12 Years a Slave

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1841, Solomon Northup is a free African-American man working as a violinist, who lives with his wife, Anne Hampton, and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York. Two men, Brown and Hamilton, offer him a two-week job as a musician if he will travel to Washington, D.C., with them. Once there, they drug Northup and deliver him to a slave pen owned by James Burch.

Northup is shipped to New Orleans along with others who have been captured. A slave trader named Freeman gives Northup the identity of “Platt”, a runaway slave from Georgia and sells him to plantation owner William Ford. Northup impresses Ford when he engineers a waterway for transporting logs swiftly and cost-effectively across a swamp, and Ford presents him with a violin in gratitude into which he carves the names of his wife and children.

Ford’s carpenter John Tibeats resents Northup and the tensions between them escalate. Tibeats attacks Northup, who defends himself. In retaliation, Tibeats and his friends attempt to lynch Northup, but they are prevented by Ford’s overseer, Chapin, though Northup is left in the noose standing on tiptoe for many hours. Ford finally cuts Northup down, but chooses to sell him to planter Edwin Epps to protect him from Tibeats. Northup attempts to explain that he is actually a free man, but Ford states that he “cannot hear this” and responds “he has a debt to pay” on Northup’s purchase price.

In contrast to the relatively benevolent Ford, Epps is a sadistic man who believes his right to abuse his slaves is biblically sanctioned. The slaves are beaten if they fail to pick at least 200 pounds (91 kg) of cotton every day. A young female slave named Patsey picks over 500 pounds (230 kg) daily, and is praised lavishly by Epps. Epps is attracted to Patsey and repeatedly rapes her, causing Epps’ wife to become jealous and frequently humiliate and degrade Patsey. Patsey’s only comfort is visiting Mistress Shaw, a former slave whose owner fell in love with her and elevated her to Mistress. Patsey wishes to die and begs Northup to kill her but he refuses.

Some time later, an outbreak of cotton worm befalls Epps’ plantation. Unable to work his fields, he leases his slaves to a neighboring plantation for the season. While there, Northup gains the favor of the plantation’s owner, Jurge Turner, who allows him to play the fiddle at a neighbor’s wedding anniversary celebration, and to keep his earnings. When Northup returns to Epps, he attempts to use the money to pay a white field hand and former overseer, Armsby, to mail a letter to Northup’s friends in New York state. Armsby agrees to deliver the letter, and accepts all Northup’s saved money, but betrays him to Epps. Northup is narrowly able to convince Epps that Armsby is lying and avoids punishment. Northup tearfully burns the letter, his only hope of freedom.

Northup begins working on the construction of a gazebo with a Canadian laborer named Bass. Bass is unsettled by the brutal way that Epps treats his slaves and expresses his opposition to slavery, earning Epps’ enmity. One day, Epps becomes enraged after discovering Patsey missing from the plantation. When she returns, she reveals she was gone to get a bar of soap from Mistress Shaw, as a result of being forbidden soap by Mary Epps. Epps does not believe her and orders her flogged. Encouraged by his wife, Epps forces Northup to flog Patsey to avoid doing it himself. Northup reluctantly obeys, but Epps eventually takes the whip away from Northup, savagely lashing Patsey.

Northup purposely destroys his violin, and while continuing to work on the gazebo, Northup confides his kidnapping to Bass. Once again, Northup asks for help in getting a letter to Saratoga Springs. Bass, risking his life, agrees to send it.

One day, Northup is called over by the local sheriff, who arrives in a carriage with another man. The sheriff asks Northup a series of questions to confirm his answers match the facts of his life in New York. Northup recognizes the sheriff’s companion as C. Parker, a shopkeeper he knew in Saratoga. Parker has come to free him, and the two embrace, though an enraged Epps furiously protests the circumstances and tries to prevent him from leaving. Before Northup can board the coach to leave, Patsey cries out to him, and they embrace in a bittersweet farewell. Knowing that they are in potential danger, at the urging of Parker and the sheriff Northup finishes his tearful goodbye with Patsey and immediately leaves the plantation.

After being enslaved for twelve years, Northup is restored to freedom and returned to his family. As he walks into his home, he sees Anne, Alonzo, Margaret and her husband, who present him with his grandson and namesake, Solomon Northup Staunton. Concluding credits recount the inability of Northup and his legal counsel to prosecute Brown, Hamilton and Burch, as well as the publishing of Northup’s 1853 slave narrative memoir Twelve Years a Slave and the mystery surrounding details of his death and burial.

REVIEW:

Many countries have had slavery in their history, but I swear the U.S. has to have had treated their slaves, not to mention anyone who didn’t agree with their way of thinking, the worst. 12 Years a Slave is another in a long line of films about the wrongs of slavery. This one was a critics’ darling, racking up the awards and forever etching itself in the history books, but how good is it, really?

What is this about?

Based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty (personified by a malevolent slave owner, portrayed by Michael Fassbender), as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) will forever alter his life.

What did I like?

