Saturday, December 12, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - The Circle Is Now Complete

The summer of 1977 holds a very special place in my memories. I was 13 years old and delivered the Santa Barbara News Press after school, life was good. My best friend Mike was convinced that we could make movies together. We were saving up our paper route money to buy a Super 8 movie camera so we could film our epic adventure. We did not realize the wonder we were about to experience. What the both of us witnessed that summer still has a hold on me to this day. If you ask my children, they will tell you it was the year their daddy saw "Star Wars."

"Star Wars" has been a part of my life in subtle and not so subtle ways. On that summer day, Mike and I walked into the theater not sure of what to expect, and we left with our heads full of a new worlds of wonder and excitement. We wanted to be Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, of course, because they were the heroes. On the other hand, Darth Vader was a symbol of the evil tyranny that our parents represented.  All summer long my friends and I talked about "Star Wars;" about Luke, about Han Solo and of course about Princess Leia. When you are a thirteen year old boy Carrie Fisher looked pretty darn good!

During that summer we saw "Star Wars" at least ten times at the theater. Now, I suppose you are thinking that this was just a phase I was going through and by fall when school started I was cured. Actually Mike and I just redoubled our efforts to learn everything about how George Lucas made "Star Wars;" from the lighting, sound, visual effects, and directing.

The next school year we both signed up in Drama class so we could learn how to act in our film production. By the way, I haven’t mentioned “the movie” since the beginning of this essay so I am thinking that you may have thought that I had forgotten about it; not so. In fact the whole purpose behind learning film production was so we could produce a film that was better than Star Wars. We tried very hard to learn everything about making movies that our little minds could hold. However, little did we know that the end was near!

As the summer of ‘78 quickly approached Mike and I had scripts prepared and we started to cast our movie. We even built up enough courage to ask a couple of girls at school to take the female lead characters in our movie. Our thoughts of a perfect summer were of the beach, the babes and making our movie. Life couldn’t get much better. Unfortunately, my dad announced that he had accepted a job at a community college in the not so booming town of Ridgecrest CA. Looking back to that day so many years ago, I can still remember the sinking feeling in my stomach as I had to tell Mike that I was going to be moving. All of our hopes and dreams of making a movie were washed away. The following weeks my brother and I kept our minds busy packing for our trip to the dry and dusty Mojave Desert

Image result for 3/4 video tape
Upon arriving in the desert, my dad went through some extra effort to borrow from the college a ¾” video tape machine, and a bootlegged copy of "Star Wars" for my own private use. However, when whoever made the copy, they didn't use the anamorphic lens and the characters were squished a bit. That didn't matter, I watched the tape over and over. I was too old for the toys, but not too old to build the models. I wore the tape out that summer and I learned every line of every character in the film.

The new decade came pretty quickly and I read every different Science Fiction book I could get my hands on. My love for "Star Wars" was renewed in 1980 when "The Empire Strikes Back" was released and its creator, George Lucas had revealed some important clues about Darth Vader; and the mystery deepened. I spent many hours writing and talking with my friends speculating what Darth Vader meant when he says “I am your father!” Was he a clone? Is it true? Who was Luke’s mom? Is Han dead? I thought Luke and Leia was an item, how was I to know that they were brother and sister? And life goes on.

I graduated from high school in the summer of 1981 and promptly moved myself back to the coast. By May of 1983 I was nineteen years old , ready, willing and able to stand in line at the theater for eight hours prior to the midnight opening of “Star Wars – Return of the Jedi”  My friends and I were older but not wiser.

As the years pass, I worked, I had fun, and I got married. My wife and I moved to Arizona in the fall of 1994 a year after my daughter was born. Times change, people change, kids grow up and I get older everyday. However, the impression that the film made upon me those many years ago has remained. When my daughter was four going on five, Lucas re-released Star Wars once more. Now the title of the film is "Star Wars: Episode Four - A New Hope." I took my five year old daughter Debbie to witness one of the greatest events of my life. Watching the movie on the big screen as an adult was a totally different experience for me. I am not sure I actually watched the whole movie that day but I know spent more time watching my daughter’s reaction to the images. I think I cried in the theater that day watching the same awestruck look in my daughter’s eyes and wondered if I had that same look in my eyes twenty years ago.

