Posts Tagged ‘Gary Oldman’

DVD Review: Four Film Favorites: Draculas

October 30, 2009

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This is the actual Dracula… but it isn’t my Dracula:

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And this is not my Dracula:

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Not this one:

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Or this one:

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And I don’t really think this is anyone’s Dracula:

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When I apply the ownership of “my” to it, I’m talking about when you close your eyes and think “Dracula,” the image that pops into your head is “your” Dracula. For me, THIS is my Dracula:

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That, my friends, is Christopher Lee. (Pausing for the appropriate oohs and ahs.) Christopher Lee starred in seven of the nine films in the Dracula series from Hammer Films, from the late ’50’s to the early 70’s.

One of my greatest memories of childhood is my father and I, each Saturday afternoon, watching old horror films on The Channel 20 (WXON) Saturday Afternoon Thriller and Sir Graves Ghastly on channel 2 (WJBK). And, of those old films, my favorites were the Dracula movies.

And, among those Dracula movies, the Hammer films rose to the top. At the time, I probably wouldn’t have been able to talk about the production values, or the acting… I would have just said they were better. Despite my age, and my ability to analyze the films and explain what draws me to them, I find myself falling back into my childhood feelings about them – they are just better.

They weren’t slow and plodding, they didn’t look like they were filmed in someone’s basement with cardboard props, and Dracula was what he was supposed to be – a monster. Evil and nasty, and not terribly talkative.

(All due respect, and I say this as a fan of both Angel and Forever Knight, but I miss when vampires weren’t all sensitive and brooding.)

I really enjoyed these movies, but hadn’t seen them in years. Oh, there have been a few releases for home entertainment over the years, but nothing great or even complete (due to rights issues, I believe).

Then, a few weeks ago, I was told about a DVD set that was out from Warner Bros. called, “4 Film Favorites: Draculas.” This is a two disc set, containing four of the Christopher Lee/Hammer Films Dracula movies – Horror of Dracula, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Dracula A.D. 1972. The price for this assembled bit of cinema greatness? Around ten bucks.

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I was immediately doubtful. First, I’m not a fan of double sided discs when it comes to movies. They seem really susceptible to scratching and damage. Second, squeezing four films onto two discs usually mean low quality. Third, what could I really expect for $10.00?

But, fan of the films that I am, I went ahead and bought the collection.

And I’m so glad I did.

What you get is a pretty straightforward, no frills kinda deal with these. You essentially get the movie and its trailer for each film. That about does it in the area of “extras” on these discs. What makes this set worth more than the cost though is the quality of the films themselves.

Remember how I mentioned there have been various releases of these films in the past? Generally, those releases were crummy, lifted from less than stellar prints of the originals. This set, though, is sharp and crisp, not plagued with saturation problems or muffled sound like previous releases. And, the original trailers? They are pretty cool.

I would love to have a complete set of the nine Hammer Films Dracula movies, but I’m happy that four of the best of these films are collected here. (Maybe someday, the rights issues will be cleaned up and we’ll see an entire set!)

(Just in case you were interested, that set would include: Horror of Dracula, The Brides of Dracula, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Scars of Dracula, Dracula A.D. 1972, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires.)

I’m not going to go into each of the movies right now, for two reasons. One, tacking on four movie reviews to this is far more work than I want to do right now (yeah, I’m lazy, but I may review the movies separately at a later time), and, Two, it is four movies for ten bucks! Even if they were horrible, that’s only $2.50 a film. I’m sure you’ve spent more on a bad film sometime in the last decade!

But, these aren’t bad. They are pretty awesome. Admittedly, I’m biased, and I’m sure nostalgia is playing a big part, but even so, I would not hesitate recommending this set to someone that wants to see some really great Dracula movies.

And, with that, my good readers, Vampire Week here at The Steve Austin Book Club draws to a close.  Thanks for joining us, Happy Halloween, and we’ll see you next week!

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Lost in Space: Awesome Sauce!

April 14, 2008

 

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First off, dear readers, I feel the need to give a little background on this blatant attack from OG on me.

See, it all started with Dave.  Not an individual, but the film, Dave, starring Kevin Kline.  I saw the movie, and I found it to be neither good nor bad.  As a matter of fact, I found it to be the most perfectly balanced film I had ever seen, eliciting zero reaction from me of liking or disliking the film.

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Understand what I’m saying here – this movie, Dave, simply exists for me.  It is there.  It has no qualities I wish to exalt nor does it have detriments I wish to highlight.  On a scale of 1 to 10, it is a 5.  It is exactly 2 1/2 out of 5 stars.  It is the middle of the road.  It is the first zero sum movie I ever saw.

And, by that virtue… or failing… it is perfectly suited to judge EVERY other film by.  If a film is better than Dave, it is deemed good.  If a film is worse, it is bad.  If it is equal to Dave?  Well… now I’ve never encountered that.  I suppose it is possible, but for the moment, Dave lives a lonely life within the vacuum, simply being the balance point on the scales of enjoyment.

Now, OG is a bit of a contrarian and upon hearing my views on the movie Dave has, in his mind, lifted the movie up on a pedastal that is impossible for most really fantastic films to reach.  Last I heard, I believe that Dave now ranked as number 6 on his greatest films of all time list.  We both know that this is a false view, that it is an honor that Dave by no means deserves, and yet, OG’s nature cannot allow him to admit that I am correct about Dave.

As such, when the issue of taste in film comes up in film, two topics are immediately presented by OG – my view of Dave, and the fact that I think the Lost In Space film is the finest film ever made.