Tragedy. It is never comfortable talking about how inhumane people have been treated throughout history, whether it be the Native Americans losing their land, the Jews being oppressed by the Nazis, or slavery. Now, to make this a more dramatic story, our protagonist needed to be a free man, a successful one by the looks of it, with a wife and kids. He is led to believe that his violin prowess may allow him to earn a couple of extra bucks in Washington, D.C., but it turns out that he has been kidnapped and will become a slave, a practice that was commonplace, sadly. What is the most tragic about this? As it turns out, this is based on a true story!

New stars. One of the reasons we haven’t got that Black Panther movie yet is that there just aren’t enough African-American actors that can bring in audiences and, let’s face it, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, Idris Elba, and to a lesser extent, Djimon Hounsou, aren’t going to be around forever. With 42 and this summer’s Get On Up, we have a new star in Chadwick Bozeman, but I think his talent may be eclipsed by the stars of this film, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o. I always say that films of yesteryear have actors that actually act, while today they just read the lines and collect a paycheck. Well, these two are a throwback, as they put everything have into these roles, and boy was it worth it!

Better than the Americans. As someone who live down here in Louisiana, I’m more than a little qualified to comment on the authenticity of these accents. Something that I noticed in the film is that the actors from other countries, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, as well as Brd Pitt (mainly because he’s been in a ton of movies based in and around New Orleans, most notably Interview with the Vampire and The Curious Life of Benjamin Button), all have better southern accents than the Americans (Fassbender does let his Irish slip out now and then). I just find this amusing.

Sing a song. Watch any documentary about slavery, the south, the Civil War, etc., and you’ll hear Negro spirituals. This makes it a no-brainer that with all the scenes of slaves working out in the field, there needs to be some singing. It is a small thing, but sometimes those little things can make the biggest difference, especially when it comes to historical accuracy.

What didn’t I like?

Balance. I am not sure how much different there is between the film and the book, but I would hope that there is a better balance. As it stands, the film spends more time with the “bad guys” than with those that have a more understanding nature. In other words, more of Cumberbatch’s character and/or the Judge person the slaves were shipped off to, would have been nice, rather than a constant barrage of Fassbender and his wife.

N. The ‘N’ word is perhaps the worst term in the English language. Some have said that it is better to listen to a string of obscenities and gutter talk than to hear one utterance of the ‘n’ word, and I cannot argue with that, to be honest. Here we have a slight controversy. With this film, the ‘N’ word is used for historical purposes, but that is the same reason Quentin Tarrantino gave for his constant use of the word in Django Unchained. What is the difference? I couldn’t really find one, other than the different in the directors’ skin color. I think this film makes better use of the word, however, but still takes it a bit too far. I don’t want to get up on a soapbox about this today, but it should be said that the ‘n’ word doesn’t need to be used everytime a film set in the time of slaves is released. If that’s the case, then we’ll get an R-rated Huckleberry Finn when someone finally decides to make another movie about him, and who wants that, really…especially if the rating is based on language!!!

Token white guy. Mr. All-American himself, Brad Pitt, makes an appearance near the film’s end and “saves the day”. Now, there are two ways to look at his appearance. Before I get into that, though, let it be known that Pitt does his usual job of turning in a fine performance. However, why did Pitt have to play that role? Couldn’t it have been some schlub from the street? Second, apologies if this is in the book, but couldn’t someone else have taken the letter? Perhaps a slave from the Underground Railroad? Period withstanding, it just seems as if they were looking for a white guy to “save the day”. Again, I haven’t read the book, so this point may be moot and I could be way off-base. If so, then I accept that.

Very rarely do I agree with the critics, let alone the Academy, but 12 Years a Slave is one of those films that deserves all the accolades that have been lauded on it and then some. Now, I warn you this is a powerful film that you’re more than likely not going to want to just pop in and watch everyday, but it is a film that needs to be seen. Chances are, students will be watching parts of this in history classes in a few years, much the same way they’ve watched Roots and North and South. Do I recommend this? Yes, very highly. It is definitely one of those films that everyone needs to see before they die!

5 out of 5 stars

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Walter Mitty is a negative assets manager at Life magazine who daydreams of adventures and has a crush on a coworker named Cheryl. Mitty works with photojournalist Sean O’Connell, whose images are highly regarded. O’Connell has sent Mitty his latest negatives and a wallet as a gift in appreciation of Mitty’s work. O’Connell believes negative #25 captures the “quintessence” of Life and that it should be used for the cover of the magazine’s final print issue as it converts to online status. The negative is missing, however, and Walter is forced to stall for time with corporate transition manager Ted Hendricks, who is handling the downsizing. While viewing the other negatives outside Life’s offices, Cheryl approaches Mitty and suggests that he think of the negatives as clues to Sean’s location. They look at three of them, including one of a person’s thumb with a unique ring on it, and another of a curved piece of wood. A third picture of a boat leads Mitty to determine that O’Connell is in Greenland. Mitty promptly flies there to find him.

