Posts Tagged ‘week’

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!

Movie Time: Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant

October 27, 2009

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Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant
Directed by Paul Weitz
Starring John C. Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Chris Massoglia

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Darren and Steve are best friends. They are also opposites in almost every way. Darren is the good kid, works hard in school, makes good grades, etc. Steve is the teenage punk from a troubled home that is apt to get into trouble. After finding a flyer for a traveling circus of freaks, the two decide to attend… and both of their lives are transformed.

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During the show, Steve recognizes the magician to be a vampire from one of the many books he has on the subject. Darren, on the other hand, is far more interested in the unique spider that works with the magician/vampire.

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When the show is broken up by local citizens and police, Darren and Steve are separated. Darren finds himself outside the dressing room of the magician/vampire, and decides he wants to see the spider again. Inside he finds the spider, but hears someone coming down the hall and grabs the spider and sneaks into the closet.

The magician/vampire and a friend step into the room and shortly thereafter… and so does Steve. Steve confronts the magician/vampire, and tells him he wants to be made a vampire, that he has nothing else to live for. The vampire sends him away.

When he gets the chance, Darren makes a run for it, and goes home, with the spider.

The next day, Darren takes the spider with him to school and meets up with Steve. The spider, accidentally freed from its cage, bites Steve, leaving him near death.

Darren makes his way back to the theater where they saw the show, hoping that the vampire can help Steve. The vampire makes a deal to help Steve, in exchange for Darren becoming his assistant… and a half-vampire.

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Thus begins Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant. This movie is an obvious foundation for other films planned for a series based on the Cirque Du Freak books, which is both good and bad. Good, in that it is trying to establish a world and we are introduced to a lot of characters so that we get a feel for that world. Bad, in that many of those characters are given little time to truly establish themselves.

But, if the film does spawn the sequels, that will be forgiven, perhaps even lauded as we don’t have to deal with the problems of introducing so many characters with each subsequent installment.

The real basis of the story, though, is the rivalry between two sets of bloodsuckers – the Vampires and the Vampanese. Vampires, in this setting, are the “good” guys – they still drink blood, but they only sedate their victims, they don’t kill them. The Vampanese, on the other hand, are violent and bloodthirsty, and power hungry. There has been a long tentative peace treaty between the two groups, but it is now threatened.

I’ll admit that I knew nothing about this film going in. I had seen one commercial for it, and decided to see it just because of the planned theme for this week. And, though the film had a lot of faults, I was pleasantly surprised overall.

This isn’t really a vampire film, though. There are “sorta” vampires in it, but it is almost… vampires sifted through Tim Burton’s brain and then highlighted with Harry Potter-ness… if that makes any sense. The film is more of a quirky fantasy than anything in the realm of horror. Because of that, a lot of people will be immediately turned off of the film. Me? I’m rather proud of myself. When I realized what this film was going for, I thought, “Oh, okay. Well, I’m not exactly the target audience, but let’s see what happens.”

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And, sure enough, I’m not the audience for this film. I can’t imagine rushing out to get the DVD for it when it comes out, or even going out of my way to see it again… but I did find it enjoyable.

Yeah, I could talk about the shortcomings of the film all day. I could tell you that Chris Massoglia, who plays Darren, is essentially a clone of Ashton Kutcher and that his performance seemed disengaged. I could complain that the other freaks of the Cirque didn’t get anywhere near enough screen time, and that the large number of name actors were generally wasted in the film.

But, you know what? That is a bunch of nitpicky kinda stuff that, while accurate, didn’t really stop me from enjoying this movie. The effects for the movie were pretty cool, even if some were a little too obviously computer animated. The makeup on this film was stellar, though, top notch stuff that really made this world come alive.

And, though they had limited screen time, the cast of freaks were really good. Jane Krakowski as Corma Limbs was bizarrely perky.

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Orlando Jones as Alexander Ribs was… well, Orlando Jones. (Orlando Jones seems to be himself in most things.) Ken Watanabe had an amazing presence as Mr. Tall, and Patrick Fugit was so fantastic as the Snake Boy that I’d like to see an entire movie based on that character.

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And, there is Salma Hayak… being all Salma Hayak and hot and all.

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The most amazing performance for me, though, had to be John C. Reilly as Crespley, the vampire. The role is so completely against type for him, but he manages to completely own it.

