Five vampire films that deserve your attention

I realize that many folks at this point have declared that the land of the vampire movies has been a little over saturated as of late, likely leaving people to wave a hand and sigh, “Another vampire movie? Ugh”.

Possibly for that very reason, some high quality stories have been told that unfortunately, but not surprisingly, have flown under the radar.

So in honor of it being October 1st,  I would like to share with you several vampire films that, in my humble opinion, are worthy of your time.

Gemma Arterton as Clara in Byzantium

Gemma Arterton as Clara and Sam Riley as Darvell (on the right)  in Byzantium

Byzantium

Byzantium focuses on the story of Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronin), a vampiric mother and daughter duo who have spent most of their long lives on the run from those who wish their kind extinguished. This isn’t your typical vampire vs. vampire hunter story though as Byzantium does something unique in how it deals with both gender and class disparity as well as doing some fresh and visually arresting in its take on the vampire transformation process.

While Byzantium has some great performances by Arterton and Ronin, it also has the added weight of a wonderful supporting cast in the way of the immensely talented Caleb Landry Jones as well as the intensely nuanced Johnny Lee Miller and the reserved yet charismatic Sam Riley.

With a June 2013 limited release in the U.S., it’s not surprising this film didn’t garner much in the way of box office success. It’s almost as if the studio said, “yeah, it’s a vampire movie, why even bother promoting it, people are tired of vampires”. Or maybe they just didn’t think American audiences would gravitate towards it. Whatever the reason was, it’s disappointing that this film didn’t receive the coverage and attention it deserved.

At the time of this post, the film is currently available on Netflix streaming in the U.S.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is one of those very simple yet effective films. Shot entirely in black and white, we follow the residents of a ghostly Iranian town called Bad City where a young female vampire resides. A little bit Noir, a little bit spaghetti western and a whole lot of atmosphere makes this an intriguingly melancholic ride. A quiet movie in terms of dialogue;it is enhanced by its atmospheric and haunting soundtrack, with a little bit of Iranian New Wave sprinkled in.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the debut film by Ana Lily Amirpour, who both writes and directs. Amirpoir’s style is such that nearly every frame seems to be shot so thoughtfully that they could inhabit the walls of any reputable art gallery. Or at the very least, I’d put them up in my living room.

At the time of this post, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is available on Netflix streaming.

tangier-morocco-in-only-lovers-left-alive Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive centers around two long separated vampire lovers, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) . When we meet up with the pair, we watch as Eve spends her nights wandering the streets of Tangier as well as procure blood and conversation with long time vampire buddy Christopher Marlowe. Adam, being a bit of a recluse, stays inside his beautiful yet decaying Detroit home to work on his music with only the occasional visit from his assistant/rare item procurer, Ian (Anton Yelchin).

While Eve finds joy in almost every aspect of the world; Adam is consistently pained by the progress of human life. So Eve reunites with Adam in “his wilderness.” All seems good with the pair as we watch the two lovers reconnect until Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) crashes the party.

If you’re looking for violence and flash, this isn’t your movie. What Only Lovers Left Alive is, is a beautifully brooding story about life and the never-ending struggles of change. Lovers is filled with rich atmosphere and just the right touch of cynicism with help from its masterful soundtrack.

Ethan Hawke in Daybreakers

Ethan Hawke in Daybreakers

Daybreakers

Of all the films on this list, Daybreakers likely has the highest production budget of the bunch. Despite its financial heft it received very little in the way of promotion and was released nearly two years after its initial completion.

Starring Ethan Hawke and Willen Dafoe, Daybreakers takes place in the not-to-distance future where vampires are the dominate species. All is not well for those who are higher on the food chain as food supplies, i.e. healthy humans, are low in numbers leaving the world with a very hungry and irritable populace.

One of the most remarkable things about Daybreakers is the very beautiful and pain staking efforts of its cinematography. Spanning from city-scapes to the serene countryside, the film makes the effort to capture some extraordinarily striking scenery along with an eye-grabbing color palette. This is evident early on in the film’s opening scene.

What We Do in Shadows

What We Do in Shadows – Jermaine Clement, Taika Waititi and Jonathan Brugh

What We Do in the Shadows

I’ve written about this film in a previous post but thought, as one of the few truly funny laugh out loud vampire comedies in recent memory, it deserved to be mentioned again.

