The Witches (1966)

witchesThe thing about older horror movies, especially those from as far back as fifty years ago, is that they rarely if ever hold up, and are mostly relegated to the realm of the camp, accidentally comical B-movies. If nothing else, this film is a textbook example of a typical Hammer horror film from after the studio’s prime, and it’s about as bland as it can get in a cheesy horror film with little actual horror.

The film’s story revolves around a British school teacher who at the start of the film is working in Africa as a missionary. During a rebellion led by witch doctors, she suffers a nervous breakdown after being exposed to witchcraft. After recovering back home in England, she takes a teaching job in a small country town, only to find out that the town is home to a coven of witches who plan to sacrifice a local girl for their ritual.

I’m not exactly a fan of occult horror films, mainly because the point of those films is to make anything to do with the occult seem scary, when you know it’s not. If anything, these films tend to be tedious, boring, cheesy, or a combination of all three. From my experience, they typically have a slow pace, and this film is definitely no exception. In this film, these clichés make it practically boring, coupled with its slow pace and meandering plot.

The premise itself isn’t entirely bad, but its boring, and the characters don’t exactly help. They seem a lot like stock characters, or at least characters that are very typical of the kind of film we’re looking at. The performances were certainly lackluster, bereft of much of the qualities that make for a convincing performance. I found it rather difficult to comment on the script, as I often do, but it certainly seems as if they didn’t try very hard on this one, especially given the hackneyed, unentertaining witchcraft scenes.

The production values are certainly very typical of a mid-60’s Hammer Horror film, and as one might expect, it comes across as rather dated, but not in the endearing way. In fact, it’s the kind of film that looks like it wasn’t much when it was new, perhaps valued by the producers only as a star vehicle and then quickly forgotten by all except die-hard Hammer junkies and fans of Joan Fontaine.

The special effects aren’t that great, resembling basically the kind of standard fare that now looks comical. At least one can safely say they got a few laughs out of it, because there are certainly no scares to be found. That’s the very odd thing about these kinds of horror films, they age very quickly and are quickly forgotten about, probably because the vast majority of them weren’t great to begin with. The same is true with this rather mediocre film, which marinated in its clichés and did nothing to innovate in a genre that clearly needed it, and that perhaps is the film’s most egregious failure.

  • Score: 56%
  • Grade: D

Blood Reign: Curse of the Yoma (1989)

curse_of_the_yomaThis film is a strange case, mainly because, believe it or not, it wasn’t originally released as a film. It was originally two episodes of an original video animation (or OVA) back in 1989, but they were later compiled into a single movie when released on DVD, so for all intents and purposes, this is a made-for-TV anime movie, and in many ways, it certainly shows.

The overall plot concerns the rise of demons (or Yoma in this film), fuelled by the spilt blood of warriors slain amidst a terrible war ravaging the land. A skilled ninja named Hikage seeks to end the bloodshed and stop the Yoma from wreaking destruction on humanity, but he must fight his deceased friend, a fellow ninja named Marou who was killed in battle, and resurrected in order to serve the Yoma.

That summary alone glosses over a very muddled and disorganised plot that essentially jumps from one formulaic and impotent fight scene to the next, in a sort of “monster of the moment” fashion, with no real thread tying everything together. In an action-oriented anime film, you’d think that it’d be a good thing to have lots and lots of violent action scenes, but the film does this so sloppily that it’s downright boring, and that’s such as shame because it seems as if it could easily have been good if done properly.

Another problem is the characters. They’re incredibly hard to take seriously, and that’s mainly because of the horrendously bad English dub, which makes the characters sound very ridiculous with wooden acting. As I may have mentioned in a few other reviews, this is pretty common in older anime films, and in this one, it makes the film sound comical. Sadly, this isn’t the kind of film that sought to take advantage of accidental humour. I’m sure the original Japanese voice acting is much better (I hope), because in English, it sounds like everyone’s shouting out what the protagonist should do next, either because the script was poorly translated, or because it was bad in the first place.

The art style isn’t bad. It’s typical of anime from the 80’s and early 90’s, but it looked pretty good, but the problem is the choppy animation. In at least one scene, Hikage is seen talking to and old man, and the old man’s lips don’t even move. Very often it seems as if this was sloppily made, as if rushed in order to meet a rather slim deadline. I guess the music sort of makes up for it, in its own somewhat cheesy way, but it doesn’t make up for everything else. The action scenes should have been very good, but because of the choppy direction and bad writing, they’re boring and ineffectual.

