The Silver Bullet ~ The 9th Life of Louis Drax

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Synopsis: A psychologist begins working with a young boy who has suffered a near-fatal fall and finds himself drawn into a mystery that tests the boundaries of fantasy and reality.

Release Date: September 2, 2016

Thoughts: French director Alexandre Aja is known for his more, ahem, extreme work (High Tension, Mirrors, Piranha 3D, Horns), so I was more than a little surprised his name was attached to this big-screen adaptation of Liz Jensen’s 2005 novel.  I mean, there doesn’t seem to be any opportunity for characters to be dispatched of in a most grisly fashion but perhaps The 9th Life of Louis Drax is an attempt to show Aja’s softer side.  Focused on a comatose boy and the secret as to why he’s in his current state, this September release might be a nice return for the carefully constructed mystery genre that’s been dormant for far too long in my book.  Starring Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey), Sarah Gadon (Dracula Untold), Aaron Paul (Need for Speed), Barbara Hershey (Insidious: Chapter 2), and Oliver Platt (Flatliners), if Aja can withhold the bloodletting and let the story take center stage he may just have a winner on his hands.

The Silver Bullet ~ A Royal Night Out

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Synopsis: On V.E. Day in 1945, as peace extends across Europe, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret are allowed out to join the celebrations. It is a night full of excitement, danger and the first flutters of romance.

Release Date: US Release TBA 2015

Thoughts: A little fun never hurt no one, right? Truth be told, A Royal Night Out looks like pure cheeky Brit froth but that doesn’t mean it should be totally written off. This period-set mix of historical drama and comedic revisionism feels like it could play as a nice palate cleanser after years of sitting through so many stodgy tales of the monarchy. Sarah Gadon (Dracula Untold, Enemy) looks an awful lot like the future Queen of England (and a young Helen Mirren who’s played her too) and it’s always nice to see Emily Watson (The Theory of Everything) and Rupert Everett. I was recently impressed with Bel Powley (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) and think her take on Princess Margaret looks like a daffy delight. I interviewed Jack Reynor when Transformers: Age of Extinction came out so I’ll be interested to see him in this as well.

Movie Review ~ Dracula Untold

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Facing threats to his kingdom and his family, Vlad Tepes makes a deal with dangerous supernatural forces – whilst trying to avoid succumbing to the darkness himself.

Stars: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Diarmaid Murtagh, Dominic Cooper, Charles Dance

Director: Gary Shore

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 92 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: When it comes to films about Dracula I’m a, well, sucker.  I’m not sure where this childhood fascination came with the fanged count began but one need only look at my sequential years of Halloween costume pictures where I sported a black cape and a set of too big for my mouth fangs that eventually fit perfectly to see that there was nary a vampire vein I wasn’t willing to open.

Vampires have had their fair share of cinematic excursions over the decades in pretty much every genre in existence.  From the Bela Lugosi original to Christopher Lee’s long tenure for Hammer Studios to Chris Sarandon’s menacing 80s hunk of Fright Night and Gary Oldman’s highly stylized take on the count for Francis Ford Coppola, vampires had come a long way…only to be reduced to romantic glittery naval gazers in the Twilight films. The makers of Dracula Untold are counting on the big guy having a little blood left to feed the masses and it’s nice to report that while there isn’t a feast to be had, what’s on the plate is more satisfying than one would imagine.

The good thing about Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless’s script is that it doesn’t feel like an outright “Dracula Project”.  I get the impression they used the legend of Vlad the Impaler as a jumping off point for their leather and sword action pic and went back later to add more mythology, fangs, and bloodletting to the mix. However they approached it, the film as a whole works surprisingly well because it has a strong backbone to support it during some of the less successful moments involving iffy special effects and an overstuffed ending leading to an unnecessary epilogue.

Leading the cast as the man who would become a vampire legend is Luke Evans who possesses the Eastern European looks to suggest a denizen of Transylvania but the British accent that makes one wonder if Prince Vlad was educated at Oxford.  Yes, friends, this is another of those movies set in a district where the UK dialect doesn’t make any sort of sense yet is widely employed by all who cross the screen.  Evans (The Raven) brings a considerable assuredness to Vlad, painting him as a one-time impaling warrior now content to rule his kingdom in peace with his lovely wife (Sarah Gadon, Enemy, with bosom appropriately heaving and on display) and son.

