Dracula Untold

Dracula untold

Unlike most of the usual Dracula movies, this offering focuses on the events which led to his conversion to vaDracula-Untoldmpire. The usual version of history is to pain the original Vlad Tapes is to paint him as a sadistic murderer who spent much of his time hoisting is enemies and serfs on to pikes in order to teach any survivors a lesson.

Luke Evans (Immortals, 2014) plays the eponymous role. We see him as a family man, trying the best for his people and his family. We quickly learn that Vlad’s adulthood has been shaped by the pains of his childhood. Like many Christian children in the lands of the Turkish Empire. He had been one of a 1000 child levee taken by the Turks as part of the devsirme system to be raised as a convert to Islam and a member of the Janissaries, the Empire’s elite guard. After a number of years he managed to return to his father (it is not clear whether he escaped or was allowed to return home). It is thought from the film that given his royal birth, his time of service was for a fixed period rather than for the other boys who were for life.

The film quickly opens with Turks in his principality (which is in the area controlled by the Turks) being killed mysteriously. He tracks the source of the killing to a “monster” living in a cave at the top of a particular mountain. When they first go there, they find aging skeletons of previous visitors not dead. Indeed his two companions are killed and he only survives because he manages to get to sunlight.

What quickly follows in the Turks arriving to find what happened to their lost battalion. He is the first major flaw in the system. How come there were so many Turks in his region and he never knew this. The second issue is how come there was a cave and mountain where people are being killed for generations and he never knew about. In the midst of this The Turks turn up with new cash payment demands, the gold is not the issue, the levee for more young is the issue. Indeed the Turks use the “blond” Janissaries to deliver the message and take delivery of the money/children. Vlad refuses, especially as his own son is to be one of those taken. (Vlad’s father, still alive has no issue with giving his grandson and feels it is safest for the country).

Vlad eventually refuses to send his son, goes to the Turks and offers himself only to be refused. The Turks eventually march on Vlad’s Castle, he is forced to move his people to a nearby monastery for protection. They are vastly outnumbered and have no hope of survival. Faced with this scenario Vlad has no choice but to revisit the cave and make a deal with the monster in question. The old vampire gives Vlad his blood on the understanding that the effects last for three days but if he drinks blood in this time his conversion will be permanent.

He never the less allows himself the temporary conversion and sets about to rescue his people. Needless to say he gets back just in time to save his people but only after his wife is defenestrated as per the legends. In his grief he destroys the Turkish army and the legend is born. Overall if the movie tried to style itself after Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Dracula then he missed the mark, indeed it feels more like Stephen Sommers’ 2004 Van Helsing. This is Gary Shore’s first directorial offering and although adequately put together it does show that it is a first effort.

Overall I found the plot laboured, the script basic and really it felt like an a story tagged up to capture the Dracula legend. For those of you fans of Horror or the Dracula legend, don’t bother with this, it will not add to the mythology. If you want a hour or two of entertainment, then this might suffice. It will not go down in history. Dominic Cooper play a passable Mehmed, but he just had to play a warlord. Charles Dance plays the “Master Vampire”, he is his usual self there. I would have liked some extra back story around this point. Another failing in the film is at the start the vampire could not manage any sun as he came out of his cave, but at the end of the movie we see Vlad in London (as he bumps in to the modern Mirena As he does this we see the Master in the background, neatly dressed and looking a lot more human than he did previously – what happened to cure his aversion for sun –light?

Overall a poor affair getting at most 2/5, and that’s at a push.


The opening scene sets us up for an almost post-apocalyptic vista, we see a black shadow come out of the fug of battle, a German officer, riding on horseback with background music reminiscent of Carmina Burana, only to be jumped by Pitt’s character and killed.

I have to say that this is a good movie but not a great one. If I have to be honest I found it a little derivative and also a little lacking in budget.  If I had to describe it in terms of another movie, Memphis Belle (Michael Caton-Jones, 1990) springs to mind, in so far as it is about the crew on a tank (aircraft) trying to get to the end of the war, despite the challenges thrown at them. The cast is good, if slightly unbalanced. Pitt is a good lead, holding the team together, the star of the show however is Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 2012).  This is not a Spielberg movie, with wide camera shots and panoramic vistas, this is in your face close-up cinema. Directed by David Ayer (End of Watch,  2012).

