Review: ‘Dracula Untold’ (vampires that choose)

If Dracula became a monster for a noble cause, could his dark power be used in the name of the light?

Raised by the Turks as a royal hostage, Vlad Tepes (Luke Evans) returns to his homeland years afterward to rule. With a wife and child of his own, the peace of his kingdom is threatened when the Turks demand not only their regular tribute of coin but also a thousand children to fight in the Sultan’s army…including Vlad’s own son. With no standing army, Vlad makes a Devil’s deal with a cursed monster (Charles Dance), but can the prince defeat his enemies with borrowed power without falling victim to the curse himself?

Attempts to make Dracula merely a monster at the box office the last two decades have gloriously failed, so why not restore his nobility as a man of hope rather than yet another villain obsessed with a Scooby-Doo plot to do evil? Enter Dracula Untold, a low to middle-budget monster movie with high aspirations. True, the idea isn’t without precedent: the killer with a conscious, the gun with a soul, and the monster more noble than a man. In the name of Hollywood, of course, power must be demonstrated, and what better way than with special effects? Fortunately, a tight plot that plays to its running time weaves a tale of people who choose to become monsters, even if it does lean heavily on computer-generated imagery to tell it.

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Review: ‘Annabelle’ (stock plot but still damnably creepy)

Annabelle rides on the coattails of The Conjuring but distinguishes itself only as well-executed jump-scare flick.

In the late 1960s, young couple Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and her husband John (Ward Horton) are expecting their first child. Annabelle is a rare doll presented to Mia as a gift to complete her collection, but the sanctity of the object is desecrated when a pair of Satanists enter the couple’s home and makes an attempt on Mia’s life. A series of incidents begin to occur in the presence of the doll, the only connection being that one of Satanists took her life while holding the object. Before long, it becomes clear that something is very wrong and that Annabelle is inexplicably at the center of it.

From the paranormal case files of the Warrens (kind of) comes the (possible) story of a doll manipulated by an evil force. Was this film as good as The Conjuring? No, and the worst thing about that movie was the unfortunate title. For folks seeking an above-average Halloween flick, however, it’s fun and effective, even for a period piece. For those interested in the true account of the actual doll, you can read it online at Warrens.net, but this also reveals that the film is pure speculation since Ed and Lorraine Warren only came into contact with the doll after another couple acquired it. That said, the filmmakers manage to take a stock plot and infuse it with enough atmosphere and original scares to satisfy your Halloween craving.

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Trailer: ‘Bubba, the Redneck Werewolf’ (Werewolf Wednesday!)

The Devil is in town…and only Bubba the Redneck Werewolf can save it! This looks both fun and horrific, folks, based on the comic creation of Mitch Hyman.

Cracker County is under attack and lovesick dog catcher Bubba Blanche has been transformed into a ferocious, cigar smoking Werewolf in order to save the day. But first he’s got to conquer a beer or two. And maybe a plate of chicken wings.

Review: ‘Ghostbusters’ (an ever-quotable paranormal comedy that refuses to die)

“Shorten your stream, Venkman…I don’t want my face burned off.”

After being tossed out of university for bilking funds with unproductive paranormal investigations, two nerds and a slacker (Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Bill Murray) leverage a third mortgage to set up an actual ghost-busting business in New York City. Meanwhile, a decades-old plan to open a door into a dark dimension and invite a demigod into the Big Apple is just coming to fruition, and the Ghostbusters’ first client (Sigourney Weaver) is living in the corner penthouse of spook central. Can the boys-in-gray save the girl and stop the end of the world with their unlicensed nuclear accelerators, or are we all doomed to die beneath the feet of a demon-dog-loving hundred-foot marshmallow man?

What can you say about a paranormal action comedy that endures as one of the funniest and most entertaining films ever…even thirty years later? New fans are still discovering it every day, conventions are swarming with local Ghostbuster chapters of home-built costumes complete with lights and effects, and even Mattel toys has full-size exact-replica props straight from the film. The movie endures – the surest sign of a classic – and it’s impossible to utter even a single line of dialogue in a crowd without random strangers piling on the quotes. Thirty years later, there are still rumblings of making another sequel, but no one would dare suggest a reboot or re-imagining; Ghostbusters is perfect exactly as it is.

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Review: ‘If I Stay’ (a life or death decision story)

The best tissue-ready feel-good family film about dying you’ll see all August.

While waiting for a decision that will affect the rest of her life, high school student Mia (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz) spends a snow day with her family cut short by a random traffic accident. As ambulances arrive to take victims to the hospital, Mia discovers she’s become a disembodied spirit caught between life and death. Family and friends grieving over the event prompt a recollection of Mia’s life leading up to the tragedy, but the ultimate decision belongs to her: will she go on living or move on?

Why put a film like this out in August? Counterprogramming maybe? The production has all the quirks of an awards contender: good acting, interesting characters, and a practical storytelling device mostly clear of obvious special effects. Yes, there’s a romantic angle here – young musicians in love – but it’s really about family: the one you’re born into and the close friends you collect along away. As a soul caught between worlds, characters interact via talk and the occasional touch, but only Mia seems aware. Never having read the Gayle Forman novel upon which the film is based, the director does an exemplary job of orchestrating the story’s highs and lows, culminating in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ending; everything that could happen afterward is clearly a different story, a bold choice for a final scene that works perfectly.

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Valentine’s Day Will Soon Be Upon Us! (edited)

Some things just beg to be made fun of. This is one of them, and I’m just getting started.

Edited: improved render; you can more clearly see the Andy Warhol-inspired pop art montage reflected behind the counter.

GrimOfficeHalfed

Review: ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ 2014 (it’s actually good?)

Not despising Megan Fox’s character should be the minimum criteria for ANY positive film review.

New York City journalist April O’Neil (Megan Fox) dreams of something bigger than fluff reports – just like every other reporter. While trying to catch a break investigating a gang calling themselves “The Foot Clan,” April discovers four vigilantes who are fighting back…and they prefer not to be seen doing it. After she finally catches up to them, she realizes who they are (a big departure from previous incarnations of this tale), a revelation that not only puts her in the line of fire but also gives the existence of the vigilantes away to their greatest enemy (say it with me now): the Shredder!

First off, Michael Bay didn’t direct this movie; he just produced it along with Nickelodeon – maybe all Bay films should be made this way! The real question herein seems to be “Who is the new Turtles movie for?” With a PG-13 rating, the film pushes the violence while still remaining family friendly, but it does manage to straddle the divide between newer, younger fans and those who grew up with the original Turtles. Remember the black and white comic? It wasn’t for kids; in fact, one of the best Turtles movies was the recent mashup of four of the best-known incarnations, from the colorless original to the kiddiest-friendly version. After seeing the newest finished film, the best answer is: everyone. Old fans get the familiar tropes, new fans get a fresh introduction, and everyone meets in the middle for a fun action comedy.

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