Why they decided to merge two TV episodes into a movie simply baffles me. It certainly has all the hallmarks of a mediocre TV production, and barely qualifies as a movie. Either way, this film should have been better, and I was hoping it would be good, but apparently the producers were a bit too incompetent for that to happen, and what we have is an inferior film that leaves very much to be desired.

  • Score: 52%
  • Grade: D

Cool World (1992)

Cool_WorldFor the past few years there’s been one animator who I’ve come to admire, the legendary Ralph Bakshi. Unfortunately, while I admire much of his work (for instance, Wizards was particularly influential on me and remains so to this day), I can’t exactly say the same for his last feature film, which was something of a legendary flop. Savaged by critics and gunned down in the box office, Cool World was intended to be an animated horror film, but it ended up being a cautionary tale about the horrors of executive meddling, and the disaster that ensued effectively drove one of the great geniuses of animation out of the business. If you ask me, that might as well be the film’s sole accomplishment.

Before I talk about what the film ought to have been, let’s look at the film as it is. The film revolves around Holli Would, a sultry cartoon temptress who resides in the eponymous Cool World, the realm of the cartoon characters. Holli wants nothing more than to be human, and she gets her chance when a cartoonist named Jack Deebs gets sucked into her world. The only way she can achieve her dream is if the two enter in carnal embrace with each other, thereby breaking the oldest law in Cool World (“noids and doodles can’t have sex”), and drawing the attention of detective Frank Harris, who wants to stop Holli.

Now I’m sure anyone looking at this will no doubt think of this as essentially a mediocre clone of the technically superior Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and they’d be right. The premise is much the same (Cool World is essentially a sleazier version of Toontown, but with original characters), right down to the noir-style detective story. To top it off, it uses the exact same combination of live-action film and hand-drawn animation that Roger Rabbit made famous. It’s as if the producers couldn’t think of anything better than a dumbed down version of Roger Rabbit, and compared to what Ralph Bakshi originally had in mind (which I’ll eventually talk about), it comes across as wasted potential more than anything else. The film also suffers from a disjointed plot broken up by the occasional antics of the minor toon characters, and the end result is a chaotic mess of film noir clichés and half-baked Looney Toons characters.

The acting isn’t completely bad. If anything, Kim Basinger, though not the director’s first choice, does a good job at conveying the intensely sensual character that is Holli Would. Brad Pitt, the man who plays the detective, spends the whole film pretending to be a 40’s gumshoe, complete with the obviously typical accent, but he’s not a very convincing character. The villain from Roger Rabbit was more convincing, and he was essentially a caricature of a villain. The rest of the characters are all unlikable, and everyone else is a background character. The film itself is often billed as a comedy, which I find ironic because the jokes are so dull that much of the laughs will probably be coincidental.

The animation style, as I said before, is identical to Roger Rabbit, with animated characters pasted into a live-action world, and vice versa. I actually like the way they’ve drawn Cool World. It’s a far more surreal counterpart to Toontown, and I personally feel that they could have done plenty with that sort of world. They certainly took the time to animate original characters, but the vast bulk of them are purely background characters that often whiz around the screen like wild spectres, and the end result feels unfocused. I kind of like the music they composed and selected (including David Bowie’s brilliant “Real Cool World”), though I think some of the songs they picked were selected just because they sounded trendy at the time, and don’t exactly sound right.

I can go on and on, but ultimately I would be saying the same thing. Cool World was ultimately a disappointment. Now the question is how exactly did we end up with this? I mentioned in the preface that Cool World is essentially a cautionary tale of the horrors of executive meddling, and that’s exactly how Cool World was made. In 1990, Ralph Bakshi began working an avant-garde animated horror movie which he pitched to Paramount Studios, who quickly bought Bakshi’s idea. The original Cool World was supposed to involve an underground cartoonist and a cartoon woman who have sex and produce an illegitimate hybrid child who hates herself for what she is, and visits the real world in order to try and kill him.

