Halloween Scene: Dracula 2000 (2000)

I believe I saw Dracula 2000 in the theaters with my friends. I would have been about 17 at the time and had been watching horror movies extensively for a year or so at that time. If memory serves it was the first feature length version of the Dracula story that I ever saw. I’d seen or heard enough through cartoons and TV to understand the basics: some people encounter Dracula who winds up surrounded by vampire chicks, but wants another woman who’s harder to get. Meanwhile, some humans of the Van Helsing family are trying to stop him. My problem with the Dracula movies I’ve seen is that they follow the template too closely. If you’ve seen the original–or even Nosferatu–then you’ve pretty much got the gist. I had this problem with the last two Drac movies I watched Count Dracula And His Vampire Bride and the 1979 Dracula. Just absolutely boring.

I did not have that problem with the unfortunately named Dracula 2000. Any movie with a year in the title, especially the year 2000, just comes off as gimmicky and corny, doesn’t it? Anyway, the story this time around is that Van Helsing trapped Dracula years and years ago, but when he did their blood mingled, granting him a portion of immortal life which he uses to make sure no one accidentally brings Drac back. Of course, that doesn’t work out as one of his workers winds up telling her boyfriend and his crew of criminals about Van Helsing’s secret vault. They break in and grab the casket, thinking it’s an elaborate safe, and wind up resurrecting the original vampire. From there Dracula (played by an almost unrecognizable Gerard Butler) amasses his trio of hot lady vamps (Vitamin C, Jennifer Esposito and Jeri Ryan) and stats stalking Mary who happens to be VH’s daughter. Joining Mary on the side of the angels is Johnny Lee Miller as Van Helsing’s young protege.

I like this flick because, while it does stand on the structure of a traditional Dracula movie, it also updates things, including setting and special effects. Those other two movies I mentioned were both made in the 70s but set in the Victorian era which is ultimately another boring trope you’ve seen several times. D2K is set in modern day London and then New Orleans, features some pretty impressive wire-fu stunts and takes advantage of technology without relying on it too much. There’s only one CGI scene I can remember that looked cheesy (when Dracula turns into a wolf), which is pretty impressive considering how bad some of the movies from this time look now.

Director Patrick Lussier, who also did My Bloody Valentine 3D, also seemed to have fun with the movie. I guess there was a bit of a trend of combining horror and action around this time with big budgets like Brothers Grimm and Van Helsing, neither of which I’ve seen. It’s fun to see some money put behind one of these classic stories set modern times with the inclusion of big technologically impressive prisons, smaller secret hiding places and an arsenal of vamp-killing weapons. It’s also fun to see such a well-known cast. Nearly every role is filled with a name or at least a “that guy.” The crew of bad guys alone includes Omar Epps, Danny Masterson, the drunk roommate from Dead Man On Campus, Sean Patrick Thomas who was also in Halloween: Resurrection as my favorite character and Esposito. Nathan Fillion plays a priest. IMDb tells me Shane West was even in the movie, but I can’t remember who he played! And, to add a connection to the flicks that came before it, Christopher Plummer plays Van Helsing.

I remember being pretty blown away by the reveal of Dracula origins when I saw this in the theater. SPOILERS I guess if you haven’t seen it. We’re shown that Dracula was actually Judas, the man who, according to the Bible, betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. This explains why silver hurts vampires. Kinda neat, right? I thought so, and still do, though I see a few problems with it now. If the whole eternal life thing is supposed to be a punishment from God, why does Dracula wind up causing even more trouble for humanity? Wouldn’t it have been better for him to just die and go to hell? On the other hand, maybe humanity was intended to be punished for allowing the son of God to be murdered? I’m not sure. Maybe it was better explained and I missed it, but I thought it was an interesting take on a story I’ve read and seen hundreds of times.

I highly recommend watching Dracula 2000. I’m usually pretty skeptical about these early 00 horror movies because most of them are pretty bad. Sometimes you stumble across something like Halloween: Resurrection that isn’t great, but not as bad as you thought it would be. I’d say that D2K is actually a good vampire movie, with a new spin on the Dracula mythos, a solid cast and enough fun on the screen to keep you entertained. I’d say it’s probably one of my favorite Drac movies ever! Has anyone seen the sequels? I know they’re by the same director, but I assume the budgets were nowhere near as high. I think that, like this one, they’re available on Netflix Instant so maybe I’ll give them a whirl.