The story starts in April 1945, in the dying days of the war, despite the closing chapter , the resistance is still strong, with crews dealing with fanatical hold-outs in the advance on Berlin. At the start we see typist Norman Ellison (Lerman) find his way to the new crew, where he is promptly treated as all newbies,  Driver, Garcia (Michael Peña – who worked with Ayer on End of Watch in 2012) immediately goes through Norman’s kitbag looking for “smokes” these are the important things not the books young Norman brought with him.

As the story develops we learn that the crew has been together for a number of years, indeed the opening scenes see us witnessing one of the crew being removed, headless. Norman is his replacement. As assistant driver, he is placed with Garcia, who quickly sets about making it clear what he needs to do and not do.  All of this is alongside the constant ribbing of Grady (Jon Bernthal, The Walking Dead, 2010-2012) the gunner’s mate. The large Hillbilly type character is constantly needling the young recruit and causes some tension along the way which Sgt. Collier has to contain.

Sgt. Collier’s call sign is “Wardaddy” and we quickly see why. The opening scene tells us, his crew is the only survivor or a raid. Later on when he is teamed up with a tank squad under the command of a young lieutenant, he quickly puts the young officer in his place while at the same time ensuring that the other sergeants carry out the orders. When the officer is Killed, he takes over command of the squad, all of the other sergeant in the squad already know him and respect his leadership. All this works to define the character as the movie proceeds.

The crew is rounded off by gunner Boyd Swan (Shia LaBeouf, Lawless, 2012), who takes the shape of a Southern Preacher, often quoting Verse to apply to a situation and trying to offer a sort of moral compass to the crew.

The crew is tasked to support the taking of a town, with a small squad of Shermans. The captain leading the attack (Jason Isaacs, After the Fall, 2014) in the nearby village gives Collier his instructions, where the Tough Collier simply – politely – asks to lead his tanks a certain route, The captain simply replies that he knows him and his reputation, and he should do as he needs to .  In this moment we see what could make this a much better film, attention to detail, little lines that give us character.

Before this attack the team is resting up in the town they just entered, as they approach the town they see the bodies of Germans, young and old, strung up for not fighting the Allies. When the town is taken the Burgermeister  is leading out people under a white flag, among those coming out is an SS officer, Collier shouts down to the Burgermeister (in fluent German) if the officer is responsible for the hangings, yes. On Collier’s orders the officer is taken aside and shot.

This is a motive which carries through the movie. In this town scene. Collier spies a nervous woman by a window and goes to see what or who  she might be hiding, It is her cousin. The women are treated well, by Collier and young Norman, the crew eventually arrive and share a meal cooked from supplies Collier gave the Germans. The crew through Grady is controlled through their childish actions to the German. What we see is a politically correct view that the ordinary German people were as much victims as others. Indeed the hatred is saved of the Nazis, such as SS soldiers.

Collier can be cruel, as with the rest of the crew, we see this when he forces young Norman to shoot a German prisoner, one caught wearing a US officer’s coat. This is done for his own good.  It comes after a blood battle to clear the way for trapped troupes which has caused the deaths of a number of the other crews.

Unfortunately it is the battle scenes which although done well and I have to say violently, let the movie down a little. They reminded me of the cheap made for TV movies which show a sweeping panoramic shot of a great scene (usually poor CGI) and then show all of the fighting close up and clearly limited. I felt a bit like that watching a scene clearly limited by budget.

If we compare it to Lebanon, (Samuel Maoz, 2009), we get the same sense of claustrophobic struggle with which the crews must carry on.

The movie works towards the great climax where the crew holds off an advancing SS battalion, by which stage Norman’s transformation to a fighting soldier is complete, so much so that he gains his new warname of “Machine”.

The movie is stylised, not least of all with the various hair-styles worn by the crew, I suspect crafted to suit the personalities of each of the crew members.

This is a war movie but not an epic. The effects are close up without any big expensive sweeping shots that we have seen in movies like Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, 1998) or even Bridge at Ramagen (John Guillermin 1969). If I had to liken this to a particular movie, it would be Ramagen, with Segal’s Lieutenant Hartman being an analogue  of Colliers’.  The danger with close action shots is that certain extras can pop-up more than necessary, there was one soldier who seemed to pop-up a few times here when they could have used another extra, scrappy.

