January 31, 2015


Starring Luke Evans, Sarah Gordon, Dominic Cooper, Art Parkinson, Charles Dance. Directed by Gary Shore (2014, 92 min).

Dracula Untold is exactly what the original trailer promised, an origin story of a classic character who didn’t really need one, loaded with hyperactive, CGI-heavy action. Not really a horror film, it has more in common with The Matrix and 300 than the Dracula our granddaddies grew up with. It’s also obvious this is intended as part of a possible Universal Monsters franchise, the studio rebooting their classic franchises with the hopes of jump-starting a cinematic universe similar to Marvel’s.

Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on your expectations, which probably shouldn’t be too high after watching Dracula Untold. It's mildly entertaining, but nothing you’re likely to give much thought about afterwards.

Here, Luke Evans is Vlad the Impaler (aka Dracula), who got his title after being enslaved by Turks as a boy and trained to be a ruthless soldier. As an adult, upon returning to his native Transylvania, he becomes a prince (not sure how) and rules over a peaceful nation. Then the Turks return, led by Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), who demands 1000 Transylvanian boys (including Vlad’s own son) to train in the Turkish army. Out-manned and desperate to protect his people, Vlad makes a Faustian deal with Master Vampire (who dwells in the hills and played by Charles Dance) to become a vampire himself with supernatural powers & the strength of a hundred men. The deal is, if Vlad can make it three days without giving-in to his newfound bloodlust, he will return to normal; if not, he will remain a vampire forever.

"Chicken Butt! Got ya, didn't I?"
And here lies one major problem with the film…being that this is an origin story, we already know Vlad won’t make it three days, so the only real suspense remaining is whether or not becoming a vampire will save his kingdom. As a result, Dracula Untold becomes primarily an action film with lots of CGI-enhanced battle scenes (as well as numerous shots of Vlad striding purposefully toward the camera in slow motion). The action is okay, but nothing remarkable enough to make it stand out from any other effects-heavy, video game-inspired film. As Vlad, Evans is decent and sufficiently brooding, and far more interesting than any of the other characters (including his wife and kid). He does a good job portraying Dracula more as a reluctant, tragic hero than the seductive villain we’re all used to. Still, he mostly exists just to kick-ass.

Of course, the film’s coda leaves the door wide open for a sequel which, since it was a box office success, we’re probably going to get. But if this is the Dracula for a new franchise, it might have more longevity if the first film wasn’t aiming exclusively at the X-Box crowd.


  • Audio commentary
  • Alternate opening with commentary
  • Deleted scenes with commentary
  • The Land of Dracula (interactive map)
  • Featurettes: Luke Evans - Creating a Legend; Day in the Life - Luke Evans; Dracula Retold; Slaying 1000
  • DVD & digital copies

(OUT OF 5)

