Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

This is a movie which should have worked much better than it did. An historical fantasy horror, it had the right ingredients. With people like Rufus Sewell (Zen, Aurelio Zen, 2011) and Dominic Cooper (The Devil’s Double, Latif Yahia, 2011) they should have been well able to play off each other, but they were in a support cast so their influence would have been limited.  Added to this the director, Timur Bekmambetov  , who brought us those great Day Watch, (2006) and Night Watch (2004) movies.

Benjamin Walker, a relative unknown, (Flags of Our Fathers, Harlon Block, 2006) acquitted himself well and whether it was the relative inexperience or the character, he came across much as we would have expected of a characterization of Abraham Lincoln.  The story line follows a young Lincoln looking to revenge his mother’s death at the hands of a vampire, while trying to kill the particular vampire (not knowing he’s a vampire) he meets  Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) who teaches him how to kill vampires and then sends him to Springfield which was seemingly a hotbed of vampires.  As the movie progresses it becomes clear that he needs to come up against Adam (Rufus Sewell) one of the oldest vampires (he tells us he is five thousand years old).

 

There follows a series of vampire hunting fights and struggles over the years until he eventually becomes President.  Here we see the vampiric legend superimposed on the historical timeline. Lincoln’s son who of course died in childhood is in the movie Killed by a vampire.   There are also implications for the war as Adam agrees to deploy vampires for the Confederacy, this of course is a potential game changer.

There is only one person (well three if we include his friends, his wife (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, The Thing, Kate Lloyd, 2011) and of course Mr. Sturgess…so that’s tree humans and a vampire.

They of course come up with a plan to save the world and in so doing so create the movies big dénouement.  This is probably where the movie was let down most, but in fast scenes, appropriate scene music and give our actors plenty of life threatening situations and you should have a good action sequence. Unfortunately everything was just too well scripted.  A kid can be thought how to work a mathematical problem to its end through the use of a formula.  A mathematician can take the same formula and create something new and exciting; Bekmambetov is a “mathematician” by any standards so I have no reason why this movie did not work.

There were a number of leaps of faith, at least one very poor continuity issue and some scenes which were just too contrived.  The use of mid 19th century sunglasses by all was actually a nice touch which could have been over done but was not.

Rating 4/10, this should have been a much better movie but I suspect something just did not work in the production.  This is not a bad film, it just did not engage me or bring me in to the story.

 

Top Cat

Okay, so this might not be the first movie you’d think I would write about, but it is a movie. On a rather wet afternoon it was all that was on that was suitable for the age groups involved. So the serious bit.

It would seem that this particular offering was aimed purely at the younger aged market with very little in the way of humour designed for adults that should fly over the heads of the kids.

Over all the cartoon stayed essentially local to the original format and character line up. Officer Dibble’s accent is more American that it was remembered…less New York Irish. TC and the gang were more or less the same but TC himself seemed less self assured and cocky that remembered, less Of the punchlines. To the movie’s credit, it very quickly established the characters and their personalities. T’s hapless sidekick Benny is his same old self.

On the technical side some of the animation seemed less that expected. It was clear this was not the output of one of the big studios. It seems to have been a Mexican studio.  This blog is from the phone. When I get back to the lap top I’ll expend on the technical side.

Rating 6/10 at least one of the three of us was entertained. One of us watched some of it and nearly fell asleep at other parts while the third of our trio seemed more interested in anything that moved in the movie theatre itself…not bad, but you might be better off getting  Disney DVD.

Vertigo

Another old classic…

I was recently on an extended business trip to China and knowing I’d need to have a stock of DVD’s with me I dug up some old classics to bring along.  One of these was Vertigo.  It is a number of years since I watched it last and so I thought it was time for a revisit.  I’ve been to San Francisco since I last saw the movie and it was interesting to recognise various locations (such as the Mission Dolores Church and graveyard near the Castro district) .

