Tag Archives: Twilight

Unlikely Vampires Inhabit Awkwardly Funny ‘Shadows’

What We Do in the Shadows
Two and half stars (out of four)
Not Rated (violence, sexual content, language)
86 minutes
(The film received an extremely limited release and is playing this week and next at BLVD Cinemas in Lancaster.)

When it comes to vampires and geography, we tend to think of Transylvania, New Orleans, London, Forks, Wa., even Santa Cruz (ah, “The Lost Boys”). We don’t tend to think of New Zealand.

To most Americans, New Zealand is famous as the location of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and not much else. It’s not a place we’d except to find a thriving coven of brooding bloodsuckers.

The utter unlikeliness of the setting is the primary source of humor in the vampire comedy “What We Do in the Shadows.” The film was made by and stars New Zealanders in the capital city of Wellington — not exactly a recipe for the sexy, gothic, darkly thrilling vampire movies audiences are accustomed to.

To be frank, the creatures of the night who inhabit “Shadows” aren’t very good at being vampires.

Drawing much of its appeal from its irresistible brand of awkward, laid-back Kiwi humor, “Shadows” was written and directed by Jemaine Clement, the goofier looking half of hilarious comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, and actor-filmmaker Taika Waititi.

Like the short-lived “Conchords” HBO series, “Shadows” revolves around oddball flatmates who fit together comfortably, whatever their quirks, but are clumsy when it comes to navigating the outside world.

In the movie, these flatmates are centuries-old monsters, holed up in a crumbling, genuinely creepy ruin on the outskirts of Wellington. They’ve invited a documentary crew to take a glimpse into their everyday lives, which are more mundane than anything Anne Rice or Stephenie Meyer ever envisioned.

The den mother of these fanged fiends is Viago (Waititi), a cheery Victorian nobleman with a flair for antiquated fashion, still pining after an unrequited crush.

Viago tenderly looks after pals Vladislav (Clement), a Dracula-type with a taste for orgies and sadism; 8,000-year-old Petyr, a hideous fanged thing who lurks in the basement; and Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), the 183-year-old youngster of the group and self-professed party animal.

Like most roomies, these guys squabble over chores, give each other fashion tips (it’s hard to put together a nice ensemble when you can’t see yourself in the mirror), play pranks on their guests (Here’s a tip: don’t eat the spaghetti), weather catastrophes, like “fatal sunlight accidents,” and look forward to the social gathering of the year, the Unholy Masquerade.

Improvising heavily and impressively, Clement, Waititi and the rest of the cast mine laughs by subverting vampire movie tropes from everything from “Interview With the Vampire,” to “The Lost Boys,” to “Twilight,” and classics like “Nosferatu.”

There’s nothing suave, sexy or even very sinister about these bloodsuckers, who dress like they’re appearing in a mash-up of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Saturday Night Fever” and struggle to adapt to modern technology, including cellphones and Facebook, with the help of their new human friend, IT guy Stu (Stuart Rutherford). Stu is so helpful, they’ve all agreed not to eat him.

“Shadows” has a very loose plot, revolving around the conflict that erupts with the addition of newly initiated, indiscreet vampire Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) to the group. Some viewers may find this tedious.

Still, the film’s got enough gore and fun special effects to satisfy horror aficionados. If the initially clever concept begins to feel a bit threadbare, there are more than enough high points to make up for it.

In one scene, Viago and friends encounter a pack of testy but polite werewolves, led by ginger-headed “Conchords” alum Rhys Darby.

“We’re werewolves, not swearwolves,” he declares.

That’s a hashtag if there ever was one.

Photo: movies.mxdwn.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t Stick Your Neck Out for ‘Dracula Untold’

Dracula Untold
Two stars (out of four)
PG-13 (intense sequences of warfare, vampire attacks, disturbing images, some sensuality)
92 minutes

Blame it on “Twilight” backlash.

