Movie Review – Dracula (1958)

Director: Terence Fisher

Stars: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh, John Van Eyssen, Valerie Gaunt

In this classic tale, Jonathon Harker (Van Eyssen) infiltrates Dracula’s (Lee) castle under the pretence of being a librarian. However, when he doesn’t return his friend and colleague, Van Helsing (Cushing) is afraid that Dracula is striking. In a nearby city he plans to bring down the vampire once and for all, all while trying to protect Harker’s fiancee and her family.

There have been so many versions of Dracula and vampires in general that it’s often fun to go back to older films and see how much things have changed. Although Dracula is the titular character we don’t really get any time with him, and aside from the first part of the film where he welcomes Harker into his castle he’s mostly in his snarling vampiric mode. As such, most of what we know of his motivation comes from Harker and Van Helsing. I thought the exposition was handled quite well in this film, either as part of Van Helsing’s diary or with Van Helsing’s tape recordings. I liked Cushing as Van Helsing as well, certainly a far cry from Hugh Jackman’s portrayal. He reminded me of Sherlock Holmes somewhat, very methodical and calculating.

With it being a horror there were a lot of tense moments but I didn’t find it too scary. I feel that there should have been more of Dracula to give an unsettling atmosphere to the film. There wasn’t too much gore or blood, which I liked as it made it all the more horrible when we saw Dracula’s face stained with blood. One aspect that I thought this film did better than most is that it gave a sense of real effort to stake a vampire through the heart. For example, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the characters can just poke gently and boom the vamps are dust, whereas here it takes a few minutes of hammering away while the vampires are asleep in the coffin.

All in all it’s a pretty good film. I think we’ve been spoiled with vampire things in recent years but this showcases Dracula as the terrible, merciless creature that he is. I think for any vampire aficionado this is going to be a must-watch. It’s an entertaining, fun film with some tension thrown in. I didn’t find it super scary but I liked the way Van Helsing’s investigation unfolded and it held my interest throughout, and even thought the runtime of the film is short it doesn’t feel rushed (although as I mentioned before, I would have liked a little more exploration of Dracula). I wouldn’t say it’s fangtastic, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

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Movie Review – 4.3.2.1. (2010)

Directors: Noel Clarke & Mark Davis

Stars: Ophelia Lovibond, Emma Roberts, Tamsin Egerton, Shanika Warren-Markland. Adam Deacon, Linzey Cocker, Noel Clarke

Shannon (Lovibond), Jo (Roberts), Cassandra (Egerton) and Kerrys (Warren-Markland) are four good friends who have one hell of a weekend. 4.3.2.1. explores the different hells all four of them go through, as well as an overarching plot that involves some stolen diamonds.

The film starts off with all four of them proudly declaring that they are women and they can handle themselves etc. The film quickly jumps between the four of them, which is jarring and thank goodness this style is quickly abandoned. However, the film is split into four narratives. Ordinarily I love this type of film, but 4.3.2.1 didn’t fully work for me.

The first segment followed Shannon, and this was basically misery porn. Everything is piled on thick and it feels like the directors are manipulating the audience. You can’t help but sympathise with her due to the extent of what happened to her, but in some ways she’s an annoying character. Like, if someone comes out, beats up a load of guys who are attacking you, bustles you into a car, takes you back to their apartment do you –

a) Ask them who the hell they are

b) Thank them, and ask them who the hell they are

c) Do nothing, leave your stuff unattended and jump in the shower

If you answered ‘c’, well done, have a cookie. At this point I was wondering what the hell I was in for because it seemed unsubtle in its approach. The next narrative shifts to Cassandra, who is travelling to America to meet a guy she’s been chatting to online (although she’s never video chatted with him, which everyone knows is a big mistake) as well as going for an audition at some fancy piano school. This includes an exuberant cameo from Kevin Smith, and I quickly realize that this film is absurd and it’s not going to take itself seriously. The following narratives embellish the story around Shannon and fill in some other details, resulting in everything coming together neatly at the end.

It feels disjointed. The tone of Shannon’s story compared with the rest is  jarring. The acting is uneven and it feels like a serious story that’s not taken seriously. I didn’t think many of the characters were likeable and by the end of it the plot felt like it was being dragged out. There’s also a semi-cliffhanger at the end, which doesn’t work for the film at all and it just feels like it’s trying to be too clever.

I liked the idea and the concept, but I think the people behind the film tried to be too cute and too clever, and rather than focus on the story and a consistent tone they decided to invite a bunch of their friends to cameo and threw a bunch of absurd stuff on the screen to see what happened.