When a Turkish sultan and former comrade (a not the least bit believable Dominic Cooper, Need for Speed, sporting enough eyeliner to write a short story) demands Vlad provide 1,000 boys (including his own progeny) as soldiers for his army, he refuses and incurs the impending wrath of destruction against his kingdom.  Turning to a mysterious figure (Charles Dance) that haunts a lonely mountain, Vlad is given the power of the vampire and has three days to reverse the effects while using his newfound power to destroy his enemy.

Director Gary Shore keeps the first half of the movie flowing nicely as a well-executed origin story that’s more interesting than it has any right to be.  With some handsome scenery and nicely constructed set pieces (no RenFest rickety buildings here, thank you very much) there’s an agreeable momentum built by all as Vlad moves toward the dark side of his growing vampiric prowess.  It’s only when it devolves into blurry battle sequences that mythology gets thrown out of the door in favor of some carefully edited PG-13 violence.  For a film about the famed blood drinker, there’s precious little of the red stuff on display.

Feeling longer than its 92 minutes, Dracula Untold still manages to keep pace with our expectations for most of its running length.  Aside from the aforementioned unfortunate epilogue that represents  both one ending too many and some obvious studio sequel pressure, by and large this is one Dracula story that earns its telling.

The Silver Bullet ~ Dracula Untold

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Synopsis: Facing threats to his kingdom and his family, Vlad Tepes looks to make a deal with dangerous supernatural forces – without succumbing to the darkness himself.

Release Date: October 10, 2014

Thoughts:  Okay, so along with my weakness for shark movies, creature features, Grease 2, Showgirls, and a bunch of other cinematic eye-rolls I have to say that I’m always up for a revisionist take on the vampire kingpin of ‘em all: Dracula. The origin of Dracula has been told countless times over the years from historically sound efforts to wildly fantastical takes on the myth with nary a drop of blood left unspilled. With a cast that includes Luke Evans (The Raven), Sarah Gadon (Enemy), and Dominic Cooper (Need for Speed), Dracula Untold looks to be in the campy-yet-serious group, catering to the Underworld and fan base but don’t think that will stop me from resting comfortably in my screening seat to see what new creases the creators have in store for this well-worn tale.

The Silver Bullet ~ Maps to the Stars

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Synopsis: A tour into the heart of a Hollywood family chasing celebrity, one another and the relentless ghosts of their pasts.

Release Date: TBA 2014

Thoughts: How it is possible that Julianne Moore hasn’t taken home an Oscar yet?  Though rewarded with a handful of nominations over the years, she’s lost out on all of the big wins and I think it’s time we fixed that, don’t you?  Director David Cronenberg (The Dead Zone) does too and he’s offered Moore a real barnstormer of a role as a self-absorbed actress with a shot at the big time.  Moore (Carrie) took home the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival and if early buzz it to be believed, we’ll see a lot more of the flame haired star when awards season rolls around in a few months.  Co-starring John Cusack (The Raven), Robert Pattinson (The Rover), Sarah Gadon (Enemy, What If), Mia Wasikowska (Stoker) the movie itself looks like your typical Cronenberg head trip…but more always helps things come into focus.

Movie Review ~ Enemy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A man seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie.

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: After Prisoners became one of my favorite films of 2013, I could not have been more on board for this second pairing of star Jake Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve.  Actually, Enemy is really their first project together because it was on this film the two began discussing joining forces on the dark kidnapping mystery.  Though I find Prisoners to be the superior of their two collaborations, Gyllenhaal & Villeneuve have cooked up a patience testing mystery that may not be your cup of tea but was fine red wine to me.

Based on Portuguese writer José Saramago’s 2002 novel The Double and reminiscent of Brian De Palma’s 1973 thriller Sisters, Enemy finds Gyllenhaal (End of Watch) in sullen form as a college professor going about the routine of someone that’s settled in for an unfulfilled life.  He goes to work, comes home to his barely furnished apartment, and often spends the night with a woman (Mélanie Laurent) that rarely stays the night.

One day a random colleague makes an even more random movie suggestion and what Gyllenhaal sees on in the movie is someone that looks an awful lot like him…setting into motion a tricky mystery with layers upon layers to uncover and can’t be revealed here.  What I can say is that the movie holds its cards so close to its chest that it will be difficult for some to accept that not everything has (or deserves) an answer/explanation.

Making good use of its Canadian setting (Toronto has never looked so foreboding even in the beige tones and glowing amber palette Villeneuve  and cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc employ), Enemy started to feel like a Where’s Waldo book after a while as I sought meaning in almost everything seen on screen.  Doing the same when you see the movie (and you should) would be a mistake because you’ll may miss Gyllenhaal’s rich performance and good supporting work from the intriguing Sarah Gadon and Isabella Rossellini who pops up in a role that sets the movie on its ear in such a way that it would make David Lynch drool.

