Tag Archives: vampire

Movie Review: Dracula Untold (2014)

dracula untold

If I had gone into Dracula Untold knowing only of the horrendous reviews I had glanced, I probably would have really enjoyed it and thought that critics were completely overreacting. However, I had also received several positive endorsements from friends, who said the film is nowhere near that bad and was actually a perfectly acceptable dark fantasy reimagining/mashing of a classic story and a historical legend. In the end, my impression of Dracula Untold lies somewhere in the middle — it definitely is not as bad as the reviews say, though on the other hand I had so many issues with it I found it difficult to conclude that it is any more than just a passable effort.

In essence, Dracula Untold is a superhero movie. We have a protagonist who obtains super powers beyond his imagination, but of course the powers comes at a very steep price. Here, Prince Vlad Tepes (Luke Evans) is a hero who turns himself into Superman…oops,  I mean vampire (with the help of Games of Thrones‘s Charles Dance) — with super strength, speed, healing capabilities and the ability to fly — in order to save his family and his people from the nasty draconian Turks led by his evil “brother” Mehmet (Dominic Cooper, whom I coincidentally often mistake for Evans for some inexplicable reason). The problem, of course, is that he wants to drink human blood and has a weakness for direct sunlight and silver.One of the key strengths of Dracula Untold lies in Vlad’s internal struggle. Instead of the historical villain who loved to impale his victims, Vlad is depicted as an astonishingly capable warrior who is righteous in everything he does — even when he is impaling people. He is an all-round family man who dearly loves his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and his young son (Art Parkinson), which is why he chose to become a monster to protect them, even though he’ll constantly want to drink their blood. First time feature director Gary Shore does a solid job of milking this inner conflict so that we might care about our protagonist. Kudos also to Evans for putting in as good of a performance as one could have hoped in a role like this.

Further, while the film is not scary at all, there is a gloomy mood that works well with the film’s themes. The action sequences are surprisingly exhilarating, in the way that superhero flicks can be when executed right. Admittedly, watching Dracula turn into bats and take on thousands of soldiers by his lonesome is pretty cool, even if you sometimes feel like you’re watching a video game.

Up to this point, Dracula Untold just about ticks all the right boxes for an enjoyable Hollywood guilty pleasure. Unfortunately, the film is also plagued with so many gaps in logic and physics and missing or puzzling details that I found myself asking, “Did that really just happen?” more than a couple of times (see below this review for some slightly spoilery examples). Granted, most Hollywood flicks suffer from similar problems, but the ones here are so glaring and sloppy that they snapped me out of the film’s flow. Some of the flaws are less abhorrent once you realize that they are apparently planning a sequel — which also partly explains the stupid ending — though I doubt we’ll ever get to the bottom of most of these mysteries.

Apart from Vlad, there are also no other characters to give a crap about. Gadon’s loving wife is sadly a thankless character who doesn’t do much except whinge and cry and wait to be rescued, and the son is more or less a prop. Vlad also has a couple of loyal right-hand men whom we don’t even get to know before they die, but then are expected to care. And there’s this weird “servant” dude who pops out of nowhere to act creepy but we have no idea who he is, where he came from or what his motivations are.

In all, Dracula Untold flashed glimpses of promise. The premise itself is not bad, the lead star is solid and the action sequences are relatively exciting. It’s also, thankfully, a very tightly-packed 92-minutes that never feels boring. At the end of the day, I’d rank it above abominations like I, Frankenstein and below more fun, less serious efforts like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

2.75 stars out of 5

(SPOILER ALERT) Here are some of the questions I asked myself while watching Dracula Untold:

– Is Charles Dance’s vampire restricted to living in that cave or just at night? If he’s always stuck in there then where do all the bones come from? Why would so many people go to extreme lengths to get into that cave so they could be eaten? Why is he stuck there and Vlad can roam around freely? And if Vlad “sets him free” by replacing him in the end, then why can Vlad still go wherever he wants?
– Doesn’t Charles Dance’s vampire want to seek revenge against the one who made him that way? What’s he doing still following Vlad around — 600 years later? What the heck are these “games” he’s talking about?
– Why could Vlad not save Mirena when she fell off the cliff when he can fly she she was just free-falling? He can fly so fast he basically teleports, and he’s likely falling quicker because of his greater mass!
– So did he get to her in time or what? If so, why is she dead? If not, why did she not splatter and why could she still talk so much?
– How did Vlad’s kid get from the top of the cliff onto a horse at the bottom of the cliff basically during the time it took for his mother to fall to her death?
– So Mirena reincarnated into Mina 600 years later? Is that what they’re saying? Seriously?
– Is Vlad more powerful than the other vampires he created? Why? Why does he look so much better than them? Why didn’t he look like Charles Dance even though he “replaced” him? Why can he cover the sky with clouds? And how can he (and Charles Dance) be walking around in daylight at the end of the film?
– Why am I thinking so much about things that don’t make sense in this movie?