Just in time for Halloween, Legendary Pictures brings us the manliest of vampire movies, an armor-clad, battle-worn, muscle-flexing hybrid of Bram Stoker, “300” and “Gladiator.”

Was “Dracula Untold” conceived as a reaction to sparkly, sensitive vampires with cheekbones to die for? Pining Edward wouldn’t last long in this unforgiving gothic landscape of blood and steel, not to mention blood-drenched abs of steel.

Irish commercial director Gary Shore and scribes Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (what a name for a writer of vampire lore) thoughtfully throw a credit Stoker’s way, but their reboot, or re-imagining, or whatever you’d call it, doesn’t much resemble that classic literary work.

The film actually borrows the formula of a comic-book origin story with an emphasis on Dracula’s rocky childhood (like many superheroes, he’s got daddy issues), his acquisition of awesome superpowers and the tragic consequences of those unholy abilities, which threaten those he holds most dear.

Welsh actor Luke Evans — best known as the villain in “Fast & Furious 6” and Bard the Bowman in “The Hobbit” trilogy — stars as Vlad, a Transylvanian prince spirited away as a boy by ruthless Turks, who train him to serve in their marauding army of merciless young killers.

Sazama and Sharpless are vague about the details, but the grown Vlad has a change of heart, repents of his impaling ways and returns to Transylvania, where he settles down, starts a family and rules his people in peace.

His domestic reverie is interrupted by an old friend, the Turkish sultan Mehmed (a charcoal-eyed Dominic Coooper), who demands a tribute of a thousand boy soldiers, as well as the prince’s own son (Art Parkinson).

Vlad refuses Mehmed’s command with a heavy heart because he’s wildly outnumbered by the Turks. Desperate to save his family and his people, he journeys to the lair of a legendary monster (played by Charles Dance — if you thought Tywin Lannister couldn’t get any more evil, think again), seeking the power the creature might grant him.

Once Vlad is “turned,” he becomes the superest of superheroes, all the Avengers rolled into one with some Justice League thrown in for good measure. He’s got Spidey sense, the speed of The Flash, control of the weather a la Storm, the strength of Superman (and a Kryptonite-like Achilles heel) and an affinity for bats, like a certain Caped Crusader.

Vlad’s bat-whispering is clearly Shore’s favorite of these impressive superpowers. He really pulls out the visual-effects stops when it comes to showing the vampire vanish in a cloud of night-flying critters or directing a swarm of the little black beasts to do his bidding in battle.

“Dracula Untold” is rated PG-13, so it’s strangely light on blood for a movie about someone who drinks the stuff — or rather tries to resist drinking the stuff, which is difficult when Vlad’s wife (Sarah Gadon) swans about with her neck and bosom exposed, like a walking buffet.

Shore compensates for the bloodlessness with a tableaux of stylized landscapes and some fancy cinematography during the film’s copious war scenes — at one point, we glimpse Vlad crushing his enemies in the reflection of a sword — but the result is more disorienting than visually arresting.

Evans is certainly virile, but he’s more convincing as a devoted father and husband than a reluctant fanged fiend wrestling with demon impulses. Sazama and Sharpless can’t seem to decide what sort of animal their Dracula truly is — cuddly family man or bloodthirsty monster.

Adopting the pomp and seriousness of a historical epic, “Dracula Untold” trots out the usual imagery — stakes, crosses, silver, torch-lit castles, jittery monks — and proves disappointingly toothless when it comes to toying with Hollywood’s bloodsucking tropes.

The movie is reportedly the first in a planned franchise and it does make a weirdly playful leap in its final scene that hints of more interesting, even goofy, things to come. If it’s going to succeed, however, the series needs to evolve into something darker, sexier and more twisted.

It’s difficult to recommend “Dracula Untold” when other directors are conducting much more original and intriguing genre experiments in the form of films like “Byzantium” and “Only Lovers Left Alive.”

Those are movies that make you want to stick your neck out.