Image result for phantom menaceMy son was born later that year in 1997, and two years later my wife and I decided to go our separate ways. That same year "Star Wars – The Phantom Menace" was released. I promised myself that I was not going to learn every line each character said. I was wrong, my kids watched the DVD day in and day out. I would fall asleep on the couch with the movie playing. I was having nightmares of Darth Mall coming after me.

"Attack of the Clones" was released in 2002, and to my excitement my kids were old enough to watch this new episode at the theater. Once again my eyes would wander over to their little faces just to see the twinkle in their eyes.

Debbie, my daughter started wanting to be "Star Wars" characters for Halloween. As that year's Halloween approached, I would wait till my children were asleep and I would go out and work on my costume. I worked many nights in the garage in complete secrecy. Who did I dress up as? I made a complete Darth Vader costume; Light Saber and all. When the time came for me to take the kids on their Trick or Treat quest, I came home from work and donned my costume in the garage. I made an entrance into the house and watched the eyes of my seven year old son pop right out of his head. Tony backed himself into a corner and I could tell that he was a little frightened and very confused. I reached out to him with my gloved fist and said to him “Anthony, I am your father!” My daughter dressed up as Princess Leia and for my son Tony, I built a custom made R2- D2 costume out of a plastic trash can, many plumbing parts and lots of paint. So as Halloween 2004 was approaching I made my mind up to do something I have never done before as an adult. I decided to go in costume to take my kids Trick or TreatingMy new bride handed out candy dressed as Master Yoda.

I watched in total admiration as Tony pretends to either Obi-Wan, Anakin or just as I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. For many years I have held the original excitement and wonder of these movies in my heart. As I see my children enjoying so much of the "Star Wars" universe that has kept me young these many years, I pray that they will be able to share that same experience with their children and look into their eyes and regain the childhood that this world forces them to leave behind so soon.

The circle is now complete.
"Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens" soon. People ask me, did you buy your tickets yet? Tickets went on sale after the showing of a preview of the film during the Superbowl. No, I did not buy tickets. Am I going to go see the film? Of course I am. Silly question. Am I excited, of course I am, but now after thirty some years later, I know that I will watch the film in the theater several times. I will buy the Blu-ray, watch it many times and I will discuss the film and do many comparisons to the original. Because, that is what I do. Will I be dissapointed if J.J. Abrams fails to reinvigorate the franchise? I highly doubt it. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Top Ten War Films for Memorial Day 2010: Which Ones Will You Be Watching?

When I was a kid, every year on Memorial Day, my dad and I would watch war pictures on TV.  We normally would see a John Wayne WWII film, or a Civil War picture.  This year, I am choosing from my DVD collection of my favorite war films in remembrance for those who gave their lives to defend my right to share my opinion.  First off, I am leaving off a couple of films that I think everyone would agree are appropriate Memorial Day film classics -- "Saving Private Ryan," and of course "Band of Brothers."  The networks are still airing these films every six months, often enough to warrant a search for something ageless and nostalgic.  So, here are my top ten war films for Memorial Day.

The American Revolutionary War

The Patriot: Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger | A Constantly Racing Mind
The Patriot (2000) -- Starring Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Jason Isaacs, and Chris Cooper

A Rolland Emmerich epic of the American Revolutionary war, depicting through fictional characters, some slightly more historic battles in the southern colonies of the Carolina's during America's fight for independence of British rule.  This film brings the atrocities of the war home during the scenes of the British Invasion.  Told from the point of view of a veteran of the French Indian Wars, (George Washington started that one, by the way.) renouncing violence, a widower, and turning to running his plantation, Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), just wants to raise his family of four boys and three girls.  Martin receives an invitation to join a meeting in Charlotte to discuss a decision to rebel against King George of England.  Benjamin Martin is against it, "Why should I trade a tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile a way."  A good point, if you honestly think about it.  However, his oldest son Gabriel (Heath Ledger), enlists against his will, and serves for two years before reuniting with his family.  The reunion is only because he is traveling through his father's plantation, as the war has come to his home.  The villainous lead in "The Patriot" is played with realism, and cruelty by Jason Isaacs ("Event Horizon") as Col. William Tavington, in charge of the British Light Dragoons (cavalry). He is Martin's nemesis throughout the film; a sure bet that there will be blood spilt between those two by the end of the story.  High in drama, quick with the action, light on the romance, and a mush of history, you have almost three hours of epic fun to watch on Monday.