This version would have been a gritty, sex-laden horror film of an avant-garde breed, and if you look at the original storyboards, it seems as if it could have been a great work of art. For a time, everything seemed to be going well, but one of the producers, Frank Mancuso Jr., had the script completely rewritten without Ralph’s knowledge, and the two got into a fight. At this point, Ralph would probably have quit, but Paramount, which was run by Mancuso’s father at the time, threatened to sue him if he refused to finish the film. Added to that, Kim Basinger wasn’t even Ralph’s first choice to play Holli. He originally wanted the character to be played by Drew Barrymore, with Brad Pitt playing the role of the cartoonist. However, Basinger was cast, and she basically wanted to turn the film into a PG film (which ended up being rated PG-13) so that it could be shown in hospitals, and for no real reason other than it might further her career. Nonetheless, Mancuso agreed, and under threat of litigation, Ralph was basically forced to make a movie that, if I’ll be totally honest, probably wasn’t even his anymore.

Well, there you have it. Cool World may have been a disappointing film, but it’s not as if Ralph Bakshi could help it. After all, the film was practically forced from his hands. Had Ralph been left to his own devices, I’m sure it would have been a very good film, but sadly, that isn’t the case, and what we’re left with is a disjointed, mediocre clone of Roger Rabbit that embodies the twisted committee thinking of Hollywood.

  • Score: 53%
  • Grade: D

Warlock (1989)

warlockWarlock seems as if it might have been a fairly ambitious horror film, and at first glance, it does sort of seem like a fascinating supernatural horror film but upon closer inspection, it’s not much to get excited about. In fact, you’re most likely to find a film that could have been good, but thanks to a number of bad decisions made during the production phase, we instead get a cheaply made devil yarn that reeks of cheese.

The plot is very simple. An unnamed warlock is captured by a local witch hunter named Giles Redferne, and is about to be executed for witchcraft, but before his execution, Satan appears before him and sends him to 1980’s Los Angeles, where he sets about on a quest to reassemble The Grand Grimoire, a book that can supposedly reveal the true name of God. Along with him, Giles is also transported into the same time period, and his mission is to stop the warlock from succeeding in his quest.

Almost immediately, the film’s basic premise reads like a Terminator clone, only instead of travelling from the future, the main characters travel to the present from the past, specifically during the era of the Salem witch trials. Of course, you can’t just reverse the formula of a popular movie and expect success. In fact, when Warlock does exactly that, it ends in unadulterated mediocrity, which is perhaps the film’s only real crime. That being said, it’s also rather obviously derivative of other cliched horror movies, making for an all the more contrived horror flick.

Believe it or not, the characters and acting are even worse. Julian Sands actually makes for a decent villain, even if you don’t necessarily buy him as a horror villain. Meanwhile, his adversary, played by a younger Richard E. Grant, is just bad. The other characters give pretty bad performance, but Richard’s dreadful Scottish accent takes the cake. It doesn’t even make any sense, considering his character is supposed to be a witch hunter from 17th century Boston. The film only really recognises three characters by name, and the rest are simply bit parts. Either way, such lackluster performance is something I’d expect from a TV show.

Speaking of that, the film looked and sounded very much like a made-for-TV movie. In fact, it’s made in such low quality that it looks very much like you’re watching a mid-80’s TV show on an old TV screen (imagine watching MacGyver if it were a cheesy horror movie and you get the picture). It looks as if it could have been made a decade earlier, and it wouldn’t have been much better either way. The special effects aren’t exactly stellar either. I like that they used practical effects, but they’re used to bad effect here, and the main problem is that they look obviously cheap, and that often turns the film’s intended horror into accidental comedy (not that I’m against that sort of thing).

I have no doubt that it could have been a good or at least an okay horror film, but the producers clearly cut corners almost everywhere, and the end result is a mediocre supernatural romp that I’m honestly surprised isn’t confined to the bargain bin, and yet it somehow garnered a reputation as a cult film.

  • Score: 56%
  • Grade: D

Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusters_2016_film_posterFor the past two decades, the idea of a third Ghostbusters movie was the dream of everyone who loved the original, then that film went through development hell, after several rewrites and delays, and after a while, it got to a point where I’m surprised anyone wanted it anymore, but somebody apparently decided to make it anyway. Of course, when this film finally was announced, I was pretty worried about the direction the film would go in, and then I finally went to see it, and seeing it only confirmed my suspicions about the film’s quality as I subject myself to a film that tries its best it meet the expectations of the first film, but ends up collapsing under the weight of its own impotence.