Image: http://www.comicbookmovie.com

 

Hiddleston Vamps It Up, Hardy Takes a Drive: What to Watch This Weekend

The end-of-summer movie doldrums have arrived with nary a major new release in sight this weekend.

Hollywood is busy taking stock of a disappointing season — it was the worst summer at the box office since 1997. As usual, it was a season dominated by childish fare, including hits “22 Jump Street,” “Godzilla,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” “Maleficent” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”

The good news is that fall is on its way with a tantalizing selection of “grown-up” Oscar bait and enough art house offerings to satisfy even the most snobbish cinema palate.

If you’re looking forward to the more sophisticated films of fall but find yourself at a loss this weekend, here are a couple of recent home viewing releases to tide you over until fresh reinforcements arrive.

Whether renting or streaming, you can’t go wrong with the pair of intriguing dramas below. Released in mid-August on DVD, they’re easily two of the most compelling films of 2014.

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Only Lovers Left Alive
R (language, brief nudity)
123 minutes

The artful, eccentric films of writer-director Jim Jarmusch are legend (“Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai,” “Coffee and Cigarettes,” “Broken Flowers”) but these languidly paced gems can often be a chore to sit through.

Not so with Jarmusch’s latest, which is a total delight, dark, romantic and playful and starring the irresistible Tom Hiddleston and often creepy, always fascinating Tilda Swinton at their very finest.

People may think that the sappy, sparkly bloodsuckers of “Twilight” effectively killed off the vampire film, but then a movie like this comes along, delightfully toying with the genre in clever ways that would make Anne Rice proud.

Just pause for a moment to let that sink in. “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a vampire movie. By Jim Jarmusch. Oh yeah.

Hiddleston and Swinton play centuries-old creatures of the night, old souls and soul mates who live on separate continents, only to reunite in the inky midnight of his improbable hometown of Detroit.

Hiddleston’s Adam is a brooding Byronic bloodsucker with a passion for beautiful old instruments, mainly guitars, and a talent for composing moody rock music that has teenage groupies encamped outside his house.

This drives Adam crazy. He’s an analog guy in a digital age and he’s not happy about all the changes he’s seen in his immortal lifetime. It’s got him so depressed that Swinton’s Eve is concerned enough to make the exhausting red-eye journey from her home in exotic Tangier to cheer him up.

Eve is Adam’s polar opposite, free-spirited, cultured and open to new things — she’s got an iPhone while Adam is still stuck on rotary. She’s not so modern, though, that she’s forgotten her rich past. One of her best friends happens to be Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), the guy conspiracy theorists believe wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Jarmusch has a lot of fun with that.

The director’s vision of the 21st-century vampire lifestyle is hilarious, sexy and literate in ways that will make English majors swoon. Adam and Eve are like rock stars, staying up all night, with their disheveled hair, shades and gloves, listening to music, debating existential questions and jonesing after their next fix (they’re vegetarians and blood is like a drug to them).

In true Jarmusch style, “Lovers” never goes quite where you expect it to. When the credits rolled, I had fallen head over heels for this wonderful, bookish, effortlessly cool film.

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Locke
R (language)
85 minutes

Tom Hardy is one of the most talented young actors of his generation, proving his subtle charm, versatility and serious chops in such films as “Bronson,” “Inception” and “Lawless.”

He’s a forceful guy and we’re used to seeing him in films that are violent or big on spectacle, which is why the quiet, brilliant one-man show that is “Locke” comes as such a surprise.

Penned and directed with considerable minimalist style by Steven Knight (writer of “Closed Circuit,” “Eastern Promises” and “Dirty Pretty Things”), “Locke” consists entirely of Hardy alone inside a car as his character makes a late-night drive from Birmingham to London.

The movie begins as a mystery. Ivan Locke has abruptly abandoned his post at a construction site, where he is supposed to be supervising a critical cement pour. His mission is urgent and we slowly learn where he is headed and why in a series of frantic phone calls between him and his irate boss, his worried wife, an increasingly drunk co-worker and a panicked woman from his past.