The American Civil War

Gettysburg | A Constantly Racing MindGettysburg (1993) -- Starring Jeff Daniels, Tom Berenger, Martin Sheen, and Stephen Lang

Based on "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara, Gettysburg is a long and loving look at the men behind the military campaign that turned the tide of the Civil War for the North.  Told from the points of view of Colonel Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels), General James Longstreet (Tom Berenger) and Robert E. Lee (Martin Sheen) of the Confederate Army, the film explores both sides of the three-day battle, and the victories and mistakes that the leaders made.  A long movie to be sure, but well worth the time it takes to understand the details of the battles that comprise the campaign.  Like war itself, sometimes boring and endless, till battle starts, and the bullets fly, the man next to you goes down and before you know it the battle is over and you thank God that you are left standing.  Gettysburg may be one of those films that you start on Friday and finish on Monday.

Cold Mountain (2003) -- Starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger | A Constantly Racing Mind

Cold Mountain (2003) -- Starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger

I have two films from the Civil War era on my list.  "Cold Mountain" is a people drama set against the backdrop of the Civil War but tells the story from the perspective of the people of the south.  Although I like the film for war scenes at the beginning, I like the film more of how it humanizes the people of the south rather than totally vilify them.  I liked Jude Law's performance as the deserting soldier, Natalie Portman's as the young wife of a dead soldier, trying to keep her baby, and herself alive. Both Kidman and Zellweger turn in some very powerful performances as they try to keep their world's from falling apart at home while the war rages. I like the fact that it portrayed both the men of the North and the South as capable of doing evil. Look for a pre-Jax Teller as Charlie Hunnam ("Sons of Anarchy," "Pacific Rim") plays Bosie, one of Teague's (Ray Winstone) henchmen. Overall "Cold Mountain" is a drama at heart, significant others are welcome to enjoy this film too.

World War II
Midway (1976) -- Starring Charlton Heston, 
Midway 1976 | A Constantly Racing MindHenry Fonda, James Coburn, Hal Holbrook, Toshirô Mifune, and an all-star cast.

After the U.S. defeat at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the President of the United States requested and received from Congress, a declaration of war upon the Imperial Nation of Japan.  Less than a year later, in June 1942, while the Japanese continued to push an offensive in the Pacific, the United States prepared for the battle that turned the tides of victory from the Japanese.  By intercepting coded Japanese signals, the U.S.  Navy intelligence, trick the Japanese into naming their next target, the Midway Atoll, a third of the way between the islands of Hawaii and Tokyo, Japan. The small island would make an excellent jumping off point in a campaign to capture Hawaii.  The battle is primarily seen through the character of Captain Matt Garth (Heston).  The film shows the various points of view from each of the different ship's commanders, making the film, quasi-documentary in style.  Leading the Japanese armada towards the island is Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (Toshiro Mifune) and his convoy of four carriers, five battleships, heavy and light cruisers and as the advertising world says and much, much more.  Up against great odds the U.S. Navy rallies together three carriers, 25 support ships and about 360 air and land attack based aircraft.  The battle is epic; the drama is intense; and the archive footage lends a sense of realism to the film.  As a kid, I used to keep track of all the archive footage used in TV shows that came from the film, "Midway."

A Bridge Too Far (1977) -- Starring Sean Connery, James Caan, Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins and Laurence Olivier

After Operation Overlord, the landing on the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1946, a few months later, the Allied Command implemented Operation Market Garden to take several strategic targets in the Netherlands.  Like the operation itself, "A Bridge Too Far" stars an international cast, including Maximilian Schell as Lt. Gen. Wilhelm Bittrich and Hardy Krüger as Maj. Gen. Ludwig.  Adapted from Cornelius Ryan's book by the same name, the film recounts the disastrous account of the attempt to take northern positions to the Siegfried Line and outflank it.  As the situation slowly unravels, British and American forces do their best to overcome the obstacles and put forth their best efforts.  "A Bridge Too Far" features intense action and suspense, vivid but not gory violence, and a hit musical score by composer and conductor, John Addison.

