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.

THE BOXTROLLS REVIEW

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I laika it but I didn’t love it. From the makers of Coraline and Paranorman comes a delightfully animated, if predictable affair that certainly impresses in detail but lacks in story. Enough for the little ‘uns but I can’t help but feel that some of the darker and more satirical moments may whizz over their head and leave them fidgeting in their seats.

As I’ve said before; kids films, or should I say, family films are always a challenge. They have a lot to aspire to and must have enough pace, character and story to entertain children and adults. But normally, a good portion of the time you can bank on them to deliver the goods. Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks have proven this time and time again. They are normally the films I can rely on in the ever growing list of mediocre and plain right terrible movies I’ve had to endure this year.

Now the American stop-motion studio Laika certainly delivered with the creepy but brilliant Coraline. ParaNorman was a mixed bag. A watchable one. At its best, dark, very funny and endearing. But let’s not forget the ending wasn’t perfect. It felt like it had run out of ideas and rushed towards a corny and flat finale.

So what’s this one all about? The Boxtrolls are a community of quirky, mischievous creatures who lovingly raise an orphaned human boy named Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright – Game of Thrones) in their cavernous home built beneath the streets of Cheesebridge. However, when evil exterminator, Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) comes up with a plot to get rid of the Boxtrolls. Eggs decides to venture above ground and “into the light”.

Eggs? That’s right. Eggs because that was on the box that our protagonist chose to wear. A nice touch.

The opening was a little slow and a little dark with a Boxtroll appearing to steal a child and Snatcher brokering a deal with the high class elite who appear to be wasting the town’s budget on fancy hats and rich cheese. A fun poke at the inevitable class and society issues that still plague the present day.

The little ones may find themselves fidgeting a little bit. Even I could feel my eyes looking at my watch. That is until our little cardboard creatures finally make their appearance.

The animation is fantastic. Once the little sewer gremlins emerge from their cavernous domain and begin scavenging the streets, I was in awe. Their little expressions and the detail in which they use their boxes as props to climb over gates and as cover from any passing humans. Their bickering and amusement with the rubbish dumped on the streets made them instantly loveable and entertaining.

The 3D was a complete waste of time. Thoroughly disappointing as this film would have been the perfect platform. Also pretty poor with the inflating ticket prices and decreasing cinema numbers. Do not invest.

The cast were perfectly chosen for the roles. And what a cast! Hempstead Wright has already made an impression with Game of Thrones but certainly delivers a solid voicing performance. But he was always going to fall second fiddle to the legend that is Sir Ben Kingsley. His prowess and talent just adds so much to the delightfully disgusting Archibald Snatcher. His name must surely be a nod to the infamous child villain, the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Only a more demented version, with top hat in tow, of course.

Richard Ayoade (Moss from The IT Crowd), Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead) and Tracy Morgan (That’s right! 30 Rock) were brilliant as Snatcher’s numbskull henchmen who constantly try and justify with one another that they are really the good guys. Not enough of them in my opinion.

Elle Fanning (Maleficent) was fantastic as the stroppy but feisty Winnie who befriends Eggs. Jared Harris (Mad Men) and Maurice LaMarche (Futurama) were also voices that stood out in the gang of mindless elitist cheese fanatics.

The Boxtrolls is watchable and at times quite fun. The chase sequences and the encounters with the Boxtrolls were a sight to see. But for me, the story just didn’t seem to flow that well. It seemed a bit mechanical and all a bit predictable. Desperate twists and turns were pulled out of nowhere as the film meandered along.

Twists that were hardly revelatory or necessary for that matter. The whole spiel early on that the Boxtrolls were cannibalistic murderers was always going to be a bluff. Eggs and Fish (the Boxtroll who “adopted” him)’s relationship was nicely done and you could feel for the pair, even if half of the time you couldn’t understand what they were saying to one another. A running joke that happens every time Winnie demands a translation.

Eggs’ adjustment into the human world after ten years of “captivity” was an endearing and funny opportunity. His introduction to a high class social party brought the odd chuckle. But the tone seemed to be too uneven. Coraline was endearing but deliciously dark. Boxtrolls starts off dark. Goes full slapstick and cheesy. Then a little darker with a rushed and incredibly corny finale.

