Thursday, November 13, 2014

This Dracula Doesn’t Suck

The gritty vampire re-boot drives audiences batty in the surprisingly entertaining Dracula Untold. 


ARTH VADER (AV): For a character that bears no introduction, the re-imagined origin of the infamous Vlad the Impaler–more commonly known as Count Dracula–menaces his enemies and delights us, somehow, in this latest vamp en fuego film. All the story elements are in place to make for what could have been an epic origin tale. Keeping line with Dracula's mythos, the film takes place in Transylvania and spins the tale of a desperate Vlad eager to save his people from invading Turks while holed up in Castle Dracula. 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): The story of Dracula has probably been one of the most told stories on the silver screen. We have certainly had our fair share of vampire films in recent years. For me it was refreshing to have this “untold” tale told. The attempt to incorporate history was well intentioned, if not at all accurate. With a little more effort and attention to historic detail, it would have been much more enjoyable, at least for me.


AV: Director Gary Shore pulls no punches in this latest vampire epic with a story of ‘super-Drac’. Luke Evans plays  Transylvania’s original pain in the neck as an insanely handsome and brooding Vlad. To me, Ponty, there are only a couple of roles that even matter in this film. Other than Vlad, is the role of The Master Vampire played by Charles “Lord Tyrell” Dance. He is over-the-top ominous, creepy, frightening and oddly compelling as ‘Vampire Zero’. The only other role that has any (AHEM) tooth, is the role of the twisted Turk overlord, Mehmed, played by Dominic “Howard Stark” Cooper. While hardly in a league to stop the Prince of the Undead, Cooper’s portrayal is cardboard clone but that seems somehow strangely fitting. Thought’s P–Man? 

TP: The performance of Luke Evans carries this film Vader. He brings Vlad the Impaler to life in a way that diverges from what I expected. As the antagonist, Dominic Cooper had very little to do and the script did not allow much breathing room to expand his character. In fact, at just 90 minutes, there wasn’t too much that could be done except to focus on the progression of Dracula. The film moved along steadily and never really gave me time to ponder all the plot holes while it fed me candy.


AV: Oh boy, were there ever visual effects in this movie, Pontificator! There were so many bats in this film, I thought the title character was Bruce Wayne (insert crickets here). Seriously, are there this many bats on Earth? Vlad is able to summon an obscene number of flying rodents in to–literally–crush his enemies. We aren’t talking a few hundred thousand here, folks, its millions and millions of the little flying rats. Drac not only turns into one himself, but apparently he can summon a seemingly endless number of them and the film does a beautiful job of portraying this onscreen. Other notable effects are the over-the-top but enjoyable combat scenes and effects in the cave are disturbingly authentic. Ponts? 

TP: IMAX is the preferred medium for…everything, and this film was visually pleasing. There was no new ground broken for special effects, but there were also no mistakes with them. The scenes with the sunlight searing vampire flesh looked genuine, the landscapes were enthralling, and the costuming was done well… if not entirely accurate historically.


AV: As the first installment of the Dracula trilogy and the vanguard (film) of Universal Studio’s new ‘monster cinematic universe’ (MCU), you can read more on that here , Dracula Untold shows promise in the visual effects department but lacks in quality storytelling. As part of this new universe of monsters, Dracula delivers a good-looking, empty-headed film devoid of character connectivity but still, strangely enough, holds promise for future installments. Many of the characters in this film are mis-cast or phone-in their often dopey, poorly-delivered or dodgy performances. Hopefully this less-than-spectacular opening salvo for this new MCU will help universal build on its new ‘universe’ the right way; with quality screenplays, a focus on meaningful writing and proper casting. 

TP: This film wasn’t the best film ever made, but it also was not the worst. I enjoyed it very much, but not because of the special effects and gore (or should I say lack of gore as it could have been much bloodier). What intrigued me most about the film was the story of Dracula being the “hero.” I have never seen him told in such a way, so the title of the film turned out to be very accurate to what it delivered. The characterization of Dracula as a family man willing to sacrifice his humanity to protect his family and people made him someone worth watching and made me actually care about his circumstances. This film turned a monster into a hero…and if that isn’t a story that has never been told before about Dracula, I don’t know what is.


AV: This one’s in the bag already, oh Pontificatorious one. Universal is all-in with a three-Dracula film trilogy and that is just the start. With a whole phalanx of movies streaming at us filled with werewolves, mummies, Frankenstein’s Monster(s?) and the like, we will soon see theaters filled with more monsters than we can shake a pitchfork at. Lets hope for Universal’s sake, those theaters won’t be empty. 

TP: Usually the box office bottom line determines the future fate sequels, but it seems Universal is “all in” and the film certainly set itself up to continue the story… and the next chapter will most assuredly be very different than the first. 


ARTH VADER rates Dracula Untold: From its dopey name to the downright non-sensical story, Dracula Untold is bleeding opportunities (see what I did there?) trying to tell a good story with a lot of holes. If this new ‘universe’ is to move forward in the right direction, Universal has to do better. With sparks of promise in the performances of the two primary Vamps and strong visual effects, this Dracula reboot (now that its been told and stuff) has potential but still has a long, long way to go. Still, as entertaining as it is ridiculous, I grab my garlic and my holy cross and jam wooden stakes into the hearts of 6 busted blocks in the hopes that Dracula Untold will rise again, better than ever. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Dracula Untold: Love, sacrifice, revenge and hope are what carried this film for me. Yes, I loved the action. Yes I loved the effects. What got me most was the underlying theme of all the entirety of the film happening for a love so strong, it trumped the thirst for blood. With a story truly “untold” this film drained seven (7) busted and bloody blocks. 