January 30, 2015

WIZARD WORLD COMIC-CON: Q&A with the Great Yaphet Kotto

Of course, no comic-con would be complete without plenty of Q&A sessions with various celebrities from TV, movies and (for reasons which still escape me) WWE. Rising stars, cult heroes and living legends were in abundance at this year’s Wizard World Comic-Con in Portland, signing photos each day and appearing for Q&A sessions in many of the spacious ballrooms of the Oregon Convention Center. 
The quandary one faces when attending these things is deciding which Q&A you want to attend first, since many were held at the same time. Being more of an old-school movie fan, one man I definitely wanted to check out was the legendary Yaphet Kotto, he of Alien fame and distinctive voice, one of the great character actors of all time. In addition to Alien, he was the main villain in the James Bond film, Live and Let Die, as well as one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sidekicks in the goofy-yet-oddly-prophetic camp classic, The Running Man. Personally, my favorite film of his is Midnight Run, where he plays beleaguered FBI agent Alonso Mosely, and hoped I’d get the opportunity to ask him about it. But his resume extends back much further, before most people attending the comic con were even born. How could this not be fascinating?
Yaphet Kotto, signing for a fan.
Yaphet Kotto, signing for a fan.
Arriving a few minutes early, I was somewhat taken-back by how few people showed up in the ballroom to see him…maybe 50 or 60 (compared to the hundreds next-door to cheer-on one of the actors from the CW series, Arrow). Sure, Kotto may not be starring in a currently hot TV show, but this was Parker from Alien, for chrissakes!
Anyway, Kotto arrived shortly afterwards (looking pretty damned good for a man of 75), along with the Q&A moderator, who got the ball rolling by asking about the seminal film of most interest to comic-coners, Alien. Kotto congenially discussed how he came into the classic role, telling us he knew it was special just by reading the script. Aside from Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, Kotto’s performance as Parker was arguably the most memorable, and he was more-than-happy to talk about it (including the infamous chest-burster scene, in which none of the cast besides John Hurt knew was coming).
One thing I was fascinated to learn during the discussion was Kotto’s early career, nurtured and influenced by the likes of Barbara Stanwyck and Mary Astor, legends whose names were likely completely lost on the average fan in attendance. He also expressed a particular fondness for the theater, often declaring stage work as his preferred method of acting to film or television (explaining, in detail, the difference between the two).
When the panel finally opened up to audience questions, I shot my hand up and was first called upon. Although the film isn’t really of interest to the average comic con fan, I just had to ask about Midnight Run (in my humble opinion, one of the funniest movies of all time). To me, it looked like it was a blast to make, with Kotto working alongside such stars as Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin, and every actor given free reign given to improvise whenever appropriate. If you haven’t seen this film, Kotto’s performance is angry-yet-amusing, and some of his deadpan, icy stares are priceless. I totally expected him to gush about how much fun he had.
But instead, he informed me Midnight Run was actually a particularly problematic film for him, since he was suffering from high blood pressure, fever, lengthy 18 hour shoots and a director (Martin Brest) who required an excruciating number of takes for every scene. As a film fan, this was a revelation. I always had the impression Midnight Run was tons of fun for everyone involved.
Hi, Portland!
Hi, Portland!
Inevitably, stupid questions were asked, such as the moderator bringing upThe Running Man, which no one really loves, and Kotto freely admitted was comic book tripe that he did for the money. Even worse was another member of the audience, obviously trying to sound intelligent & politically correct with a race-bating question about the struggle of “minority actors” in Hollywood. Kotto promptly responded that there are no minority actors (just actors of different races), and that he’s never personally experienced racism in his career. Another idiot tried to goad him for his opinion about how the director of Selma was denied an Oscar nod. But Kotto would have none of that, vehemently and articulately declaring, as a member of the voting academy, the best film of 2014 is American Sniper.
As the Q&A drew to a close, I felt like I got first-hand insight about an actor I’ve respected for years, one who values the thrill of the performance over celebrity status and doesn’t give a shit about being African-American. I enjoyed his tales of stage and screen immensely, yet am somewhat sad more folks at the comic con didn’t care enough to listen to this living legend. Their loss, I guess.

January 29, 2015


Starring Billy Zane, Dee Wallace, Mischa Barton, Brian Anthony Wilson, Brian Gallagher, Michael Kean, Joe Raffa, Ashley Sumner, Gabrielle Stone. Directed by B. Harrison Smith. (2015, 104 min).
Anchor Bay

What’s worse than a bad zombie movie? How about a boring one? Or worse yet, how about a boring one made by someone with admirably lofty intentions, yet doesn’t really display any true buy-in to the genre? Or worse still, how about one where it seems like half the movie is less interested in zombies than showcasing that weekend warrior pastime known as paint-balling?

The nonsensically-titled Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard isn’t badly made (unlike inept opuses ‘directed’ by would-be Romeros in the woods behind their houses). In fact, the overall performances are fairly decent for a low-budget film, especially Billy Zane, who gets to do a bit of scenery-chewing as a gung-ho military vet. The story also aims for a Walking Dead vibe, taking its zombies seriously (when they actually show up) and the conflicts within the fenced encampment where the story takes place.

"Dude, I should shoot you for wearing
that headband."
These few virtues are also the biggest problem. None of these characters (and their clashes with others) are remotely interesting, and for a movie which so prominently features paint-ballers as defense against the undead, it takes itself waaay too seriously. Additionally, Zombie Killers commits two unforgivable crimes which can‘t overlooked. First, we hardly see any zombies for the first hour, and when they finally do show up en masse, the film is completely devoid of the gory thrills even the most-brainless undead epics offer as compensation for their stupidity. It could probably air on SyFy uncut.

It’s hard to imagine anyone getting much entertainment out of this. Too few zombies and too little gut-munching for the yahoo crowd, yet deadly-dull as drama for those spoiled by the brilliance of The Walking Dead. What's ultimately sad is the premise had the makings for a terrific zom-com. This is a truly missed opportunity.

EXTRAS: Featurettes: Bloodbath & Beyond; The Look of Zombie Killers; Behind the Scenes

(OUT OF 5)

Blu-Ray Review: JOHN WICK

Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe. Directed by Chad Stahelski. (2014, 101 min).