Movie Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

I don’t care. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is an awesome film. One of the best action movies of the year so far.

I was sceptical at first too. The first time I came across the title was in a Sydney bookstore, right around the time Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was taking off around the world. It wasn’t quite the same as taking an out-of-copyright masterpiece and playing around with it, but I nevertheless tossed this piece of historical fantasy fiction in the same category. After all, it’s written by the same guy (Seth Grahame-Smith).

The idea that former US president Abraham Lincoln, possibly the most beloved of them all, was secretly a vampire hunter, is so ludicrous that I was convinced it had to be a comedy. But no. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is actually dead serious.

A lot of people will probably write off the film right there. How can such a stupid idea make such a serious movie? Well, it can, and it did, proving once again that it’s all in the execution.

The story begins in Indiana, where a young Lincoln is living with his plantation worker parents. An act of kindness leads to tragedy, and Lincoln grows up plotting his revenge, only to be plunged into the world of vampire hunting instead.

I don’t know a whole lot about Lincoln’s biography, but it appears some of the characters were real people and the timeline of Lincoln’s political career and major historical events were roughly accurate – everything else was entirely fabricated (or so I believe).

The thing about this movie is that it’s super exciting. If you can look past how ludicrous the premise is, then the idea of Lincoln being an axe-wielding vampire slayer is actually a very cool one. And if you can accept the crazy idea then all the insane and utterly impossible stuff that Lincoln does in the film become pretty awesome too. It’s a gradual slope of acceptance, but if you can let go of reality and simply go for the ride, you might find it as scintillating as I did.

Russian director Timur Nurbakhitovich Bekmambetov (who directed Wanted and the Nightwatch/Daywatch films) delivers slick visuals that remind me of the best video games, with well-choreographed action sequences that are incredible to look at. Tim Burton is one of the co-producers of the film and a bit of his unique style has definitely rubbed off on the film too.

There’s plenty of violence and blood and guts, but all of it is stylized and not at all cringeworthy. There are, however, a few scares that could make you jump out of your seat. If nothing else, the film is an exciting visual treat filled with thrills, chills and epic battle scenes – and that is certainly much more than I had expected.

The big dude who plays Lincoln, Benjamin Walker, is excellent. He’s tall and imposing, looks like Liam Neeson and exudes the vulnerability of Eric Bana. And he’s pretty handy with an axe too. Once that famous beard is on his face it’s hard to envisage a more suitable actor for the role. He makes Abraham Lincoln a real person and not a caricature. I guess it also helps that Lincoln died almost 150 years ago.

If I had to complain about anything it would have to be some of the sloppier special effects scenes that make things appear a little cartoony. I also expected a little more from the final battle with the head vampire. And I suppose there could have been a joke or two to lighten the mood occasionally, but it’s pretty clear 10 minutes in that this film was taking itself seriously.

Personally, I did not have a problem with the serious tone because Bekmambetov managed to pull it off. I’m not one of those people who think an outlandish premise must inevitably result in a comedy.

Whatever. As far as crazy historical fantasy fiction re-imaginings go, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a winner.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Underworld: Awakening (2D) (2012)

Man, I’ve been lazy again. Well, not really lazy, but just busy. Had some freelancing opportunities for a few spare dollars and I went for it. Anyway, I’m now back and will be posting up a storm.  To kick things off, Kate Beckinsale and Underworld: Awakening.

For me, the Underworld series has always been one that’s been more style than substance. It’s also one of those franchises where the concept (of a secret war between vampires and werewolves…sorry, lycans) is much better than the movies themselves. And, despite all this, I’ve watched all (four) of them.

Surprisingly, Underworld: Awakening is one of the better ones, and for a fourth instalment that is a remarkable achievement. The story picks up from the end of the second film, Underworld: Evolution, and humans have captured the majority of vampires. Kate Beckinsale’s Selene is on the run with her loverboy vampire-werewolf hybrid Michael (originally played by Scott Speedman but is replaced here by CGI, a stand-in and some archival footage – it wasn’t actually too bad). They get captured, she gets cryogenically frozen, wakes up 12 years later, and unleashes hell on everyone.