The Battle of the Bulge | A Constantly Racing Mind
The Battle of the Bulge (1965) – Starring Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan, and Charles Bronson, with Telly Savalas

Near the end of World War II, in the Ardennes forest, the German's pushed out for one last offensive during the winter of 1944 - 1945.  Seen from both the German point of view as well as the Allied's, the two forces battle it out -- turning the French snow, blood red.  Lt. Col. Kiley (Henry Fonda) leads the American defense, while Col. Hessler’s (Robert Shaw), Panzer division leads the offensive.  Kiley is an intelligence officer who spends the first part of the film trying to convince his commanders that the Germans are pushing an offensive during the middle of winter.  Allied generals have a hard time accepting that the German's are crazy enough to attack in the middle of winter, at a time when the roads and the weather are not conducive to waging war.  The battles and tactics are inspiring, and for a 40 + year-old film, it still holds it's own, in character building, pacing, story development and a memorable patriotic musical score.

Patton (1970) -- Starring George C. Scott and Karl Malden
Patton | A Constantly Racing Mind

Patton is the story of one of America's best and worst general.  A brilliant tactician, a leader in tank innovations, and a man who didn't know how to keep his mouth shut.  Based on the book "A Soldier's Story" by Omar N. Bradley and introduction by A.J. Liebling, we get Bradley's perspective of the man who was once his superior officer, and how he raced across Europe, defying orders along the way, and who struck fear in the hearts of the German officers and soldiers.  Reprimanded by Ike for slapping a soldier, Patton's apology scene deserves attention in that it shows a man showing how to make an apology.  In this day and age, I think saying I am sorry is an almost forgotten art.  Patton shows the man’s greatness and his flaws.  Patton is inspiring film for all ages.  However, AMC runs Patton every six months, and as much as I like this film, the acting, the charisma that George C. Scott imbues Patton with, I need another year's rest before I can watch this film and enjoy it as much as the film deserves.


We Were Soldiers | A Constantly Racing Mind
We Were Soldiers (2002)  -- Starring Mel Gibson, Sam Elliott, and Madeleine Stowe

Director Randall Wallace's adaptation of the book "We Were Soldiers Once...and Young: Ia Drang - the Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam," written by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway.  Like any historical war fiction, this one, although not historically accurate, does allow the viewer a snapshot in time of the mid-sixties escalation of force in Vietnam.  The film shows Lt. Col. Hal Moore (Mel Gibson), and trusty Sgt. Major Plumley (Sam Elliott), standing side-by-side training troops that will fight in the first significant battles on Vietnamese soil.  Like "The Green Berets," "We Were Soldiers" tells the story from essentially three points of view, by Hal Moore's -- as he sees the battle, correspondent Joe Galloway's  (Barry Pepper) perspective, and by Hal's wife, Julie.  Madeline Stowe, as the Colonel's faithful wife and partner, shows the audience what life was like for the Army wives, as they received notices from a cab driver that their husbands fell in battle.  The film's production values exceed expectations for war films, with realistic special effects, and a haunting musical score.  Look for "Mad Men's" John Hamm as Capt. Matt Dillon, a minor part, but a glimpse at the actor before his success as ad executive Don Draper.

