Saturday, February 25, 2012

Movie Reviews-Killer Elite, Gosford Park, Supernatural Season Three, Dracula AD 1972

Killer Elite
I enjoyed this movie even though it was paint by the numbers. Perhaps I was just in that kind of mood.  It was supposedly based on a true story.

Hero has a moral crisis while doing his (morally repugnant but well paid) job. Hero leaves job to go smell roses, watch rainbows and dance with puppies. Hero is brought out of retirement by Shady Operative because Hero's Mentor/Advisor/Father figure is in danger. Hero puts the band back together to rescue father figure. Hero says that he may be back in the game but it's only temporary and it's not about the money. Shady Operative smirks and disagrees.

While he's kicking butt and taking names Hero runs into his Opposite Number who is just as deadly and dangerous as he is. Occasional professional courtesies are exchanged because game recognizes game although Hero and Opposite AREN'T friendly and try to kill each other multiple times. There is late reveal of multiple setups, traps and a new threat to Hero's naive and beautiful Main Squeeze. (who has no idea how dangerous and morally conflicted hero really is) Question remains as to whether Hero, Mentor and Main Squeeze can survive and if so will Opposite Number help them? And who the hell set them up?? And why is Shady Operative smiling all the time? Doesn't he know that's shady?
If this sort of thing doesn't appeal to you then skip this film. It is a quintessential action flick.  Killer Elite is however intelligent, very well directed and acted for this sort of movie. Though it's long it moves quickly. You don't really get a feel as to how long the film was until it's over.
It's not really worth it to go into the character names because the film fits perfectly into the schema laid out above. Hero (Jason Statham) and Mentor (Robert DeNiro) are free-lance assassins and mercenaries. You want fighting, killing or murdering done they do it. 
This is set in the early 80's. Although Statham is obviously the person the director wants you to identify with the director doesn't sugarcoat things. Hero and Mentor have gone wherever the killing is, mainly Third World countries. And they are usually on the counterrevolutionary or corporate side. They aren't nice people. People who kill for a living rarely are. Opposite Number (Clive Owen) brings a bit of intelligence and swagger to his role as an ex-SAS bada$$ who's trying to stop the scarily efficient Hero any way possible. This all comes about because an exiled Omani Sheik wants revenge for the killings (murders?) of three of his sons by British SAS forces. TRAILER

Gosford Park
Do you like whodunnit mystery movies? I mean the Agatha Christie type where there's a murder and no one can leave the house? Do you like Robert Altman films? Have you ever wondered what it's like to have a country estate complete with woods, lakes and servants? Well if so you might enjoy Gosford Park, which combines an intelligent murder mystery with extremely sardonic British humor. This was nominated for just about every award imaginable, including Oscars, and won quite a few. Gosford Park was both critically acclaimed and financially successful.

This 2001 film had a massive ensemble cast of cinema luminaries and younger actors/actresses who were on their way to future stardom. The cast includes Charles Dance (aka Tywin Lannister), Alan Bates, Helen Mirren, Kelly MacDonald (Margaret Schroeder in Boardwalk Empire), Clive Owen, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emily Watson, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi and several others. I won't explain much of the plot other than to say that in 1930's Great Britain a group of greater and lesser British aristocrats,a few Americans and a platoon of servants meet for a weekend of hunting, food and sport at the Gosford Park estate of Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon). McCordle is, pardon the term, an a$$hole. He's a greedy bully who uses his wealth and social status to humiliate and intimidate his lessers, who as far as he's concerned, are just about everyone else. People put up with it because of his wealth and social status, something which confirms Sir William's low opinion of them. 

While hunting, a low shot from someone almost kills Sir William. Of course it is an accident, right? After evening cigars and drinks, Sir William is found dead in the library. He's been stabbed. It looks like that's not the only thing which killed him either. Some genially incompetent police arrive and start to question all the servants and big shots. Zany drollness ensues.
This film works well as a straight murder mystery. But given that it soon becomes apparent that just about everyone and their mama had a motive to bump off Sir William, this walks very close to comedy. The humor is really dry though. Nothing slapstick. The real focus of the movie is not necessarily the murder but the dysfunctional social (especially class and sexual) relations between the aristocrats and their servants, what it costs each group and how limited and hypocritical their bonds are with each other. These relations are detailed exquisitely. Via simple self-preservation the servants see things more clearly. Just as the aristocrats attempt to one up each other based on heritage and wealth so do the servants though their social ranking is based on who they serve. In fact the servants are not even known by their own names, but by that of their employer. So my valet would be "Mr. Grady" for the weekend. This film is a visual treat as well. Don't miss this one. It's an oldie but goodie.   TRAILER