In terms of pure audience manipulation, John Wick might just be the greatest tale of revenge ever made. The best ones (from the artistic to the exploitative) all have one thing in common: they make vengeance a totally justifiable course of action. Who didn’t cheer-on Charles Bronson’s mugger-murdering rampage in Death Wish, Clint Eastwood’s cold, calculated retribution in High Plains Drifter or Uma Thurman’s bloody wrath in Kill Bill?

Violent payback seldom works out how we’d like it to in the real world, but it’s damn fun to watch, which is obviously why tales of revenge - both calculated and reactionary - have been mainstays of popular entertainment ever since Shakespeare scribbled Hamlet.

But John Wick may trump them all. Not because of its kinetic action scenes (which are truly exciting), not because of Keanu Reeves as the title character (even though he hasn't been this badass since The Matrix), and certainly not because of the complexity of the story (this might be the most simple tale of revenge since the original Mad Max). John Wick manages to get the audience totally onboard because director Chad Stahelski and screenwriter Derek Kolstad know what will truly rouse us into a state of bloodthirsty vengeance…

...killing this girl:

You gotta be one steel-hearted bastard not to be moved by the passing of a pooch, often the canine equivalent of Spock’s demise at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

In John Wick, the title character (Keanu Reeves) is a legendary hitman who retires from the business to take care of his cancer-stricken wife. Her last act before dying was sending John a gift, a puppy named Daisy, so he wouldn’t have to grieve alone. John forms an immediate attachment to Daisy and takes her everywhere. Then a couple of Russian thugs, ignorant of who he is and simply want his classic ‘69 Mustang, break into his house, beat him up and kill Daisy. That’s all it takes for Wick to unleash the fury and hunt them down. Complicating matters is the fact one of those thugs is the son of Viggo Tarsov (Michael Nyqvist), who once hired Wick to kill everyone who stood in the way of his quest to be the most powerful leader of the Russian mob.

But really, John Wick grabbed us at Daisy’s death, because…

...well, just look at her!

Sure, Wick’s revenge is based more by what Daisy represents (his wife’s dying symbol of love) than Daisy herself, but the fact she’s just a puppy (the cutest movie puppy ever) makes his systematic slaughter all the more righteous. Would we feel the same way if his dying wife sent him a cat? I doubt it, because unless they’re hungry, cats generally don’t give a shit about us.

But there’s something about the untimely screen death of a pooch which, no matter how many people have been shot, stabbed, blown-up, crushed, devoured or disemboweled, has most of us crying, “Oh no! Not the dog!” Which is why John Wick, despite its simplistic story, is such a satisfying tale of revenge. Shamelessly manipulative? Absolutely, but supremely effective nonetheless. 

This was one of the best action movies of 2014, and certainly worth seeing more than once.


  • Audio commentary by the director
  • Featurettes: Don't F*#% with John Wick (how Reeves trained for the role); Calling in the Cavalry; Destiny of a Collective; Assassin's Code; Red Circle (the nightclub where the biggest action set-piece takes place); NYC Noir
  • DVD & Digital copies

(OUT OF 5)

January 28, 2015

Pre-Order INTERSTELLAR on Google Play and Get a Ticket to See the Film While Still in Theaters!

Pre-Orders for Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster hit, Interstellar, are available now on Google Play ahead of its March home entertainment release. Exclusively on Google Play, any fan who pre-orders Interstellar will receive $10 off a ticket to see the larger-than-life sci-fi film while it’s still in theaters on the big screen!*

Google Play is currently the only digital retailer where you can pre-order Interstellar.

To pre-order Interstellar on Google Play, go to: http://j.mp/InterstellarGooglePlay

Interstellar stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow and Michael Caine. With time on Earth coming to an end, a team of explorers undertakes the most important mission in human history: traveling beyond this galaxy to discover whether mankind has a future among the stars. Directed by Christopher Nolan, written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, and produced by Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan and Lynda Obst.

January 27, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: HENRY V (1989)

Starring Kenneth Branagh, Paul Scofield, Derek Jacobi, Ian Holm, Emma Thompson, Alec McCowen, Judi Dench, James Larkin, Simon Shepherd, Charles Kay, Christian Bale (when he was still just a young pup!). Directed by Kenneth Branagh. (1989, 138 min).

When I was forced to read Romeo & Juliet in high school, it didn’t take long for me to hate Shakespeare. The man’s words made no goddamn sense and I truly resented being forced to continually check the footnotes at the bottom of every page for the definitions of terms nobody on Earth has used in daily conversation for over 500 years. Our ‘reward’ for slogging through the play was watching Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film adaptation, which my English teacher, Mr. Monroe, enthusiastically assured would make the class appreciate Shakespeare more.