That’s really about it. There’s a little girl who’s kinda freaky (reminds me of those Japanese horror movies) and this mother of a werewolf who is twice the size of everyone else. Apart from that it’s just watching Kate Beckinsale in a tight-fitting leather outfit kicking ass, which is, let’s face it, a big reason why a lot of people decided to watch this thing in the first place.

The special effects remain strong but not exceptional. That Scott Speedman thing was pretty impressive. I don’t think a lot of people would have known that the actor was never in the film. Apparently he has left open the possibility of returning in the future. Yes, it looks like there will be a fifth instalment.

I say it’s one of the better ones because the story is not too convoluted and the film focuses more on the relentless and often gory action. On the other hand, if you are the type of person who expects there to be an actual story here, you might come away disappointed. I never cared much for the story of this franchise, which is why I appreciated the emphasis on the action. The 88-minute running time also ensured a blitzing pace.

Ultimately, this might be one of the more forgettable films of the year, but I had fun at the time I watched it.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (Part I) (2011)

Why God, oh why do I keep watching the Twilight Saga?  Nevertheless, I do, and I just did.  I’m not a Twilight fan and I don’t really get the obsession with vampires and werewolves and the boys who play them, but I remain fascinated by this amazing global phenomenon.

Today I watched Breaking Dawn Part I, based on the first half of the final book in the saga.  Breaking Dawn follows the footsteps of Harry Potter and the Death Hallows in that the final book of the series is unnecessarily split into two films in order to maximise the big fat dollars.  Of course they would.  The first three films in the Twilight series have made $1.8 billion worldwide, and the decision was proven correct by the fact that Breaking Dawn Part I has reeled in over $300 million in a week.  (Hey, at least they didn’t make the movie 3D.)  But what does that mean for the average moviegoer?

Well, for starters, a slower pace and a feeling that stuff is happening when nothing is really happening.  Breaking Dawn Part I pretty much picks up where Eclipse concluded (as far as I can remember), with the long-awaited wedding between Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her vampire loverboy Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson).  Bella’s best friend, werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) is still in love with her, but he has basically accepted the fact that she will never be with him.  It’s hard to go much further than the honeymoon without divulging crucial plot points, but most people who go and watch Breaking Dawn Part I would have read the book.  Even if you haven’t (like me), it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where it’s heading.  Besides, the trailers and previews essentially show everything, as usual.

I didn’t expect much from Breaking Dawn Part I, especially after hearing about the early lukewarm reviews, so I must say it was better than I thought it would be.  Sure, it was slower than the other films in the series (which weren’t exactly blitzing to begin with), but I never found myself bored.  As with the earlier films, the film was strewn with atrocious, cringeworthy dialogue that made me literally squirm in my seat.  I doubt Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro could have pulled off those lines, so that didn’t leave much hope for the likes of R-Patz and Taylor “Abduction” Lautner (who only had a brief shirtless scene this time round).  Plus you know with Part II looming, things are going to remain unresolved by the end of Part I, so there’s definitely an empty feeling when you walk out of the cinema.

Let’s face it.  The real reason these Twilight movies are killing it at the box office is because readers fell in love with the books’ characters, and then the actors.  And Breaking Dawn Part I’s biggest selling point is well advertised — you finally get to see R-Patz and Stewart “get it on”, so to speak.  After all, the sexual tension is what has been driving the films all this time, so it was kind of a reward for the audiences who stuck with it until now.

Unfortunately, after sitting through basically six hours and three films worth of sexual tension, the pay off is disappointingly tame.  There were rumours of perhaps a nipple but for the most part the honeymoon scenes are strictly PG-13 (which is the film’s US rating).  Whatever.  People who love the books, the characters and the actors will lap it up nonetheless.  And they will unreservedly flock to Part II when it is released in November 2012.  At the end of the day, Breaking Dawn Part I was made for the fans and will be enjoyed by the fans.  For a non-fan with an interest in the series, the film was barely passable.

2.5 stars out of 5

PS: The scariest thing about Breaking Dawn Part I is that apparently it utilises two-thirds of the book, leaving only one-third for Part II.

Movie Review: New Moon (2009)

 

New Moon, the second film of the Twilight Saga, is a solid sequel to a popular franchise.  It will no doubt please its hardcore fan base, but there’s also enough satisfy the casual film-goer (who (1) isn’t out to savage the film for the sake of it and (2) judges it in its appropriate context).  3.5/5 stars!

I have caught Twilight fever. 

Well, not really.  I am more intrigued by why the Twilight Saga has captivated so many people as opposed to the story itself.

And after watching the second movie in the Saga, New Moon, I must admit I still don’t really get it.  Is it the seemingly perfect love between a teenage girl and a vampire?  Or is it the fact that their relationship is dangerous and forbidden?  Or is it just because the vampire is (according to most sources) an incredibly hot dude?  Or is it all of the above?