Supernatural Season 3
This season brought new challenges to the heroes but you never want to bet against the Winchester Brothers. For the Season Two finale, big brother Dean Winchester (Ackles) personally and permanently settled the score with the yellowed eyed demon, Azazel, who had murdered his parents. But there was a cost. Younger brother Sam (Padalecki) was killed. Supernatural's recurring theme is that there is nothing the Winchesters won't do to save each other. Dean makes his own deal with the infernal powers to bring Sam back from the dead. Dean has just one year to live before Hell claims his soul. In the process of killing Azazel, the Winchesters unwittingly released several more demons into the world. And maybe just maybe, Hell put a little something extra into Sam when it resurrected him. So the Winchesters have a full plate this year-find and kill the demons they released, work their normal case load, deal with the fact that Dean isn't long for this world and as usual... get laid. Dean is particularly insistent upon the last as you might be too if you knew you were going to spend eternity in Hell.
It's surprisingly good acting here by Ackles and Padalecki. They were both able to stretch their chops. Initially Dean tries to hide the truth from Sam because as oldest brother he's trying to bear total responsibility. That's what their Dad would have done. I can relate to that. Sam is no dummy though. The whole thing is written similarly to what you might expect the experience of learning you have a terminal condition to be like. Sam embarks on his own desperate mission to save Dean's life and soul. Sam becomes more ruthless over time. He also discovers some new abilities, which are quite worrisome to his big brother. And unless your name is Dean Winchester, DON"T call Sam Winchester "Sammy". He doesn't like it. Taunting a 6'5" man with anger issues is not very smart.

Dean and Bela on business
New women characters were added to take the show into some different directions. These included Bela (Lauren Cohan) a self assured and extremely selfish treasure hunter who crosses paths with the Winchesters, and Ruby (Katie Cassidy) a beautiful demon who claims not to be like her brethren and wants to help Sam. The most dangerous demon released was Lilith , who is played by an intensely creepy little girl. She reminds me of those kids from Kubrick's The Shining. Jim Beaver returns as family friend and new paternal figure Bobby Singer while Charles Malik Whitfield channels Denzel Washington as FBI Agent Victor Henriksen, who is hunting the Winchesters for several "crimes" they've committed. Some twists didn't work for me but maybe some fans enjoyed seeing seeing the congenitally unflappable and smugly chauvinist Dean taken down a notch, which is what Bela lives to do.

Ruby gets personal with Sam
This is a great show to watch on a weeknight when you just need to crash or better yet on a Saturday afternoon. Growing up, Saturday afternoon local TV featured various monster movies. Supernatural would have fit right in.
Like any good series you get more from watching things from the beginning but each season is self-contained. With introductory recaps, flashbacks and a few short expositions here or there you can watch each season in its entirety without becoming hopelessly lost. The sadness and fatalism lingers over this season from start to end.  TRAILER

Dracula A.D. 1972
No single studio crafted better mid century horror movies than Hammer Films, a British film production company. Hammer was known for lavish gothic sets and costumes,vivid technicolor, talented actors, beautiful exotic women, period stories, and for the times shocking violence. I will write more on Hammer later.
By the 1970's however, Hammer was on a downwards spiral. Distribution issues and changing tastes threatened to sink Hammer Films. Modernization was needed. A result was Dracula A.D.1972. Evidently the studio execs looked at declining revenues and brainstormed what the kids wanted to see.
Their answer was akin to watching your grandmother dougie. The film has badly dated music and jokes, drug references, Rolling Stones or A Clockwork Orange wannabes, and of course lots of cleavage. This last was a signature feature of Hammer and probably a big reason some former teen boys (myself included) may have fond memories of Hammer films.  Circa 1872, as usual, vampire hunter Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) and Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) are fighting. Somehow the fact that it's BROAD DAYLIGHT doesn't kill Count Dracula. Right. The stagecoach on which they're duking it out crashes. Old Drac gets a bad case of wheel impalement. The dying Van Helsing grimly leans on the spoke to finish off Dracula. Dracula is dust. A young man rides up, puts the dust in a vial, takes Dracula's ring and rides off. He later buries the dust (or at least some of it) near Van Helsing's grave. 
Fast forward 100 years. Some London mods, including Mick Jagger mistress Marsha Hunt, have crashed a blueblood party and won't leave. The police evict them. The pack leader, Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame), promises them something REALLY FAR OUT. No, he really does talk like that. Alucard (and did you notice the so dumb you missed it backwards name spelling) is the descendant of the young man who gathered Dracula's ashes.
Alucard wants to perform a Satanic Mass. His associates aren't crazy about this, especially Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham) who along with Caroline Munro proves the impressive tensile strength of 1970's era blouses and gowns. But Johnny convinces them. Shortly afterwards Count Dracula is dead and walking again.  Professor Van Helsing (Cushing again), Jessica's grandfather, figures out what's going on and battle between Dracula and a Van Helsing resumes. Dracula doesn't intend to fall for the old "wheel spoke through the heart" trick again either.

Yes. I am a polygamist.
This movie's funniest scene may not be intentionally so. One vampire death scene is almost Three Stooges like in hilarity. I'm chuckling now just thinking about it. Cushing made this movie right after his wife had died and was incredibly gaunt with grief. It was a tribute to his work ethic that he persevered through this. Cushing brought gravitas. Christopher Lee hated the script and only agreed to do it after his salary was greatly increased. He struggled along gamely. 
Rod Stewart and The Faces were set to be in the film but negotiations failed. This was the weakest of a 4-pack DVD re-release. Hammer was better off sticking to gothic horror, which the film Twins of Evil, released a few months earlier, did much more successfully. Interestingly enough Dracula A.D. 1972's ending was pure gothic and was much better than the nonsense which preceded it. Stephanie Beacham would find future success in Dynasty and The ColbysTRAILER
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