“Locke” is a thriller in the truest sense but it’s a rare film in that its dilemmas are moral ones. As Hardy takes one harrowing call after another — his car is conveniently equipped with a state-of-the-art hands-free system — our feelings about Locke’s motivations are in constant flux. Is he a man of integrity or a man who can’t let go of his destructive past?

Knight uses shifts in lighting to conjure up a mood of suspense. This is one of the most stressful movies I’ve seen in a long time.

Other actors give voice to the ensemble Locke speaks to via phone but this is all Hardy’s show and it’s amazing how he brings the screen to life, simply sitting behind the wheel of a car.

The sole flaw to be found in “Locke” is Hardy’s occasional railings against his character’s dead-beat dad, who he imagines is sitting in the backseat. It’s a distracting theatrical device in a ride that is otherwise impressively smooth.

Photos: Yahoo, YouTube

My Tortured Love Affair With Comic-Con

Dear San Diego Comic-Con,

We’ve had our good times, you and I, but over the last few years, we’ve had our differences too.

I’m not the bright-eyed, energetic pop culture junkie I once was. I’m older. I have a kid. I have responsibilities. I can’t be bothered with noise and crowds and inconvenience. I still consider myself a die-hard nerd, but you probably won’t catch me standing outside movie theaters at midnight with my lightsaber or Harry Potter wand anymore. I no longer have the stamina to part a sea of hygienically challenged fanboys, poster tubes strapped to their shoulders like samurai swords, backpacks full of munchies and Monster Energy Drinks.

I’m not the only one who has changed. You used to be this cool thing that only certain people knew about. Then suddenly, you were popular. You started off as a small gathering of comic book collectors in a hotel ballroom. Now you’re a juggernaut, sprawling all over the San Diego Convention Center and beyond.

Every media outlet, from Entertainment Weekly to the 5 o’clock news, is compelled to cover you. Your latest installment, kicking off tonight, is expected to attract a horde of at least 130,000. Attending used to be a relatively simple affair, as long as one was on the ball and made one’s plans early. It now requires an exhausting scramble for tickets and exorbitantly priced hotel rooms.

So several years ago, after much agonizing, I quit you, Comic-Con. But I have a confession to make.

I still miss you.

I miss ducking out of work early and rolling into San Diego on Preview Night just in time for badge pick-up. We’d check into our over-priced hotel and stuff our faces with Extraordinary Desserts while marking up the official Comic-Con schedule, formulating our strategy for the long weekend ahead.

After a night of terrible sleep, we’d rise early, tug on our nerdiest T-shirts, and hike the mile to the Convention Center. If we were in a hurry, we’d splurge on a cab so we could join the queue to gain admittance to that wondrous place known as Hall H, the cavernous room where early-bird movie buffs catch a glimpse of Hollywood’s most anticipated future flicks. We were lucky if we got to sit in the very back of the room, where giant video monitors saved us from squinting blearily at the celebrities on stage, whose heads appeared no bigger than pins.

Sure, there was the year we had to sit through the “Twilight” panel and listen to thousands of “Twilight” moms shriek over Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner. There was the time the hall went on lock-down after a guy in a Harry Potter T-shirt stabbed another guy in the eye with a pencil. And there was always that one slobbering idiot just waiting to ask Scarlett Johansson an incredibly inappropriate question during the Q-and-A session.

Still, I must admit I miss Hall H. I miss sitting in that massive room from sun-up to sundown, listening to actors and writers and directors talk about their upcoming movies and watching sneak previews, new trailers and footage fresh from the set. Somehow, it didn’t matter that it was going to be up on the Internet by the next day. We didn’t mind subsisting on hot dogs and cardboard cheese pizza or the delirium that kicked in about the fourth hour spent in that windowless prison. There was something electric about being there, about being one of the first people to witness it all.