Movie Review – Step Up 2 The Streets (2008)

Director: Jon M. Chu

Stars: Briana Evigan, Robert Hoffman, Adam G. Sevani, Cassie Ventura, Danielle Polanco, Black Thomas, Harry Shum Jr.

Andie (Evigan) is trying to figure out where she fits in after the death of her parents. She’s living with her mother’s best friend, who is growing extremely frustrated with Andie’s attitude to school. Andie only has one family left though, the 410 dance crew. They are a renowned dance outfit that have gained attention for performing elaborate sets in public. Led by Tuck (Thomas), Andie is a valuable member. However, when her guardian threatens to send her away to Texas she’s forced to attend a formal dance school to show that she can actually stick to something. However, this causes friction with the 410 as she has to split rehearsal time, and it all comes to a head at the street dance competition.

Let me start by saying that I actually love this title. It’s a work of genius. Anyway, Step Up 2 the Streets puts the romance in the background and instead focuses on the stress of being caught between two worlds. There’s a cameo by Channing Tatum towards the beginning that links this film with Step Up but you don’t need to watch the first one in order to enjoy this one. There were some weak points of the script (mostly little things like plot conveniences) but overall I found it quite enjoyable.

I liked Evigan and thought she held the film together well. I liked her struggle about what to do and I think she was quite a strong protagonist. I certainly rooted for her, and she sold the emotional arc. I think the romance with Chase (Hoffman) was pretty predictable and I’m glad it wasn’t the focus. There was a loose love triangle with Tuck, although he just seemed really possessive and I never got the sense that he and Andie were involved properly. In fact, the major weak link is that the 410 are really thin characters and overly hostile. Tuck is basically Mr. Jealous and doesn’t get any deeper motivation than that. They purport to be a family but there’s no support there, it’s very much a method of control.

I did, however, like the parallel between family. Tuck saw the 410 as family and was totally controlling, quick to kick someone out if they didn’t conform with his idea. In the MSA the director of the school was also close-minded, as he had an idea of what the school should be and didn’t allow any creativity. By the end, Tuck wasn’t able to break free of his own need to control people whereas the leader of the dance school was able to see beyond his own needs and tradition.

The dancing was cool, with a vibrant trampoline number near the start. I appreciated the fact that the climactic dance took place in the rain as, in my opinion, all the most epic movie moments happen in the rain. It was all cool and everything was wrapped up nicely. So, I think you know what you’re getting into with this. However, it’s not a simple re-skin of the first film and while there could have been deeper exploration of the 410 to set the rivalry up more, it is a decent film. The main flaw is that it tries to do too much, as you have Andie adjusting to the MSA, having to juggle her new school with the street crew, then setting up the new crew, then the tournament along with some romance thrown in for good measure. It could have probably been streamlined as some of the supporting characters suffer, but if you like dance movies this is a decent one to watch.

Book Review – Liza of Lambeth by W. Somerset Maugham

Liza is a chirpy young woman growing up in London. She has a suitor of her own age called Tom, but she doesn’t love him. She looks after her mother, who suffers from rheumatics, and when a new family moves in she finds herself strangely attracted to the head of the household, an older man called Jim.

Now, Maugham is my favourite writer so I’m already predisposed to like his work. This version I found on Kindle for 95p, and it’s a fairly short novel so you can breeze through it in around a couple of hours. It also comes with a nice preface from Maugham where he talks about his background and how he came to write this story. It doesn’t give much insight into the thought processes behind Liza of Lambeth, but it does give one a better sense of how Maugham saw himself as a writer.

One thing that always annoys me in books is when regional dialects and accents are presented in prose. Even though Maugham is my favourite writer, this still annoys me here. The books takes place in London so everyone has a cockney accent, and while Maugham does capture this it just makes the reader have to do more work to decipher some of the more oblique phrases. And when one does get used to the flow, it’s broken up by a passage of Maugham’s eloquent prose. At times this can be a jarring shift in tone.

As for the story, it’s an odd one. It delivers a slice of cockney life and there’s a bit of romantic angst thrown in for good measure. There are also glimpses of some other human sufferings given from the supporting characters. Liza is a bright woman with a friendly demeanour, and she makes for a good protagonist, although we’re not given an explanation into why she makes some of the decisions she ends up making. This can lead us to feel a bit distant from her. I suppose it’s a novel where the goal isn’t to get us to sympathise with characters, rather it’s showing us how some people live and in that it does succeed.

Despite its shortcomings I still enjoyed it and although it’s not as good as some of his other books it’s still a good read, and is a bargain at the moment on Kindle so snap it up.

