DRACULA UNTOLD REVIEW

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Dracula Now Told! And it’s still the same old predictable guff. Ah ah ah . . . I’ll get my coat. But one thing is established. Luke Evans is ready to take on the big dogs.

Yet another Dracula reboot descends upon the silver screen. Why, oh, why? Have Hollywood ran out of ideas that they must revisit and rehash (emphasis on hash) old classics.

NOW credit where’s it due. Director Gary Shore certainly makes an ambitious debut and despite its endless flaws, I did find it highly watchable and not the worst way to kill 90 minutes. Dracula Untold was also the perfect platform for two up and coming stars.

We’ve seen Dracula as a baddie. Now we have the revisionist phase in which ol’ Drac is now the good guy. Wait? What? It kinda worked with Maleficent. Why not? Did Shore not watch the short-lived TV series with Jonathan Rhys Meyers? (A shame because JRM was actually pretty good).

So what’s it all about? As his kingdom is being threatened by the Turks, young prince Vlad Tepes (Evans) must become a monster feared by his own kingdom in order to obtain the power needed to protect his own family, and the families of his kingdom.

Luke Evans has been making waves for some time and has proven that he can make incredibly tame and flat characters quite memorable. His turns in Fast and Furious 6 and the Hobbit trilogy proved that. Now he has a bigger platform and a role to sink his teeth into (What? I couldn’t resist).

His charisma and conviction certainly made the predictably bland Drac stand out. He most definitely carried the film. Something you want from a leading actor.

Evans always had a tough act to follow with Christopher Lee and Bella Lugosi taking on the historic role before him (Gary Oldman didn’t do too bad a job of it). BUT he certainly held his own.

Charles Dance brought his creepy demeanor to the fold and made a memorable impression. “Let the games begin”. A cheeky Game of Thrones nod that soon overstayed its welcome. His make up was brilliant. I only recognized him by his voice.

The special effects were very good but the overuse of CGI made it all a little too cartoony after some cracking visual battle sequences. I think they missed a treat by not shooting this in 3D. I know 3D hasn’t really hit it off (Well, did it ever?) BUT is this one film that could have nailed it. When Evans first evaporated in a dark cloud of bats, it was pretty damn cool.

But after that, it got old really quickly. Once he’s dispatched an army here. And an army there. Exploded into bats and strutted like a bad ass. There wasn’t much else. The story line was ridiculously predictable and so flat. There were no twists or turns and the concluding moments were rushed into a frenetic finale that was so abrupt and open that it left me feeling a little miffed. Putting it mildly.

It didn’t help that, despite having a talented supporting cast, the characters were highly unmemorable and undeveloped. Dominic Cooper was wasted as the maniacal Memed. Left to merely pout and frown and get a two minute scrap. A real shame.

I couldn’t take Paul Kaye seriously as Brother Lucian. I couldn’t tell if he was meant to be that laughable or was just written that way. I guess it didn’t help seeing him in Spaced and Blackball. I couldn’t take him seriously in Game of Thrones either, to be honest.

The alluring Sarah Gadon had already stolen my heart after her appearance in Belle. She had good chemistry with Evans and for a brief moment, I actually cared what happened to the pair. I expect to see more of her. No, not in that way. Come on.

The two leads will come out of this relatively unscathed and Shore will also be one to watch. Once someone gives him a fresh, original idea. But his reworking of a constantly revisited icon wasn’t the worst one I’ve seen (Dracula 2000, anyone? Sorry Gerard Butler).

If you are a fan of Dracula, then invest. If you like your action fast and constant, then again invest. But if you were expecting something a little different, then you may feel a little drained (I know not my best).

A lot more watchable than I anticipated.

2.5/5 for me.

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*THROWBACK REVIEW* BELLE

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Pride and Racial Prejudice or Frownton Abbey. A stellar British cast uplifts a syrupy biopic that you’d expect to see on ITV. 12 Years A Slave, this ain’t. It’s certainly watchable and zips along but it doesn’t really make full use of the cast or the subject matter and inevitably leads to the same old predictable schmaltzy finale.

So what’s it all about? Inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy captain is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and wife (Emily Watson).

Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the colour of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. However, she soon falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son (Sam Reid – The Riot Club) bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.

Well, at least gets the ball rolling . . . sort of, kinda.

The beautiful Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Touch) takes the fold and delivers a strong performance. One to watch for the future. Matthew Goode (Stoker/The Good Wife) applies enough charisma to make a memorable impression as Captain Sir John Lindsay, who plucks an orphaned Belle from poverty and much worse. A shame that he is only in the film for five minutes before departing on a long voyage.

To be honest, anyone could have played him. Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey) seems to be typecast of late as the uptight old prune of an aunt but if she delivers the goods, does it matter? To me, just a bit.

Even Tom Felton is playing a Victorian Draco Malfoy, complete with “mudblood” attitude in tow. Don’t get me wrong, he plays the slick toothed snob to perfection. As does James Norton (or Tommy from the highly acclaimed BBC TV series Happy Valley) as Felton’s smug brother and partner in crime.

They are both the weasel-y twins (What?) as they try and weave their way into Belle’s fortune. Miranda Richardson (Blackadder) is also brilliant as their conniving matriarch. Emily Watson plays her part well, even if her character is completely unnecessary.

Merely, a commentator sitting on the side lines. Commentary that is self-explanatory as, to be honest, there is not a lot going on. The beautiful Sarah Gadon (Dracula Untold) is making an impression. She plays the dibby cousin Elizabeth well. You do feel for her character as she appears to be used as pawn in a game of rich chess or left lingering in the shadow of the “exotic beauty”.

I appreciate the concept and direction the film took. This is a completely different story to 12 Years A Slave that deals with the issue of race within the aristocracy. The fact that Belle was awarded the stature and position of any rich member of power and is unable to use it, says it all.

However, it all feels a little petty in comparison to the visceral gritty torture that Solomon endured. He was beaten, whipped and hung. Belle was made to eat in a separate room to the rest of the family and was perceived merely as an exhibition piece, an exotic jewel, nothing more.

Tom Wilkinson is fantastic as Lord Mansfield whose position is compromised in between fulfilling the law. The law that does not treat any person of colour with respect or even see them as people.

He works well with Mbatha-Raw which allows for some heartfelt moments. After the initial introduction and set up in an easy going half hour, the film seems to be happy to tend with the mundane gossip of petty rich Victorian folk while the inevitable romance blossoms between Belle and John Davinier (Reid). The awkward exchanges, the subtle glances and turning aways. Check, check. All there.

It all feels like by the end it is merely ticking the boxes for all the clichés of a period drama. Any chance of making statements are crushed by an inevitable corny love story. The finale is merely a revelatory court case with the verdict relying on Mansfield’s overriding decision.

A decision that is so obvious and unbelievably predictable that all the grandiose speeches mean nothing. I expected so much more.

It’s well-acted, easy going but doesn’t seem to be sure on whether to be a hard-hitting drama or a slow burning love story.

If you’re a period drama fan, then you’ll love this but it brings nothing new to the genre. Weaker episodes of Downton Abbey have done a better job (There’s never been a weak episode of Downton? That’s scandalous!)

If you’re already going in making comparisons and expecting 12 Years A Slave, then . . . watch 12 Years A Slave. Such a shame. Not bad but not great.

2.5/5