Daily Archives: 01/01/2012

A Season of Vamps – “Priest”

As part of the build-up to the January 20th release of “Underworld: Awakening”, a movie which I feel like an ill-advised, one-man-band cheerleader for (don’t ask me why I am, just be aware that I am so afflicted and aim your sympathy accordingly), I thought that it might be fun to run a series of posts which look at recent, classic and current vampires in pop culture and discusses what we think about them, why we watch them and why they persist as a horror staple when so many other fictional monsters fall by the speculative fiction wayside.

To get things going with a resounding “Hmm…”, I’m looking at 2011’s Franchise Which Wasn’t, the Korean comics adaptation “Priest”.

On the face of it, this is a can’t miss premise: disgraced religious warrior is pitted against super-powerful vampire hybrids in a dystopian future.  It’s a simple high concept which has a lot of scope to talk about faith, fear, politics, the self, and all manner of interesting subject matter and juxtapose that against a fast-moving tale which hits on our enduring love of the undead and our uneasy relationship with religions and their place in contemporary society.

I can’t speak to the Korean manhwa (comic) by Min-Woo Hyung but the film which results from his work is a disappointment on a couple of levels – some of which it takes sole responsibility for, one of which is resolutely the result of my own (not realistic) expectations.

To the latter – when I watched the trailers for this film, I was honestly expecting the “Judge Dredd” film that we didn’t really get with Sylvester Stallone and director Danny Cannon, back in the mid-1990’s: a world in which we had surrendered  personal freedoms to live in a none-too-welcoming future of grim, impersonal super cities, presided over by a ruthless warrior police force whose remit was more based on a more binary morality than interested in anything resembling justice.

It’s fair to say that we do at least a visual sense of that world in the finished film, but the representation is brief and doesn’t really extend to a convincing, detailed depiction of what it might be like for people to live in it.  Like much else in the film, the film’s universe is a purely visual creation, where things exist to be cool and look striking – if aspects of the world in “Priest” don’t seem to make too much sense, the viewer frequently gets the idea that we’re not meant to be looking at them with too much scrutiny.

What was hinted at by the advanced trailers for the film is fully depicted in the end product – this is more of a sci-fi western than a horror picture and in that respect it at least manages to subvert expectations by largely eschewing the dark and dingy territory that you might expect from a story where the antagonists are vampiric creatures and setting much of the action in a bright, sun-drenched, sandy, lawless badlands environment.

Think “Mad Max” with a hint of the Man With No Name and you’ll get a sense of where the film makers are aiming at but don’t quite manage to hit.

The actors are good  – Paul Bettany doesn’t play down to the material or do anything less than his best work in this film.  He’s a muted, tortured presence as the titular character, but I wonder what kind of effort he was exerting to stay with the American accent that his role demands here – is there any real reason this particular protagonist in a ruined future absolutely has to be from the States?

He’s more than matched by Maggie Q, whose turn in this film suggests an actor familiar with the traditions of the ‘Martial Chivalry’ genre – she’s grave, restrained and capable in the face of the unstoppable Vampire foe, here epitomised by Karl Urban.

Urban is one of those reliable actors who lends even fairly straightforward material like this a bit of quirky individuality and energy.  He’s particularly fun in this film as a mysterious bad guy who has a history with Bettany’s hero and a revenge motive which is quite neat and mean-spirited.

The vampires in this film, you see, waged war against humanity for centuries until they were bested by a resurgent human race banded together under the banner of religious faith.  The surface of the planet after the war is a scorched hell – the excellent animated prologue movie by director Genndy Tartakovsky fills in some of the back story in eye-popping style – and vampires are consigned to reservations far away from the Walled Cities which house the survivors of the conflict.

When a report of a vampire attack on his estranged brother reaches Bettany’s character, he rejects his religious order’s call for calm and sets out to arrest what he believes must be a resurgent vampire populace before it can again overrun the new cities and what’s left of humanity.

If any of that sounds a little ordinary and entirely devoid of innovation, that’s because it really rather is.  Again, I can’t say how this reflects on the source material, but the adaptation is – charitably – based on archetypes and lots of things that you’ve seen before in other media.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as with many B-movies part of the joy of them is in noticing the homages and allusions to what’s gone before.  Director Scott Charles Stewart openly homages John Ford’s “The Searchers” during the film and that’s nothing if not ballsy – this vampire actioner really doesn’t have the story or stylistic chops to live up to the legacy of that celebrated Western.

It’s a pacey and concise film – the running time is a brief 87 minutes – but it could also have benefited from more of a sense of humour.  I’m not saying that Bettany’s tortured hero had to quip wise after each vampire fight, but some levity might have lifted a story which takes itself rather more seriously than is probably good for it.  We’re not dealing with the angst of a tale like “Let the Right One In”, after all – this film doesn’t have much more to say than ‘kung fu priest beats up mutant vampires – repeat’, for cripes sake.