A bartender in Greenland explains that O’Connell left on a ship. To find him, Mitty would need to go on the postal helicopter, and the pilot is drunk. Mitty recognizes the pilot’s thumb with the unique ring and realizes he is on the right track. He at first declines to fly with the intoxicated pilot, but imagines Cheryl singing “Space Oddity”, gains a new confidence and boards the helicopter. Nearing the ship, Mitty learns the helicopter cannot land upon it. Misunderstanding the pilot, instead of jumping into a dinghy boat nearing to catch him, Mitty aims for the main vessel and misses. He splashes down into ice-cold, shark-infested waters, losing a box of ship-to-shore radio components before being brought aboard.

Mitty learns that O’Connell departed the ship earlier. The crew offers him some cake O’Connell left behind; Mitty discovers O’Connell’s destinations in the wrapping paper. The itinerary directs Mitty to Iceland, where O’Connell is photographing the volcano Eyjafjallajökull. An eruption forces Mitty to flee, and as there is nothing left for him to do he obeys a text message recalling him to New York.

For failing to recover the negative, his first failure in a long career with the magazine, Mitty is fired. He learns that Cheryl, who was let go earlier, seems to have reconciled with her estranged husband. Mitty returns home discouraged, throwing away the wallet when he visits his mother. To his surprise, Mitty recognizes the curve of the piano in his mother’s house while looking at the last photograph. When asked, Mitty’s mom mentions having met O’Connell. She had told Mitty before but he was daydreaming and failed to hear her.

Mitty discovers O’Connell is in the Himalayas, and finds him photographing a rare snow leopard. When asked about the negative, O’Connell explains that the message on the gift wrapping to “look inside” was literal; the negative was in the wallet. When pressed to reveal the image on the negative, O’Connell dismisses the question and joins in a high-altitude soccer game with some locals. Mitty flies to Los Angeles but is detained by airport security during a misunderstanding. Mitty calls the only person he knows in Los Angeles: Todd Maher, a representative at eHarmony who has kept in contact during Mitty’s adventures.

While helping his mother sell her piano, Mitty recounts his story but mentions he does not have the wallet anymore. His mother says she always keeps his knickknacks and gives him the wallet that she retrieved from the trash. An emboldened Mitty delivers the negative to Life magazine, tells management that it was the photograph O’Connell wanted for the final issue, and berates Hendricks for disrespecting the staff that made the magazine so honored.

Mitty reunites with Cheryl and learns that Cheryl’s ex-husband was only at her house to repair the refrigerator. Mitty tells Cheryl of his adventures and admits that he still does not know what negative #25 shows. Mitty and Cheryl see the final issue of Life at a newsstand, with its cover dedicated to the staff. It is accompanied by the photograph from negative #25, showing Mitty sitting outside of the Life building, examining a contact sheet. Mitty and Cheryl continue their walk down the street holding hands.

REVIEW:

I swear, everytime I went to the movies earlier this year and last year, there would be a trailer before the trailers started and then a trailer proper for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Eventually, they wore me down and I wanted to see it, but not so sure it would have been worth seeing in the theater, as it looked to be too much on the drama side, as opposed to the adventure genre. Did I make a mistake by waiting? Was this worth watching at all?

What is this about?

In this remake of the 1947 classic comedy, shy photo manager Walter Mitty is constantly daydreaming to escape his humdrum life and domineering mother, but when he gets embroiled in a real-life adventure, he discovers that being a hero is tough work.

What did I like?

Solid as a rock. Ben Stiller has had quite the intriguing career up to this point. For the most part, he is a comedic actor, but usually he is cast as the straight man who gets to crack a joke or two. That is, unless he is doing a cameo or something along the lines of Zoolander. As Walter Mitty, he gets to go back to a bit more serious role, and he shocks all of us that forgot this guy is capable of acting.

Cameos. A couple of characters make effective cameos. First, Patton Oswalt as some sort of eHarmony technical support guy that Stiller’s character becomes friends with over time. Is he just a voice, or a real person? Do we ever get to meet the guy? You just have to wait and see. Speaking of mysterious beings, Sean Penn’s character, the elusive and reclusive photographer Sean O’Connell inspires Stiller to track him down in a quest to find the missing negative #25, only to find out that it was somewhere he hadn’t looked. Still, having Sean Penn as this mysterious, strange character was inspired casting, as he was a nice addition to the cast.

Fantasy. In its heyday, Scrubs was one of my favorite shows, mainly because of how J.D. would zone out and have these outlandish fantasies. The same kind of idea applies with Walter. His fantasies, which become less and less as the film progresses, are the kind that we all have, such as wanting to have an epic throwdown with out dick of a boss. Many people say that the love story or the character development are the best part of this film, but I prefer the fantasies.

What didn’t I like?

Peach fuzz. Adam Scott has made a career out of playing a dick, save for his role on Parks & Recreation. It is a role that suits him, that’s for sure. However, he needs to face the fact that some men just aren’t meant to have facial hair, especially a full beard. It just doesn’t work. For me, looking at him, I couldn’t help but laugh at how fake that beard looked. If that was real, that’s even worse! The beard was so out of place that Stiller’s character make mention of it!

Losing what works. I haven’t read the book that this film is based on, so this point is null and void if the movie isn’t faithful to the source material. The fantasy element that I mentioned earlier which was gradually faded out caused the film to lose some of its lighthearted feel. Sure from there on the action is more prominent and all, but there is just something that fit this character better when he was daydreaming about climbing the Himalayas, rather than actually doing it.

