Darke Reviews | Dracula Untold (2014)

Amongst my nicknames is Vampire Princess. My license plate says VAMPRE, I have well over 100 books involving, about, or otherwise tied to vampires. So to say I am an aficionado of all things vampire is an understatement. I’ve been reading about them since I could read. I have a moral (amoral?) obligation to watch any vampire film that comes to the silver screen. This means I see it all, even Twilight and Vampire Academy. When I saw the trailer for Dracula Untold I had a feeling about this film, but knew I would be seeing it anyway.

First time film director Gary Shore must have impressed Hollywood with the career he made directing commercials before to get this job. He is working with a script by first time writers Burk Sharpless (seriously…that’s his name) and Matt Sazama. The trio of novices have crafted a different origin story for our famous voivode. Dracula actually has more remakes and interpretations than any other character ever and this time, they focus on the conflict between the people of Transylvania and the looming shadow of the Ottoman empire. I realize now as I write this, the overall plot is very similar to 300 with the vampire aspect thrown in. They do some interesting things with the principle characters and the entirety of Act III was rather enjoyable. The dialogue is often corny but the actors do their best to deliver it within the serious tone the movie tries to keep.

From an acting standpoint much rides on Luke Evans as Vlad. I actually like Evans. I’ve seen most of his filmography – Clash of the Titans, Three Musketeers, Immortals, The Raven, No One Lives, Fast & Furious 6, and of course most recently as Bard in the Hobbit films. He is an action star and though his range is fairly limited he does some pretty good things with that range. This time he does carry the film and has to go from loving father and husband, to monster, to protector, to monster again. He wears righteous rage so well in this movie and still shows that he is learning to chew scenery. Co-star Charles “Tywin Lannister” Dance, is a master of it. I couldn’t stop giggling or making Vampire The Masquerade/Game of Thrones comments under my breath watching him. Sarah Gadon as Vlad’s wife Mirena brings a smile to my face in nearly every scene. Just when I think she will fall victim to so many annoying tropes, I remain surprised. Dominic Cooper (Howard Stark in Captain America) must have been cast from his time playing Saddam Hussein in the Devil’s Double.  The casting call must have been “we need a white guy who can pass as middle eastern.” “Hey can we get this guy?”. I am not saying he is a bad actor by and stretch, but there’s some whitewashing going on here in the casting and that I cannot approve of on some moral grounds.

On a technical standpoint. Is the Bat scene from the trailers ridiculous? Oh by all the New Gods and Old and the Lord of Light YES. It doesn’t make it any less cool looking. The transformation to bat and the uncovering of his vampiric powers are well handled and honestly do look really cool.  They are used effectively, practically, and rather coolly through each fight sequence. The camera work is good. The CG is not god awful. The vampiric reaction to silver and sunlight is handled in a way I haven’t seen before and enjoy what I saw. Music by Ramin Djawadi didn’t help with the Game of Thrones links in my brain. The pacing is really well done and there’s little fat on this movie.


Let me be absolutely clear. This is not a good movie. Historical inaccuracies, geographic inaccuracies, costuming inaccuracies, the premise, and story all  combined present a rather silly reinvention of the Dracula films.

At the same time, it is also absolutely enjoyable. I was laughing. I was engaged. I was entertained. I probably wasn’t supposed to giggle through the first few minutes of the final act, but that doesn’t take away the fact that I was. I was getting more and more angry the longer the film went on during act I and finally realized that I need to stop taking this seriously. I had to stop expecting that there would be *any* similarity to real history beyond Ottomans and Vlad being in it. Once I embraced what the movie was doing I truly began to enjoy it. I like what it adds to the Dracula Mythos and vampires in general.

I even look forward to potential sequels from this. How strange is that?

So should you see it?

Well. If you want a silly fun actiony vampire movie? Yes. This is one of those beer and pretzels movies. It BEGS for it.

If you want a solid Dracula film, like we got with Oldman? Um No. just no. Save your money for halloween candy or something.

Darke Reviews | Need for Speed (2014)

Well, that was an experience. A few reviews back I talked about movies that were better than they had any right to be. Let’s talk for a moment about one of them before I get into this one.

Smokin’ Aces.

This movie has an amazing cast of actors and actresses you know now and in some cases didn’t know then. It has so called A-list actors and at the time some true unknowns like this guy Chris Pine and some other schmuck named Ryan Reynolds. It has a plot that’s so convoluted its Tarantino-esque but is simple and honest at the same time. It knows what it is, tries to be more and actually succeeds. It has beautiful action you get to see, character driven moments that work incredibly well and ridiculous moments that make you wonder what the director was smoking at the time. It ties together almost seamlessly and you need to watch every moment for fear of missing something. To steal from that overblown director Nolan, “it has the ending we need, not the ending we want.” Actually thats a lie it has both the ending we want and need. Even the alternate ending while bad ass isn’t as epic as what we get. We need more movies like that.

Avoid the sequel its garbage.