For me, the first problem is the story. They essentially attempted a reboot of the original film, wherein you have four ghostbusters trying to prove that ghosts are real, and they’re the people you should call. I understand why they might want to call back to the original. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was essentially a call back to the original Star Wars, but the difference is that film was great, but this film is just lazy. The writers were basically just riding on the coattails of the original classic film, while adding nothing of worth to the table.

A number of aspects of the plot feel like they were just shoehorned into the movie. For instance, there was a scene set in a heavy metal concert, but the way it was written just indicates to me that it was just an excuse to get a cheap, cringeworthy Ozzy Osborne cameo. If nothing else, it feels as if the writers blatantly copied the first film to the point that, aside from the change of scenery, it basically felt like the same film, but significantly less entertaining. I feel like they should have made a film where catching ghosts is a legitimate career, and the main characters are trainee Ghostbusters with Peter Venkman or Egon Ray as their teacher. That would have worked excellently, but instead they went with a lazy reboot that misses the mark in terms of writing.

Let’s talk about the characters, because I have a lot to say in this regard. When there’s something strange, who are you gonna call? Certainly not these Ghostbusters, in fact they’re probably the last people I’d call for help. Let’s make one thing clear, I didn’t care that the Ghostbusters were female. In fact, I think it could have worked, but the problem is that they were bad actors. How Melissa McCarthy is supposed to be funny seems to elude me, because it turns out I live on a planet where she isn’t funny. None of the Ghostbusters were likeable characters, and it seemed to me that the producers were trying desperately to pass them off as badass action heroes, but I wasn’t convinced that they were badass. I wasn’t even convinced that they were funny. It feels like most of the jokes could have been written for any flash-in-the-pan sitcom coming out of Los Angeles.

The worst character in the whole film is Kevin. Before I saw the film, I thought it was going to be Chris Hemsworth playing an insufferable white knight, but it turns out that his character is a lot worse. Apparently Kevin is a handsome yet dim-witted goof who can barely use the telephone, and yet the Ghostbusters hire him as their receptionist because they think he’s hot. Indeed, Kevin basically spends most of the film fulfilling the stereotype that man are oafish buffoons while the Ghostbusters waste no time ogling him at every turn. His character is basically little more than sexy furniture, the film does a terrible job at hiding it. This is exactly the kind of blatant objectification that feminists claim happens to women on a daily basis, but somehow it’s okay when men are being objectified. Am I the only one who questions the logic here? If Kevin were a woman, and the Ghostbusters were men, the producers would be up to their asses in angry tweets.

The film also features cameos from the three original Ghostbusters who are still alive. I find it ironic that Bill Murray (who played Peter Venkman) is now playing the role of a man famous for debunking the paranormal. It was nice to see him again, but the irony is so stunning that it’s funnier than nearly all the jokes in this film. Meanwhile, the film’s main villain comes across as a badly recycled version of Janosz Poha from Ghostbusters II, but with all the funny parts of his character sucked out of him. He acts like an excessively angsty kid with an entitlement complex, and I get that he’s supposed to be a miserable character, but the end result is a badly written villain.

In terms of writing and acting, the whole film was a disgraceful display. I’ll admit that the film had some nice quality ghost effects, but all those high production values seems like a typical Hollywood façade in this film. The film frequently gets bogged down in nice-looking CGI, but the whole film looks much too polished, as if the producers want to make it look nice in order to compensate for bad writing and even worse acting. The CGI is perhaps most prominent in the scenes towards the end of the film, where the Ghostbusters are fighting their way through the ghoul-ridden streets of Manhattan. It looks incredibly flashy to a fault, but it doesn’t make up for much.

All in all, my immediate conclusion is that Hollywood, in its propensity to shamelessly reboot older films rather than coming up with new ideas, has ruined one of the most beloved films of all time. It’s as if somebody had taken Ghostbusters, chopped off its manhood, and offered it as a sacrifice. While it may appease the goddesses of third-wave feminism, it certainly doesn’t appease me, nor the average moviegoer.

Even if it isn’t the worst film of all time, it certainly embodies all that I find despicable about Hollywood, and if nothing else, it made a hollow mockery of the original. The original Ghostbusters was classic, but this film is just a worthless excuse for a comedy, and riding on the coattails of the original made it worse.