That time the entire cast of “The Avengers” took the stage was pretty awesome. So was the time Harrison Ford showed up to promote “Cowboys & Aliens” and was absolutely flummoxed by the standing ovation he received. Anything moderated by Patton Oswalt or featuring Guillermo del Toro and his favorite word — it begins with an “F” — is always a good time. Impeccably dressed in a natty suit, Robert Downey Jr. is … well … he’s just the man.

Heck, I even miss standing in that endless, serpentine line for Hall H, which resembles something out of “The Hunger Games.” In that mass of humanity, you are guaranteed to meet a stranger who shares whatever interest floats your geeky boat, whether it be Harry Potter, “Doctor Who,” “Transformers,” “The Goonies,” “Star Trek,” “Firefly,” or some obscure anime series. Communing with like-minded nerds is a huge part of your sloppy charm, Comic-Con.

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Let’s not forget the cosplayers, a brave and astonishing species unto themselves, living out their private fantasies in public in a shameless parade of elaborate finery. Here’s to you, glow-in-the-dark “Tron” pajama guy, chubby Batman, baby Thor, and Slave Leia, bold enough to don the sacred gold bikini. Here’s to you, amateur Tony Stark, builder of the most awesome, fully functional Iron Man suit ever. Here’s to you, Stormtroopers, always kind enough to pose for a picture, and tiny Jawas with light-up eyes, and that dude dressed like Luke in the Dagobah training sequence, a baby strapped to his back, clad in a Yoda costume. You rock.

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As if that wasn’t enough, there is the exhibit hall floor, a veritable wonderland of geek culture, where fans jostle each other shoulder to shoulder in search of that elusive collectible or a must-have surprise — a T-shirt, an action figure, a bumper sticker, a handmade Harry Potter scarf, an indie comic book, a signed poster.

At Comic-Con, there are wonders waiting around every corner. You might happen upon Stan Lee in the hallway or the entire cast of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” — sans Patrick Stewart, of course.

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I think what I remember most fondly about you, Comic-Con, is dragging myself through the Gaslamp Quarter at dusk in search of a watering hole where my friends and I could rehash the amazing events of our day, swapping stories and laughing over newly forged inside jokes. We’d head back to the hotel, dump the contents of our complimentary Comic-Con bags out on the bed and sort through our swag. Most of it would inevitably end up in the trash, but at the time it seemed like the most precious of treasures.

Then we’d settle down for another night of terrible sleep so we could wake up and do it all again the next day. It was the best.

I think that says it all, dear Comic-Con. Maybe one day I’ll return to you. I hope you miss me, too, just a little bit.

Affectionately yours,

Lavender

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Lavender Vroman and Kristy Rivas at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Good Things Should Come to an End, Even the Batsuit

Zack Snyder continued his efforts to blow up the Internet Tuesday by revealing the first glimpse of “Batman vs. Superman” star Ben Affleck wearing the latest incarnation of the Batsuit.

The Gotham Knight’s new duds are gritty and gray, as if they were carved out of stone, clinging to Affleck’s musculature like a second skin. It’s a marked departure from the heavy body armor that characterized Batsuits of the past and everyone breathed a sigh of relief that there were no Joel Schumacher-style nipples to be seen.

Pardon me, though, if I can’t muster up too much excitement about Batman’s latest costume change. From the days when Adam West donned purple tights to Christian Bale’s brooding interpretation, there have been no less than five major incarnations of the Batsuit with countless variations in between as one franchise gave way to another.

As a kid, I was a fan of West’s corny comic book shtick. I still have a fondness for Michael Keaton’s unconventional take on the character in Tim Burton’s stylized stab at the franchise. Schumacher’s attempts were unfortunate but I’ll admit I kinda dug Val Kilmer’s return to the less self-serious Batman of West’s era. I definitely loved what director Christopher Nolan did to mature the comic book movie with the Dark Knight trilogy.

Batman has always been one of my favorite superheroes but since 1966 there have been eight feature films centered on Gotham’s savior. I know other fans might not feel the same way, but I’m tired. I need a break. I’m not ready to invest my time and energy in yet another reboot, even if it is actually a thinly veiled Justice League movie.

