Thor

It should come as little shock to anyone who visits this site that the staff here are nerdlings (not to be confused with zerglings) to the nth degree. As such, it surprises one even less that several of us are not only avid comic book readers, but more specifically fans of the Marvel comics version of Thor, Norse God of Thunder. We've sat through two Hulks (one terrible, one kinda fun), two Iron Man films (both good, first one better), and a lot of trailers; but finally, ladies and gentlemen...It's Hammer Time!

I had to say it at least once. I won't do it again. Promise.

The picture starts off following a team of storm chasing astrophysicists headed by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, who at the age of 29 is finally looking over the age of 18), the film, and the team, quickly run into Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Quite literally. With a car. Not the most auspicious introduction, certainly. Quickly, however, the story rewinds back a few hundred years to develop the backstory of Odin's (Anthony Hopkins) defense of the nine realms (of which Earth is one) against the threat of the Frost Giants. The narration continues on about how it will be his future heir's duty, either Thor or his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), to hold the line. It's here where we're reminded yet again that Hopkins is a member of that elite cadre of actors of whom we wouldn't mind listening to a reading of the Sears catalogue.

As time passes, Thor is chosen as heir to the throne, (much to the consternation of Loki) though he is still brash and headstrong. Eventually he leads an ill-fated expedition into the heart of the Frost Giant kingdom, kicking ass and taking names like any storm god should, but threatening the tenuous truce that has lasted the last few centuries. Odin gets ticked, and rightfully so, booting Thor from Asgard to Midgard (Earth for those less up on their Viking nomenclature). It's here where the film turns into more of a romantic comedy, but still maintains its charm, providing a timely break from all the Magic talk and immortals. It's these elements that help cement what is essentially a high fantasy film into a relatable reality, which is a key quality for a superhero flick.

Speaking of which, as this is being integrated into the grand "Marvel Avengers film plan", there are a lot of references to the Hulk and Iron Man films, as well as a nod to the Captain America picture slated for later this year. All of this is done with much the same style and technique that the original comics did years ago, and never bogs down the film. Indeed, when a giant armored weapon of godly distruction is sent to New Mexico and the first response by a government agent is "Is this another one of Stark's?" only to be followed by "Who knows? He never tells me anything." is a nice light touch, keeping the film universe alive.

All told, Thor is a rollicking good adventure flick. It takes just the right amount of time to develop its characters enough so that when the requisite effects-laden battles begin, you actually care about the results even though you know exactly what they'll be. Additionally, the film is fun enough that when it comes home on Blu-Ray or DVD, you can still have a blast with a superhero-themed Cavalcade crew.

Wolfman, The

Remember back in the 1990’s when Hollywood decided to make big budget updates for the old Universal Movie Monsters?  Francis Ford Coppola gave us the reinterpretation/bad acid trip Bram Stoker’s DraculaKenneth Branagh gave us an epic interpretation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Then came Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy which, despite many reviews to the contrary, was an excellent update on what was originally a boring remake of Dracula (1931). Now over ten years later, another successful update/remake gets added to the bunch: The Wolfman.

Joe Johnston’s film is better than it has any right to be, based on the controversy surrounding the film’s production.  Johnston creates a dark, foreboding atmosphere with lush Victorian-era countryside and does the one thing we were all waiting for: brutally eviscerates hapless villagers!  I had forgotten how vicious werewolves are supposed to be.  There are some truly inspired amputations leading up to a full-on attack on a Gypsy village.  The attack is shot in such a way that every time the camera whips around, someone new is suddenly on the ground-missing vital parts. And since they're all “movie Gypsies,” the audience doesn't have to feel bad.  Well, no audience that's seen Drag Me to Hell.  Evil, eeevile people.

Well evil and helpful, as they stitch up poor Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro) after his attack and leave him to his wolfy fate.  Oh dear.  I should have put up a spoiler alert there.  Benicio Del Toro is the titular wolfman!  I’ve done gone and ruined the movie for you! Unless you saw the trailer.

Anyway.

The story here is essentially the same as the original 1941 film: prodigal son, Lawrence Talbot returns to his father’s home, is attacked by werewolf, becomes new werewolf, and hijinks ensue!  Unfortunately, this about as far as the plot goes. Well, that’s not entirely true.  There is actually a whole bonus plot that is summarily explained by Anthony Hopkins in the middle of the film.  But, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Werewolf films, like the similar Jekyll and Hyde pictures, should not be too plot-obsessed.  These stories are supposed to be character studies: an examination of a man trying to master his own base nature.  Ideally the conflict should be entirely internal, which the original film did to an extent.  This update chooses to have its cake and eat it too by creating a bad guy for the Wolfman to fight in a similar fashion to the Absorbing Man’s third act entrance in Ang Lee’s Hulk.  In fairness, The Wolfman’s villain is much more organically introduced and built up throughout the movie but, nonetheless, the external conflict muddies what should have been the sole focus of the story.