The Green Berets | A Constantly Racing Mind

The Green Berets (1968) -- Starring John Wayne, Jim Hutton, and David Janssen

Co-directed by Ray Kellogg and John Wayne, "The Green Berets" bring to life Robin Moore's book "The Green Berets: The Amazing Story of the U.S. Army's Elite Special Forces Unit," written by Robin Moore in the sixties, after going through Special Forces training himself.  Always the patriot, The Duke, and friends stride into the war and kick some enemy butt.  Col. Kirby (John Wayne), leads his Green Beret forces to a base camp in the jungle and takes command.  One of the soldiers that Wayne brings along is Sergeant Petersen (Timothy Hutton), the lovable scrounger of the group.  (Every troop seems to have one), and journalist George Beckworth (David Janssen), who comes along for the ride to report on the waste of time and resources by the U.S. government in Vietnam.  What the soldiers do see are the atrocities committed by the Viet Cong upon their own people.  Also, starring as the South Vietnamese Captain, Nim, is "Star Trek's" helmsman, Mr. Sulu -- George Takei.  Filmed in Georgia, doubling for Vietnam, "The Green Berets" shows the heroic acts of the elite military force.  Look for Jack Soo from TV's "Barney Miller."  Included in the cast is Wayne's long-time friend and colleague, Bruce Cabot as Colonel Morgan.  After watching "The Green Berets," one usually comes away from the film with an extreme sense of patriotism, along with a catchy tune, "Ballad of the Green Berets." another Robin Moore contribution to the film and sung by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler.

Apocalypse Now | A Constantly Racing Mind
Apocalypse Now (1979) -- Staring: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Frederic Forrest, Laurence Fishburne, and Robert Duvall

Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam era, psychedelic take on Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" that leads Army Cpt. Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) up the Nung river in on a classified mission in pursuit of one Col. Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a Green Beret officer, who apparently went MIA at best, and at worst is psychotic.  "Apocalypse Now" features many notable performances in this film, almost too many to count.  For example, Robert Duval as the gung-ho surfer, Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore, leading his Wagner screaming Air Cavalry into enemy territory.  Along with his navy guides, Willard, a deeply troubled man himself, studies the career of the man whose command he was ordered to "terminate, with extreme prejudice."  Included in the over-the-top cast of characters is Dennis Hopper who plays a crazy photojournalist, who worships Kurtz as a god.  Look for a young Laurence Fishburne ("Matrix," "The Signal") as Clean, and Sam Bottom's as the LSD dropping front gunner are amazing.  Look for a cameo of Coppola himself as the TV news director filming on the beach.  In addition, look for a cameo from Harrison Ford as he has makes a brief appearance that took place during breaks between "Star Wars" films.  A clearly disturbing film, it does give one the sense of surrealism of that era.

This list is not in any order of preference; however, I did arrange the films chronologically historically.  I don’t have any movies in this list that represents the War of 1812, Spanish American War, and World War I. One of my favorite films depicting the First World War are "Gallipoli," "All Quiet On the Western Front" staring Lew Ayers. Nor do I have any films representing the Gulf Wars, but that is not to say films like "Jarhead," "The Hurt Locker," or "In the Valley of Elah" shouldn't be overlooked.   Most of the films, selected are based on books by authors whose passion was to make history come alive.  I am sure you may have your own favorite films that have a meaning for you as you start your summer, while that you will be watching while you are barbecuing those tasty ribs or steaks.  Don’t be afraid to comment and post your list for Memorial Day

All photographs belong to their respective studios and distributors

Monday, February 2, 2015

Dracula Untold: A Story That Should Have Remained Untold

Dracula Untold - Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind F or the uninitiated, "Dracula," for many is a vampire who wears a black tuxedo and sometimes turns into a bat after he seduces women with his hypnotic stare. He speaks with a Romanian accent and says silly things like, "I want to drink your blood," He is a monster that preys on women, and in a venereal sense, is a creature of lust. However, "Dracula Untold" attempts to tell the story behind the legend and bring to light the historical figure that Bram Stoker hinted at in his 1897 Gothic Horror novel. Luke Evans ("The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," "Immortals") plays the semi-historical Prince Vlad of Transylvania. Sarah Gadon ("The Amazing Spider-Man 2") plays his wife Mirena, and Art Parkinson, little Rickon Stark from the HBO series "Game of Thrones" is Ingeras his son. Although freshmen director Gary Shore and writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless attempt to fill in the details behind the mystery of who Dracula is, they fall short in the history department while trying to make up for it in effort, special effects and action. 

