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Dracula, The Outpost, and the best things we watched this weekend

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Sink your teeth into these

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Bram Stoker’s Dracula: A lady vampire in front of a cross Image: Sony Pictures

What did the Polygon staff spend their weekend watching? Whether it’s the latest virally popular Netflix series, discovering an animated gem, or educating ourselves in older genre classics, most of us find something worth recommending before we head back to work.

And as usual, the answers range widely, as some people check out what’s new and popular on streaming services, and some return to past favorites. So here’s what we’re watching right now, and what you might enjoy watching as well. Head to the comments to drop in your own recommendations.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Dracula (gary oldman) holds a lantern Image: Sony Pictures

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation of Dracula absolutely slaps. It stars ’90s heartthrobs Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder as the novel’s protagonist Jonathan Harker and his bride-to-be Mina, as well as legends like Gary Oldman as Dracula, Anthony Hopkins as Professor Van Helsing, Richard E. Grant as Doctor Jack Seward, and Tom freakin’ Waits as the mad minion Renfield.

Coppola’s direction is metal as hell. The opening scene sees Count Dracula plunging his sword into a stone cross that cracks and starts filling the room with blood. Coppola was inspired by the silent film era and wanted all of his effects to be practical — he even told EW that he fired his VFX team when they told him it couldn’t be done and hired his son, Roman, who was “an enthusiast about magic.” Problematic nepotism aside, the effect worked. Bram Stoker’s Dracula has a uniquely goth visual style. (In that same interview he called Keanu Reeves “a prince,” which is categorically correct.) —Emily Heller

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is available to rent on Amazon, Vudu, and Apple.

Moonstruck

Cher and Nic Cage in Moonstruck at the opera Image: MGM

[Loud, completely off-key voice you only get from staying inside for seven months] WHEN THE MOON HITS YOUR EYES LIKE A BIG PIZZA PIE, THAT’S AMOOOOOOORE!!!!!

Moonstruck is regarded as one of the great romantic comedies of all time, but mio dio, it’s truly the antidote to bad vibes. Written by acclaimed New Yawk playwright John Patrick Shanley, the film stars Cher as Loretta Castorini, a widow hoping to finally land a husband and a steady life. But when Johnny (Danny Aiello), the man she settles for, jets off to Sicily to care for his dying mother, she meets his brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage), a greasy 23-year-old who falls head over heels in love with her at first sight. The feelings are reciprocated, and suddenly the woman who never thought she’d love again is stuck in a romantic quagmire.

Shanley’s movie is like My Big Fat Greek Wedding with fewer jokey jokes and deeper characters. Even though it’s one of his earliest performances, Cage slices off pounds of prosciutto in every scene — it’s just whacked. Cher is the opposite: grounded, fierce, but vulnerable (it’s no surprise she won the Oscar in 1988). Director Norman Jewison (Fiddler on the Roof, Rollerball) surrounds the pair with a cast of pros, including the regal Olympia Dukakis as Loretta’s mother, Vincent Gardenia as the bozo dad, and Frasier’s John Mahoney in a small but key role playing the quintessential, pathetic womanizer. Most of the movie takes place in Brooklyn Heights during winter, and if you’ve ever clocked time walking New York streets through a bitter freeze or ducked into a family-run Italian joint for refuge, pasta, and a stiff drink, the movie will transport you. It’s alive enough that it may work even if you don’t have the memories. —Matt Patches

Moonstruck is available to rent on Amazon, and is coming to the Criterion Collection in November.

The Outpost

The Outpost: Scott Eastwood as a soldier Photo: Screen Media

I am a sucker for a good war movie, even the ones that hurt … and The Outpost hurt quite a bit. It’s largely a story of our military being supremely negligent, and the troubled young men who ultimately paid for its mistakes. But the meat of the film — the elaborate engagement known as the Battle of Kamdesh, ain’t half bad.

A troubled production (the director’s son passed part-way through), it feels a lot like two films spliced together. The back half is a lot better than the first, especially since it doesn’t include any of Orlando Bloom’s preposterous Southern drawl. But even that portion of the film feels rushed — especially the CGI special effects. I’d recommend watching it the whole way through, just to get a feeling for what we ask our armed service members to do when they go off to war.

I can’t say enough about the performance of Caleb Landry Jones (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), who gives its sprawling cast an emotional centerline. His performance is nearly undone however by Scott Eastwood (The Fate of the Furious, Pacific Rim: Uprising), whose attempt to be Mormon Captain America falls flat.

Before you watch this movie, do yourself a favor and watch the two episodes of Netflix’s Medal of Honor that it deals with. Combined, episodes 2 (Clint Romesha) and 8 (Ty M. Carter) offer first-person interviews with the soldiers who were actually there and provides a better framework for understanding the battle scenes, which at times suffer from directorial tunnel vision.

When you’re finished, go back and watch Restrepo again. And don’t forget to vote. —Charlie Hall

The Outpost and Medal of Honor are both streaming on Netflix. Restrepo is available through Amazon.


PEN15

The stars of Pen15 in front of high school lockers Photo: Hulu

I thought it would take some convincing to get my wife to watch PEN15 with me: She doesn’t do well with cringe-fests, and when I mentioned that the series was executive-produced by The Lonely Island, she said, “You know that’s not a selling point for me.” (I did know that.) In reality, all it took was the trailer, in which the show’s inherently funny, novel conceit — early-30s co-creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle playing their middle-school-aged selves, the characters Maya Ishii-Peters and Anna Kone, with no de-aging — is on full display.

The trailer also contains an instant-classic line spoken by Anna to Maya: “You are my actual rainbow gel pen in a sea of blue and black writing utensils.” PEN15 is a pitch-perfect nostalgia trip for Old Millennials like us, with its dial-up modems, bubblegum pop, and frosted lip gloss. (In fact, my wife, just like Maya and Anna, started seventh grade in the year 2000.) And of course, it can be perfectly devastating when it illustrates just how much hasn’t changed over the past two decades, like girls being labeled “slutbags” while boys are called “players.”

But the show’s beating heart is the friendship between the two girls, who are at that fraught age where everything’s changing and each new development is a life-or-death moment and BFFLs might not actually end up being, y’know, BFFLs. It’s through the ups and downs of that relationship that PEN15 offers a refreshingly honest and sincere portrayal of middle school. —Samit Sarkar

PEN15’s second season premiered on Sept. 18; both seasons are available to stream on Hulu.