Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (2009)

Cirque du FreakCirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant

Release Date: October 23, 2009

Director: Paul Weitz

Stars: John C. Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Chris Massoglia

Runtime: 109 min

Teenager, Darren Shan, meets a mysterious man at a freak show who turns out to be a Vampire. After a series of events Darren must leave his normal life and go on the road with the Cirque Du Freak and become a Vampire.

This isn’t near-awful, but it isn’t that good, either. The character’s ambitions are strange, like how Hutcherson’s character aspires to become a vampire… It’s fairly obsessive and weird. This is sort-of a stange blend of supernatural wars and events, but it also touches on teenage angst. Mostly how Hutcherson’s character feels he is surrounded by idiots and isn’t accepted; and the non-normative transformations certain characters endure.

Chris Massolgia won’t make you want to root for Darren. He’s just a dull presence. Also, it was so hard to care for him at times, I was rooting for the friend-turned-foe, Hutcherson. This is just a really forgettable flick. It’s one of those movies that is decent to watch on TV when nothing interesting is on; or one might put on when they’re just puttering or dabbling on the computer. It’s effective background noise.

The style and cinematography are great, and there are some engaging scenes. It’s refreshing to see a comedy director (Paul Weitz, American Pie) take on something so strange. The thing is… The story isn’t that interesting. It’s about some fat guy called Tiny who tries to spark a war between two vampire clans. One of the clans has a vegan attitude (the side Darren and Crepsley are on), and the opposing side has that stereotypical, blood-sucking, fleash-eatin’ attitude. The screenplay is written by Paul Weitz and Brian Helgeland (the guy behind L.A. Confidential). One would think a screenplay co-written by Helgeland would be so much better!

John C. Reilly works the role of Crepsley. Overall; it’s slightly creepy, but it’s a mostly bland, strange tale of the supernatural. It’s a weird genre blend, and some of it just doesn’t work. You probably won’t be begging for a sequel. This is, at its most basic, a movie about teenage angst set during a war between vampires with an Olive Garden lifestyle and vampires with an Epic Meal Time (just with human meat, kinda thing) lifestyle.

54/100

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Wreck-It Ralph

Release Date: November 2, 2012

Director: Rich Moore

Stars (voices): John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch

Runtime: 109 min

Tagline: When the game is over, a new world comes to life.

Wreck-It Ralph has one film aspect thing we are always searching for: nostalgia. Nostalgia is when you look back at some point in your life, and cherish that solitary memory. In the case of this great Disney animation film, we find ourselves looking back to our childhoods, when we would spend tireless hours playing Super Mario Bros. to take Princess Peach back from that spiky-backed Bowser or; controlling Donkey Kong to jump over those pesky barrels; or making Pacman run away from those ghosts. This nostalgia is most prominent for those 80s and 90s children. In Wreck-It Ralph, it truly shines through. In animation, this great feeling has not been shown so clearly as it has been here.

In other 2012 films, like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the nostalgia feeling was looking back at the good times of high school (for my case, early high school, since this is my graduating year) or those generally depressing and lonely times. We’ve seen that in plenty of teen films before it, so it’s a traditional nostalgic feeling in our hearts. With Wreck-It Ralph, it feels truly original because a great video game tribute has never been paid quite like this one, besides documentaries like Special When Lit that rediscovers the long lost game of Pinball.

The story follows Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) the villain of a 30-year old arcade game called Fix-It Felix Jr., where Ralph wrecks it and Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer) races the clock to fix what Ralph has wrecked. Ralph feels like an outcast in his own game, because he lives in a dump across the way from his video game co-workers, while they hang out in the penthouse and party it up. Ralph sets out for different games, that ultimately wreaks havoc in his arcade, in search of a medal so he can redeem himself, and become the hero he has always wanted to be. He eventually ends up at Sugar Rush and meets the charismatic Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman) a computer glitch in her own game. The two outcasts team up together, to defeat antagonists, and make names for themselves.

The main antagonist is the charismatic dictator of Sugar Rush, King Candy (voiced by Alan Tudyk). The other antagonists are from some games Ralph encounters, that find their way into the game of Sugar Rush. Also, there is the arcade manager, Mr. Litwak, who proposes the overbearing threat of pulling the plug of Ralph’s game if Ralph and Felix can’t get back to the game in time. This has the tendency to make the film slightly crowded, but it still is unarguably enjoyable and fun. A few things that make the film fun are the great and often delicious appearing set designs, very seemingly fun arcade games, and the stunningly beautiful [3D] visual effects. The humour is often hysterical, and very funny even for those who are not children. Although, if one is over the age of thirteen, they may think the toilet humour has the huge tendency to be obnoxious and over the top. Those toilet humour jokes are quite hit-and-miss, but most do indeed hit. To add to the general comedy of the film, there are also some exciting action sequences, like the races that made me want to play a good old game of Mario Kart. There is one sequence near the end of the film that features a creature that may just be a little too mature or frightening for a basic children’s film; it reminded me of Pennywise the Clown from Stephen King’s It (at the least the bottom half of it).