  • Score: 45%
  • Grade: D

Titan A.E. (2000)

Titan_AE_One_SheetDon Bluth used to be one of the most respected animators in the film industry (and probably still is), where he became famous for his work on many popular Disney films such as The RescuersThe Fox and the Hound and Robin Hood. He then went on to form his own company and direct his own films. This led to one his greatest films, The Secret of NIMH, but unfortunately, it also led to this lazy abomination of a film called Titan A.E., which disappoints in every possible area. Though I doubt you could expect much from a film like this, but believe me, it somehow manages to be even more boring sci-fi fare than it looks.

The premise revolves around an invading race of energy-based aliens called the Drej, who at the start of the film destroy Earth, leaving the surviving humans drifting throughout space and being ridiculed by other races. The rest of the film sees its protagonist Cale Tucker guiding a crew of humans and aliens towards the Titan space station, which was built with the purpose of creating a new planet in the event that Earth was destroyed.

The film’s plot is very standard sci-fi riding on all manner of story clichés, including the obligatory betrayal by a supporting character. It’s the kind of film that tries for space opera territory but runs of fuel right before it could get there. The writers and producers tried whatever they could to keep it afloat, but failed miserably. In this regard, a lot of is to do with the fact that the writers did very little to explain the things that needed to explain it. For example, why do the Drej not want the Titan space station to be found, and why would any human sell out the future of his own kind?

Speaking of that, the characters are so flat and lazily written that not even an star-studded cast could save them. They simply come across to me as cookie-cutter Stargate characters in a movie that’s somehow out of even their league. The acting isn’t even that great to be wholly honest, as if the Hollywood stars they got to work on this film were only in it for the money. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were. The dialogue is also really lazily written, with the Drej suffering from the laziest writing the film has to offer.

As for the visuals, the film’s animation style is a mixture of traditional hand-drawn animation and extensive CGI. The end result definitely looks polished, but a polished turd is still a turd. The film looks like a bigger, shinier version of a Saturday morning cartoon from the 1990’s. At the very least it accomplishes the easy feat of presenting itself better than Heavy Metal 2000 (another animated atrocity from the year 2000), but could somebody tell me why the producers thought that a Don Bluth film needed music from contemporary rock bands? The music is awful, and it reflects badly on the mindset of whoever decided to put it in the film.

To be honest, I think the film might have had some potential, but the producers just squandered it without a care in the world, and the consequences are rather apparent given mixed critical reception and disappointing box office returns (the film made $36.8 million against a $75-90 million budget). It’s also rather telling that after this film was released, Don Bluth never directed another movie, which is such a shame because of what he made before. If the plethora of cheap direct-to-video sequels (made without his involvement) didn’t tarnish his name, then this film surely did. Even if it’s not terribly bad, it’s a creative low point for someone who was clearly a talented visionary in the field of animation.

  • Score: 50%
  • Grade: D

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star_Wars_Phantom_Menace_posterAs part of the run up to Star Wars Day, I’ve got something special for this month. Starting from today, every day until May 7th will feature a Star Wars film review of all seven Star Wars films so far. Unfortunately, we begin with the prequel trilogy, due to the fact that The Phantom Menace is the first film in the Star Wars timeline (even though the original Star Wars film came first), and trust me, there’s a lot to unpack with this one.

Even the mighty Star Wars couldn’t escape the inevitable misstep. Indeed, whenever the name “Phantom Menace” is mentioned, it’ll most likely conjure up reactions of disappointment. Suffice it to say, this film is essentially the black sheep of the Star Wars franchise, and while I feel this film could have actually been a good one, it was ultimately weighed down by George Lucas’ directorial excesses. It’s pretty obvious that the whole point of the film is to set up a trilogy that recounts the events before the classic trilogy, but I can’t help but think, did anyone really ask for this? I’d be alright with there being a prequel if it didn’t involve intergalactic trade disputes. Seriously, who thought that was a good idea in the first place?

The film is loaded with political jargon that has almost no meaning whatever, and serves only to make the story needlessly hard to follow, all while it’s already easy to lose track of the story because the film keeps jumping back and forth from one meaningless plot device to the next. At one point, we’re treated to an unnecessary racing scene (which the characters insist on calling “pod racing”). It’s practically the most boring moment in the entire film, and it has almost no relevance to the plot whatsoever. If that’s not enough, you have to sit through all two hours of the film’s vacuous plot while listening to Jar-Jar Binks doing the equivalent of vomiting all over your eyes, ears and mouth. While we’re on that subject, the film added a slew of new characters, but many of them are pointless stock characters with no actual personality whatsoever. As bad as that sounds, that’s not even the real problem. That would be the number of alien characters with suspiciously racist accents, with one the film’s main villains shown with a horribly caricatured Asian accent. Even if it’s not intentionally racist, it’s terrible acting, which most of the newer characters seem to suffer from, along with poor characterization in general.

