New arrivals this week include the thriller Edge of Darkness, starring Mel Gibson; the debut of Doctor Zhivago on Blu-ray; the action-horror hybrid, Daybreakers; plus a look at the amusing horror-comedy mashup, Lesbian Vampire Killers.
Edge of Darkness
Starring: Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Bojana Novakovic, Shawn Roberts
Director: Martin Campbell
Director Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale has been regarded as one of the best James Bond films ever made. The film gave long-time Bond fans a reason to love the series again, thanks in part to the gritty story that focused more on the 007 agent than his gadgets.
In Campbell’s latest, the director sticks to familiar territory with a film remake of his 1985 BBC miniseries of the same name which stars Mel Gibson as a Boston detective working to unravel a conspiracy surrounding his 24-year-old daughter, who is killed outside his home.
Thinking at first that the killer meant to murder him, detective Thomas Craven uncovers clues that suggest something much bigger is happening, and his daughter somehow got caught in the middle. Investigating government corruption and collusion with a powerful corporation, Thomas begins to understand that his activist daughter may have gotten herself involved in a conspiracy that people were willing to kill to protect.
Facing off against a secret government agent, played Ray Winstone, who is working to cover up all traces of the conspiracy, Thomas will ultimately do anything to find all the answers he is seeking. As a man who feels he has nothing at all left to lose, he will kick ass, take names, and ignore all the rules if it means he can solve the riddle that took his only child from him. At the same time the film is firmly rooted by Gibson’s heart-worn performance, which is tinged by grief, sadness, and defiance.
Marking a return to form for Gibson, who has had very few noteworthy acting roles in recent memory, I ended up liking Edge of Darkness a lot, despite the fact that I expected the worst. It’s a legitimately clever thriller, but I do have some complaints, particularly aimed at director Martin Campbell. Primarily, the film feels like a step backward for Campbell and lacks the finesse of Casino Royale. It still a dependable thriller, and I give a lot of that credit to Gibson who fills this role, from mourning to shooting up a speeding car that’s about to run him over.
On Blu-ray, Edge of Darkness looks especially good, thanks to cinematographer Phil Meheux’s keen eye and use of Boston as a location for the film. Special features include deleted scenes, making-of featurettes, a look at the director and Gibson, plus the prerequisite digital copy of the movie. Overall, a good package, and an above-average thriller by a director who still manages to hold his own.
Doctor Zhivago [Blu-ray]
Starring: Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Alec Guinness, Tom Courtenay, Siobhan McKenna, Ralph Richardson, Rod Steiger
Director: David Lean
There are very few films in the history of cinema like director David Lean’s epic adaptation of writer Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago.
The five-time Academy Award-winning film, which was originally released in 1965, wanders through Russian history leading into the 1917 revolution, and the subsequent civil war, all told from General Yevgraf Zhivago, played by Alec Guinness, as he searches for his half-brother’s illegitimate child in the 1950s.
Revisting the history of the war with great detail, the film is rich with film-defining performances by Guiness, Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, and Tom Courtenay. It’s a historically grounded story that rides the politics of the era, with an intense human story layered throughout.
While Lean is due a lot of credit for how well the film plays out, even all these years later, Robert Bolt’s award-winning screenplay deserves a huge amount of credit, as does cinematographer Freddie Young’s awe-inspiring work, the costumes, set design, and art direction. Particularly notable is the fact that the film looks perfectly at home in the heart of Russia, but was actually filmed completely in Spain.
At just over 3 hours, Doctor Zhivago is a dense drama that will not appeal to everyone, but it’s a must-see for movie lovers who have never had the opportunity to see it. I’m not sure it is really meant to be seen on a television, as it feels like a big screen epic to me, but it looks nearly perfect on Blu-ray.
Features in the re-release include a number of previously produced extras, with a couple of brand new offerings. My favorites includes the commentary with Steiger, Sharif, and director Lean’s wife, Sandra, the hour-long making-of mini-documentary, and the feature dubbed A Celebration, which looks at the impact of the film with a number of modern filmmakers.