A similar feeling of weariness overtook me Tuesday with the announcement of a release date for the upcoming Harry Potter spin-off, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” The first in a planned series of new films, it will debut Nov. 18, 2016, with a much anticipated script by author J.K. Rowling.

Am I the only Harry Potter enthusiast who doesn’t crave another adventure in Rowling’s world of wizards and Muggles? Few book series have captured my imagination as this one did but I can’t think of a more perfect finale than the one Rowling delivered with Book Seven. The ensuing movie adaptations by Warner Bros. were wildly enjoyable as well and when that franchise came to an end with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” it was a cathartic farewell to the boy who lived and the hours upon hours of joy he brought me. I’m so satisfied, I don’t feel the need to revisit Rowling’s universe.

I’m not saying all sequels, reboots, remakes and “reimaginings” are a bad idea. We’re a society programmed to demand more and more of a good thing with our giant SUVs, super-sized fast-food meals and endless cycles of entertainment on multiple screens. Hollywood is only too happy to feed that obsession, especially if it means making millions by recycling something they already know will work instead of taking a risk on something original.

Director Peter Jackson has taken this philosophy to an extreme and I don’t mean that as a criticism. His “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” trilogies were born out of genuine passion for J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy masterpieces and the resulting films are mostly stunning, although it’s difficult to understand why the filmmaker feels the need to stretch each installment to interminable lengths. The studio is all too happy to rake in millions with each entry of “The Hobbit,” but Jackson could have quite easily crafted one tightly structured, beautifully executed film instead of three sprawling, sometimes tedious movies.

Must we really sit through yet another “Terminator” reboot when the last one, 2009’s “Terminator Salvation,” was at best forgettable, at worst a flop? And speaking of people who don’t know when to make a grateful exit, “Terminator” star Arnold Schwarzenegger keeps trying and failing to resurrect a movie career no one else but him is interested in reviving.

Does our world need five “Twilight” movies and four adaptations apiece of “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” when the book series could barely sustain themselves to their final chapters?

Must every Pixar movie now have a sequel? Just remember, for every “Toy Story 3” there’s bound to be a “Cars 2.”

Of course, we all want more of a good thing but is it worth it to keep flogging a champion horse when we know at some point it will start to limp before eventually collapsing into a sad, dead heap?

I’ve already expressed my reservations about the new “Star Wars” trilogy in a previous blog post, but George Lucas’ ill-advised prequels are still my best argument against reopening a book that should have been left closed. If something is beautiful and perfect and perfectly complete unto itself, why poke it and prod it and struggle to jolt it back to life?

There is some evidence that Hollywood’s more is more approach isn’t always the best one. Earlier this month, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” opened to a $92 million box office haul, which isn’t too shabby but is considered a disappointment compared to other movies featuring the web-slinging hero. Box Office Mojo attributed its decent but less than stunning reception to “franchise fatigue,” noting audiences seem to be tiring of Spidey’s constant presence at the cineplex.

I confess I haven’t bothered to make the trip to the theater to see “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone were charming in the first installment of director Marc Webb’s reboot but I couldn’t shake the feeling of déjà vu that hung over the entire affair. I felt like I had seen pretty much the same thing before, and recently, which I had, courtesy of Tobey Maguire and director Sam Raimi.

I think it’s time we faced the fact that some good things should come to an end. Many fans will doubtless disagree. They’re so enthralled with a beloved show, or movie, or book that they want it to go on and on forever. But even if Disney and Lucasfilm never made another “Star Wars” film, we’d still have the original trilogy. The Harry Potter books still exist. They’re on the shelf, waiting to be reread. We don’t need more movies for Rowling’s world to continue to expand within our imaginations.

Sure, there is a place for sequels to stories rich enough to continue and if someone has a good idea for rebooting an existing property, so be it, but we don’t need multiple installments of every wonderful thing.

Otherwise, we may not have the time or energy to discover the next original good thing.