This is the second origins blockbuster film for 2014. The first, "Hercules" staring Dwayne Johnson did a decent job bringing a version of the demigod to the big screen that is a more human and perhaps a more honest view at how we see ancient legends. Bram Stoker gave only a few hints in his novel of who he was basing his dark count on. For instance during one of Jonathon Harker's conversations with the Count, Dracula mentions that his family comes from the proud Székelys, and Boyars who fought Ottoman Turks in defense of his people and their lands. This narrows the field down to Prince Vlad III of Walachia, situated next to the region of Transylvania. Although Stoker displaces Vlad III to the Transylvanian Carpathian Mountains, there was no person other than the reviled Vlad Țepeș, the Impaler. Even more specific is the name Dracula, as Vlad III was a Christian Knight in the Order of the Dragon, or Dracul, or Dragkwlya. As the reputation as the bloodthirsty Prince spread, 400 years later, Irish playwright and theater manager, Bram Stoker, created a vampire story around that legend. Others say that Stoker had his story pretty much outlined when he was looking for a name for his vampire and came upon the bloody prince.

"Dracula Untold" attempts to bring back Stoker's Count by providing the audience with a few morsels of truth about the infamous man behind the legend, as well as plenty of Hollywood myth making tossed in for good measure. In this version, a narrator recounts how Vlad and his brother Radu “The Handsome” were given as political hostages as a children and were educated by the Turks. He learned the Quran, Turkish, literature, logic, and the Art of War. Instead, Sharpless and Sazama turn the atrocious Vlad into a sympathetic anti-hero. Yes, Vlad the Impaler was a Christian Crusader who took up the cross during Pope Pius II's Crusade against the Ottomans, but he did so with such gusto that both friend and foe alike reviled him.  "Untold" presents us with a man born into a cruel world and tries to soften the edges and humanize him. As the narrator tells us, after leaving the captivity of the Turks, and returning to his own lands to reign, he renounces violence, and like Rock’s character in “Hercules,” intends to settle down and become a stay at home prince to his wife and a good and loving father to his son. 

Dracula Untold: Charles Dance - Master Vampire  | A Constantly Racing Mind
After encountering evidence that the Ottoman Turks are on his lands, he and a small band of his men track the Turks to a bat infested mountain cave. Within the cave, they find the bones of humans who have lain there for centuries, along with the recently dispatched Turkish scouts. So many so, that Vlad realizes that something darker abides there. In a decent scene of horror (for a PG-13 movie), Vlad finds a creature who is so strong, but also so monstrous that he files that information for later. Returning to his home, we find that he has a beautiful wife (Gadon) and a well-bred, and unspoiled son (Parkinson) waiting for him to return. Shore allows us to see for ourselves perhaps the reason why Vlad hates the Turks so much as he removes his shirt to reveal horrible scars on his back from the whippings he endured when he was their prisoner.

While he and his family are in the midst of celebrating Easter in his grand hall with both servants and people of his court, Shore  depicts Vlad as a noble and generous prince. The Turks march in and interrupt the feast demanding their tax and levies for their Janissary corps. Janissarys are male children between the ages of 8 and 15 that serve in an elite corps of the Turkish Army. This sets the stage for rest of the film. Vlad is a good person only trying to save his family and his people. He has almost no army, and as he begs Mehmed II to leave his son out this deal, his hate returns with the memories of abuse at Mehmed's father's hands. Dominic Cooper ("Need for Speed," "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter") plays the Sultan Mehmed II who serves not only as the villain, but also as the catalyst that forces Vlad's hand in deciding to turn to the dark side. Returning to the bat cave mentioned earlier, he encounters a very old and ancient evil that may supply him with an answer to his dark prayers. "Game of Thrones" Charles Dance plays the very old Master Vampire. A dark Yoda of sorts, he cautions the young prince on the pitfalls of immortality and the need to feed. Yes, he will become a hero, but many will hate him. Unlike Louis and Lestat in "An Interview with a Vampire," Prince Vlad is given time to decide if he has buyer's remorse. He has three days to defeat the Sultan, however, the need to feed on human blood will become unbearable, but he cannot drink blood in that time. If he does, his change will become permanent. 