It didn’t. In fact, all Mr. Monroe accomplished was provide us freshmen with the opportunity to display our immaturity by giggling at a glimpse of Romeo’s (actually Leonard Whiting’s) bare butt, which pissed him off to no end. With hindsight, what did Mr. Monroe expect? He may have made us read Shakespeare, but he sure as hell didn’t teach us how.

I didn’t learn that until college, when I spent an entire semester reading the Bard’s work. I enjoyed that class immensely, mainly because our professor told not to focus on each individual word or worry about unfamiliar terms, assuring us the characters and their actions would be clear to us. And I’ll be damned if he wasn’t right, which is why I still love Hamlet, King Lear and Much Ado About Nothing. That same approach actually applies to movie versions of his work, especially the ones adapted almost verbatim, like Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V.

Henry reads-up on the proper use of
the Holy Hand Grenade.
Anyone unable to outgrow their high school hatred of Shakespeare will be completely frustrated and baffled by this film, even though the performances alone are intriguing enough to maintain interest (especially Branagh in the title role, who deservedly earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor). But like Shakespeare himself once wrote, “the play is the thing,” not the written words. Branagh knew this, as does the entire cast, who perform their roles, no matter how minor, with complete sincerity. We may not always understand what they are saying, but we’re never in doubt about these characters’ thoughts, feelings and convictions.

Like Laurence Oliver’s classic 1944 adaptation, Branagh’s Henry V transcends its stage origins with handsome production values, epic action and intense (though sometimes admirably restrained) performances. And, like Oliver’s film, Henry V served as something of a Hollywood calling card for Branagh’s talent as both an actor and director (most of you younger film fans might recognize his name as the man who directed Thor).

This Blu-Ray release from Shout!Factory is short on special features, but the overall transfer is pretty impressive, serving as a nifty reminder that Shakespeare, when done right, can still amuse and enthrall audiences if placed in the right hands. Just don’t expect any footnotes on the screen to bail you out.

EXTRAS: Theatrical trailer

(OUT OF 5)

January 26, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: LUCY

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik, Amr Waked. Directed by Luc Besson. (2014, 89 min).

I don’t think I’m alone when I say it’s good to see Luc Besson finally returning to what he does best, which is direct whacked-out, kick-ass action films. Though he’s been credited over the years writing and producing scores of entertaining (if undemanding) shoot-’em-ups such as Taken, District B13 and the woefully underrated Lockout), Besson himself hasn’t gotten behind the camera for a pure action film since 1997’s The Fifth Element (arguably the most gloriously goofy sci-fi movie of all time).

Lucy harkins back to the dark, gritty action of La Femme Nikita and Leon: The Professional (featuring yet-another strong female protagonist), this time with a sci-fi twist. His witty screenplays handed to other directors notwithstanding, no one directs Besson’s action stories quite like Besson himself.

Scarlett Johansson plays the title character, a drifting drug mule forced to deliver a powerful new narcotic to Europe by carrying one of the bags inside her. When she’s abducted and beaten on the way there, the bag breaks. The story depends on the oft-heard notion that humans use only 10% of their brains. The drug now coursing through her body eventually allows her to use 100%, giving her unimaginable (almost supernatural) abilities, which she uses to, not only be a formidable foe to her enemies (most notably drug kingpin Mr. Jang, played with supreme nastiness by Choi Min-sik), but to find the other bags carried by similar rubes in order to see her newfound cerebral awareness to its logical conclusion. Along the way, she contacts the world’s foremost expert on Cerebral Capacity, Samuel Norton (Morgan Freeman, who serves no real purpose other than being Morgan Freeman and everything that implies).

"Oh...interrupting cow. I get it."
It’s a fairly ridiculous premise with an even more ridiculous resolution, but even though we suspect Besson knows this, he wisely plays it with a straight face and manages to suck us into the story anyway. There are many violent, hyperkinetic (and sometimes quite spectacular) action set-pieces along the way, as well as a convincing performance by Johansson. One could carp we don’t see enough of her character as a vulnerable lowlife before going into Terminator mode, but Lucy isn’t intended as a character study.

What we get instead is another badass Besson flick with another badass female lead, the type of movie nobody with any sense should scrutinize too heavily afterward. But Lucy is a great ride while it lasts, and let’s just hope it isn’t another decade before Besson serves up another dish of his own recipe for movie mayhem.


