Dracula Untold **
Dir: Gary Shore
Starring: Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Art Parkinson, Sarah Gadon, Charles Dance
Consider this an origin story, freely fusing elements of Bram Stoker’s novel with earlier cinematic incarnations of the world’s most famous vampire and mixing it liberally into a historical goulash. Luke Evans plays Vlad, The Impaler, prince of Transylvania who has to defend his land and his people from the voracious conquering appetite of the Turkish armies led by Mehmet II (Dominic Cooper) in the mid-fifteenth century.
To do so, he makes a deal with the devil – or, to be more precise, an older vampire (Charles Dance) – and he gains immense power but at a great cost. Can he regain his lost humanity with the help of his wife (Sarah Gadon) and son (Art Parkinson) before it’s too late? What do you think?
If director Gary Shore had played up the pulp horror elements more and infused his characters with some depth he could have had something here. But there’s nothing particularly original here and the battle scenes and special effects become repetitive and aren’t particularly exciting.
The cast does what it can with the material (though I do think that they should have cast a Turkish actor in the Mehmet role) but they don’t have much to work with. The most interesting bit of the movie comes in the shape of an epilogue which – given the success of the film at the global box-office – sets up the characters for an inevitable sequel.
Cut to chase: A tale that should have been better in the telling.
Dir: David Dobkin
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton, Leighton Meester
Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall are in top form in this tale of the prodigal son returning home to perhaps make peace with his estranged father and possibly attain redemption. The two Roberts are nicely backed up by the likes of Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio and Billy Bob Thornton. Problem is they are all working with some trite material here which often (though not always) reduces the characters to either mere sketches or, worse, stereotypes.
A (possible) murder case involving small-town judge (Duvall) which forces his son – a successful, big-city lawyer who has lost his soul – to act as his lawyer is just the excuse on which to hang the tale and the interaction between father and son. Predictably, family secrets will be revealed, and a tear or two will be melodramatically jerked (and there will be a cutesy-pie scene or two with a sweet kid and a mentally challenged adult). But the acting skills of both Downey Jr. and Duvall keep you involved. And there is one truly effective (and affecting) scene in which the younger man comes to the aid of the older and which brings home the unedifying indignities that are an unavoidable part of old age and its accompanying infirmities.
Cut to chase: The acting talent involved raises the material its working with.
John Wick **1/2
Dir: Chad Stahelski (co-director David Leitch)
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Alfie Allen, Michael Nyqvist, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, John Leguizamo.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Retired hit-man/secret service agent/ special forces soldier/ policeman with a murky past comes out of retirement to wreak vengeance on a bunch of people who have brought death and destruction to his loved ones. 100s of movies have been churned out based on exactly this plot. Their success (or failure) depends on the star power and charisma of their leading men (or ladies, in the odd instance) and the visceral propulsion and kinetic energy of the action scenes. And on that basis John Wick delivers. The movie marks a welcome return to form for Keanu Reeves, restoring a certain amount of “kewl” quotient to his recent sad-sack movie persona (which John Wick smartly plays off). The action scenes also deliver – they are quick, brutal and, most importantly, comprehensible. Crucially, Reeves has the physicality and athleticism required for the part.
You won’t find much here that is new – either in terms of plot or character development. But the slight sense of absurdity and surrealism (such as the hotel, run by Ian McShane, that has assassins as its main clientele) is a nice touch. Willem Dafoe plays a friend possibly turned foe and Adrienne Palicki brings the nasty-sexy as another rival for John Wick. Genre fans should enjoy this one.
Cut to chase: Action fans and Keanu fans should be pleased.