Quick Movie Review: Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

Here’s the brief pitch of Law Abiding Citizen: after his family gets killed and one of the murderers goes free for rolling over on the other one, crazy tactical genius Gerard Butler spends 10 years setting up traps and planning to take revenge on not only the killers but everyone involved who failed him in the prosecution of his family’s killers. It’s basically the story of a supervillain. And a damn good one at that because Butler plans for nearly everything. It turns out he worked for a government think tank that tasked him with developing ways to kill certain bad guys and he excelled like crazy. Everything he does has been planned out to the Nth degree and only thanks to his hubris does he get caught in the end.

But, like I said, it’s basically the story of how a supervillain became a supervillain. He’s got all the angles figured out, has all kinds of tech at his disposal and even a ton of warehouses that he uses as his secret lairs. All that being said, the movie does require quite a bit of belief suspension. There are a lot of dumb parts in the movie that don’t follow logic. Why doesn’t Jamie Foxx’s daughter turn off the DVD of a man getting tortured to death? Why do the cops aim their guns at the recently exploded car and not the direction that the rocket came from? Why doesn’t someone just shoot this guy in the face (especially considering the overly complicated ending which probably caused more collateral damage than Butler’s entire rampage.

That being said, I only found myself coming out of the story a few times with “what the?” moments, many of which are nit picky, but they are sloppy and should have been cleaned up. SPOILER WARNING I will say that I thought that Trick ‘r Treat and Iron Man’s Leslie Bibb was Butler’s man on the inside about 40 minutes before the movie ended. Then, not soon after, she died. It was a fiery car bomb death that I assumed was fake and kept on watching the movie because I hadn’t thought at that time that Butler would out-Prison Break Michael Scofield and he was really operating on his own. So, thanks to my paranoia, Bibb’s death held no emotional weight for me. Ah well, it’s not a home run, but it’s a fun little movie to watch when you’ve got some free time and want to see a Saw-like series of killings with a villain who’s got some interesting things to say.

Frank Miller Double Feature: 300 (2006) & Sin City (2005)

300I’ve decided on this, the week of my birthday, that I would spend my days sitting on my ass and writing also watching some of my favorite movies. As it happens, two of my favorite comic book movies of all time come from Frank Miller comics: 300 and Sin City. I saw 300 a few years back in the theaters with Ben and Rickey and our ladies. I walked out feeling like I wanted to punch something, but decided against it. When it came out on DVD I eventually bought it with a few others at Blockbuster, but hadn’t gotten around to watching it again until today.

Man, I still love this movie. I haven’t read the comic it’s based on yet, so I can’t comment on how accurate it is to the comic, but it does have the feel of a Miller comic in both visuals and tones. More to the point, it’s just an awesome, fun movie full of larger-than-life characters who refuse to die (well, up to a point), severe and visually interesting movies and an uplifting ending (again, kinda). Oh, and tons and tons of blood and gore as the Spartans take on all manor of enemies.

Visually, I find the movie stunning. I’m not a huge proponent of  these kinds of digital shoots, but I think director Zack Snyder did something really innovative by creating such a rich visual tone.

300 was one of those interesting movies to see coming up while working at Wizard. There had been some weirdness in the past between the magazine and Miller, but after the success of Sin City things seemed to get patched up. I was working in the research department at the time, so anytime they ran anything having to do with 300, we had to go back to the same batch of images over and over and over again. That’s one of the problems with covering things so far out in advance. Even with an utter overload of 300, I was still excited for the movie and remain excited about watching it again. I still wanted to punch something, but instead I just kept sitting on my couch.

SinCityWhen Sin City came out, I was in college. I don’t think I was more excited for any other movie that year and maybe during my whole college career. I had read a few of the trades and seen a few of Robert Rodriguez’s other movies, but the combination of the two had me crazy excited. I never expected to see a “smaller” comic like this (ie, not a superhero) on the big screen with such high production values, vision and gigantic actors. And it did not disappoint. It didn’t disappoint when I watched it together either and by now I’ve read and own every Sin City trade and have seen most of Rodriguez’s movies.

I know some people don’t like the idea of just bringing a comic book to life, but I’ve got no problem with it as long as it’s done this well. Taking real people and making them look like Miller’s drawings and still not look completely ridiculous is a feat in and of itself. Also, taking some of Miller’s more noir-ish dialogue and spitting it out in real life would sound strange and let’s be honest, not everyone’s good at it. I noticed the male characters seem to do it better than the women, but maybe it’s because it’s harder for women to sound badass.