Anticlimactic meeting. The whole film, we hear about Sean Penn’s character as if he was some sort of superhero, but when we finally meet him, he’s just the typical character played by Penn. I wish they would have done something more with him, even if it was to make him more eccentric looney, playing up the comedy angle of the film. At any rate, I felt that after all the hoopla there was before the big reveal, if  you will, as well as the epic journey Stiller’s character embarked on to get to him was a bit anticlimactic, especially since he had already been fired. So, what was the point?

I really don’t have much else to say about The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. This is a solid film, with surprising performances from comedians Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig. Mixing comedy, drama, and adventure, this film manages to strike a nice balance among them all, never allowing the film to become heavy in one genre or another unless it is time. Do I recommend this film? Well, I won’t not recommend it. For me, it was a bit slow in parts and there just wasn’t anything to make me want to come back and watch it again. It just exists, but I won’t dissuade anyone that wants to see it for themselves.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Trailer Thursday 10/16

Posted in Trailer Thursday with tags on October 16, 2014 by Mystery Man

It’s Trailer Thursday!!!

In my search for horror trailers, I have come across quite a few gems, duds, and some that make no damn sense whatsoever. However, a film that I have received many requests for, both as a trailer and a review is Evil Dead. Have a look at the trailer and see what you think.

Strippers vs. Werewolves

Posted in Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

When Mickey, the member of a werewolf gang is accidentally killed in a strip club, the girls who work there have until the next full moon before his bloodthirsty wolfpack seek murderous retribution.

REVIEW:

A few years back, there was a film released called Strippers vs. Zombies starring Jenna Jameson. I have yet to see it all the way through, but from what I saw, it was good, campy fun. With Strippers vs. Werewolves (not in the same universe, as far as I know, for those wondering), I was hoping for the same kind of kitschy tone, but did I get it?

What is this about?

When werewolf chief Jack Ferris is accidentally killed in a strip club the girls who work there have until the next full moon before his bloodthirsty wolfpack seek murderous retribution.

What did I like?

Mythology. As much as vampire mythology has been turned every which way but right with every iteration that comes out, werewolves seem to have received the better half of that deal, if you will. In nearly every pop culture version, these furballs are killers who turn at the full moon and can be killed with a silver bullet. I have to give this film kudos for not straying from that formula, although the invincibility factor I had never heard of before watching this film. Since when were werewolves able to put themselves back together after being blown to pieces?

Pack mentality. Wolves travel in packs and in these packs there are sure to be different personalities? In this particular pack, we have a punk, soccer fan, horny fat/muscle guy, Alpha, and the “normal” one who gets the girl…supposedly. Despite the obvious differences, the pack functions as a band of brothers. When one of their own is missing, they spring to action to find him and extract revenge. I found myself drawn to this aspect of their personas, even if I didn’t agree with their reasoning.

What didn’t I like?

False advertising. Not to come off as someone who is letting his hormones do the talking, but in a film that has strippers as the main character, should there be some stripping? I think in this entire film, there were only 2 girls that showed any kind of skin, one was in a dressing room and the other was on a pole, which I believe was done just to placate the audience. Also, realizing that there wasn’t exactly a huge budget for this film, couldn’ the werewolves have looked like something other than bastard offspring of Eddie Munster? Surely we’ve gotten better with makeup since The Munsters, right?

Vampires. So, we have strippers, werewolves, and in some forgotten subplot there is a guy who fights supernatural beings and apparently broke up with one of the strippers. Not really sure how was that important to the proceedings, other than introducing him so he could show up at the end, but let me not get on a tangent. We also have vampires thrust in to the mix. Thankfully, they aren’t anything warring with the werewolves and seemed preoccupied with Van Helsing wannabe, but the fact that they were included serves no purpose. Now, had it turned out that the strippers were actually zombies, that would have been better, but alas, no dice.

Freddy’s dead. This film had two names to draw people in, Page 6 model Lucy Pinder, making her film debut, so we can’t be too hard on her, plus she only has like 3 lines of dialogue. The big name, though, was Robert Englund! Yes, Freddy Krueger is in this film, but we don’t even see him until the last 30 minutes or so and that is only for one scene, not counting a post-credits cameo. I question why they even bothered giving Englund a character if he was to be this underused.

With a title like Strippers vs. Werewolves, who would expect such a serious flick? I just got into a discussion about movies not being fun anymore since Christopher Nolan appeared last night, and this seems to be another example of a film that by all accounts should be a fun romp, but instead is nothing more than a bore. To me, it felt like a child who was full of energy, jumping around all over the place (that is the audience’s expectations), until they do something wrong, get in trouble and are grounded by their parents (what we experience after watching). No, I don’t recommend this to my worst enemy, unless they’re having trouble sleeping. Stay away! Far away!

1 out of 5 stars

Dracula Untold

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In an opening montage the son of Vlad the Impaler recounts the history surrounding the legendary character known as Dracula, and how the stories tell of a monster. Seeking to dispel the legend, Vlad the Impaler’s son recounts the events around which the one known as Dracula came to be.