  • Featurettes: The Evolution of Lucy; Cerebral Capacity: The True Science of Lucy
  • DVD & Digital copies

(OUT OF 5)

Blu-Ray Review: THE JUDGE

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard, Billy Bob Thornton. Directed by David Dobkin. (2014, 141 min).
Warner Bros.

Some movies you just have to check out simply because of the names over the title, regardless of what it’s about. The Judge is one of those actors’ showcases in which two Roberts (Downey Jr. & Duvall) square-off as an estranged father and son, and they are almost the sole reason this film well worth seeing.

Downey plays Hank Palmer, a hot-shot big city defense attorney who reluctantly returns to the small town where he grew up in order to attend his mother’s funeral. While he still gets along with his two brothers (Vincent D’Onofrio & Jeremy Strong), the same cannot be said for his dad, Joseph, the presiding judge in that town for over forty years. To say they have an antagonistic relationship is putting it mildly.

Then Joseph is implicated in the vehicular death of a scumbag former defendant he once made the mistake of giving a second chance. Prosecutor Dwight Dickham wants Joseph tried for murder, which ultimately forces Hank to represent his own father in court, even though Joseph doesn‘t initially want his help. Hank's time back home also allows him to reconnect with all those he once left behind.

Vincent challenges Robert to justify appearing
in The Shaggy Dog.
Robert's got nothing.
It’s these relationships (especially between Hank and Joseph) that are the real crux of the film, not the perfunctory trial. Those who love the snide wit Downey brought to Tony Stark will find some of that here, but he shows he’s still capable of considerable depth when required. As Joseph, Duvall shows yet-again why he’s one of our greatest actors, deserving of his seventh Oscar nomination for this role. So good are these two together onscreen that we tend to forgive the underdeveloped secondary characters and predictable plot turns, the latter of which might have been reduced to sentimental schmaltz in lesser hands.

Downey and Duvall ultimately make The Judge worth seeing. The story ain’t much, but these guys keep things continually interesting, even with the film’s lengthy running time.


  • Audio commentary by director David Dobkin
  • Deleted scenes
  • Getting Deep with Dax Shepard: An amusing featurette in which the comedian/actor conducts irreverent interviews with his co-stars.
  • Inside The Judge: Another featurettes where the primary cast (as well as director David Dobkin) discuss the making of the film.
  • DVD & Digital copy

(OUT OF 5)

January 25, 2015


With my wife’s camera in-hand, I set out on the second day of Portland’s Wizard World Comic Con to capture all the wonderful things to to see and do. Such as...
This guy who greeted us as we entered, towering over the WETA Workshop, which was loaded with all sorts of swag for sale to Middle Earth fans with deep pockets. You could even get prosthetic Hobbit ears attached by a professional make-up artist...
Or get a tattoo of your favorite superhero by the folks from A&E’s Epic Ink (based right here in Portland)...

Or participate in Last Man Standing, a new game show hosted by the one-and-only Bruce Campbell (yours truly was a contestant, which I previously wrote about HERE)...

Comic book Heaven...

Manga Heaven...

One of the original artists of Pinky and the Brain (of which I’m still a huge fan)...

The least-visited booth at the Con (what the hell were they even doing here?)...

Q&A panel with the great Yaphet Kotto (Alien, The Running Man), who I‘ll write about in the next article...

There was even some entertainment outside the Convention Center in the form of Bible thumpers who arrived to remind cosplayers they will all burn in Hell...

Of course, it wouldn’t be a comic con without cosplayers, and there were plenty of them buzzing around the Oregon Convention Center this weekend. Whatever comic, movie or TV character you can think of, there was likely someone dressed up like them. And there were a lot more in attendance on the second day than the first.
Bane, looking badass...

Dredd, passing judgment...

Little Pythons...

Security was tight at the Con...

“Who” is this guy?

Yours-truly with…hell, I didn’t know. A little kid standing nearby rolled his eyes as he informed me it’s a character from Tron...

“Hudson or Hicks?” I asked. He said, “Hicks. Who the hell wants to be Hudson?”

Walter and The Dude, from one of my favorite movies...

The ultimate Alien queen (mee-ow!)...

This lady’s make-up was awesome, even up close...

Baby Fett...

Some characters know how to photobomb...

There were a ton of Maleficents & Black Widows (and no one was complaining)...

One cosplayer is obviously looking forward to Mad Max: Fury Road...

Chewbacca was one of the big hits of the Con (even though he killed this man)...

Plenty of classic characters were around as well...