We of course know the story of a  San Franscisco detective, John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson (James Stewart, It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey,  1948)  who retired from the force after a case of vertigo during a chase which lead to the death of a fellow officer while trying to rescue our hero as he hung from a roof ledge.  While trying to decide what to do with himself, the independently wealthy former detective spends a lot of time talking with ex girlfriend and fiancé Midge Wood  -for a short while (Barbara Bel Gedes,  Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing, 1978 – 1990).  During the discussions the subject of an old college friend wanting to talk to him pops up.,

Scottie meets this friend, Gavin Elster (The Time Machine, Anthony Bridewell, 1960), who it transpires is quite wealthy, having married in to a shipbuilding family.  He asks Scottie to follow his wife Madeleine  (Kim Novak, Bell Book and Candle,  Gillian Holroyd, 1958) as he thinks she may be ill. Scottie reluctantly agrees to do this and very quickly begins to notice certain odd behaviours. When these are discussed with Gavin Estler, he reveals some of the story behind Madeleine’s grandmother, the tragic Carlotta Valdes.

While further watching Madeleine, he tracks her to the Presidio  area under the Golden Gate Bridge where she seemingly jumps into the water. He of course rescues her and takes her home to recover.  There is a certain tension between them at first, but this soon develops into a relationship with Scottie trying to help Madeleine as much as possible. This help ultimately results in the couple in a small museum village about 100 miles south of San Francisco which is central to the dreams Madeleine is having. Having forced her way into the old church and up the spire tower, Scottie struggles with his vertigo and while trying to get to the top, he hears a scream and sees her fall to her death outside.

Following a harsh coroner’s report and the general shock Scottie reverts into himself, suffering from a prolonged depression.  While recovering he meets a lady who reminds him of Madeleine.  Is all as it seems? A relationship develops here also and as it does certain events begin to link this women to the dead Madeleine and her grandmother Carlotta Valdes.

This culminates back in the same church tower, only this time both are able to climb to the top. Watching this movie with a critical eye, at one stage I suddenly realised I was waiting to see how it ended, as a thriller, it dragged me in and brought me along to the end.  Always giving the viewer enough clues to bring you along with Scottie Ferguson, it still leaves you with that small piece of doubt which obviously lingered with Scottie. It is easy with the music, camerawork and story line to see why this film is such as classic.

Rating = 9/10. Nothing is perfect, but this movie well stands the test of time and captures the growing sense of unease felt by our hero.

Shake Hands With The Devil (1959)

This 1959 Irish War of Independence era movie can, with a certain amount of justification, be described as a forgotten classic. Directed by Michael Anderson (Dam Busters 1955) it touches on a time and a subject matter many film makers until Neil Jordan (Michael Collins, 1996) stayed away from.  I came to this film via my father who is a great fan of it and as a result we’ve been looking for a copy for a number of years. Now released on DVD I had to buy a copy and see what all the talk was about. I’m glad I did.  The leading and supporting casts are a who’s who of Irish and British acting talent of the time and subsequently.  As I mentioned the subject matter was one many stayed away from or used as a support to a more personal story (Ryan’s Daughter David Lean, 1970, which was more of a romance than war film).

Although shot in 1959 it shows little of the experimental film making beginning at that time in France and elsewhere with the early New Wave work or even  the earlier Italian Neo-realism. Anderson deploys methods tried and tested in the 1930’s and 1940’s and the movie feels like a product of this period in places, although it also has that more relaxed and expansive feel of its generation. Ryan’s Daughter is only 11 years later and totally different in style. We can also contrast it with Odd Man Out (1947) by Carol Reed (The Third Man, 1949) with an almost Noir feel in places, certainly far more atmospheric and brooding as we watch James Mason the IRA officer on the run in Belfast following a failed robbery.  Shake Hands used shadow sparingly  and to best effect in the early ambush scene where Paddy Nolan (Ray McAnally, The Mission, Altamirano, 1986) and Kerry O’Shea (Don Murray, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Breck, 1972) are walking home at night.  In many ways one of the more modern scenes in the movie.