The message present (don’t be afraid to be a hero) is great and does not feel forced. What does feel forced, however, are some of the relationships. The one relationship between Felix and Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch), feels forced because they just seem so opposite. The relationship between Ralph and Vanellope, on the other hand, was absolutely precious, often heartwarming (and at times heartbreaking), natural and inspiring. It’s normal that this relationship may mend together well, because Ralph’s towering build, that may remind viewers of Donkey Kong, and then Vanellope’s figure that looks like a miniature Princess Daisy, seems like a father-daughter relationship. Instead, it feels like a real, non-condescending friendship. Not to mention, they are both great characters. Vanellope is absolutely adorable and hysterical, and one cannot help but smile when she comes on-screen. She just offers a needed supporting structure to the general film. These characters, and all others, do great jobs of portraying emotions, even though that isn’t hard to do with animation, but regardless, the viewer still feels what they feel – from inspiration, to loneliness, to excitement, to heartbreak. The characters are each well put together, and have nice backgrounds.

Wreck-It Ralph is the finest 2012 animated feature, (but there isn’t any competition, because surprisingly to me, it’s the only 2012 released animated feauture I’ve seen) and is generally one of the finest and most original of 2012. The only thing I thought of with the coming to life at night is the two Night at the Museum films (and more obviously the Toy Story trilogy), but comparing this to that isn’t exactly fair since they are so different. Disney has delivered us a great film yet again, and mashed two generally loved things together: their acclaimed animation, and video games. I had high expectations for this film, and this really rocked my world.

88/100

We Need to Talk About Kevin – A disturbing and unique experience.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Release Date: September 4, 2011 (First U.S. Festival Release Date)

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Stars: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller

Runtime: 112 min

[I’ve written about this over at http://themovieguideblog.wordpress.com/, but I wanted to post it on here, too!]

This film is wonderfully adapted from a fairly overlooked novel of the same name, by Lionel Shriver.

Eva (Tilda Swinton) once had a nice job and a good life, until Kevin (Rock Duer, toddler; Jasper Newell, 6-8 Years; Ezra Miller, Teenager) came along. Eva has seemed to resent Kevin ever since he was born. She has struggled to love her child because of the strange and constantly vicious things he does. And her husband, Franklin (John C. Reilly), is completely oblivious to Kevin’s actions, stating that he’s only a typical boy doing what young boys do. The recent “incident” though, won’t help her situation, and ultimately haunt both her and the community.

The general plot is really good, not extremely memorable, but really good; the real memorable aspect of this film is the way that it is told. The timeline is both past and present, but it’s done very well so you won’t get lost often.

The only flaw the film possesses, and the reason I can’t give it a perfect score, is the beginning. It’s not that the beginning is completely bad; it’s just that I hardly knew what the hell was going on. It’s only like that for the first ten minutes, though; and then I started to adjust and understand what was going on.

 W.N.T.T.A.K. offers a stylish low-key disturbing experience. The psychology of it is pretty fascinating, too. The whole nature (genetics) vs. nurture (environment one grows up in & one’s experiences) psychology theory works well into here; because Eva was into that whole drug crowd when she was pregnant with Kevin; and he grew up in an environment where he felt unloved by his mother and his father was oblivious to his actions, and he used the “Hey, buddy” approach.

The storytelling was interesting, and disturbing too, because some scenes hinted at what he [Kevin] did but you couldn’t tell for sure, and he was in a juvenile detention facility so you could definitely tell it was bad. Some of it was shocking, too, and it was definitely effective. Eva also stayed in the town because she felt she was somehow responsible for Kevin’s actions, even with all of the hatred shown against her after the incident; yet, she still faced it. Henceforth, suggesting she’s a strong-willed character; despite her constant fright in the community. She is also beautifully performed by Tilda Swinton, in the finest performance I have seen her in, and she’s another actress who has been overlooked for an Oscar nomination (boy, it was a good year for performances).

I liked how the film was ambiguous of who the antagonist was. Some people may feel that it was more the mother’s fault, and she just wasn’t trying hard to enough to love or appreciate Kevin; and some would have felt that the antagonist was Kevin because he was just so increasingly vicious. I felt Kevin was more the antagonist here, but Eva did offer antagonistic traits, too.

John C. Reilly played Franklin really well, because his voice makes him seem like the nice guy. The character may have been generally oblivious to the surroundings, and he was used well in this flick.

Don’t be mistaken by the cover art, it may look like it passes itself off as a horror flick, but it isn’t. It has thrilling elements though, but it is mostly a dramatic and disturbing flick. The film is definitely often Omen-esque; but it is effective, and I felt Kevin was even creepier than little Damien from those Omen flicks.

I also very much recommend you check out the Behind-the-Scenes of KEVIN special feature (if it’s available to you). It adds further insight onto the film and the character and mind of Kevin. I thought it was really interesting.

The film stars Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Rock Duer, Jasper Newell, Ashley Gerasimovich (as Eva and Franklin’s daughter, Celia) and Siobhan Fallon.

 W.N.T.T.A.K. is a low-key disturbing experience; that offers a great and memorable story. The direction offered by Ramsay is great, and has made me interested to check out her other projects. It definitely is my favourite lower budget film of 2011, and is my favourite disturbing and deeply thematic 2011 film (that I can think of). It’s really quite thought-provoking, and offers a unique experience that really should be checked out.

90/100

– Daniel Prinn