The visuals are quite grand, but I think that’s the only thing this film did right, or even paid any attention to, and that only makes it worse when you realize that a lot of the characters and settings were made entirely with special effects. I guess that explains why a lot of the film looked so much like plastic, but it’s more indicative of the problem of an over-ambitious project that’s more style than substance. This is such a common problem with Hollywood directors, and I’ll bet that’s why none of them get a kick in the ass for it. Even the fighting scenes suffered under this direction, although it was a relief to see any actual action in what would otherwise be a boring and unwelcome exercise in fantasy politics. All of that serves to make one deadly cocktail of a bad film.

I must wonder who looked at this and thought it was good, because there are so many things wrong here that it’s unspeakable. It’s a classic case of the director becoming overly absorbed in the sheer ambition of his project, to the point that he completely forgets about what makes a good film. There are so much more reasons why this film could have been so much better, but it’s probably best to look at it for what it is – a grave disappointment, and almost certainly the worst Star Wars film.

  • Score: 47%
  • Grade: D

The Golden Compass (2007)

The_Golden_CompassPersonally, I always thought of this film as a dumb, impotent Narnia clone when it was new, and nearly a decade later, it certainly hasn’t aged well at all. I haven’t exactly read the book this is based on, but I’ve heard dozens of complaints saying that the book toned down several of the anti-religious elements of the books in order to avoid angering the Catholics. I can certainly tell that the plot was written very lazily, and it seems that they tried fitting in all manner of plot devices, events and characters in a film that’s clearly too short to handle everything. On top of that, the film is paced in such a manner that it seems as though everything’s being rushed, and it leaves too little time for the characters to develop properly, and bodes just as poorly for the many unanswered questions that the film’s haphazardly written plot leaves behind.

To be completely honest though, the film’s mythology could have been quite interesting, and there might have been some hope for it had the screenwriters made more of an effort, but they settled on a trimmed down, by-the-numbers fantasy flick, and to make matters worse, they deliberately designed the ending so that it could lead on to a sequel, never mind that it would never ever get a sequel, not that such a meagre film deserves one. The characters weren’t overly bad, but they were written in such a way that you can’t really feel for them no matter how hard the actors try to convince us to feel for them. It doesn’t help that there’s no sense of moral ambiguity whatsoever. You can immediately tell who is good and who is evil just by looking at the characters. I could just as easily make the argument that you could tell who the villains were just by looking at the poster. Nothing is left to your imagination, and that I feel is a serious problem, and is not conducive to good fantasy fiction.

To compensate for all that, the film sports some admittedly decent special effects, but worryingly enough, the film is almost all special effects, and so the CGI effectively becomes the producers’ way of overcompensating for a poorly written film that, if were very honest, was simply trying to copy the kind of success that The Lord of the Rings enjoyed years earlier. Of course, the visuals and the special effects are pretty much the only noteworthy thing about the film, and that’s because they’re the only thing the film has to show for itself aside from what I can guess is a bad transition from book to screen.

Clearly they should have put more thought and effort into this film, because if they had, this could have been somewhat better than all the other LoTR clones that had sprung up throughout the 2000’s. Instead, we have a film that is quite slavish in its copying of other fantasy films. Whatever potential the film could have had is ultimately snuffed out by its lack of originality and the laziness of its producers.

  • Score: 46%
  • Grade: D

Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)

Vampire_in_brooklynThis seemed like a somewhat ambitious project for both director Wes Craven and leading man Eddie Murphy. For Wes Craven, this was surely an opportunity to experiment with a more comedic direction, and for Eddie Murphy, it was an opportunity to play an uncharacteristically serious role. However, the end result struggles in its attempts to straddle horror and comedy, and there isn’t a lot of balance in either approach. The premise is closely similar to Interview with the Vampire, but the film itself is decidedly less subtle in its execution of the central concept. It’s not too bad, but they didn’t try very hard in terms of actually realizing the concept, but at least the lead character is a lot more likable than in that other film, in my personal opinion at least.