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His turn as the weary, cynical vampire is enough for me to recommend this movie to anyone I know. He delivers some of the best lines in the film that range from dark, wry humor, to an almost sad melancholy, and delivers them well.

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Honestly, other than when he appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and tore into Kevin Costner about when they both were doing For Love of the Game, this is my favorite thing John C. Reilly has ever done!

(And, by the way, if anyone knows where to find a clip of that, I’d be forever grateful to have it!)

For me, this movie was an unexpected treat. It won’t appeal to everyone, as it is definitely aimed toward mid-teens, but it wasn’t bad. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that I wouldn’t mind seeing this film get some sequels, if only to expand on this world and to see the actors in supporting roles get a chance to shine.

I’m giving Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant three out of five Running Steves.

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If nothing, this film has made me want to seek out the series of books on which it was based.

Movie Time: Fido

October 20, 2009

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Fido
Directed by Andrew Currie
Starring Billy Connolly, Carrie-Ann Moss, Dylan Baker, K’Sun Ray, Henry Czerny

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Combining the nostalgia of Leave It to Beaver and the tender mercies of Dawn of the Dead, Fido is the story of a boy and his zombie.

In an alternative 1950’s era, the world is perfect in its innocence after recovering from the Zombie Wars (a time when the world was ravaged by space-dust reanimated dead). And, thanks to innovative technological advances, everyone can now even have their very own zombie servants!

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Sure, every once in a while, a zombie goes bad and has to be taken care of, but folks are prepared. Children hone their shooting skills during the school day, and there is always ZomCom, the company that makes the control collars for the zombies, and their security division that keeps normal folks safe.

In the idyllic setting, we meet the Robinsons – Bill, Helen, and their son, Timmy. Bill is the responsible father, making sure that each member of his family have a funeral savings, ensuring that they will not revert to zombies after their deaths. Helen is a loving wife and mother, perhaps a little too concerned with keeping up with the Joneses. And Timmy? Timmy is the average boy, who’d just like to play catch with his dad.

Despite Bill being against it (for pretty good reasons when you see the movie), Helen orders a zombie after the head of ZomCom’s security division moves into the neighborhood. After a short period, Timmy becomes truly attached to the zombie and names him Fido.

Unfortunately, Fido’s control collar goes on the fritz, and he attacks and kills a neighbor. Despite the best efforts of Timmy to keep this under wraps, it is eventually found out, and Fido is recalled to ZomCom. Then, it is up to Timmy to rescue Fido.

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I have to admit, when I decided to watch this film, I wasn’t expecting much. I had seen the preview, and thought, okay, I’ll give it a shot.

I’m very glad I did.

The look of this film is unbelievable. Despite the low budget, the feel is captured every bit as well, if not better, than in most movies that try the same. Everything from the costumes to the houses are era-perfect. It is a beautiful and lush setting, full of bright, synthetic colors that make for a great contrasting look with the zombies, clad in blues and grays to match their skin tones.

The acting throughout the film is pretty top notch. I wasn’t annoyed by the kid actor playing Timmy (which is a feat), and Carrie-Ann Moss as the mother was really fantastic, as, perhaps, the most dynamic character of the entire film.

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Henry Czerny stole every seen he was in as spot-on casting for no-nonsense Head of Security Mr. Bottoms. The delightfully creepy Tim Blake Nelson as Mr. Theopolis, neighbor to the Robinsons, is worth the price of admission!

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If there was any fault in the cast, I’d have to give that to Dylan Baker, who I usually really enjoy. In this movie, though, he seemed to be the only one playing a bit over the top, which was a contrast to the other actors that seemed to be playing the ridiculous as straight.

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Still, overall, no major complaints.

Oh, and, let me just say that it blows me away that Fido:

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Was played by this Billy Connolly:

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Which was a fact I didn’t realize until very nearly the end of the film! I knew Billy Connolly was in the film, but I just didn’t connect it until late in the movie.

For better or worse (depending entirely on your tastes), the gore of this film was very understated overall (especially considering that it is a zombie movie). As a result, if you are looking for a bloody mess of a movie, you’ll probably be disappointed. On the other hand, if you are looking for a zombie movie that non-horror fans might enjoy, this is a heart-warming film (with a nice touch of satire and a bit of gore) that will probably fit the bill.

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I’m giving Fido three and a half out of five Running Steves.

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While this film isn’t quite up to the level of brilliance of the amazing Shaun of the Dead, it is certainly high up on the list of wonderful zombie comedies. Check it out if you have a chance!