Movie Review – The Best Man Holiday (2013)

Director: Malcolm D. Lee

Stars: Monica Calhoun, Morris Chestnut, Melissa De Sousa, Taye Diggs, Regina Hall, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Harold Perrineau, Eddie Cibrian

Big cast! The Best Man Holiday is about a group of friends who get together around the holiday season. It’s been a while since they’ve all been together, and they find that it’s difficult to deal with old romantic feelings and drama from the past, as well as adjust to the changing circumstances of their lives.

It starts off in a way that I found inventive. A lot of the background information about what happened with these people is given as the opening credits roll, so we’re saved a lot of clunky background exposition later on. It’s something I think a lot of other films that have to juggle big casts could learn from, so I hope that it appears again. All the characters have different problems they’re dealing with, and many of them have dated or slept together before. In fact at points it’s difficult to keep track of which people have been romantically involved, and it’s best to not put too much effort into thinking about that as it will distract from the story.

Many of the plot beats are predictable but the film manages to develop the characters enough that we do care when the stories unfold. It definitely gives more focus to certain characters and dynamics more than others, but this is to be expected in a film with this many characters.  The acting is good throughout and sold the melodrama. There’s no excusing it, this film is incredibly melodramatic. However, it did set me in the mood for Christmas.

At the beginning I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like it or not because something felt a little…off about it. I attribute this to it finding its tone, because it shifts through comedy and drama so often that it can be jarring at first, but once you become attuned to it I think The Best Man Holiday is a film with a lot of great moments that tug at the heartstrings so if you like films with big ensembles and want a bit of Christmas spirit then this is a film for you.

Movie Review – Fury (2014)

Director: David Ayer

Stars: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBoeuf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Pena, Logan Lerman

Fury tells the story of the American tanks during WWII. Don (Brad Pitt) leads his crew on dangerous missions against the Nazis, whose tanks are more powerful. Joining them is Norman (Lerman), who came into this war as a typist but is thrown into the maelstrom of fire and brimstone as he quickly learns that his conscience counts for nothing.

I generally love war films and I looked forward to Fury because I haven’t seen too many war films that focus on tanks, at least not off the top of my head. It doesn’t tread that much new ground (pun intended) as it has the usual commentary on the brutality and senselessness of war, and the characters are broad stereotypes. You have the gruff commander, the religious one, the asshole one, the more easygoing one, and the newbie. Yet the actors all do a good job and breathe some depth into their roles, especially LaBeouf. He’s had a lot of bad press for much of his career but he shines here and is almost unrecognisable from the man who portrayed Sam Witwicky in Transformers. Logan Lerman is great as well, going from wet behind the ears new recruit to battle-hardened warrior. Pitt holds the group together, although at the beginning he seems a little too gruff and is very similar to his character in Inglorious Bastards, but as they film progesses we see a different side come out.

While the film does focus on this band of brothers type, there’s not much revealed about the history of the characters or their personalities outside of the broadest characteristics so it’s a real testament to the actors that the audience gets attached to them to the extent that they do.

The other star is, of course, the tank. We became more intimate with this vehicle than we do with the characters in some respects. To them it’s their home, and is as important to them as the Enterprise is to Captain Kirk. The action is brutal and visceral, and the blood and murder happens in front of our eyes. The shells whistle past and explore thunderesouly, and caused me to jump more than a few times. At points I was so immersed in the film that I felt like I was on the battlefield with them.

There are a number of missions that culminate in a heroic stand where the odds are greatly against them. I love these types of scenarios, and drama is high as darkness falls and Germans advance in a cloak of smoke, given an orange hue due to the burning fire around. It’s haunting, and poignant. But the film is not entirely action. There is a break where we get a nice piano interlude and a reminder that humanity still exists amidst the devastation…until the full force of the war comes back.

Fury’s depiction of tank warfare is refreshing and offers a new angle on war combat. While it doesn’t offer much new in the way of the characters, the actors do a phenomenal job at presenting a set of soldiers that feel like brothers. It’s raw, visceral, and I loved it. I definitely recommend it.

Movie Review – Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Director: John Sturges

Stars: Spencer Tracy, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Walter Brennan, John Ericson

John J. Macreedy (Tracy) steps off a train in a small, isolated town and is instantly met with sneers and a distinct lack of hospitality. When he reveals that he’s there to deliver a medal of honour to a Japanese-American, he encounters hostility and begins to unravel a mystery that threatens to expose a dark undercurrent running through the speck of a town.

This small, tight film boasts a good cast, with Borgnine and Marvin appearing before they fully broke out. The film was incredibly tense with a lot of subdued resentment between the characters. I liked how the group of the town were so casual about their superiority, and how the leader, Reno (Ryan) rarely took action until he was called to. There were members who struggled with what they were hiding, but others revelled in their actions.

