Tag Archives: David Wenham

Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing

Who loves the Hugh Jackman Van Helsing flick? I know plenty who hate on it pretty bad but they’re looking at it from too serious a perspective. This comes from Stephen Sommers, the same horror filmmaker to bring us stuff like The Mummy, Deep Rising, GI Joe and the 90’s Jungle Book with Cercei Lannister. This guy is in the industry to make films for fun and if you were expecting the subtlety and restraint of horrors like the source material he draws from well, jokes on you. His Helsing is a splendidly entertaining cornucopia of horror mythology given a juiced up boost of contemporary style and plenty of gothic, mist soaked atmosphere.

Jackman’s Van Helsing ditches the creaky old man archetype for something more virile and torqued up, careening around London like a steampunk Indiana Jones and sporting enough gnarly gadgetry to take on Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman in one film, which coincidentally he does. He’s sort of half sanctioned by the government but the London police force resents his far out methods, especially in a stunning opening romp as he chases Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (a scene stealing Robbie ‘Hagrid’ Coltrane) across rooftops and edifices like a supernatural parkour death match. Then it’s off to Transylvania to do battle with the big bad Vamp King himself, played to melodramatic, emo perfection by Richard Roxburgh. There’s a loose plot involving Dracula wanting to use Dr. Frankenstein’s corpse revitalizing technology to bring his unholy offspring to life, and as such his work poisons the land, pisses off the locals and prompts sexy monster hunter Kate Beckinsale to call for Helsing’s help. It’s an off the rails theme park ride of splatter effects, wild performances and extended chase sequences all over the land. Jackman makes a stalwart antihero, while Beckinsale looks amazing in leather and is surprisingly convincing as an Eastern European. David Wenham provides comic relief cast against type as Van’s trusty clergyman sidekick and the cast is rounded out by Shuler Hensley as The Monster, Elena Anaya, Will Kemp and Kevin J. O Connor as Igor in a cool black and white prologue that serves as the one sequence paying homage to these horror roots.

This was never going to be an awards season darling but it’s nowhere close to as bad as people say. Any film that has all three iconic monsters in it (plus quite a few others too) is going to have a lot to juggle and will just feel chaotic by default, but Sommers handles the pandemonium quite well and knows how to spin an absorbing popcorn yarn. There’s plenty of drop dead gorgeous landscape cinematography given the appropriately macabre touches, monsters running all about the place to give horror fanatics their fix and enough action to spawn a whole video game franchise. My favourite part is where Dracula’s babies finally hatch in spectacularly gooey fashion from Alien style eggs and start swarming the landscape like demonic infant bats. That sequence alone is worth the price of admission and showcases the kind of gung-ho, all or nothing spirit of horror adventure filmmaking offered here. Love this film.

-Nate Hill

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Garth Davis’s Lion

True stories like the one Garth Davis’s Lion is based on always make affecting films, but with this one they’ve done something really special. Using narrative pacing to make the passage of years feel tangibly real, being as minimal with emotional swells to let the actors tell the story in long, careful takes and evoking meticulous mood of time and place for both India in the early 80’s and present day Australia, both vividly captured. The story this is based on is something of a miracle: One day a young boy called Saroo from a poor farming village in rural India gets separated from his brother while buying supplies, ends up on the wrong train and is carried half across the giant country to a region he doesn’t know. Lost, scared and alone, he sets out as best he can to get by, but it’s a big scary overpopulated country and fairly soon he slips through the cracks into the social services system and ends up orphaned. The beauty of the film is in its structure and pacing; for almost half of the film we see this playing out as he’s a young boy, one long hypnotic passage of time that puts you in a trance until you feel like you’re right there beside him through all of it. Flash forward twenty years or so, he has grown up into a young man played by Dev Patel, and has been adopted into a new home half across the world in Australia by a kindly couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). Given a fresh start and a new life, he has become a successful, smart young scholar with big dreams and a bright future. Except he never, ever forgot his tiny village somewhere out there in India, and the mother, brother and sister he left behind. “I’m not from “, I’m lost” he hauntingly tells his girlfriend (Rooney Mara, excellent) who does her best to help him. So begins a complicated, frustrating and determined search to find the tiny village he once lived in, and his family. Using google earth and a host of other resources he’s able to trace his roots and the dangerous journey he took as a child, memories of which have come flooding back to him as he grows older. It’s an extraordinary story, beautifully acted and told with grace and spirit, anchored by Patel’s earnest portrayal of real life protagonist Saroo Brierley.