In the middle ages the Sultan of Turkey sought to acquire and train boys in order to turn them into perfect soldiers who would hold no moral or ethical obligations. One such boy was Vlad, who became known as “the impaler” after his use of wooden stakes to display those whom he killed as a form of psychological warfare. Ultimately, Vlad was able to escape from his duty as a soldier, and was made the prince of Transylvania, a tribute territory to the Turkish Empire. While on a scouting mission in the woods Vlad and his team discover a Turkish helmet, and deduce that a scouting party of Turks have entered Transylvania territory. In their search for the party, Vlad and his men enter a cave in the mountains and encounter an ancient sorcerer and master vampire, who subsequently kills Vlad’s men, and drives Vlad out of his lair.

The following day, as Vlad and his subjects celebrate Easter, the Turkish party arrives unexpected. Anticipating that they have come for the tribute, Vlad offers the party silver coins, but the envoy demands that 1,000 boys be given over for service in the Turkish army. Vlad turns down the request, but lacks an effective armed force to compel the Turks to leave Transylvania in peace. After a failed attempt at diplomacy with the Turkish Sultan, Vlad skirmishes with a Turkish party that arrived to take his son for service in Turkish army. Realizing that he will need more power in order to defend his territory and his people, Vlad seeks out the vampire’s cave and explains that he has need of the vampire’s power. After listening to his story and cautioning him about the risks, the Master Vampire offers Vlad some of his blood, which infuses Vlad with the powers of the night. The Master Vampire explains that this power will last for three days, during which time Vlad will be tempted to drink human blood, but if he can withstand the urge for all three days he will be restored to his human form, also warning Vlad that,if Vlad accepts his curse and drink another’s blood, he will be released from his prison.

Upon his return from the cave Vlad observes a Turkish siege of Castle Dracula, and single-handedly takes on the besieging force, killing all but one (whom he leaves alive to deliver a message to the Sultan). Determined to protect his people at all costs, Vlad instructs the party to fall back to a mountain monastery whose geography will hinder any Turkish attempt to take the facility. It is here that Vlad meets Shkelgim, who dubs himself Vlad’s servant and gives him blood, only for Vlad to show hostility and refuse the offer. During the second night, the Transylvanian party is ambushed by Turkish forces, and Vlad and his men engage them. Although victorious in the engagement Vlad’s powers begin to attract attention from his closest advisers. The next day at the monastery, as Vlad attempts to rally his people ahead of the battle, his use of the demonic powers is exposed and the citizens at the monastery subsequently turn on Vlad, attempting to burn him to death in a tent. Angered over this perceived betrayal, Vlad- escaping the tent as the smoke created by the fire blocks out the sun- chastises his people before taking his leave.

That night, a massive Turkish force marches on the monastery. Vlad employs bats to defend the territory, however the incoming Turkish army turns out to be a decoy force deployed to allow a handful of Turks to infiltrate the monastery and kill the citizens within. Mirena’s attempt to defend her son from the Turks fails, and she ultimately falls to her death, despite Vlad’s attempt to save her. Angered over the loss of his wife, Vlad embraces the darkness within himself and honors Mirena’s last request to drink her blood to give him the strength to save their son before his time as a vampire expires. Returning to the monastery to find a handful of survivors, Vlad offers each the chance for vengeance, and gives them his blood to drink.

At the primary Turkish Army camp the Sultan and his men are preparing for a massive invasion of Europe when Vlad and his small band of vampires arrive. A battle erupts between the two forces, however Vlad’s vampires are vastly superior to the Turkish soldiers, and the battle degenerates into a massacre. While the vampires take their vengeance on the Turkish forces Vlad seeks out the Sultan, who has taken his son captive. Aware of the vampire’s weakness to silver, the Sultan has lined the floors of his tent with silver coins, and engages in a battle with Vlad using a silver sword. Ultimately, despite his use of silver to weaken Vlad and a wooden stake to try and impale his heart, the Sultan’s attempt to kill Vlad fails, with Vlad turning briefly into a flock of bats to escape his assault and then drink his blood.

With his enemy vanquished, Vlad and his son emerge from the Sultan’s tent, whereupon they are surrounded by the other vampires Vlad brought. Vlad’s vampires demand to drink the child’s blood, arguing that the child does not matter now that Vlad is prince to the vampires, but they are stopped by the unexpected presence of a Monk, who keeps the vampires at bay with a Christian cross. After consoling his son, Vlad instructs the monk to take him away, then uses his power to clear the cloud coverage. The absence of the clouds results in the death of the vampires as they are unable to withstand the effects of direct sun contact.

In the aftermath of the battle, Vlad is presumed dead and the Turkish army defeated, leaving Europe safe from invasion and occupation. Vlad’s son is crowned the new prince of Transylvania, and the name Dracula is passed down to future generations as a legend. Finding him in his near death state, Shkelgim finds and revives Vlad, who then remains out of the public eye.

