Oct 28, 2009
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant
Call it The Hunger, call it Thirst, but From Dusk Till Dawn to Twilight the human appetite for vampires is never satisfied. The question for filmmakers is, do you aim for adult jugulars or prey on a younger audience?
In condensing the first three of Darren Shan's 12-strong Cirque Du Freak books, screenwriter Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) and director Paul Weitz explore an unusual third territory somewhere between The Addams Family and Interview With The Vampire.
For all his intelligence, Darren (Massoglia) is easily led by his tearaway friend Steve (Hutcherson). So when the outlawed travelling show Cirque Du Freak comes to town, the pair head straight for the front row.
Introduced by the imposing Mr Tall (Ken Watanabe), the 'attractions' include a Wolfman, a Snake Boy (Patrick Fugit), a woman who can grow back her limbs (Jane Krakowski), a guy who can eat anything (Frankie Faison), the man with the smallest waist in the world (Orlando Jones), and Salma Hayek as a psychic with a whisker problem.
But the friends are most impressed by real-life vampire Larten Crepsley (Reilly, looking like a cross between Heath Ledger's Joker and Ronald McDonald) and his giant spider Octa (looking like an arachnid version of Captain America).
Mesmerised, Darren kidnaps Octa. Obsessed, Steve asks Crepsley to make him a vampire. Unimpressed, Crepsley refuses.
Later, Octa bites Steve. Dying, Steve's only chance of survival is Crepsley's antidote. Machiavellian, Crepsley will only provide it if Darren becomes his servant. Cornered, Darren agrees.
Once in the Cirque, Darren must adapt to life as a half-vampire. He learns that true vampires never kill those they feed on. That's what makes them different from the deadly 'Vampaneze'.
Led by the diabolical Mr Tiny (Michael Cerveris - imagine Christopher Biggins gone bald) and his henchman Murlaugh (Ray Stevenson), the vampaneze take the resentful Steve under their wing.
Thus freaks become friends and friends become foes on a merry-go-round of nifty effects, abrupt violence and moochy introspection.
The bloodlessness of the younger cast is offset by juicy slices of ham served up by Hayek, Cerveris, Stevenson - who amusingly can't decide whether he's from Prague or Pontefract - and Willem Dafoe, giving it the full Peter O'Toole in his cameo as a vampire elder.
Holding it all together, Reilly cuts a surprisingly romantic figure while presenting a rueful and pragmatic insight into the undead condition: "It's a lonely life, but there's a lot of it."
But despite the crash-bang denouement, the door was always going to be left open for sequels. As a result, none of the characters find any closure.
It's worth the price of a ticket but, like most passing curiosities, the first coming of Cirque Du Freak is all sideshows and no main event.
ReviewDespite having a great cast, a solid concept and a fantastic location, this largely laugh-free vacation comedy is almost as torturous as the holiday from Hostel.
Using a Powerpoint presentation to announce they are contemplating divorce, uptight couple Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) convince their friends to sign up for a relaxing South Pacific holiday.
What the three couples joining them don't realise is that they will be obliged to take part in extremely unorthodox relationship therapy sessions presided over by the eccentric Monsieur Marcel (Jean Reno).
Arriving at the stunning Eden Resort, happily married Dave (Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman), unsatisfied Joey (Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis) and divorced Shane (Faizon Love) and his new 20-year-old girlfriend Trudy (Kali Hawk) are soon being put through the emotional wringer.
Reuniting Swingers stars Vaughn and Favreau - who both contributed to the script - Couples Retreat has none of the charm or wit of their hip debut. Poorly paced and with scenes that drag on interminably - much like Vaughn's romcom misfire The Break Up - the lack of laughs is palpable; any jokes that do raise a titter being flogged into lifelessness.
For example, an initially amusing scene featuring an oversexed yoga instructor soon outstays its welcome, with bulging Fabio lookalike Carlos Ponce's pelvic thrusting never being quite as comically grotesque as the close-up shots of Favreau's man boobs.
On the plus side, a sparkly toothed Peter Serafinowicz steals scenes as creepy Eden Resort employee Stanley and, playing a deadpan therapist, Knocked Up doctor Ken Jeong reminds audiences just how funny this film should have been.
The main cast all seem to be enjoying themselves, but then being paid to spend several weeks in Bora Bora with your best film industry buddies probably isn't that taxing. If only somebody had remembered to pack a decent script with the suntan lotion.
The real nadir comes, however, with some of the most blatant product placement ever to soil a cinema screen, courtesy of an unbearably tacky segment in which Vaughn and Serafinowicz indulge in a Guitar Hero face off.
About as much fun as having a holiday ruined by bickering, self-involved couples, this is one romcom you really should retreat from.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Trust the director of The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore to turn a straightforward children’s story about a fox on the run into a wacky examination of family dysfunction, existentialism and adolescent angst.
And with Clooney’s Mr Fox and his all-American animal chums being hounded out of the British countryside, there’s some sort of sly anti-colonialist message in there too.
But, all allegorical guff aside, Wes Anderson has come up with the liveliest adventure set on English soil since Wallace and Gromit ran into the were-rabbit.
Fourteen fox years (or two of ours) after promising to stop stealing chickens, our vulpine hero has settled down with his wife (Streep) and son Ash (Schwartzmann), an underachieving sulker whose mood doesn’t improve when super-cool cousin Kristofferson come to stay.
Against the advice of his solicitor (badger Bill Murray), Mr F. buys a detached oak overlooking the fowl farms of foul farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean (one fat, one short, one lean). Unable to contain himself, he promptly raids all three.
Naturally and, let's face it, understandably, cider-swigging Bean (Gambon) and his neighbours hit Foxy with everything they’ve got. They want his guts for garters.
But after trying to dig, blast and flood him out of his ever-deepening foxhole, all Bean gets is his brush for a tie. Unfortunately, the woodlanders are forced into the open when Kristofferson is captured. So, who's got a cunning rescue plan?
In a digitally obsessed world, Mr. Fox delivers some 62,000 frames of jerky, jolly, stop-motion fun. It’s like taking a trip back to the 70s; a nostalgic mash-up between Disney’s Robin Hood and those road safety ads starring Tufty the squirrel.
The script by Anderson and Noah Baumbach (creator of The Squid And The Whale) is so clever you could pin a tail on it – not least in the use of the family-friendly expletive ‘cuss’, as in “This is gonna be a total cluster-cuss for everybody.”
It's bound to raise a few hackles, however, as anyone expecting a faithful adaptation will be disappointed that Anderson focuses on the touchy-feely stuff at the expense of Dahl’s brilliantly drawn villains.
The three Bs of the book were so grotesque and vile you could almost smell them. Here, they’re just a bunch of joyless old grumps.
Streep is also underused and there are a couple of needless distractions involving a silent wolf and Jarvis Cocker as a rubbish folk singer.
But with Schwartzmann, Willem Dafoe (as a sneaky rat) and Wally Wolodarsky’s permanently confused opossum backing the fantastic Mr Clooney all the way, this quick brown Fox jumps easily over every lazy dog in its way.