You’ll hear a lot about Enemy’s ending and it’s admittedly a doozy of a WTF moment that left me impressed with its moxie rather than baffled at its meaning.  At a trim 90 minutes, the film flies by so that when the ending does come it’s a shock in its execution and that the film has run its course.  Worthy of your time and your intelligence, this is one to take you identical twin to.

The Silver Bullet ~ Enemy

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Synopsis: A man seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie.

Release Date:  March 14, 2014

Thoughts: It was on the set of Enemy that star Jake Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve discussed the A-list actor coming on board Villeneuve’s next project: 2013’s highly effective (and high up on my best of the year list) Prisoners.  So even though it was completed first, Enemy is just getting ready for a release in early March.  A much smaller film that the Hollywood studio-backed Prisoners, Enemy suggests another moody puzzle of a film the director seems to have such a knack for.  I wasn’t always the biggest Gyllenhaal fan but he’s taken on some dynamite roles in the last few years (see End of Watch if Prisoners didn’t convince you) and I’m getting a friendly vibe from this first look at Enemy.

Movie Review ~ The Nut Job

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Surly, a curmudgeon, independent squirrel is banished from his park and forced to survive in the city. Lucky for him, he stumbles on the one thing that may be able to save his life, and the rest of park community, as they gear up for winter – Maury’s Nut Store.

Stars: Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl, Stephen Lang, Sarah Gadon, Jeff Dunham, Maya Rudolph, Gabriel Iglesias

Director: Peter Lepeniotis

Rated: PG

Running Length: 86 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: No one owes a bigger debt to the advent of cheaply produced animation more than the vermin of the world.  Where else but in a colorful bit of family friendly fluff can your run of the mill flea infested squirrel be transformed into a purple-ish hero voiced by Will Arnett?  Well squirrels, moles, raccoons, rats, and a host of other hairy creatures get their chance to shine in this well-intentioned but subpar attempt by small studio Open Road Films to weasel into the playing field with the likes of Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks.

The Nut Job centers on Surly the squirrel (Arnett), who of course is pretty surly (har har) and doesn’t like sharing his carefully gathered nut goodies with his fellow dwellers of a spacious park.  When he’s responsible for the eradication of the food gathered for winter, he’s cast out of the park along with his silent rat friend.  In the hustle and bustle of the big city just outside the quaint park, he has the good fortune to find himself in front of an honest to goodness nut store and his worries are over.

Trouble is, the nut store is really a front for a bunch of gangsters using it to rob a bank across the street. In a variation of your classic caper comedies, they’re digging underground to break into the vault just as Surly and his growing gang of scampering rodent folk keeps trying multiple methods to gain entry into the store for all the walnuts they could every dream of.  Despite the somewhat quaint set-up of a robbery within a robbery, the movie never comes off as clever as it wants us to think it is.

Arnett is just fine but is perhaps a bit too sly in his delivery to truly open up his character beyond a grumpy squirrel who winds up changing his tune.  There’s nothing particularly memorable about his low registered characterization and when paired with regal sounding Liam Neeson (Battleship, The Grey) it feels like a basso-profundo face-off.

Saying this is Katherine Heigl’s best work may sound like a dig…until you consider her long long LONG string of failed films over the past several years.  Heigl (One for the Money) for once sounds as animated as her character, one of the few to be given a name other than their general moniker: Raccoon, Mole, Rat, etc…only species with multiple representation get their own names in the world of The Nut Job.  I’d say that Brendan Fraser was awful voicing a doofus brawny popular squirrel but as the film went along it became clear that Fraser was really the only one that fully embraced his surroundings and turned up the dial on the exuberance…and then busted the dial right off and went higher.  Though he’s exhausting, it’s the kind of liveliness the film is sorely lacking.

Running a long 80 some odd minutes, The Nut Job caps off it’s time with us via a curtain call finale set to South Korean rapper Psy’s Gangnam Style…nearly two years after it become popular and then went the way of the flashmob.  I know an animated film takes time to make its journey to the screen but including a song that was a dated cliché before the release date approaches is a true puzzlement.

The kind of film that could be popular since there’s little in the way of family entertainment at the movies this month, The Nut Job is exactly as good as you think it looks.  Falling into the mid-tier of animation efforts, it’s neither here nor there how well it does at the box office because it can’t have cost that much to make.  I’d say skip it…but if you have kids driving you crazy at home there are a lot worse ways to take them to the movies.