The Movie is based on the novel by Rearden Conner, which was adapted by Marian Spitzer (The Dolly Sisters 1945) together with Ivan Goff & Ben Roberts  (White Heat, 1949) .  We can see novel’s influence in the detail and characterisation such as Lady Fitzhugh (Sybil Thorndike, The Prince and The Showgirl, The Queen Dowager, 1957) being a member of The Movement.  This characterisation is perhaps most striking in James Cagney’s character, Sean Lenihan; by day a mild mannered surgeon lecturing to students in Trinity College and by night a respected rebel leader (Commandant). It is in his reaction to the presence of certain women that we see a darker side to his character which later merges with his view of the Treaty being signed, he is ultimately “fighting his own war” . By Contrast Kerry O’Shea does not want to be “in the Movement” and does not want to take life but is forced by circumstance to do both.

I’m tempted to run down the list of supporting actors, it was/is breath-taking. My father ranks this as one of his favourite films, I can see why.  You will have noticed I give very little of the plot away – it is young student gets caught up in rebel affairs after death of a friend, he is to be smuggled out of the country and while waiting for his ship with a squad of volunteers events take a number of turns which force all involved to make a series of life changing decisions.

Rating 8/10 It is of its time and dealing with what was then a delicate subject, but is well nuanced and well worth watching.

Red Lights

Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver, Aliens 1986) and Dr. Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy  28 Days Later, Jim, 2002) are two academics who use both physics and psychology  to debunk the myths of physic charlatans. Both a firm believers in controlled academic study and in Matheson’s case, despite over 30 years of investigation  have never found a genuine physic. We see this skeptiscism stretch also to other departments on the University where they work.   Dr. Paul Shackleton (Toby Jones, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Percy Alleline, 2011) is the head of the Scientific Paranormal Research Centre (SPRC) at the university and the constant butt of Matheson’s swipes.  Such is her lack of respect for his work that when she is asked to view some work which is promising results she debunks the work in the corridor  in front of more junior colleagues.  Of course this is done objectively and once again seemingly validates her position.

A complication arises in the form of Simon Silver (Robert De Niro Killer Elite, Hunter, 2011), a famous physic who retired from public life 30 years ago following the fatal heart attack of a journalist critic at one of his shows. Now returning to public life, Silver comes to the team’s attention. Buckley is eager to go after him but Matheson is somewhat more reticent given the dealings she had with him all those years ago. As the discussion moves forward and events unfurl  it seems possible Silver might just be the physic he claims to be, or is he?

Silver agrees to a bank of tests to be conducted by the University’s SPRC under Dr. Shakleton. There are still some questions and Buckley has two of his students look over the test footage. They may have found something. The movie builds to a climatic end where we learn more about our key characters, but not before a few twists.  I could not help but compare this to a Hitchcock effort and in a number of places I found myself wondering how the maestro would have worked certain scenes better.

Cortés performed well with Buried (2010), but not quite as well here. He does however manage to convincingly portray damp northern US country even though his movie was shot largely in Spain. This is a solid B movie which while not damaging careers, will not do much to enhance them. This said, the saving grace for the movie was the delivery of the laed characters to deliver on what was required, despite possibly miscast.  De Niro is possibly a waste in the role he plays, while Murphy is like a hound straining at the leash through most of the movie. Weaver is under-used also. There is also some interesting support work going on. Ben (Craig Roberts, Submarine, Oliver Tate, 2010) works well in his supporting role.

Overall this is a middle-of-the-road movie which mostly brings the audience along, even if we do have to ask ourselves once or twice where exactly it is going.

Rating 5/10, essentially a good old fashioned 3 star but could be close to 2 star only for the quality and work of the lead cast members.

The Chef (Comme un Chef)

The Chef, written and directed by Daniel Cohen (Les Deux Mondes 2007) who is better known as an actor has acquitted himself well here. This is probably best described as a romantic comedy in the sense of a light nice story line regarding the following of one’s dreams and aspirations; there is at least one marriage proposal, but that’s only in support of the overall story.

What we have in this movie is a young self-trained chef “jacky Bonnot” ( Michaël Youn, Les 11 Comandements, 2004) who cannot keep down a steady job because his standards are too high and as such often takes offence at the eating habits of his customers when they order the wrong wine or side accompaniment to the main dish. With a child on the way and a large overdraft he needs to find regular work, his girlfriend manages to arrange a six month contract painting windows at an upmarket retirement home.