It felt like it wasn’t sure how far to push or how dark to be. An achilles heel for Snatcher was an unexpected twist that led to a deliciously macabre finale.

There’s enough for everyone. Silly boxtrolls for the kids (and adults) and macabre Dickensian visuals with a drop of class satire. Not bad by any means but will it stand against the likes of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Caroline or even ParaNorman? Sadly, not for me.

3/5

THE GIVER REVIEW

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Hollywood gives us another post-apocalyptic teen franchise to sink our teeth into but does it make you want to?

In a seemingly perfect community, without war, pain, suffering, differences or choice, a young boy is chosen to learn from an elderly man about the true pain and pleasure of the “real” world.

Jonas: “If I’m the receiver of memories. What does that make you?”

The Giver: “I guess I’m the giver”

Childish laughter aside (I can’t believe they actually put that in there), we are handed another sci-fi teen flick with a protagonist who battles against conformity disguised as peace by a conniving dictatorship.

It certainly zipped along and wasn’t a bad way to kill 90 minutes but as I was watching I found it incredibly tough not to make comparisons to Divergent and Ender’s Game and as it concluded, all I could think was Hollywood better quit while they’re ahead before they kill more franchises.

Director Phillip Noyce has a great cast at his disposal; a mixture of fresh talent with the experienced Oscar veterans . . . and Katie Holmes. It was a surprise to see Holmes. Released from the Cruise cage to do a spot of acting. In all fairness, she doesn’t do a bad job. Let’s be honest, her acting was never brilliant. Meryl Streep does her best to make the role of Chief Elder engaging but the character is so mechanical and one dimensional that not even the Oscar winning starlet can work her magic. A shame as Streep is remarkable. She is able to pull in some emotion with her encounters with the gruffly Giver (Jeff Bridges).

Brenton Thwaites is a likeable lead. He has certainly been making the right impressions. Just not in the right films. Oculus was a dud no matter how hard Thwaites tried. Maleficent was actually not bad but his character was a little hammy. Yes, he was Prince Charming. However, he finally gets given a character he can work with and delivers a memorable performance. One to watch. Once Jeff Bridges gets over sitting looking angry and staring out Thwaites in a chair for 15 minutes, he delivers the goods yet again.

Odeya Rush (The Odd Life of Timothy Green) is also quite likeable and has some good chemistry with Thwaites. It’s a shame that there is always an inevitable romance brewing but if you finally fight conformity and stop taking a pill that suppresses emotion (Yep. I was thinking Equilibrium too), you would suddenly feel attraction, love, etc. Just a little corny for my liking.

Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood) was surprisingly wooden and seemed to be sleep walking the role but for those you have seen the film, I think there may have been a point to that. Speaking of which, I did not expect a cameo from a particular pop star as Rosemary. Let’s just say she made a swift impression.

Ross Emery’s cinematography is to die for. His use of monochrome juxtaposed against the introduction of colour as Jonas (Thwaites) begins to experience feelings and visions was a nice touch. The panning out to view the remaining colonies was a feast for the eyes. The 1984 overtones around the film was one aspect that did keep me intrigued and the idea of censoring people’s memories and using precision of language to specify exactly what they mean is something that feels all too real. And with the way political correctness is going . . . (REDACTED)

What I hate is that they give us little tidbits in the hope that we will be interested in another installment. Wrong. I want the first installment to hit the ground running and get me wanting another. NOT think that was okay. Maybe the next one will be really good. Noyce certainly ticked the boxes on pace. 97 minutes certainly breezes by with enough content to keep you watching. But the content, despite being brilliantly shot, has been done to death and so much better. A mesh of Divergent meets Equilibrium. I mean even the process in which the kids are given positions was just a futuristic sorting hat scenario from Harry Potter.

The film seemed all too nicey nicey. Until . . . a twist. A predictable one in hindsight. But a twist that turned the cheesy overtones to something much darker and it did make for a thrilling finale. However, it all ended too quickly and flatly for my liking. Now, unfortunately I haven’t read the Lois Lowry bestseller but I have it on good authority from fans that the film remains true to the source material. In that case, I will not be rushing to get the book.

