October 12, 2014

blog 2014 judge poster

Robert Downey Jr is in an unusual position. Regarded for years as a wildly talented actor who couldn’t quite crack the A-list, he finally became a bona fide star when he strapped on the Iron Man armour.

Now, with a number of superhero adventures (not to mention a successful Sherlock Holmes franchise) to his name, RDJ has to re-establish his credibility as an actor.

I object

I object

And is there any better way to do that than a family drama/legal thriller combo that allows him to showcase his cheeky charm and acting prowess?

Actually, there probably is. Because The Judge is a bit of a mess.

Sprawling and unwieldy, this movie is frustrating because it manages to generate a fair amount of good will, thanks to a strong cast and an intriguing plot, before squandering that good will. It then wins some back before frittering it away again.

At the core of The Judge is a potentially compelling tale of personal and professional redemption, but it’s clouded by bad creative decisions and cluttered by unnecessary subplots.

Downey Jr’s Hank Palmer is a hotshot big-city lawyer whose sleek courtroom facade hides the fact that his private life is less than ideal.

The death of his mother sees his return to his small hometown for her funeral, and a confrontation with his estranged father Joseph (Robert Duvall), the local judge.

The Man

The Man

After a brief and painful reunion, Hank is ready to leave and never look back. But then Joseph is arrested in connection with the death of a recently-released convict with whom the judge had an infamously bad history.

The local lawyer Joseph hires means well but is clearly out of his depth, and Hank soon steps in to defend his father.

But between their animosity and anger, the holes in the judge’s story and the efforts of a determined prosecutor (a well-cast Billy Bob Thornton), it’s far from an open-and-shut case.

The Judge’s biggest failing is that it doesn’t trust its audience. Director David Dobkin hammers home every plot twist and emotional beat with little regard for subtlety, and for every time his approach works there are maybe two or three where it just feels heavy-handed.

Yes, I know, we'd all rather be watching this Judge

Yes, I know, we’d all rather be watching this Judge

The same could be said for Downey Jr, who relies on many of his old tricks, some of which are starting to seem a bit old-hat.

However, there are scenes, especially when he has to spar with the talented likes of Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio or Duvall (who is superb here – both intimidating and heartbreaking), when you’re reminded that RDJ can be an actor to be reckoned with.


October 12, 2014

blog 2014 drac poster

I don’t know about you, but I’m automatically inclined to give any movie with lines of dialogue like “My fellow Transylvanians…” or “It’s true! He’s a monster!” the benefit of the doubt.

That’s why I can’t completely dismiss Dracula Untold, a moody, melodramatic revamp (ha!) of the monstrous horror story, even if it’s a fairly run-of-the-mill tale of a man who becomes a bloodsucking beast for all the right reasons.

Kiss Kiss Fang Fang

Kiss Kiss Fang Fang

Back in the 15th century, Transylvanian prince Vlad (Luke Evans from the Hobbit movies) has put his violent past as battlefield brute Vlad the Impaler behind him, wishing only to bring peace to his people.

The villainous Turks, however, are in the business of conquering the world, and they want child soldiers to fortify their ranks, so they’re out to take a thousand young Transylvanians, including Vlad’s young son.

Our hero isn’t standing for that, but he’s going to need supernatural assistance if he wants to vanquish the hordes led by Mehmet (Dominic Cooper, whose copious amounts of fake tan and eyeliner deserve their own screen credit).

Think Coop used whatever bronzer Edgerton didn't use up making EXODUS

Think Coop used whatever bronzer Edgerton didn’t use up making EXODUS

So he ventures into a dark cave inhabited by a vampiric creature (Charles Dance, presumably because Bill Nighy was unavailable for once) and strikes a terrible bargain, sacrificing a piece of his soul in return for the power to singlehandedly fight an army.

I woke up (from the eternal slumber of the undead) like this

I woke up (from the eternal slumber of the undead) like this

There’s a catch, of course: if Vlad can go three days without tasting human blood, he’ll revert to his human self.

Easier said than done, though, because with a vampire’s power comes a vampire’s insatiable thirst…

More a Lord of the Rings knock-off than a spooky horror movie in terms of its tone and style, Dracula Untold works as a perfectly serviceable origin story for a brooding anti-hero (bat-man begins, maybe?) whose bad deeds are balanced by a good heart.

It’s a bit florid at times, but that’s perhaps to be expected given the genre, and the lead actors respond to it with an appropriately hammy sincerity.

Leading the charge is Evans, who has all the necessary attributes for such a role: a gym-built physique, a nice line in pained facial expressions and a raspy, gravelly voice that sounds like he could use a Butter Menthol or two.