However, on a superficial  horror movie level, the movie does nothing but satisfy.  Del Toro and Hopkins deliver wonderful performances with the always great Hugo Weaving following closely behind.  I will warn horror connoisseurs that there is extensive use of computer generated imagery for the werewolf transformations and succeeding violence.  I can already hear the complaints of the CGI not being realistic enough.  I totally agree, CGI makes the actor transforming into a bipedal, ferocious hound from hell look less realistic, dammit!

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Dracula: I, who served the Cross. I, who commanded nations, hundreds of years before you were born.
Professor Abraham Van Helsing: Your armies were defeated. You tortured and impaled thousands of people.
Dracula: I was betrayed. Look at what your God has done to me!

Oh, what a beautiful mess this movie is!

Prior to the release of this film, Francis Ford Coppola promised that this would be the most faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel ever brought to screen, and while there are some glaring deviations in the story, he was right. But that doesn't change the fact that after the 2 hours and 8 minute runtime is up, you'll be stunned by what you saw, and that's not entirely a good thing. Frankly, this movie is all over the map in terms of quality and content, so much so that I am of two minds when I watch it: The Film Geek and the B-Movie Freak. As such, I will give each their time in the following review:

TFG: Beautifully shot with set pieces designed specifically to be evocative of both stage and early theatrical productions, Coppola's film has a real old-world style feel to it that perfectly sets its operatic tone early on. With the energetic opening that ties Bram Stoker's tale to the historical Vlad Tepes, even minutes into the film, you know you are not going to be seeing your average Dracula movie.

BMF: Impalements! Blood-fountain Crucifixes! Bad-ass anger management issues! ROCK! Winona's kinda hot too.

TFG: Shifting now into the familiar territory of the book, it is here that the film shines... and starts to show its many flaws. Gary Oldman's campy turn as a deranged Dracula, tormented by memories of his past, yet still all-together evil deservedly launched his career into the forefront of Hollywood. On the flip-side, Keanu Reeves casting as Jonathan Harker solidified opinions of just about everyone to his limitations as an actor.

However, the true stars of the overall show, the production design and cinematography, keep you rolling along, even as the movie is about to drastically change its tone yet again.

BMF: Oldman rocks, Keanu's hilariously bad, and there are BOOBS. Add to that some nifty shadow effects and cool spider-man action. This movie is just plain awesome.

TFG: It's here that the movie begins to crumble under the weight of its own pretentiousness. With a shoe-horned romance that only just barely manages to be better than the one shoved into Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (the new standard low from here to eternity), intermixed with a surreal whirlwind of images pulling together the disparate threads of Stoker's dense novel, it's hard to make sense of what exactly is going on if you haven't already read the book. But it's beautiful to look at, so we'll give it a pass, but it's still hard to deal with the sudden shifts from supernatural romance to violence for little-to-no reason.

BMF: Hey look, he's all young and pretty again...err...why, exactly? Yawn, can we get past these courtship scenes with Wino-oh SHIT! What the fuck is that cool freakin' Wolfman-thing doing with that lady on the-oh-oooo-ok, that can't be legal! oh, and BOOBS!

TFG: As the film progresses, the bits of story are becoming more and more disjointed. Anthony Hopkins appears as Van Helsing, but his portrayal won't win him any awards. Tom Waits has an impressive turn as Renfield, and we are treated to some truly impressive effects, but the script is unraveling. The score by Wojciech Kilar however, is impressive enough to become a staple in theatrical trailers for the next 15 years.

BMF: BOOBS! BlOOD! Batman? This film is awesome! It's got comedy, gore, and sex! Lots of sex. I mean, wow. By this time we're all cackling along at some very weird happenings on the screen. Oh, and could somebody explain to the rest of us why Van Helsing is teleporting around like Nightcrawler from X-Men 2 and...oh, who cares. This. is. AWESOME.

As you can see, this movie gets bogged down by it's own pretension and some laughably bad performances by most its leads (Oldman and Waits being the distinct exceptions). But the sumptuous visuals, music, and that same B-movie acting manage to make this a worthy addition to any Cavalcade event.