplate the awesome retardness of this scene. The movie set this up with a Matrix style break in, into the lobby of a building. Matrix style but much much lamer. Then Blade and the gang confront Dracula. Then Dracula runs away. Then he juggles a baby. Somewhere Blade fans are still weeping into their first editions of Blade vs Blacula.

I’d keep on telling you the plot but I don’t have the strength left. Contemplate now why Wesley Snipes all but refused to do publicity for Blade Trinity. Dracula, disguises himself as Whistler to break into the Night Stalker’s lair. Now Whistler is dead and Dracula never met Whistler, making this officially the worst disguise ever. Of course all Dracula has to fight is Patton Oswalt, a blind woman, a little girl and Ryan Reynolds. Contemplate this for a second, Dracula had to disguise himself to sneak in and take out Patton Oswalt, a blind woman, a little girl and Ryan Reynolds. And he only actually kills two out of those four. I didn’t think any Blade villain could make Deacon Frost look like a badass, but somehow Aussie Gladiator Dracula does the trick.

Blade and Abby, who gives us a scene promoting the I-Pod and I-Tunes, go off to kick some more vampire ass. There they encounter the chief of police and a vampire blood draining facility ala the Matrix. It’s actually cool and disturbing had it been the centerpoint of the movie instead of Dracula. As it is, it’s a 5 minute scene that’s quickly gone.

From there on to the vampire overlords. Remember how in Blade and Blade II, the vampire leadership was aged figures who were secretly running the world. This time around they’re run by an annoying twenty something brother and sister duo who make Stephen Dorff and Traci Lords in the first movie actually seem cool. They’re busy torturing Ryan Reynolds, a task that shouldn’t take very long for undead monsters, unfortunately their idea of torture involves taunting him and punching him and kicking him occasionally. This gives Ryan Reynolds a chance to deliver some funny lines that aren’t really funny, except Reynolds manages to somehow sell them anyway.

Lots of fighting happens. The fights are somewhat cool mainly because they’re kinetic and seem to happen too fast for you to actually see what happened. Dracula turns into a Buffy style demon, except much more inept. Like in the first Blade movie there’s a plot involving blood and a syringe and all the vampires in the world apparently die or not, and Blade goes off to continue fighting a war, though it’s not clear what war he’s fighting if all the vampires are dead or if all it takes to kill them is to spread a virus.

But it’s not like logic or sanity has ever held back Blade Trinity for very long and somewhere Aussie Gladiator Dracula is laughing in the vampire elysian fields.

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