But it’s Tracy who is the standout here. I loved how Macreedy dealt with the bullies. Although they baited and insulted him he never rose to them, always remaining cool and collected. My favourite scene was the one in the restaurant. I thought the ending was…okay, I feel it suited the tone and pacing but there was one death that I feel was brushed over too quickly, especially given how another death was the driving force of the story. It’s very tight though and much of the story is told through vocal intonations and facial expressions. It’s a good model for subtle storytelling and for this reason I liked it quite a bit.

Movie Review – The Way (2010)

Director: Emilio Estevez

Stars: Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt, Yorik van Wageningen

Tom (Sheen) is golfing one day when he gets a call that his son, Daniel (Estevez) has died while attempting a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago. While collecting the body he think back to his son’s life and decides to take the pilgrimage himself. On the way he encounters a number of weird and wonderful people, including Sarah (Unger), an acerbic Canadian who seems to have a disdain for, well, everything, Jack (Nesbitt), an exuberant Irish writer who sees everything as material for his craft, and Joost (van Wageningen), a kind Dutchman who shields some emotional pain.

The Way is a movie in which one can completely lose themselves. It’s paced perfectly to allow you to remain engaged throughout. The landscapes and scenery are beautiful and if your’e anything like me it will inspire deep feelings of wanderlust. The characters and situations that Tom encounters are funny and interesting, but there are also moments of high drama as well. The little pack he eventually forms are all different types of people but they’re interesting and endearing in their own way, although I think most people’s favourite will be Joost. As well as a story about the meaning of life, it also acts as a travelogue, as it shows the different places in which they stay.

I particularly liked the ending of the journey as it captured that sad feeling that occurs when you reach the point where you know you aren’t going to see the people around for a long time, maybe never.

I felt that Tom was a bit too gruff and reticent for most of the film and he could have opened up a little more. The film dropped the ball on the music too. There was a lot of Western music used, and while some of it fit in well other times it felt out of place, and some more local music would have better accentuated the atmosphere.

Aside from those criticisms I found it quite a wonderful movie with a lot of substance. It deals with some deep topics but it doesn’t feel heavy and it doesn’t drag out. I liked it a lot and like the characters in the movie, I was sad when the journey ended.

5 Movie Monsters

Dave's Corner of the Universe

Recently I wrote a post about five modern monsters. Weather you believe they are real or from the realm of folklore the thing I found fascinating about them was that you could pretty much trace their origins. Today I am going to go over five creatures whose fictitious origins are a given. Still we see their genesis and development from an idea to full fledge creatures from the land of nightmares. To me they are no less interesting than the supposedly real monsters, just because they are creatures in a movie.

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The Predator.

Big Momma Big Momma isn’t happy then no one is happy.

Who’d a thunk that a 1987 sci-fi movie shot in Mexico would have produced two governors? (Schwarzenegger and Ventura) Or that it would have two sequels and two cross over movies with the alien xenomorphs, as well as a slew of comics, novels and video games.

PredatorMovieposter

We…

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Book Review – Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

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Full Dark, No Stars contains four stories. 1922 is about a man who is finally confessing to the murder of his wife. Big Driver follows a woman who tries to exact vengeance on the trucker who raped her. Fair Extension is about a man who is intensely jealous of his best friend, who seems to have had all the luck in the world, but that’s about to change. Finally, A Good Marriage is about a woman who discovers her husband harbors a deadly secret.

The collection starts off strongly with 1922. I liked the confession and how the story unfolded and developed. There’s a lot more to it than just him having murdered his wife. There was a lot of tragedy and I felt a surge of emotion for the characters and how they ended up, with a good ending that sheds a new light on some earlier events.

Big Driver was a come down after that. I didn’t enjoy this one at all. I felt the rape happened quite casually and it just didn’t ring true. I never got the sense that the protagonist was a real person and thus I found it difficult to become invested in her story.

Fair Extension has a good concept about the balance of luck. It does seem that some people have it easy while others struggle. It’s probably a fallacy of human perception but it is a common feeling that I’m sure we have all felt at some point. I liked how the story was presented as it went through different periods to show the changing fortunes between the families of the two men, although I do feel it could have been developed a little more. I would have loved it if this story was a little longer and Big Driver had been shorter.

The last story, A Good Marriage, was enjoyable. It was about the concept of marriage and whether you can truly know someone, even after years and years of spending your life together. I felt the narration was strong and again, unlike Big Driver the protagonist felt authentic.

Overall it’s a pretty good book, with three out of four of the stories being enjoyable. But I’ve read a number of King books now and for someone purported to be the master of horror I’m yet to read one that truly chills me.