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Michael Dorman, Claudia Karvan, Sam Neill, Isabel Lucas, Vince Colosimo, Paul Sonkkila
Director: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Set in the year 2017, Daybreakers begins a number of years after an epidemic turned the population of the world into vampires, leaving a very small number of humans alive and in hiding. As the vampires go about their lives — drinking coffee topped up with blood, working after sunset, driving cars that have day-time shades to keep the sun out — humans have become a precious commodity and blood is starting to get scarce. Captured humans are held in a bank-like facility where they are constantly drained of blood, but there just aren’t enough humans any more.
As the blood shortage starts to have an effect, Edward Dalton, played by Ethan Hawke, is doing his best to come up with a synthetic blood substitute for the company he works for, which also happens to be a “blood bank”. Recognizing the danger the vampire world is in, should the blood supply dry up entirely, Edward has another problem in that he refuses to drink human blood unless he absolutely must, which is starting to take its toll on him.
A chance encounter with a small group of humans, led by Audrey, and played by Claudia Karvan, changes everything for Edward though, and gives him a new opportunity to free humanity. Taken to meet the leader of a local group of humans, Edward is introduced to Lionel, otherwise known as “Elvis”, played by Willem Dafoe, a former vampire who discovered a way to become human once again. The implications of this are of course astounding to a man who can’t live with himself as a vampire, but as he strives to find a way to recreate the process on himself, the group will have to defend themselves from Edward’s boss, Charles Bromley, played by the one and only Sam Neill.
With a strong beginning and end, and more than a few great action scenes, Daybreakers does enough differently that it is incredibly enjoyable. The cast is also quite good, especially since they are mostly all playing characters they have done before. Hawke has played this depressed, enigmatic, and brainy role before; Dafoe is a natural as the charismatic weirdo; and Sam Neill simply radiates evil from every pore in this rare opportunity for him to play the entertaining villain.
The problem with Daybreakers is that writers and directors Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig missed a lot of opportunities. The dialogue is adequate at best, and ridiculous at other times. The film’s overall tone is flat and mostly depressing, but not in a stylish way that might be more appealing, and for all the ingenuity in Daybreakers’ setting, most of the film plays out like your average survival film.
Even the well-timed themes in the film, which seem to touch on the recent economic crash, and the oil marketplace, seem toothless, if you’ll excuse the pun.
For genre fans, Daybreakers is fun and dark, and just gritty enough to make it worth the price of admission. A few truly original scenes also stand out from the rest of the film, as when Edward tests his latest round of synthetic blood on a vampiric soldier. Overall though the film was a little too half-baked for me, and I think most filmgoers will see it for what it is: another vampiric retread that needed more than just a clever setting.
Lesbian Vampire Killers
Starring: Mathew Horne, James Corden, Paul McGann
Director: Phil Claydon
Lesbian Vampire Killers: the name kind of says it all, and yet for a modern B-grade horror/comedy, it’s actually a lot of fun.
Mathew Horne stars alongside James Corden as Jimmy and Fletch, two almost-losers with nothing better to do than to go on vacation to escape boredom, and potentially hook up with some girls. Randomly choosing the tiny village of Cragwich, the duo are caught by surprise by the fact that they’re actually falling into step with the final steps in a long-standing curse.
Many years ago, Jimmy’s very distant forefather killed Carmilla, the Lesbian Vampire Queen, but not before she cursed the family’s bloodline, and promised her return from the grave when the last male of the blood line visits Cragwich and meets a virgin.
Now, Jimmy is about to fall into the lesbian vampire’s trap as he and a group of girls find themselves surrounded by blood-suckers with nowhere to run. If he’s lucky though, one local priest might help him fight off the curse and save the day.
Filled with goofy one-liners, brief nudity, gags and action reminiscent of Army of Darkness or Shaun of the Dead, Lesbian Vampire Killers is much better than the title suggests, but it’s far from hilarious. It is rather amusing though, well made, and worth renting one afternoon when you have nothing better to do, it’s just too bad the film misses so many big opportunities to be sexy, funny, and action-packed.