Meanwhile Alexandre Legarde (Jean Reno) is a multiple starred chef in the restaurant holding his name. The only problem is that he no longer owns the establishment, having sold it to in international restaurant chain. The chain wants Legarde to modernise his menu and include a selection of  modern gastro dishes which he is totally against.  The powers are bringing in a new English chef to provide a modern ambience . With only a matter of days before he has to launch his spring menu the pressure is on – can he keep his stars and reputation.

Circumstances bring the two chefs together at the retirement home where Legarde is visiting his old mentor who also happens to be the father of the owner of the restaurant chain now in command. Jacky has struck-up a friendship with the home’s chefs and they have tried some of his recipe suggestions, one of those recipes is one developed by Legarde some years previously but with some slight modifications which actually work. Legarde offers his the job as his deputy immediately ( the company owning his establishment has offered his deputies head chef roles in restaurants around the world which they obviously took, leaving him short key staff)

I’m trying not to give too much away here, as it is one of those movies which just swims along and it is best if you just follow the current with it. The two men  start working together, along the way they must save relationships, create the new menu, keep the restaurant out of the English chef’s hands and keep their sanity.

The long awaited/feared arrives and a menu is presented; but does it work? Watch and find out.

Reno is one of those actors who can turn his hands to different  characters from hard, in-control assassins, police investigators  to hapless husbands. Best known internationally for his roles in productions such as Leon (1994), Ronin (1998)  or Crimson Rivers (Les Rivières Pourpres, 2000), I would consider Roseanna’s Grave (1997)  as one of my favourite of his roles.

Michaël Youn who plays Jacky is a well known comedian in France and his talent shows. Typical of what I think is a very French way the comic hero is almost manic with his straight man being calm and solid but no less flawed and open to the help of the junior partner. Such is the nature of this movie that you know the ending almost from the start, you know it is going to be a happy ending, the only question is how do they make it happen? This movie answers that question in a relaxed almost comfortable manner which brings the viewer along with the offering.

Rating = 6/10, a firm 3 star rating, it entertains as well as making you hungry, just perfect for a night in with that special somebody.

Men In Black III

The first thing that hits you is the 15 years or so of this franchise. Unlike many other which were milked to death, these have been given a chance to mature. There is more characterisation than most comedies and indeed one of the main aspects of the story line is Agent J (Will Smith) trying to get the ever so taciturn Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) to open up more. The obituary for Agent Z just about says it all…or not.

The long story short; a really bad bad guy/alien escapes from a maximum security prison on the moon. He knows how to go back in time and rewrite history, and so he does this.  Agent J realises something is wrong and persuades people of the alternate timeline.  He then has to go back and try prevent the alternate history events from happening.

Along the way we meet the usual assortment of aliens, one that stands out is Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg (Flight of the Conchords, 2007-2009) who can see multiple future events based on probabilities. He brings both character and story to the offering. The main cast Agent J, (Will Smith, Robert Neville, I am Legend 2007), Agent K, the elder (Tommy Lee Jones, Colonel Chester Philips, Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011) and Josh Brolin (True Grit, Tom Chaney, 2010) all give the performances we have come to expect; we have the charged and excitable Agent J trying to force out some human expressionism from the stone faced K, only to come up against the young K. When J joins up with K he quickly realises that the younger man is more positive, optimistic and open that the older K he knows and asks “what happened you?” to no response, as the movie works to the climactic ending we eventually learn just what was that life changing event that transformed Agent K.

It should be pointed out that this is a movie that does exactly what it sets out to do, it entertains well.  One piece of the movie which stands out it Josh Brolin’s take-off of a young Agent K, it was great and produced some genuine laughs from the audience.  I saw this movie in China – 3D IMAX.

MIB is a rare thing in a franchise set, it works. This might be why the producers felt they could afford to leave so long between offerings. We now have three entertaining movies which will withstand the test of time.  Will there be a fourth? I don’t know. Will go see it if there is? Yes. So let’s wait and see, but in the meantime you might do a lot worse with your time than go see this third offering.

There are some side jokes and statements on 1969 America and these largely work well and serve to place the movie in the times.

Rating 7/10 – it is not the type of movie that would be happy with a 9 or 10 out of 10.