I don’t know the answer, but what I do know is that New Moon is actually a pretty decent movie.  An average film overall, but in context, a fairly strong sequel.  In my humble opinion, it’s certainly not worthy of the 1-star status it has been receiving from some critics.  In any event, hardcore fans will undoubtedly lap it up and box office numbers should be strong simply from multiple repeat viewings from young girls (and from what I hear oldies too).

New Moon picks up from where Twilight left off, with teenager Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her dreamy, ‘perfect’ vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, aka ‘Rob Patz’) rolling in the bliss of love.  Those who have read the book will know what happens next, but I was quite annoyed with how the previews effectively show you the essence of the first half-hour of the movie and then reveals the major twists and secrets of the entire film!  If you’ve been lucky enough to avoid the previews then I’m sure you will find New Moon a more pleasurable experience.

There's lots of love in New Moon

Anyway, I will start with the bad.  New Moon is a film that first and foremost tries to satisfy the desires of its fans, and that means romance comes before everything else.  While this may be great for its target audience, the problem with this is that if you’re not into the romance then the film falls apart very quickly.  Or alternatively, the movie may start to feel boring and tedious.  There’s a mushiness to Bella and Edward’s relationship that only a limited section of the public can truly appreciate, and I can totally understand why viewers might be turned off by some of the painful dialogue (especially at the start) – but bear in mind that most of it is apparently reproduced verbatim from the novel.  Besides, dialogue is always less excrutiating on the page than it sounds on the screen.

New Moon also assumes that you know the story (or at least the first film) quite well.  There are several references to characters, abilities, relationships and specific incidents from its predecessor, and your recollection and knowledge of these things are somewhat taken for granted.  With my shocking memory, it did take a while for me to remember what the heck was going on.

There are also some things that weren’t explained very well by the movie which may or may not turn out to be gaping plot holes.  I’ll have to reserve judgment on that until I seek clarification from a genuine Twilight fan.  And there’s of course a few unintentionally funny bits simply because the film takes the whole vampire hierarchy thing so seriously.

And now the good.  At its heart, New Moon is a good story.  It might not be entirely original but there is a charm to it that makes it so appealing.  It’s almost entrancing.  For me, a big part of the film’s allure was the development of Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who is effectively the male lead in this one.  Apart from his amazing physical transformation (which prompted him to remove his shirt at every opportunity), Jacob’s emotional growth is also well-developed.  With the two lead characters (Edward and especially Bella) exhibiting selfish and unimpressive personality traits, Jacob becomes the character that viewers can empathise with the most.

Hello!

I may have said earlier that New Moon is heavy on the romance, but there was still plenty of room for action.  There were a number of exciting sequences littered throughout the film, most of them involving ample amounts of CGI.  I wouldn’t quite call New Moon an action film, but from what I can recall it has a lot more action than Twilight.  And the final climatic scenes were done much better in the sequel than the original.

Another strength of the film was its minor characters.  Again, with Bella and Edward being so serious about everything (as demonstrated by the constant heavy breathing from Kristen Stewart and the permanently pained expression on Robert Pattinson’s face), comic relief came in just the right doses from an assortment of other characters.  From the members in Jacob’s clan (Chaske Spencer, Tyson Houseman, Alex Meraz, Kiowa Gordon and Bronson Pelletier) to Bella’s friends Jessica (Anna Kendrick) and Mike (in terrific performance by Michael Welch) to Bella’s dad Charlie (Billy Burke) to the rest of the Cullen gang (in particular Jackson Rathbone as Jasper), almost every one of these minor characters hit the spot in their brief moments on screen.  On the other hand, unfortunately, the talents of Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning were criminally underused in their respective roles, leading to weird, comical appearances that just didn’t feel right.

At the end of the day, New Moon succeeds in what it set out to do, and that is to please its fan base.  For non-hardcore fans, I think there is still enough for an enjoyable experience.  There’s romance, friendship, action, suspense and a dash of timely humour.  What more could you ask for in what is, essentially, a teen flick?

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: For the record, I have read the first book, Twilight, and watched the corresponding film.  Both were okay, but neither did much for me.  It just felt a little too much – too saccharine for my liking.  But I could definitely see the appeal, especially to teenage girls.  As a result, I skipped the remainder of the books (including New Moon), but continued to be fascinated by all the hype surrounding it.  And I am looking forward to Eclipse, the next film in the series, especially as it will be directed by David Slade, director of Hard Candy and 30 Days of Night.]