I was actually quite surprised by how straightforward the film was at the beginning. You see Eddie Murphy trying to pull off a variation of the Dave Vanian look while ripping a guy’s heart out of his chest, and later on, he disguises himself as two other characters. One of them is a hilarious parody of the stereotypical loud preacher, who proceeds to give the best speech in the whole movie. The other one, however, is an awkwardly stereotypical Italian-American character whose performance tends to be rather hit or miss. The acting tends to be quite corny, but not bad enough that it’s extremely off-putting. It would be somewhat decent if this were a made-for-TV film, but for a film intended for the cinema, there’s a lot of ways in which it seems like they cut corners wherever they could.

As usual, Eddie Murphy steals the show, but this time it’s because he’s trying to do something totally different to what we’d expect from him. Rather than try to be funny, Eddie’s trying to play his character totally straight, and it’s a bold attempt, but more often than not, it can turn into a comedic performance rather than a serious one, probably because of the film’s unintentionally campy approach to its subject matter. The production values don’t look very good, and unfortunately it’s one of those films where the dark aesthetic style tends to make the film look murky rather than dark. However, sometimes there are scenes that manage to pull off a nice atmospheric quality, and I suppose the special effects aren’t totally bad, but it’s nothing worth grabbing a bucket of popcorn for.

To me, the biggest problem is that they tried to market it as a more comedic horror film, when throughout the film a more serious horror direction tends to prevail. Then again, I doubt this would have been taken seriously if they marketed it as a straight-up horror film. Whatever the case, the result might have been the same no matter what the producers did. To me, despite it being derivative of other vampire films, this film actually might have had some potential, but it’s the rather clumsy direction that ruins everything.

  • Score: 50%
  • Grade: D

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Oz_-_The_Great_and_Powerful_PosterDoes anyone remember The Wizard of Oz, along with its whimsical setting and characters, and catchy musical numbers? If you do, then this “spiritual prequel” will seem all the more shallow. All the charm that the old film had will literally melt before your eyes, washed away in a sea of standardized CGI. Wasting no time, the film starts off as an exercise of pretentious imitation, trying to imitate the style of an old-fashioned nickelodeon screen in some ham-fisted attempt at realism that has little to do with the actual plot at large. Eventually, the screen adjusts to normal size and the film transitions to bright and vivid colours. One immediate problem is that it’s impossible root for the hero, if he can be called such.

The fact that the Wizard of Oz is being played by the terribly unlikable James Franco is the least of our problems. In this film, the Wizard of Oz is a complete jerk. He’s a con artist (like all stage magicians), he’s a trashy womanizer, he takes credit for tricks he had pulled off by dumb luck, and on top of that, he’s only in it for the money. In one scene where he’s in the castle treasury, and when he’s asked if he wants to defeat the wicked witch, he accepts, but not before looking at the gleaming pile of gold he’ll get.

It doesn’t help that the actor portraying him is a pretty bad actor, as shown be his passionless and unenthusiastic performance of the main character. The whole cast is filled with talentless hacks, or at best, actors who try to be successful but always get overshadowed by bigger stars. And of course, for all the film’s ambition, if it has Zach Braff in it, it’s generally not a good sign, though to Zach’s credit, his character in the movie showed more lively enthusiasm for the role than James Franco does for his. There were very few characters in the film that didn’t make me cringe. It seems to me that a lot more time and effort went into making the film look nice and pretty as opposed to writing something decent. No wonder they couldn’t get any good actors for this film.

In the film’s defence, the visuals in Oz were quite nice, and the special effects were polished, but that’s pretty much the only nice thing I can say about this film. The only notably entertaining scene in the whole movie was the climactic final fight. The rest of the movie was two boring hours of bad acting. It’s literally The Wizard of Oz through a conventional Hollywood fantasy filter, and the end result is a soulless star vehicle for James Franco. Then again, it would terribly naïve to expect anything good from the same person who made the Spider-Man films, and it’s a pretty bizarre turn of events when the Spider-Man movie was an absolute pain to watch, and yet this film is somehow worse. If anything, this film represents a commercialized distortion of fantasy that has somehow become the normal perception of fantasy in the minds of Hollywood producers. If that’s not a sign of how bad things are in Hollywood, then I don’t know what is.

  • Score: 45%
  • Grade: D