In the present day, a woman named Mina who strikingly resembles Mirena is approached by a man who complements her flowers and recites her favorite piece of poetry, seemingly by coincidence. The man introduces himself as “Vlad”, and the two depart together. Unbeknownst to him, the Master Vampire has also survived the centuries of time and proceeds to follow them, reciting the very words that he said to Vlad prior to turning him into a vampire: “Let the games begin.”

REVIEW:

Dracula is perhaps the most revered, respected, and complex characters in the annuls of horror. Part of this is perhaps linked to the fact that, unlike the Invisible Man, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula was a real person. Well, he was based on a real person. Dracula Untold takes the history of Vlad the Impaler and the mythos of Dracula’s origins, smashed them together like peanut butter and jelly and gives us a film that may or may not be worthwhile.

What is this about?

Blending elements of history and vampire mythology, this new look at the life of the legendary Dracula explores his origin, from his first foray into darkness to his ultimate evolution as a bloodsucking fiend.

What did I like?

Savagery. Ever since to infernal Twilight movies came out, our vampires have been anything but the savage creatures they are supposed to be. Sure, True Blood had some glimpses here and there, but even with them, they were mainly housewife fodder, to coin a term. The vampires in this film don’t care about anything but feeding and revenge. As you can imagine, this leads to lots of killing, which is what vampires do, rather than sparkle in the sunlight or pontificate upon their feelings for one mysteriously powerful female.

Luke Evans. For this film to work, the guy playing Vlad had to be able to convey compassion, mercy, restraint, repressed anger, etc., as well as give a solid performance. I believe that Luke Evans did a more than adequate job delivering a knockout performance, laying to rest any questions as to whether he is a big enough star to carry a film on his own, one that has no “name” actors, save for Dominic Cooper. Evans’ star has been on the rise since…well, I first saw him in The Three Musketeers. I believe his big leap was in Fast & Furious 6. Evans’ time is now and with this performance, he shows he can take the ball and run with it.

Shock and awe. When I first saw the trailer for this during the early part of the summer, I was quickly taken aback. At first, I thought they had hidden the fact that they were making a movie based on the game Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and its recently released sequel. At times, this film feels like this could have very well been just that. Maybe someone in Hollywood should take notes if they ever decide to pull that trigger. All that aside, the action scenes are fantastic. There is one scene, this is after Evans first gets his powers, where he walks out to face 10,000 Turks on his own, mixing his own renown (and feared) skills with his new vampire powers. It is quite a sight, but this just the beginning, as the other scenes of action, while not as impactful, are just as exciting!

What didn’t I like?

Nobody’s business but the Turks. I’m not sure how historically accurate this film is regarding the Turks, but it seems a bit odd that they were just allowed to take 1000 boys from these kingdoms, train them, and then come back and defeat them with those very boys, who have now been fully brainwashed! Also, in another case of Hollywood not wanting to take the time to find someone of correct ethnic origin, Dominic Cooper is sprayed yellow, so as to appear as if he’s a Turk. The strange thing about this is, his men appear to be authentically ethnic. WTF?!? Hollywood?

Future. In a sort of epilogue to the film, and also something that happens in the aforementioned Castlevania, we are suddenly transported to present day. Personally, I didn’t think was necessary, unless somehow Dracula had come back, turned his son, and they were going live out eternity together. Sadly, that was not the case, as we get Dracula coming across a woman, who coincidentally looks just like his long dead wife, named Mina (a nod to the famous character from the novels). Was this all necessary? I think not, but rumor is they are attempting to start up a rebooted Universal monster “universe”, if you will. Time will tell on that one, though.

Just die already. I know this is a movie and deaths are elongated for dramatic effect and such, but falling from the top of a castle down into a ravine filled with jagged rocks is sure to kill one on impact, and yet Vlad’s wife is able to hang on long enough to spout a few mournful lines and tell him to feed on her. First, let me touch on her living so long. Yes, Vlad dives down to save her, and it is possible he cushioned her fall, but I don’t think he got there in time. This was just drug out for dramatic effect. As far as the feeding goes, the deal was that he had to avoid drinking blood for 3 days. If he managed to do this, he would return to his normal form. All he had to do was make it to sundown and he would have been human again. Instead, his dying wife insists he give up his humanity because she’s dying. I know she was dying and all, but did she not think about their son? Maybe that’s just my weird train of thought, but it seemed a bit insensitive, to me, especially since this whole mess is about trying to protect the boy!

Not since Bram Stoker’s Dracula has Vlad the Impaler’s story been told as well, and in a sympathetic way, as here in Dracula Untold. Yes, liberties were taken, but this is a Dracula movie, not a Vlad biopic. Speaking on the film proper, I found it to be quite entertaining, albeit a little slow in pockets. I do have a bit of a complaint with the old vampire, he went on this long diatribe about how he would hunt down the one who betrayed him, and yet we don’t see him again until the very end of the film. Perhaps he is being setup for something more in the proposed future films? Also, it seems to me that this should have been a much more bloody and violent flick. Perhaps the Pg-13 rating held it back, though. Ugh! I wish studios would stop being so concerned about a “guaranteed audience” and just make the film the way it is meant to me made, but that’s a topic for another day. So, do I recommend this film? Yes, it is October, so you’re more than likely in the mood for something in this, um…vein? Also, there isn’t much coming out right now that is worth watching, as this is when studios release the stuff they didn’t think was good enough for the summer or holiday movie seasons. Check it out, why don’t you?

