Dracula (Should Remain) Untold

I saw Dracula Untold in the theater the other night.

Dracula Untold

 

Dracula Untold (2014) – Rated PG-13

Facing threats to his kingdom and his family, Vlad Tepes makes a deal with dangerous supernatural forces – whilst trying to avoid succumbing to the darkness himself.”

My father was a great man, a hero, so they say. But sometimes the world doesn’t need another hero, sometimes what it needs is a monster.

Once upon a time, Universal decided to reboot its long-storied horror franchises with a film starring a handsome, up and coming actor, featuring a lot of stylized fighting, and heavily utilizing some new-fangled computer generated imagery (or CGI for those of you into acronyms). That monstrosity was Van Helsing. It was a good idea followed by a series of bad choices thereby ruining a potential franchise opportunity.

Did Universal learn from this opportunity? Not really. The reins for Dracula Untold were handed to a first time feature director, Gary Shore. He was given a script written by two first-time writers, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless.

You would think that I would like illogical storylines since I adore fantasy, horror, and science fiction and those things by definition stretch the imagination. I have no problem accepting a ludicrous premise as the basis for a movie. The logic just has to be internally consistent.

I love Dracula. My favorite Dracula is the Christopher Lee Hammer version but this doesn’t stop me from enjoying the charms of Universal’s Bela Lugosi, the sexy Frank Langella version, or even the made-for-television Jack Palance version. There are certainly plenty of good ways to interpret an iconic character.

That said, I did not care for Luke Evans’ interpretation. He delivers his lines well but appears to be suffering from constipation throughout the film. His performance does have some magnetism to it but he comes off poorly in his scenes with Charles Dance.

Charles Dance is not the only Game of Thrones veteran in the cast. Art Parkinson, the quite neglected Rickon Stark (whatever happened to him?), plays Vlad’s son. It is not as thankless a role as Rickon but is still fairly minor with a single good scene. Sarah Gadon plays Vlad’s long-suffering wife, Mirena (sounds like Mina, hmmm).

One of Dracula Untold’s strongpoints is also its downfall. The action remains brisk at a mere hour and a half and no scene outstays its welcome. Unfortunately, with this being an origin story with a lot of required exposition, there is precious little time to develop a proper villain. Still it could be done except that the script basically decides that there should be a plethora of antagonists so none are actually developed.

Charles Dance’s character rules the screen but he can do a lot with a little. Dominic Cooper’s Mehmed is unfortunately a little generic aside from an absolutely ridiculous scene late in the film. No spoilers but we’re shown that Dracula is much faster and much, much stronger than a human yet that appears to not be the case when they meet. Obviously the writers and director thought this scene was very clever but it was more eye-rolling than anything else.

Speaking of eye-rolling, apparently not only are the Turkish soldiers uber-elite but they are capable of free climbing cliffs in FULL ARMOR. Not only does Dracula do this but so do many members of the Turkish army. The Turkish army also has no problem outmarching a group of refugees who have a good headstart on a fairly short trek. The silliness just takes you out of the suspension of disbelief necessary for this film.

While Dracula Untold is not worth your time or money, it is pretty, Charles Dance is great, Luke Evans isn’t bad, and the movie itself is a brisk hour and a half. You could do worse for Halloween. I’m just hoping for better. I’m looking at you Ouija, Horns, and Annabelle.

Captain America

Captain America just became available on instant Netflix.

One-Line Review: An earnest family-friendly superhero adventure that is a little long and a little slow but quite enjoyable.

Captain America (2011) – Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action.

“It is 1942, America has entered World War II, and sickly but determined Steve Rogers is frustrated at being rejected yet again for military service. Everything changes when Dr. Erskine recruits him for the secret Project Rebirth. Proving his extraordinary courage, wits and conscience, Rogers undergoes the experiment and his weak body is suddenly enhanced into the maximum human potential. When Dr. Erskine is then immediately assassinated by an agent of Nazi Germany’s head of its secret HYDRA research department, Johann Schmidt aka the Red Skull, Rogers is left as a unique man who is initially misused as a propaganda mascot. However, when his comrades need him, Rogers goes on a successful adventure that truly makes him Captain America and his war against Schmidt begins. “

I find Joe Johnston to be a very problematic director. His Jurassic Park III was a quick fun romp but it had very little of the majesty that infused the two Spielberg outings. Johnston’s The Wolfman had some very good scenes and actors but was ultimately a mess. On the other hand, way back in 1991, he directed the adorable pre-WWII saga, The Rocketeer and did a very good job of bringing the Dave Stevens graphic novel to the screen.

The Rocketeer would seem to make Johnston the ideal choice for Captain America as the stories are not all that different. A naive but earnest young man discovers a rocket pack/secret formula that allows him to fight Nazis as a masked superhero.

Chris Evans is great as Steve Rogers/ Captain America. I love the visual wizardry used to portray him as the proverbial 98-lb. weakling prior to his transformation. In the after shots, you will be wondering if those abs are real. Evans does a fine job of being earnest and brave and a little naive.

One of the biggest problems I had with Captain America was actually one of the things I had most been looking forward to. Hugo Weaving is a fantastic orator and his creations of Elrond (from the LOTR trilogy) and Mr. Smith (from The Matrix trilogy) are indelibly etched in my mind as is his voice in V for Vendetta. Unfortunately Hugo Weaving appears to have studied his German accent so hard here that his dramatic cadences are lost. His version of The Red Skull is good but just doesn’t quite gel.

Hydra is the villain organization and they have an army of Nazis with laser rifles. This also doesn’t gel well and comes across as silly in some of the scenes. Thankfully, Toby Jones is great as The Red Skull’s underling, Arnim Zola.

Stanley Tucci is excellent as always as the erstwhile Dr. Erskine but has very little screen time. Tommy Lee Jones is his usual fun craggy self as Colonel Chester Phillips. Hayley Atwell and Sebastian Stan are okay as Rogers’ best gal and pal respectively.

Pacing is a little uneven. I appreciate the logic behind using Captain America to sell war bonds but it sidelines him for too much of the movie and the battle montages will either make you shrug your shoulders or wish that they had included the actual battle. Corporate pressure from Marvel may have had an effect here as Captain America had to be ready and in the present for The Avengers this year – thus limiting his time in World War II.

Joe Johnston does a great job of conveying the feel of the time and characters (without the terrible Hollywood shorthand of sepia-toning everything). There is very little cursing and everyone is so earnest and not snarky.

Marvel fans will have plenty to umm marvel at. We get a look at Tony Stark’s father Howard (Dominic Cooper) in action as well as Dum-Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough) and the requisite appearance of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). There is a great visual joke with Arnim Zola and the plot revolves around the cosmic cube/ tesseract. Don’t forget to stay for the post-credits sequence.

Future Watch: Although Joe Johnston will not be back for it, look for Captain America: Winter Soldier in theaters April 4th, 2014 (Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan and Samuel L. Jackson will be reprising their roles). Joe Johnston is rumored to be working on Jurassic Park IV. Hugo Weaving will once again be seen as Elrond in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey this Christmas.