Anyway, I like how well Rodriguez and Miller told no less than three stories in a fairly tight fashion without rushing any of them. Sure, the movie’s a bit long, but I didn’t find myself getting bored. How can you be bored with badasses like Bruce Willis, Clive Owen and Mickey Rourke all doing their badass things so well? If there’s one thing that Miller does really well, it’s creating seemingly indomitable characters who don’t take “no” or “die” for an answer unless they’ve decided it’s their time. Heck, I’m still not completely convinced that Marv is dead. Here’s hoping that Rodriguez actually gets around to making Sin City 2 and doesn’t let Miller take the reigns as The Spirit was a shit storm of epic proportions.

Gamer Is Awesome

I was pretty excited about Gamer from the get go. Gerard Bulter playing an 80s-style bad ass running around shooting people and being controlled by some kid? SOLD! I didn’t realize until I got it from Netflix that the movie was actually written and directed by my favorite co-writing and -directing team of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, that’s right, the brains behind Crank and Crank: High Voltage, two of the raddest movies to come out in…ever. And, damn, Gamer holds up to the same level as those two flicks.

Like I said, Butler plays a soldier being controlled by a kid in a giant real-life video game where real human are being controlled. The bad guy, played by Dexter’s Michael C. Hall, has developed some science that allows people to be controlled. He invented the tech around a game called Society where people get paid to play as human avatars for gamers sitting in their houses. It’s like Sims, but with real people. Then, he created Slayers, which allows people to control death row inmates in a Halo-like game but without aliens, just other people. If you win a certain number of battles, you get set free. Whew, okay, that’s just the set up. There’s also this group called Humanz led by Ludacris who wants to reveal the truth behind Hall’s evil master plan (to control everyone in the world). They set it up so the kid playing Butler can actually talk to him and Butler breaks out, finds his wife and sets out to take Hall down (he also has Butler’s kid).

Butler’s as awesome as you would expect him to be. He’s got all the heft and badassery of an 80s action hero, but he’s also got a charisma and real acting chops the peek through the blood and grime. And boy, is this movie bloody. There are several big huge battles with Butler but one of 50 or so dudes running around, blasting holes in each other. People get blown up and tossed around and shot in the head. They really did a good job of capturing the weirdness of first person shooter games in the first few moments with all the craziness hitting you right away. Eventually, you get the jist of what’s going on and it goes on from there.

I also liked how the future in this game (it’s called “many years from this moment” or something like that) is portrayed. None of it really seems too far off, though I think people actually watching other people kill each other on television is much further away than writers seem to. I really liked the technology of the future. The kid controlling Butler goes to a small-ish circular room that’s covered in video screens displaying everything from his games to music to communications with other people, but when it’s game time, all that goes away and he’s miming the actions of his avatar in the game. It was all very cool.

If you’re a video game fan or even remotely like action movies, definitely check this one out, you won’t be sorry.

My New Favorite Recurring SNL Skit: What Up With That?

SNL has been pretty hit or miss this season, but we just saw a rerun of the Joseph Gordon-Levitt and I realized how much I love the Keenan Thompson-starring What Up With That? skits. They’re pretty simple and the same almost every time. Keenan is the host of a BET talk show. There’s always three guests, two of which are real celebs (not the hosts) playing themselves and then Bill Hader playing Fleetwood Mac frontman Lindsey Buckingham. Keenan keeps breaking into song, getting inspired by whatever the first guest is talking about all the while, more and more people jump out dancing, singing or playing instruments. My favorite is Jason Sudekis who is always decked out in a red Adidas track suit and doing 80s hip hop moves. It’s fairly nonsensical, but it kills me every time. Here are all three skits available on Hulu in chronological order.

Of course, the very first clip actually ruins my above description because only James Franco plays himself in this one from October 17th which Gerard Butler hosted. This was the first one I ever saw and it killed me.

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Here’s the episode from the Joseph Gordon-Levitt hosted episode on November 21st. Al Gore and Mindy Kaling from The Office are the guests.

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This is actually the dress rehearsal from the episode that premiered on December 19th. This was the James Franco episode and the talkshow guests are Mike Tyson and 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer. I used the footage from the dress rehearsal because it has some sick dance movies by Tyson himself.

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