Book of Eli

Back in 2001, comic writer Garth Ennis wrote an interesting mini-series called Just a Pilgrim. In it, the earth is a wasteland after an event called The Burn, where the sun expanded and literally scorched the earth. An unspecified time later came The Pilgrim, a mysterious man walking across the great plains of the Atlantic ocean, driven by his faith, and pursuing a personal holy mission. Along the way, he comes across a wagon train besieged by pirates, and joins on as their protector.  The story was one-part comedy, two-parts western and post-apocalyptic adventure, and finally-a disturbing look at the power of faith.

I couldn't help but be reminded by this as I sat down in the theater to watch The Book of Eli, the latest film from the Hughes Brothers and starring Denzel Washington as the titular Eli, a man of immense faith walking across the post-apocalyptic American wasteland 30 years after a world-war followed by a massive solar event killed off most of humanity, leaving the survivors scrambling for leftover scraps. In the 30 years since the solar event, civilization has regressed into a perfect post-apocalyptic version of Hollywood western society, with the horses replaced by motorcycles, and the good sippin' whiskey replaced by pure water.

In this world filled with bandits, cannibals, and general hopelessness, Eli walks-following in the footsteps of Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name and Alan Ladd's Shane. Filling out the western conventions are Gary Oldman as the "Robber Baron", returning to the deliciously tasty side of Evil after playing heroic sidekicks the last few years, Jennifer Beals as the "Kept Madam", and Mila Kunis as the "Wide-eyed Innocent". It's to Kunis' credit that she hold her own in the face of Washington and Oldman-it's almost enough to forget that she's Jackie from That 70's Show.

In classic form, Eli only wants to travel in peace and live by The Word, but keeps getting harassed, leaving him no choice but to rather reluctantly kick the living sin out of everybody in the room. By reluctantly, I mean of course with "great speed and flourish", with limbs flying akimbo after meeting with his machete. Eventually people stop trying to stab Eli, and go the way of the Gun-where he proves to be the kind of marksman that can make guns have 2 times their effective range and stopping power. Eastwood would be proud.

Between these wicked fun bits of violence, there's well-acted scenes where people discuss some incredibly silly things with utmost gravitas and emotion. The movie has the story it wants to tell, and by God it's going to tell it. If you haven't seen the trailers. Eli's got a book to deliver, Oldman wants the book for himself, wackiness ensues until the big twist at the end, and the credits roll. High concept nonsense, but done with such panache you won't mind at all. The movie is beautifully shot, great score, and as stated already-solid performances, even if Oldman's Carnegie is not nearly as menacing or fun as Norman "Stan" Stansfield, or The Count

This is not a Cavalcade movie. It's too well executed and takes itself far too seriously for a proper bit o' the mockery. It's definitely worth a look however, and I'd fully recommend a double feature with Eastwood's seminal Pale Rider.

Unborn, The

This is the sort of film that brings people together... in much the same way being held hostage does. The only way I was able to get through the movie was guffawing with good friends and complete strangers. At one point, a young man leaned forward and told me and my associates that, "Yo, Nigga is old"-and in light of the movie we were watching, it was a welcome change of pace.

The Unborn bites off far more than it can chew. With the line, "you must finish what began in Auschwitz," being the last written words of a Holocaust survivor to a doe-eye college student. Who, by the way, the film doesn't consider worth our time beyond shameful leering.

I found the co-opting of the Holocaust deeply offensive in this context, though I'm not sure why, and I wondered if anyone on the staff of the production was in position to say, "maybe we shouldn't make this movie." It's simple really, because all one has to be to think The Unborn was a bad idea is:

  1. Well-read
  2. Not a moron
  3. Some combination of one of those and Jewish.

Or, at least know one person who is Jewish, and ask them. Even then, I'm sure a local Rabbi would gladly tell you that you and your entire production company are about to make a serious error.

Almost as frustrating, this movie takes the male gaze to a whole new level by leering at this girl's cracks and assets like a strip-club talent scout at a high-school cheer-leading competition. I suppose her adolescent cuteness, barely-there derrière, and knock-kneed lankiness are the reason that no less than fourteen people die to save her from possession from a dybbuk, which is pretty much a demon that posses people (like Pazuzu in the Exorcist, but Jewish). Again, fourteen people die to protect this girl.

This whole film is completely terrible for just that reason. I like hot girls. Who doesn't like hot girlsOther girls like hot girls! But I will be damned-damned I tell you-if I think that I should throw away nearly over a dozen lives because someone is physically attractive.

Topping all this off is the main character, who after surviving this ordeal thanks to Stringer Bell (Elba) and Commissionr James Gordon (Oldman), gets a sonogram that proposes she is about to have undead demon spawn children-and she doesn't get a goddamned abortion.

What. The. Hell?

The one lesson any person with half a brain would have learned in this movie is that children are gateways of the devil. But noooooo, our heroine has to keep the baby, because. . . I actually have no idea. Her grandmother would have wanted it that way, I guess. A stupid ending to a stupid film.

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.