-Nate Hill

Zach Snyder’s 300: A Review by Nate Hill

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Tough. Muscular. Operatic. The very definition of epic. I remember sitting in the theatre during Zach Snyder’s 300 and being just floored and knocked flat on my ass by the violence, spectacle and music on display, and that was just the first ten minutes. It’s a historical war film unlike any other, and like it’s sister film Sin City, it jumps right off the boldly crafted pages of Frank Miller’s novel with all the movement and spirit of a motion picture, while still retaining the fluidity and distinction of a comic book. The sheer force of it will trample your senses into glorious oblivion, whisking you away for two thunderous hours of sound, fury and unrepentant battle. Like any sensation of the week, it gained haters who claim it isn’t the winner everyone’s says it is, or that it hasn’t stood the test of time. They’re either trying to go against the grain to be the ‘cool minority’, or they’re just negative nitpicking nellies. No matter. In 300’s case, they are resoundingly off key whenever I hear them bash it, and just dead wrong. It has stood the test of time, a process I measure by the ebb and flow of my desire to watch older films again and again. I often revisit this one, and marvel at it anew each time. The story follows the battle of Thermopolye, in which three hundred well trained, ridiculously combat savvy Spartan men faced off against a Persian army numbering near a million, led by their arrogent weirdo of a king, Xerxes  (a very scary Rodrigo Santoro). They do this to protect their land and their people, a splinter group of sorts that takes up arms when the Spartan senate refuses to act. The battle is a relentless storm of blood, arrows, decapitated limbs, howling barbarians, wanton carnage and mass slaughter. It doesn’t feel half as savage or heavy as my description sounds though, thanks to the poise and purpouse of the narration penned by Miller, and the extravagant, thought out choreography that includes a whole lot of beautifully satisfying slow motion that has become Snyder’s trademark tool. Love it or hate it, I think it flairs up an action terrifically, especially ones as chaotic and hellbent as these. The Spartans are a wonder to see in action, virile death dealers with a full bore love for the heat of combat and a blatant, cavalier attitude in the very face of death. David Wenham is a force of gravity as Dilios, who provides the rousing narration and kicks ass as Butler’s second in command. Butler makes a commanding Leonidas, his presence everything that you’d want to see in a king, from nobility, to necessary belligerence, to an overwhelming love for his kingdom that is present in every step, every spear throw, every furious war cry. A cheeky Michael Fassbender and Vincent Reagan round out the platoon nicely, and they all have wicked cameraderie that makes their bond in battle stronger. Lena Headey is fiercely attractive and devilishly competent as Queen Gorgo, with a love for Leonidas and their son that cuts through the brutality and gives it purpouse. Dominic West goes against type as Theron, a sniveling, traitorous bitch boy of a Senate member who aims to usurp Sparta and send everything to high hell. The cast goes on with memorable turns from Peter Mensah, Robert Maillet and the legendary Stephen Mchattie. Composer Tyler Bates churns out a score that soars, scorches and bellows forth a primal auditory symphony. This was Snyder first flexing his muscles after his visceral remake of Dawn Of The Dead that barely hinted at the wonders in his career to come. Here he presents a staggering visual aesthetic that he would go on to use in his masterful adaptation of Watchmen, the sadly misunderstood, excellent Sucker Punch, and his DC Comics films which are unbelievable. It all started here with flash and flourish, a jaw dropping sword and sandal typhoon of a film that will give your adrenal gland a workout and your sound system a good old thrashing. In a word: Epic.