A firm 3star movie, not bad but will not be a classic.

The Judge

On coming out of the movie theatre after seeing the movie “The Judge” you might be forgiven for asThe Judge New Posterking what kind of movie you just saw.  Part court-room drama, part road movie, part family drama. Rather than being a schizophrenic mis-mash it actually comes together well.

Robert Downey  Jnr, sets-off Robert Duvall’s character perfectly. There are essentially two main story lines, firstly the family dramas which unfold following the death of the mother of the clan (who we never meet) and then the court-case involving his father, the judge.

Downey’s character, Harry (Hank) Palmer is a  Chicago lawyer, who on the surface has everything, great house, family, career all. Upon news of his mother’s death he returns to the home from which he has been estranged for some years. Upon his return it soon becomes clear why. The head of the house, Judge Palmer, played by Robert Duval is a painfully honest man, who  sees things in his own way, of basic uncomplicated justice. He has been Judge in their town for over 40 years and his legacy hangs heavy on him. The character in some ways reminds me of the character he played in Secondhand Lions, ( 2003) again a tough old guy, straight as a die, who does not suffer fools. His wisdom of Solomon  type approach may have kept the townsfolk out of trouble most of the time, but it was a recipe for disaster at home. He had 3 sons, the oldest Glen, played by Vincent D’Onofrio,(Law and Order: Criminal Intent, 2001)  the middle son, Hank, (Downey) and  the youngest son (Jeremy  Strong).

It was directed by David Bodkin, who is better known for movies such as “Wedding Crashers” or “Change up”, while Nick Schenk (Gran Torino 2008) and Bill Dubuque took the lead with the script.

While home and dealing with his own pending divorce, Hank Palmer runs immediately in to the family tensions. We find out early on that the eldest son Glen was destined to be a baseball star until a car accident in his late teens damaged his arm and put an end to his career. We are allowed to presume who was responsible for the accident, it is only later that we are told what actually happened.  Glen has the resentment of the son who stayed at home while his brother became something, he had to remain in his father’s shadow, running his own garage at the edge of town  and also helping to look after his youngest brother Dale, played brilliantly by Strong has learning difficulties and uses a movie camera to record the life around him almost all of the time.

Not long after Hank arrives home, all three are on the porch of the house, when the Judge announces he is going to bed and makes final arrangements for the funeral, going inside he turns to his youngest son and looking him in the face, calmly says to him that if the camera makes an appearance at the funeral it will go up his arse.

While the family comes to terms with the loss, we see Glen’s resentment at life and we see the Judge being as stoic as ever. Hank, takes some time to watch his father in court and also meet some old neighbours (girlfriend). In to this mix comes news that their father has been in a traffic accident and a young man has been killed.  The difficulty is that Judge Palmer has no recollection of the accident and the person he killed was somebody he locked away 20 years ago for the murder of a young girl, who has just been released on parole.

Such are the tensions that just as Hank is returning to Chicago he is told of the Judge’s arrest. Despite the tensions in their relationship Hank immediately begins to legally defend his father. When his father announces that he has hired one of the local lawyers for his defence, Hank sits in on the meetings. When the case comes to court it is quickly evident to all concerned that the local guy C.P., (played by Dax Shepard, Parenthood, 2010) is out of his depth when up against the sharp special prosecutor (Billy Bob Thornton, the Man who Wasn’t There, 2001)brought in to fight the case.

Downey quickly takes over his father’s defence and struggles to defend him. His father’s health and general attitude prove the biggest challenges.

There are so many twists and turn that I do not want to say too much.  Outside of the courtroom we get a view of the family and in particular the three sons (neither of Glen’s two sons will ever play baseball professionally). What we see is three brothers who when allowed to be themselves get on perfectly, but in the presence of their father revert practically to kids, he controls the house. The Relationship with Hank and all the other is obviously stained, at one stage the Judge turns to him and said how he wished he liked his him more. With Downey being in  the movie there are a number of opportunities for some light humour, all of which Bodkin takes, mainly revolving around events between Hank and his ex-girlfriend  (Vera Farmiga, The Conjuring, 2013)of over 20 years ago, who he meets almost immediately upon return home. The issue in question is whether or not her daughter might actually be his also.

The movie is in many ways similar to “August: Osage County” from last year, this however is a better movie. We see essentially three movies in one, the homecoming/road movie, the family struggles and the court case.