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The only problem is, I have never propogated this myth about Lost In Space.

The statement has grown over the years.  Originally, the accusation was merely that I thought Lost In Space was better than James Cameron’s Titanic.  Then, it grew to “he thinks Lost in Space was the best film of the year.”  And, now, myth has it that I think God Himself blessed the earth with the celluloid on which Lost In Space was filmed.

I can tell you the origin of this.  Picture it, if you will:  The year was 1998.  I was taking a light load of classes, finishing up my final semester of college.  As such, I went to a lot of movies.  At the time, the movie Titanic was going on something like its 8 millionth week as the number 1 movie.  Yeah, I saw it, and it was good.  But, after so long of hearing about it breaking records, the constant playing of Celine Dion on the radio, and the swooning of the fairer gender on the campus at the thought of this movie, I was pretty well sick of it.  Near the end of the school year, in April, I went to see Lost In Space.  And you know what?  I enjoyed it.  It was a fun movie, with great special effects.  It was complete eye-candy, perfect for someone finishing up their last semester in college.  Arriving back on campus, I shot off an email to my friend OG, in which I wrote something to this effect:

I think Lost In Space will finally knock Titanic out of the #1 slot.

That’s it.  That was the statement.  My view was that it was a big special effects film, the beginning of the summer blockbuster season, and the audience of poor males that had been drug to see Titanic 14 times would come out to see a film that was so completely NOT Titanic that it would win the slot.

And, by the by, I was right.  It did take over the 1 slot on its opening weekend.

Unfortunately, the email statement has been radically deformed from beyond its original meaning. 

That said, I still think that the 1989 film Lost in Space is an entertaining movie.

A lot of people refer to it as a bad translation of a TV classic.  I would disagree with these folks.  It is not a bad translation of a TV classic, but, rather, a valiant attempt to update a nearly unwatchable TV show.

That’s right, I said it – the Lost in Space TV series was nearly unwatchable.

Actually, that may be a little strong.  The show, in its infancy, was pretty good.  Later, though, particularly when the show hits the color episodes (seasons two and three), when it devolved into the “Dr. Smith, Will, and the Robot Show,” that’s when it became a travesty.  There was little drama, little danger, and very little character development.  Oh, and the “villains” on the show were… well, sad really.

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The infamous Tybo the Carrot… actual “villain” from the TV show.

This show wasn’t Star Trek (which I love).  This was not a platform on which one could easily build an empire.  No, this was a crummy TV show that has a following based more in nostalgia than any true merit.

(Hey, feel free to disagree with me.  Nevertheless, this is my opinion.)

So, the time comes for a new translation of this idea for film.  The creators are saddled with the responsibility to not only capture a new audience, but to also appeal to those that have a soft spot in their hearts for the original series.

Don’t kid yourselves – this is a tall order.

They take elements from the original series – the basic concept – A family goes into space as Earth faces the massive overpopulation in an effort to find a new world.  The ship is sabotaged by a stowaway using a robot.  The ship is “lost,” forced to try to find a way home.

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The filmmakers then spent a fortune on special effects.  If you haven’t seen the movie in a while, you should try checking it again.  The effects are really spectacular throughout… with one exception… but we’ll get to that later.  The ship looks great, the battles are good, lots of explosions, and, man, the space “armor” that is reminiscent of the Batmobile armor is really cool.

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And, you know what?  I liked the actors chosen for the roles. 

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William Hurt seemed a reasonable fit for an obliviously negligent father.

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Mimi Rogers worked quite well as the mother.

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Heather Graham was competent in her role as Judy.

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Gary Oldman was thankfully restrained to a massive degree in his portrayal of Dr. Smith.

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Lacey Chabert brought a nice bit of personality to Penny (who was pretty well forgetable in the original series).

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The kid that played Will Robinson (who I can’t be bothered enough to look up his name) was just as annoying as virtually every other kid actor ever. 

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And, they got the original voice actor for the Robot, Dick Tufeld (a real treat for fans of the original). 

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Plus – I saved this for last – I think that Matt LeBlanc’s portrayal of Don West is probably the best thing he has ever done, and was a shockingly nice surprise.  The chemistry between him and Heather Graham was quite believable.

The film also had the disadvantage of being an “origin” tale.  The makers had to establish the settings, the characters, the reasons they were doing what they were doing, and include an initial adventure all within about a two hour frame.  It is seldom done well, which is why films like X2: X-Men United and Spider-Man 2 surpassed their establishing films.  (On a side note, I think that if the studio had made a second film in this series, the result would have been a much, much better film.)

The movie could have been lighter, sure, but I suspect that the makers were trying to bring a seriousness to the concept that the original series gave up early on.  Their are moments of humor throughout, but the heaviness of the film overshadows them. 

The irony in that is the injection of lightness via the introduction of one of the worst examples of CGI in the film, the one short coming of the effects that I mentioned earlier – Blarp, the chameleon-monkey-creature-thing. 
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In a lighter type of film, such an obvious toy tie-in might not have been noticable, but in this film, it is glaringly inappropriate, and the very 2-dimensional look of the creature seems to reflect a lack of enthusiasm by the animators to include this thing among their other achievements in the film.

Was the film the best thing ever?  No.  Like I said, it was a little too dark (throwing the film off-balance), and had a really obvious and irritating toy tie-in.  Was it the worst thing ever?  Far from it.  I won’t even say it was a bad film.  It was entertaining, and I’d rather sit through it than any episode of the original series.  If you haven’t seen the movie in a while, check it out again.  You may find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Oh, and I enjoyed it more than Dave, so it must be good.