In the pantheon of throwaway horror action pics, this is a little bit more throwaway than most, but your enjoyment of it may increase relative to your love of Paul Bettany, Karl Urban and Maggie Q.  If you happen to be a fan of any one of those actors, you can consider this a three and a half star to four stars out of five film.  Everybody else should consider this as one of those films that you watch on an otherwise unoccupied evening and enjoy despite yourself if you’re any kind of SF geek.

 

 

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Fluffrick’s 2012 Sci-Fi 5 – Movies

I am a regrettably disorganized fellow in many areas of life – when it comes to blogging, however, I am miraculously able to affect some notion of organization, hence this post – the five sci-fi movies that I’m looking forward to most in 2012.

1) “Prometheus”

Ridley Scott. The “Alien” universe.  H.R. Giger. Noomi Rapace. Proper stereoscopic 3D photography. Extensive practical work. Damon Lindelof. Jon Spaights.

Yes, it’s difficult to find much of a downside in this package.  The only negative thing that I can really think of in connection with this sci-fi film is that our expectations may ultimately work against it – can any film live up to months/years of fans discussing and hoping for a film which is created in their collective expectation and can never be fully realised by even the most talented artisans working under both a burden of anticipation and the harsh realities of the film business?

2) “Gravity”

This is a project which has been in the works for a while – Natalie Portman was linked to it at one point – and is ostensibly about astronauts afflicted by an orbital disaster, with Sandra Bullock’s lead character attempting to survive on her own and make it back to Earth.  So far, so normal.

Whilst we shouldn’t cling solely to technical feats and gimmickry to justify interest in a film, the hook here is too irresistible for me – director Alfonso Cuaron is apparently going all out to extend the elegant, virtuoso single-takes of “Children of Men” and use all of the technology at his disposal to make “Gravity” a film told in a single take.

Clearly this isn’t possible – a film on this scale can’t be done in the manner of, say, “Russian Ark” or “Silent House”, as CG is involved – but the artistry on display in “Children of Men” makes me eager to see what Cuaron does with the formal challenge he has by all accounts set himself.  He’s doing out-and-out sci-fi adventure, too, which always has my interest.

3) “The Avengers”

Many fans haven’t liked the way that Marvel have chosen to inter-link their slate of film adaptations and feel that the likes of “Iron Man 2” and “Captain America” have been compromised dramatically by their perceived existence as jigsaw puzzle pieces which will eventually fit together to become Joss Whedon’s feature for the whole team, “The Avengers”.

I am not one of those fans.

As a long-time Whedon fan, this is the most exciting upcoming superhero film for me.  No question about it.  As long as some of his point of view manages to permeate the explosions and demands of the franchise holder, I’m going to be a happy lapin.

4) “Looper”

I like to think that not every film on my radar is a symphony of explosions, spandex and silly eye candy – a moment of cinematic contemplation is most welcome every so often.

Neatly (hopefully) filling that position on my list is the next film from the always interesting Rian Johnson – the time travel and hitman drama, “Looper”.

What could be more speculative fictional than the notion that Joseph Gordon Levitt is going to one day age into Bruce Willis?  Snarkiness aside, it seems difficult at this point for Rian Johnson to make an uninteresting film – his previous work includes high school neo-noir “Brick” and eccentric con man caper “Rachel Weisz Looking Lovely”…sorry, “The Brothers Bloom”.

The hook is a mob hit man recognizing a potential target as his older self – who doesn’t want to know where Johnson’s going with that high-concept premise?

5) “John Carter of Mars”

The reaction to the trailers has been mixed – dodgy special effects, a story which looks too much like recent hit movies, the insanity of reminding us of the Emmerich “Godzilla” by using that P.Diddy/Zeppelin tune on the teaser – but I’m very keen to see what Andrew Stanton delivers in his live action film making debut.

Pulp Sci-Fi, realised with a budget that can do justice to the scale and vistas of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ imagination – that’s what I’m hoping for and the trailers make me cautiously optimistic that we’ll get an old-fashioned, swashbuckling tale which just happens to look a bit like all the sci-fi hits from the last thirty years or so which have so greedily raided the pulp sci-fi back catalogue for barely acknowledged inspiration.

I’m sure you have your own list – feel free to share it with me.

 

 

 

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Geeky New Year’s Greetings

Knock-Knock. Penny? Knock-Knock. Penny? Knock-Knock. Penny?

Believe me, that’s one of the best ‘Geeky New Year’ images that I could find via Google’s Image Search which wasn’t in some way peturbing.

In a development which was in no way unexpected, Mrs Rolling Eyeballs and yours truly elected not to see in the new year and took to our slumbers with indecent haste after sating Mrs RE’s geek side by watching an episode of “Poirot” – she’s a big Agatha Christie fan and got to combine her fan favourites yesterday by watching the Tenth Doctor episode with Christie as a protagonist yesterday.

A famous, fictional Belgian, yesterday.

Hopefully, your new year’s festivities went well and brought with them enjoyment and the odd moment for contemplation. I’ll take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a happy, prosperous and healthy 2012 which is devoid of Roland Emmerich-like mayhem.

If you’re keen to stop by once in a while, I’m keen to keep blathering on about nothing in particular.

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