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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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Dead Fish: A Review by Nate Hill

  

There’s a minefield of British gangster flicks out there, riding the colourful wake of Guy Ritchie’s output, and similar fare. Some are solid, and some blow up in your face with mediocrity when you come across them. Dead Fish falls somewhat in between those two reactions. On the one hand, it’s slick, visually adept, well casted and for the most part acted and knows how to set up a stylized scene. On the other hand, parts of it are silly, incongruent to the piece as a whole and kind of.. Shitty. It’s both a good bad movie and a bad good movie, and I know that doesn’t give much of a concise picture or really tell you whether to watch it or not, but too bad, that was my conflicted reaction. Gary Oldman, in one of his last loopy performances before he reigned it in, plays Lynch, a lively assassin with an unstable personality. He jumps from contract to contract, until a beautiful girl (Elena Anaya) catches his eye, and he’s struck with alarming and slightly creepy lovesickness for her. She’s got an American boyfriend (Andrew Lee Potts, who almost brings the film toppling down with his shoddy acting) who is on the run from violent loan shark Danny Devine (Robert Carlyle, frothing at the mouth like a pissy little windup toy). Lynch collides with them all including Pott’s stoner buddy (Jimi Mistry always looks like he needs to pee really bad and he’s waiting for them to say “cut”). It’s not super clear what Oldman’s character objective is besides going off on a freaky bi-polar tangent as he pursues his perceived dream girl and seems ready to forsake the high paying hitman job he seems so comfortable in. Nevertheless it’s fun to see him run around shooting people and being a mental head, and no one can do that like our Gary. The plot thickens, or rather becomes unintelligible, when two secret spy operatives are brought in by some agency to.. do…man I don’t even know. Billy Zane is a weird loony toons caricature as Virgil, a stuffy old spook with a plummy upper crust accent and some… wardrobe issues. He’s paired with Eastern European psycho Dragan (the always excellent Karel Roden) and the two literally spend their portion of the film bickering, cat fighting and squabbling, having actually no real interaction or function with the plot. Oh well, they’re amusing if nothing else. There’s also a brief appearance from Terence Stamp, who classes up the affair as Samuel Fish, a shady businessman with a vaguely coherent part to play in the madness. It’s all very strange and seems assured that it knows what it’s doing and where it’s going, even if at times the audience has not a clue. On the plus side, this is the only film I can think of where you can behold Gary Oldman break out into a musical number whilst tied down by a 250 pound S&M hooker. Yikes. Keep your ears peeled for a sonic little score from Groove Armada as well.