Need for Speed is *not* that level of greatness. Let me get that out of the way now. It is, however, better than it should be. I really don’t know how. I’ve seen all the films that can be seen as inspiration to it in the last decade and a half; such as Fast and Furious (all), Torque, Gone in sixty seconds (yes I know its a remake), Death Race(another remake I know). I’ve seen some of the older films that drove this particular film (no pun intended), Bullit, Smokey and the Bandit, Mad Max and the Wraith (hey I reviewed that one). They loved Bullit enough to show it on a drive in during this movie. Yes, I noticed a movie I hadn’t seen and still knew what it was. Steve McQueen is that iconic.

Back to the point, the movie draws its inspiration from all of these sources and of course the video game that truly it is actually based on from EA games. The plot is as thin as they get and if you blink you miss it, but has a nice working man’s quality to it that I think the writers were able to bring. John Gatins (Coach Carter, Reel Steel, Flight) and I can only assume his brother George (this is his only writing credit), clearly have a love affair with the movies I mentioned. They gave us the working class family that Fast and Furious did, they made them fun and a little interesting.

The story revolves around Tobey Marshall (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul) a young man who inherits his fathers garage and is trying to make ends meet for him and his friends. He gets involved with someone he knows he shouldn’t in an attempt to make things comfortable for that adopted family. Things of course go wrong. When he finally gets out of prison he manages to get himself entered into an illegal race against his archrival Dino Brewster (Captain America’s Dominic Cooper) run by an eccentric millionaire (Michael Keaton).

One thing that can be said is director Scott Waugh knows how to shoot action. After giving us Act of Valor a few years back, Stunt Man turned director knows a thing or two about making a shot look good. Apparently it doesn’t matter if its a car or a man he shoots it well. He lets his actors have their quiet moments and then ramps the action. I was never into cars as a girl, I was all about jets and naval ships. That said his decisions on cars were truly works of art. I was surprised to know some of the makers and models here, the Shelby of course being a beautiful standout. Granted I know for fact Ford pretty much paid for this movie to be a commercial for the mustang. I accept that. I don’t mind movies marketing to me when the product placement makes sense.

Now, obviously we need to talk about the acting for a moment. Whew. Ok. So. Um. I’ve never seen Breaking Bad, so I don’t know what Aaron Paul is capable of but based on the fans of the show it was more than this. This had the amazing disappearing /reappearing accent. An apparent inability to look anyone in the eyes directly or talk above a mumble. I know that he may have been trying to channel some of those iconic drivers of the past but it mostly comes across silly. Dominic Cooper who did an amazing job in the Devils Double possibly suffered brain trauma or his contract said screw subtlety. The word villain is pretty much tattooed on his forehead. Rain Malek (Twilight Breaking Dawn, Oldboy), Ramon Rodriguez (Battle Los angeles, and the thankfully short lived Charlies Angels), and Scott Mescudi (aka Kid Cudi) play Marshalls friends. Each one is surprisingly different and interesting. There’s enough banter and charisma between them that I felt like I was watching actual friends.

Then there is Imogen Poots (Fright Night, Centurion) as Julia Maddon who is surprisingly fun in her role. I acknowledge the fact she’s the female stereotype for the modern car film. In the 60’s to 80’s the idea of a female driver who could keep up with the guys was all but anathema. Now when she gets behind the wheel and shows she can hold her own it is the new stereotype. Death Race and Fast and Furious both give us this new “strong” female who is into cars and can handle them. She’s beautiful and car smart, if only she was a character unto herself and not just the new fantasy for the boys. I will however, take the victory in that we do have a strong female who isn’t just eye candy and thank them for taking steps in the right direction. Imogen brings the right amount of charisma to it to make it work and is generally more interesting than Paul.

There isn’t much to talk in the technicals. The cars are beautiful. The stunts are clean. The pacing is hit and miss and when it runs a little long in the tooth some times you feel it. There’s a few editing tweaks where I can tell they are shooting at different times of night and day within what is supposed to be the same shot, but thats really the worst of it. Where there is CG in the races, its exceedingly clean and I will again thank them and move on.


This thing won’t win oscars. It also isn’t razzie worthy either. It actually tries to be a little more than fast cars doing insane things on the road. It doesn’t always succeed but certainly tried with a lot of heart and that definitely gives it some mileage over most of the garbage we’ve been fed this year. The Heart is important folks and surprisingly this one had it.

The movie overall is “Ok”. I was entertained more than I expected, but I went in expecting the worst (Hercules) and got something better. I smiled few times and was for the most part entertained.

If you were the least bit curious, see it for budget pricing, matinee at most. The 3D is cute, but not worth it. Otherwise, it can wait for Redbox and Netflix.

The truly best I can say is it was not the crime against humanity that was expected.


Depending on the weekend I may be able to get a Veronica Mars review in later. I should have my digital download from the Kickstarter soon. If not next week you get Divergent, Hollywood’s next attempt to bank on the teen novel genre.