Dracula Untold: 6.5 Busted Blocks

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Scatterbrained Maze Runner Entertains

The unexpectedly intelligent Maze Runner leaves audiences with more questions than answers.


ARTH VADER (AV): Holding surprisingly true to the book of the same name by James Dasher, the young-adult post apocalyptic tale is the opening salvo of a trilogy. My kids all read the book series so I was odd-man out at the theater but given their–often audible–reactions, it appears the film tracked fairly well with its audience. Was that your experience, Pontificator? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): The Maze Runner, like most books made into films, did not make the transition without some changes Vader. I’ll let avid readers of the books (your Sithling children) decide if they were minor to major ones (Ben being a runner, the look of the Grievers, no telepathy) but in the end, the film was not something totally unrecognizable from the book. It remains to be seen if future installments align more or diverge more, from the books they will be derived from.


AV: With an entire squadron of fresh-faced up and comers, Maze Runner was rife with genuine, new pasty-faced, wide-eyed young Hollywood hopefuls. Director Wes “God I love Star Trek” Ball shared a cinematographic vision that is oddly gripping and carries the viewer through a very swiss-cheese storyline. Despite the many issues this film has–and believe me, there are many–the entertainment value is high. The story-pacing does well to move the shoddy screenplay forward. The acting is nothing to write home about, but their is magic here, and the cast feels engaged.

TP: Bring out your young up and coming actors, we have a teen movie to film! This is a great film to get some actors started as evidenced by there being no really big names in the film. Dylan O’Brien leads with help from Aml Ameen and Ki Hong Lee. All deliver good performances and the film flows well enough from the directing. My only issue was with the story, but I’ll get into that a little later.


AV: I was expecting heavy-handed visual effects in Maze Runner, and by jove, P-Man, we got ‘em! The spider-like guardians (keepers) of the maze, imagined as some odd hybrid of monster and machine, was a well-handled visual effect. Watching the maze, shift and transform was an awesome spectacle. While not a particularly stunning visual effects film, the notable effects that were shown were quite well-handled.

TP: There were no breakthroughs in technology or new ground broken visually, but there were also no glaring mistakes (as far as I could see). The effects were good, heck, even great in those scenes where the landscape was the special effect. The film drew me in with a sense of being there, which helped given my grievances with the actual plot. 


AV: This movie doesn’t require a lot of brain power to absorb. What’s nice is the feeling that there is a bigger plan in place. Why are these kids here? Why are there no girls (until the very first shows up near the end)? Why go through all the trouble to look these young boys and men away and have them fight for their lives and slog it out for their salvation against the elements, weird wild animals, and each other? Leaving me with more questions than answers is fine. My issues with this film are the inconsistent acting quality, even from individual actors and the goofy premise to the story. However, the film’s end offers a nice twist (again, didn’t read the book so the end was a surprise). The end of film does leave audiences in a kind of WTH moment and also leaves an interesting door open for a sequel (or sequels). P-Tiff?

TP: I was very excited about this film seeing the previews, not so much after seeing the film O’Dark One. I just don’t get it. A solar event has killed half the population of the planet and ravaged the surface. A virus had popped up soon after killing even more. To combat the virus, teenagers are put into a plush, green, thriving arena to be tested to engineer a cure for the virus? What? Um…why not just take them to a lab and test them biochemically? Obviously they have advanced technology to engineer the Grievers, a mesh of biology and technology. How is dumping these children into a maze, exposing them to dangerous conditions, even killing some of them, advancing the cure for the virus? Visually, the film was fun…intellectually, it made no sense. 


AV: Its always odd to me when films come out with the intention of being the first of a trilogy, rather than being a solid film all its own. Maze Runner has been out for nigh on 5 weeks as of this blog post and has raked in just shy of $95 million. With a (reported) production budget of $34 million, that makes this a marginally profitable film with promise for a sequel. The real question to ask is, ‘would you see another installment of this film?” Yes, Ponty, yes I would.

TP: There are two more books in the trilogy, so I expect that as long as box office bottom line is viable (and its “just” according to the numbers), we will see those books on the silver screen. Hopefully the story improves.


ARTH VADER Rates The Maze Runner: If you find yourself in need of overly trite teenage melodrama filled with man-boy actors trying to make sense of a non-sensical world–and let’s face it, who isn’t–then Maze Runner is for you. I can’t lie, I did enjoy this movie. Even with a cumbersome plot and lofty screenplay you can still have a good time. Engaging, if not brainless, Maze Runner earns six (6) busted, if not puzzling blocks.

THE PONTIFICATOR Rates The Maze Runner: The film was fun to watch visually, but the constant questions nagging me and the less-than-fulfilling answers that followed tainted this film for me. The story just doesn’t make sense and that says a lot for someone like me that often suspends logic and belief for the sake of entertainment. Leaving the maze was just the beginning, and this film only found six (6) busted blocks on the way to the exit.

Maze Runner:  6 / 10 Busted Blocks