3 3/4 out of 5 stars

Scooby-Doo

Posted in Comedy, Family, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In a warehouse, the Mystery, Inc. gang illustrates a plan to catch the Luna Ghost who has kidnapped Daphne Blake (Sarah Michelle Gellar), flying around with her bound and gagged which goes astray but ends with Shaggy Rogers, (Matthew Lillard) and Scooby-Doo, (voiced by Neil Fanning) causing the Ghost to be caught. After solving the mystery, constant arguments among the members of Mystery Incorporated about Fred Jones (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) taking credit for Velma Dinkley’s (Linda Cardellini) ideas cause the gang to go their separate ways, much to the sadness of Shaggy and Scooby. Two years later, Shaggy and Scooby are approached to solve the mystery of the popular horror resort Spooky Island, reuniting with Fred, Daphne and Velma, although none of the latter are thrilled to see each other, except for Shaggy and Scooby, who still want Mystery Incorporated to re-unite. On the island, the gang meets Emile Mondavarious (Rowan Atkinson), the park’s owner, who explains his theory that visitors are being cursed. Shaggy falls in love with a girl named Mary Jane (Isla Fisher), while Scooby is mysteriously targeted by demonic creatures. Velma meets a man named N’Goo Tuana and his henchman, the famous luchador Zarkos, who explains that demons once ruled the island.

The gang visits the island’s abandoned ghost castle, where Daphne finds a pyramid-shaped artifact called the Daemon Ritus and Velma and Fred find a strange room with videos designed to address non-humans. When the gang returns to the hotel, they are attacked by the island demons, who kidnap numerous tourists including Fred, Velma and Mondavarious. The next day, Daphne is captured by Zarkos, while Shaggy and Scooby discover Fred, Velma and the tourists are now possessed by the demons. The two flee with Mary Jane, until Scooby realizes she is possessed as well. In the midst of an argument between Scooby and Shaggy, Scooby falls down a hole, followed by Shaggy, who dives in to save him. Shaggy comes across a vat containing the protoplasmic souls of everyone who was captured, including the rest of the gang, and releases the gangs’ souls to their bodies. Velma discovers that the demons are destroyed in sunlight just like vampires, while Daphne and Fred’s souls end up in the wrong bodies.

Shaggy steals the Daemon Ritus and reunites with the gang after their souls correct themselves. Coming across Voodoo Maestro, the gang learns that if the leader of the demons absorbs a pure soul through the Daemon Ritus, then the demons shall rule the world for the next 10,000 years. The pure soul belongs to Scooby, while the demons’ leader is Mondavarious. Shaggy convinces the gang to put their differences aside and finally work together to save Scooby. They form a plan but it fails and Scooby’s soul is extracted. Scooby is saved by Shaggy, wounding Mondavarious in the attempt. Fred and Velma discover he is actually a robot, controlled by none other than Scooby’s nephew, Scrappy-Doo (voiced by Scott Innes), who the gang abandoned years ago due to his egotism. Now vengeful, Scrappy transforms into a giant demon called Scrappy Rex (voiced by J. P. Manoux) to destroy the gang and rule the world using the tourists’ souls he absorbed.

Daphne fights Zarkos above the island’s caves, knocking him through the roof, which exposes the demons to sunlight and kills them. Shaggy confronts Scrappy and rips the Daemon Ritus from his chest, freeing the souls and reverting Scrappy to his original self. Shaggy finds the real Mondavarious trapped in a hole and frees him. Scrappy and his minions are arrested. Daphne and Fred kiss, Shaggy and Mary-Jane hug along with Scooby, and Velma hugs a man she met earlier then punched him while laughing. When Mystery Incorporated addresses the press, Velma thinks that Fred will take credit for her ideas again, however Fred lets Velma take the credit she deserves after feeling bad for her. Mystery Incorporated is then re-united after Scrappy-Doo and Zarkos are arrested.

At the end, Scooby and Shaggy are eating food at the Spooky Island hotel. They both eat hot peppers and scream as smoke comes out of the hotel

REVIEW:

Chances are you grew up watching some version of Scooby-Doo, unless you’re from the generations before he was created. As such, there is a great love for this giant, talking great dane, even from someone like me who despises dogs! So, it is any wonder that there was a live-action Scooby-Doo film? The question is, though, does this do Scooby justice?

What is this about?

In this live-action feature, Scooby, Shaggy, Daphne, Fred and Velma journey to Spooky Island, where a magical force is awakened that could spell doom for the human race. But the Mystery Inc. gang remains skeptical that there are any ghosts at work.

What did I like?

Bring the cartoon to life. There have been a number of cartoons that have been brought to life on the big screen, but many critics have called them “too cartoony”. Am I the only one that sees the irony in that? This film manages to not be as cartoony, but still keep that fun tone of the cartoons. Let’s face it, you’re not going into this expecting some sort of epic dark flick. If you are, then you have some serious issues and need some help. The bright colors, food jokes, witty banter are all there from the beloved show. All that was missing was a cameo from the Harlem Globetrotters!