Shadows centers around three centuries old vampires, Viago, Deacon, and Vladislav as they deal with the struggles of practicality in the modern world in their New Zealand home. The film features Flight of the Conchords star Jermaine Clement along with Boy director Taika Waititi and Tangwai actor Jonathan Brugh.

As I’ve previously stated, “What We Do in the Shadows kept me, along with my fellow movie goers, in an almost constant state of laughter. Much of the film’s success is owed to its ability to blend classic horror tropes with modern day pragmatism. We watch as vampire Viago is frustrated with his flatmates’ refusal to “lay down some newspaper and towels” before drinking of their victims after ruining his couch. “The red one?”, they ask. “Well, NOW it’s red!” he replies. Later, Viago inadvertently displays why this seemingly practical approach doesn’t do much to enhance the ambiance of an evening’s blood-lust as he awkwardly attempts to woo his unwitting victim.”

Simply put, if you like your horror mixed with humor (or vice versa) this is a must see film.

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Looking for female superhero merch? Here’s a helpful list!

WeLoveFine's Age of Fashion Clothing line for women.

WeLoveFine’s Age of Fashion Clothing line for women available at WeLoveFine.com 

It’s clear to anyone who follows this blog that I’m a huge fan of Marvel, both the films and of course, the comics. There is however, one major problem I have with the unfortunate direction Marvel continually seems to go towards in regards to both their films and merchandising.

Before I get into that, I would like to first acknowledge the wonderful job Marvel has done with its comics, showcasing some wonderfully well-written female-lead titles such as Black Widow, Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, She-Hulk, Elektra, Storm, Angela, A- Force and Spider-Gwen. My criticism is rooted mostly in an unfortunate trend happening with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its merchandising.

While I do believe that the MCU does include some very intelligent, strong and complex female characters, the problem lies in the fact that they, and their fans are often underrepresented. Plot points aside, what I’m getting at is the lack of availability and promotion that has been given to both their female characters as well as their female fanbase.

Upon a few of my recent trips to Target Stores, I have ended up leaving the store rolling my eyes because the toy aisle, despite its huge Age of Ultron banners and end cap displays, have repeatedly failed to include both images and toys of Black Widow or Scarlet Witch. Yes, Hawkeye isn’t always on everything but I think it’s safe to say he’s most certainly included on far more.  A similar story can be said for Gamora’s representation when Guardians of the Galaxy was being heavily promoted. We can have a raccoon and a tree, but apparently, not a woman.

On a similar note, I recently visited several stores in search of girl superhero onesies for a baby shower that I was attending. While I found a plethora of options in the little boys section, the girls’ section was a veritable wasteland and was instead filled with princess after princess. It’s a similar story when comparing the t-shirt offerings in the men and women’s departments (thankfully though, there are far less princess items in this situation). While I have found, on rare occasions, a few in-store items from time to time, it certainly hasn’t been easy and the pickings have most certainly been slim.

All hope is not lost though!

HerUnivese and Hottopic's Marvel fashion line.

HerUnivese and Hottopic’s Marvel fashion line.

I’ve decided to compile a list some great websites and companies where female fans and fans of female heroes can actually feel overwhelmed rather than underwhelmed with their choices:

1. Her Universe – As per their website bio, “Her Universe is the vision of Ashley Eckstein, actress and voice of Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and The Araca Group, a leading theatrical and brand management company. Founded by Eckstein in 2009, Ashley and Araca created Her Universe with the mission to create stylish, fashion-forward merchandise for female sci-fi (and comic) fans. Her Universe is a place for fangirls to step into the spotlight and be heard, recognized and rewarded. ”

2. WeLoveFine – WeLoveFine is another website that while selling merch featuring male heroes and men’s fit apparel, also has an amazing selection of female hero merch and merch made to fit females.  Be sure to check out the amazing dresses!

3. Hottopic – Mall staple Hottopic has certainly upped their game over the last year to offer up some great items including a limited edition clothing line teaming up with HerUniverse focusing on the Avengers and Loki. Sadly though, those items look to be nearing the end of their stock (due to the immense popularity) but Hottopic has also featured a healthy amount of tshirts in women’s fit that include Black Widow.

4. Funko Pop – While the options are severely limited when it comes to the official Hasbro action figures, FunkoPop offers plenty of female character options including Gamora, Thor’s Lady Sif, Nebula, Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, two versions of Black Widow, and more!