What would you do? Would you accept the dark side in order to save your loved ones? Or, would you stay the course and give in to the Sultan and wait until you have built your army? What the film does mention that is more or less historically accurate is that Radu, Vlad's brother, sided with Mehmed during the upcoming battles. From here on out, the "Dracula Untold" becomes a formula action film with somewhat melodramatic bitter sweet doomed romance, and plenty of CGI shenanigans which include Vlad morphing into not just one bat, but into an entire colony of them. The blood and gore is kept to a 21-century minimum, and the horror and thrill are more at an action level rather than going for the paranormal suspense and fear. 

Dracula Untold: Aftermath of Battle | A Constantly Racing Mind

The battle scenes are shot close up in the "Jason Bourne" style of dizzy and frenetic camera work, more of a blur if you will. Luke Evans' acting is stiff at times but conveys the charm of a prince and the brooding weight of responsibility for others. Dominic Cooper's Mehmet isn't around enough to like or dislike the character nor is Cooper's acting is of anything to note. Charles Dance as the creepy and demonic Master Vampire is probably the only real scary part in the whole film. Vlad's son Igneras is just another kid whom the audience are supposed to feel concern over his fate. Unfortunately I didn't. If anything i felt the film was lacking in passion (except for Luke Evans) for the whole film seems to me to be on the same level as Johnathon Harker played by Keanu Reeves, in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” The special effects in “Untold,” in some ways overshadow the story, and not in a good way. Watch if you are looking for an average action film  with just a tad bit of history, stay away if you are looking for that special film that you will remember as an important part of the Dracula cannon. If anything I give the director and writer some points for effort. 

"Dracula Untold" opened in theaters on October 10, 2014 and on DVD and Blu-ray on February 3, 2015.


Movie Data

Genre: Action, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, War 
Year: 2014
Staring: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Art Parkinson, Charles Dance
Director: Gary Shore
Producer(s) Michael De Luca
Writer: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Bram Stoker (characters)
Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 92 minutes
Release Date: 10/10/2012

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Chappie: New Trailer - Cogito Ergo Sum

Director of "District 9" and "Elysium," Neill Blomkamp, has a new trailer out for his latest film "Chappie." 

Chappie is the artificial being created by Deon Wilson, played by Dev Patel ("Slumdog Millionaire," "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") is like a child becoming aware gradually. CNN's Anderson Cooper introduces the world to these robots meant to act in conjunction with police forces. As stated in the above trailer, they will go into force in 2016. 

Vincent Moore played by Hugh Jackman ("Wolverine," "Prisoners" is a former soldier who is on a crusade against artificial machines taking over the duties of police and soldiers claiming that "they are way too unpredictable."  While professor Wilson is intrigued by a machine that can actually think and feel, Moore is concerned about world domination by sentient machine overlords.

This trailer shows a different side of Blomkamp's new film. The title cards declare that Vincent Moore is "a man corrupted by power," and that Wilson is "a man inspired by change." While the story seems to have Sigourney Weaver playing in her usual role of the woman out to save mankind ("Paul," "The Cabin In the Woods," "Avatar," "Alien," "Aliens," etc.) She tells Moore that, "a thinking Robot could be the end of mankind." She also goes on to command Moore to "destroy that robot," and "burn it to ashes."  

It seems like Patel's Wilson character has gone ahead and done the unthinkable. and gave one of the police scouts the ability to think. Thus creating the conundrum, of creating what could be taken for a sentient being on the same level of humans. 
Cogito ergo sum

I Think Therefore, I am. 
The questions unfold about artificial intelligence as the technology to create something akin to what we call consciousness looms on the horizon. Chappie declares, "I am alive. I am Chappie." as Chris Clark's haunting, but triumphant melody plays in the background. The real question that Blomkamp is asking, of course, "Is it a child, or the next step in evolution."

Sharlto Copley, the star of "District Nine," and co-star of "Elysium," in a motion capture suit plays Chappie the robot. Also along from the Blomkamp retinue of talent is Trent Opaloch as director of photography. Opaloch's credits include "District, "9" and  "Elysium," for Blomkamp and  "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" for directors Anthony and Joe Russo. 

Look for "Chappie" hits theaters March 6, 2013


Movie Data

Genre:  Sci-Fi, Thriller
Year:  2015
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Yo-Landi Visser
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Producer(s): Simon Kinberg
Writer: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Rating: R
Running Time: Unkown
Release Date: 3/8/2015