So that’s what happened! In this day and age, it is regrettably popular to make fun of and criticize the things we loved and grew up with. How else do you explain the popularity of Robot Chicken? I mean, seriously, Optimus Prime with prostate cancer?!? Anyway, when we’re not criticizing and having a laugh at the expense of nostalgia, we have the urge to wonder what happened after the proverbial cameras stopped rolling. In this case, we find out that Mystery, Inc. kept fighting crime for a little bit, but eventually they disbanded, going their separate ways and doing their own thing. Since the setting is a couple of years after that, then it is a nice touch to see what did happen, although I think that should have been more than 2 years.

Shaggy. For the most part, the cast brings these characters to life. I know that Freddie Prinze, Jr. is a huge fan of Scooby-Doo (and Sarah Michelle Gellar probably is…by marriage HA!), so his take on Fred is earnest. Linda Cardellini is dead on with Velma, but the shining star has to be Matthew Lillard as Shaggy. He not only has the tall, lanky look I’d expect from out favorite alleged stoner, he also has the voice. No, it isn’t quite Casey Kasem, but it’s a passable facsimile. Leave us not forget that Lillard also manages to bring the lovable side of Shaggy to the screen, his relationship with Scooby (and food), and gets a love interest in the uber cute Isla Fisher (who looks totally different as a blonde). Did I mention that this guy has done such a good job with the character that he is currently voicing him in the current cartoons!

What didn’t I like?

Sexualization of Velma. Velma’s sexual orientation has long been the topic of conversation, which may be the reason they decided to have her hook up with Shaggy in the new abomination of a cartoon they have now. However, in this film, they decide to capitalize on Linda Cardellini’s hotness, as well as the mind control part of the plot and took her out of her glasses and loose-fitting turtleneck (keeping the knee socks and making her dress a bit tighter) and replaced it with some low-cut V-neck shirt that show cleavage. That’s right, Velma shows cleavage. That just isn’t right! One more thing, in a deleted scene, Daphne comes looking for her and finds her in with no shirt on dancing on the table. If I recall, they kiss before the scene ends. Ugh…why? Why did they do this to Velma?!?

Fred’s tan. As I said earlier, Freddie Prinze, Jr. has been very vocal of his love for Scooby-Doo, and he does a good job with Fred. However, Prinze is Hispanic, and as such his skin is a bit…shall we say, tan? This should be no problem. Fred seems to be the kind who would go for a tan when he had the chance, so no biggie. However, with the blonde wig it doesn’t work. I guess I really shouldn’t complain, it’s not like they stuck the wig on him, and then gave him blue contacts a la Jessica Alba in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Prinze at least looks more natural, as much as one can. Should they have cast someone else? No, but the should have found a wig that matched better.

Scooby snacks, CG, and Scrappy-Doo. You know those cookies that come in a tin and seem to last forever because they don’t get stale? Well, that’s what Scooby Snacks are reduced to in this film. For something that is such a major part of the cartoon, they were nothing more than cookies here and not even used to help Shaggy and Scooby gain some confidence. WTF?!? The CG is dated, but I’m split on how I feel about it. On the one hand Scooby doesn’t look half bad. I prefer to see this than a real dog with a CG bottom lip moving as is the norm these days for some reason (see Marmaduke). On the other hand, there are the creatures who look cheap and recycled. Again, this CG is dated, but come on, guys! Finally, Scrappy-Doo makes an appearance. Now, if you’re familiar with Scrappy, then you know that fans are split as to whether they like him or not. I won’t spoil anything, but 50% of the audience will like what happens to him and the other 50% won’t. For me, I feel he should have been part of the gang or a family reunion, along with Scooby-Dum, but I guess 3 CG dogs, er 2 1/2, would have been too much to ask for, right?

When you get right down to it, Scooby-Doo is not a film that was made for any other reason than to entertain kids and give fanservice to the older generations that grew up on the cartoon. There is nothing serious about this film, though, the plot does seem a bit dark for this film, what with the taking of souls and whatnot. That being said, they keep things light and happy throughout, finding a way to at least attempt to appease everyone. Whether it works or not is a personal judgment call. For me, though, I think this is a good afternoon watch, so give it shot!

4 out of 5 stars

Trailer Thursday 10/9

Posted in Trailer Thursday with tags , , on October 9, 2014 by Mystery Man

It’s Trailer Thursday!!!

Keeping with the horror theme of this month, I have 3 trailer you may enjoy. Well, 2 that I picked and 1 that was recommended by YouTube.

First up, a little film that recently had a remake that was released earlier this year. Screw that! Nothing like the original! Have a look at the trailer for Carrie.

Next, something a little more family friendly. There is debate whether this is more of a Halloween or Christmas film. I think it works for both. What do you think of the trailer for The Nightmare Before Christmas?

Finally, horror isn’t exactly a genre that thrived in made-for-tv movies, especially on the “big 3″ networks, but every now and then there is something that deviates from the norm. I know many are scared of clowns, and this just made it worse. Check out the trailer for Stephen King’s It.

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