At it’s best, it’s well acted, zips along, has moments of clever satire and action. At it’s worst, it’s predictable, a mix of teen and sci-fi flicks with an inevitable foot note that reeks of “THERE WILL BE A SEQUEL”

My main gripe with films like these is that they are just being churned out with no real attempt to be different. Originality is tough these days but I think Hollywood should spend a little more time looking at the source material, making a stronger film instead of relying on the same old guff or ripping off classics in such a lazy way. This is why The Host, Mortal Instruments and Ender’s Game all failed to earn another sequel. All best selling novels with die hard fans in their own rights. It’s always tough to impress fans but you can at least try NOT yammer on with corny dialogue, poor pace or stretching out a story to milk more movies. You need to impress us with the first. IF The Giver earns one, then they better come out guns blazing. A comment I use too often. (Even for Divergent).

3 (just) out of 5

MALEFICENT REVIEW

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A rehashing and re-working of a timeless Disney classic that delivers fantastic special effects, great acting but somehow misses the mark.

Perhaps the cynic in me reared his ugly head. This doesn’t normally happen with a Disney movie.

Jolie was perfectly cast as Maleficent. Her presence, her voice, the looks – brilliant. With those facial Lady Gaga implants, she looked creepily thin.

The film zipped along quite well. I certainly didn’t feel like I had sat there for 90 minutes.

The opening was sickly sweet. A little too corny and cheesy as a young fairy Maleficent soars around the woodlands. Beautifully animated and shot well. The 3D being used to its full capabilities. You felt like you were flying around the screen.

The water flicking out. The creatures jumping out of the screen. The very potential of 3D finally being used.
If you were expecting a full in-depth look into the origins of Maleficent, you may be disappointed. It is soon established by the narrator that she was a fairy. An abnormally big one. A human sized one, in fact.

All the other fairies are pixie sized or have to use an enchantment but not Maleficent. But then again, it’s magic. My main niggle was that apart from some nicely acted moments and some cracking CGI set pieces, there isn’t really a lot going on which gave my cynical mind time to wander and pick at this loosely joined plot.

I mean, come on, it’s a fairy tale. They are all ridiculous within their right by those grounds. BUT if you ever wondered what a villain was doing while the hero or, in this case, heroine lived their lives. I can tell you. Bugger all, really.

Jolie’s Maleficent literally sits on a tree and watches the young Aurora grow up. I mean the idea of her waiting to strike sounds menacing but it’s all done so light heartedly. I mean, duh, it’s Disney but the trailers (that horrible phrase) made the movie appear to be so much darker.

I mean all Jolie does is sit and fester or throw the odd prank on the pixies to keep her entertained. But this went on for 16 years? I mean, I understand that 16 was the age when Maleficent was scorned by her lover. And also if the curse said 16; why did Aurora’s father send her away for all those years?

Maleficent would have had plenty of time to find her. Especially when the pixies were right near her terrain.

Speaking of which the overly used CGI pixies (Imelda Staunton – Harry Potter, Juno Temple – The Dark Knight Rises and Lesley Manville – Vera Drake) were incredibly irritating and annoying.
Even their animated predecessors weren’t that bad. It was interesting to see Sam Riley in a normal role. Well, I say, normal. If you can call his anamorphic crow hybrid protagonist Diaval normal.

I mean for those who are still questioning why there is a spin off prequel to Sleeping Beauty, imagine what Disney could do with Maleficent and yeah you got it on the head. It is that predictable BUT also very watchable and doesn’t bore.

It was an interesting concept to provide a different dimension to a character that was just pure evil and had no redeemable features. However, the only problem this time around, Jolie’s Maleficent is not really that evil at all and you soon feel sorry for her.

BUT at the same time, it’s the same old scorned love story. Some moments surprised and near the end, I was cockily sitting there saying this is going to happen but was proved wrong. But it all ended the same way, near enough.

Sharlto Copley (District 9) was more menacing when given the screen time as the demented King Stefan. However, when given the screen time, all he was doing was sitting, grimacing and barking orders.

Elle Fanning was delightful as the dreadfully naïve Aurora. She worked well with Jolie. It was quite funny to see Jolie acting with her own daughter who played a younger Aurora for a brief scene. Jolie glaring and hissing, “I don’t like children. Go away.” Corny but nicely done.

It zips along, it’s good to look at. The cast are fantastic. The special effects are brilliant. But something about it just doesn’t sparkle, merely flickers for me.

3/5