As the movie develops, the Judge’s health declines, further adding to the developing story. This could have been a bad made-for-TV movies except for the quick wit created by the screenwriters and brilliantly delivered by the cast. The cinematography is simple, no great sweeping or dramatic shots to allow the director to tell the world how great he is, instead every scene counts, we get a feeling of closeness and despite being over 2 hours long, you do not feel the time go.

I did start the film wondering how it was going to go, my first impressions of Downey were of a reprise of his Tony Stark (Iron Man 2008) type character; arrogant and quick witted, but quickly we saw the character of Hank Palmer.  The supporting cast was kept tight, but before I finish a word must go to Jeremy Strong(Robot and Frank, 2008), who played the youngest brother, a great performance, understated and calm but very effective.

Overall the movie works on many levels. If I was to say what the film was about I would have to say, “tension” tension between a father and son, a prodigal returned, a high-school jock now raising a family, the ex-girlfriend etc. what makes this film work is that the tension can be overcome. This is seen most through the developing relationship between Hank and his father, both in and out of the Court.

Rating 9/10

Some people thought it was not as strong as it could be, I however thought it worked even striking one or two raw nerves along the way, go watch it, the  direction is strong and the performances nicely delivered. Each aspect of the plot is developed and I’m carefully trying not to give too much away.


Directed by Peter Berg (Hancock, 2008) and co written by Eric and John Hoeber (Red, 2011), the movie is apparently based on the Hasbro’s children’s game Battleship, indeed that would explain a certain plot twist.  Is this the greatest movie ever made? No, nor is it the worst. It has been scoring a solid set of 4/10 – 6/10 from the critics. You will have to wait until the end to see my score.  It is actually a reasonably entertaining movie.  Ever since Independence Day (Roland Emmerich, 1996) I have resisted going too technical on movies which are designed only to entertain; indeed the technical deficiencies of some movies still provide far more entertainment value than the movies themselves.  With this in mind I parked my brain at the theatre door and proceeded to watch what was served up to me, gone were all thought of geo-politics, coordinated military responses etc.  I sat down to see how our stars saved the world.

Staring Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood 2008+) as the older brother who drags his y feckless irresponsible undisciplined younger brother (Taylor Kitsch, John Carter, 2012) in to the navy (where as a lieutenant is the TAC on the USS John Paul Jones); I’m not going to ask how a young man with such obvious personality flaws got to such a position. The older brother who as a Commander is the master of his own ship and is sailing along side his kinsman in the naval war games programmed off Hawaii  is so positioned to be one of the three vessels to investigate our alien visitors when they arrive.

The afore mentioned alien visitors only dropped in to Earth as a result of NASA sending a focused radio message out to space. The message was heard and the invading aliens rush straight to Earth. The only problem is that the aliens manage to crash into the only satellite they will be able to use to “phone home”.  As a result they also need to take over the radio observatory from which the Earth signals were being broadcast.  As only can happen in the movies, Brooklyn Decker, who plays the girlfriend of Kitsch’s character, is walking up the side of the mountain the observatory is on to help an army colonel who is a double  amputee and is learning to walk again.  It does not help that she is also the admiral’s daughter (no point for guessing which one of the brothers the admiral does not get on with).

Long story short, by land and sea the combined forces of our stars fight by various ways to defeat the enemy. Despite the budget this is a B movie, this is not necessarily a bad thing (just think of the classic offerings from the 1950’s and 1960’s. This is a movie that knows its place.

You may have noticed I have not gone in to the plot too much – it is obvious and so I won’t take away from the fun…Everything said, I could not but feel there was a message being sent out with the movie; the time for our old quarrels is over, there is a new stronger enemy which requires that we put aside old enmities, prejudices and assumtions and come together to defeat it.  This may just be me being over philosophical in a movie which generally requires no brain power, but that’s me; who the new enemy is, that is for you to decide. I mentioned this was a B-movie, its predecessors from 50 years ago also had similar messages and then the targets were obvious…If I have a significant issue it is in the use of a certain naval vessel which is now a museum; there was a lot of live armament on a very old vessel, not in active service; I’m going to stop now.

Rating =  5/10 it will keep you entertained, some good one-liners and it is easy to follow.  Some interesting cameo appearances also.