5. TeeFury – TeeFury has been a major player in the shrinking of my wallet. While they originally started with an ever changing daily tee option, they have since expanded greatly to offer a wide variety of female characters and always with a women’s fit option. I have them to thank for my many Agent Carter t-shirts as well as a few Black Widow and Spider Gwen ones as well.

Additionally, I’m happy to see that DC is focusing on a line of products on young versions of their heroines with DC Superhero Girls which is features the “unprecedented Initiative to Include Digital Content, TV Specials, Made-For-Videos, Publishing, Toys, Apparel and Other Products”.

If you know of any other inclusive sources for geek female centered merch, please leave a link in the comments!

Let's hope Marvel fixes this soon....or else. ;)

Fix this soon….or else. 😉

Till next time folks!

Review & Commentary: Marvel’s Ant-Man

Marvel's Ant-Man..Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal.. Marvel 2015

Marvel’s Ant-Man. Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal. Marvel 2015

Be forewarned. There will be some mild spoilers. 

Last night I attended a screening of Marvel’s Ant-Man along with my usual movie going crew which included a very intense yet lovable Puppet Loki, at the recently remodeled Regal Webster Place Theater in Chicago.

I really didn’t have very much background knowledge of Ant-Man or his world going into this film, a fact that I feel only helped me to enjoy it that much more. While I understand that Marvel Studios isn’t going to follow the comics exactly and has on many occasions taken liberties with their characters’ origins and adventures, it’s difficult to not be disappointed when ones favorite elements are removed. Due to this unfamiliarity, it was a refreshing change of pace walking into a Marvel film having very little in the way of specific expectations.

Unlike The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man is a much smaller film (no pun intended…okay well maybe a little). By smaller I mean a simpler, more straightforward and focused film. Granted, Ultron dealt with a much larger cast with an extensive backstory while also mixing in origin stories for newer characters as well as a complex villian, so a little messiness is to be expected to a certain degree.

The immediate draw for Ant-Man, aside from it being a Marvel Studios film, because let’s face it, Marvel pretty much has a super-powered hold on my wallet for as long as they make these movies, is the charming Paul Rudd. Rudd (who must be a vampire of some sort because seriously, does he even age?!) plays the Robin Hood-esqe Scott Lang who after just being released from a three-year stint at San Quentin Prison tries to live a burgle free life in an attempt to be a part of his young daughter’s life. However, as he sadly and quickly learns, not everyone is thrilled to hire an ex-con.

Lang soon finds himself, along with his best friend Luis, played by the hilariously perfect Michael Peña and his wise-cracking heist crew, back in the game. It is not long before Lang encounters world renowned scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and finds himself thrust into the responsibilites, powers, and history surrounding the Ant-Man suit.

Ant-Man is typically at its best when Lang is working with his crew who are the film’s very effective and entertaining comic relief and one can only hope we see more of them in future Marvel Studio films.

Evangeline Lilly as Hope Van Dyne in Marvel's Ant-Man. Photo: Marvel Studios

Evangeline Lilly as Hope Van Dyne in Marvel’s Ant-Man. Photo: Marvel Studios

*Spoiler Alert concerning Hope Van Dyne*

Comic relief aside, Evangeline Lillys Hope Van Dyne is a quite the scene-stealer herself, as a complex and confident woman who refreshingly does not get damseled. Throughout the film, Hope repeatedly pleads with her father to let her don the Ant-Man suit but alas, due to the death of her mother, her father does not yield in his stance. While the fact that we don’t get to see Hope in full-action mode is frustrating, Hank Pym’s motivation is understandable and the impression is never given that his stance on the subject is due to the belief that his daughter isn’t skilled or intelligent enough. It comes down to the fact that she is his only family left and he just can’t bear to risk it.

Hope repeatedly shows that she is more than capable on many levels and is a welcome addition to Marvel’s roster of complex, intelligent and strong female characters. However, I feel the need to state, Black Widow’s multiple contributions aside, it has been long overdue for more of these ladies to suit up and lead the fight in these films (Captain Marvel just can’t come soon enough!!!).  That being said, the mid-credits scene gives me hope for Hope’s future (hehe), because Marvel, it really is “about damn time”.

Aside from Lilly, Ant-Man also features the immensely talented but consistently under utilized Judy Greer who has already experienced a very similar placement in this summer’s Jurrassic World in which she is once again, the protective mother who scolds others for their behavior.

Corey Stoll as Darren Cross a.k.a. Yellow Jacket in Marvel's Ant-Man. Photo: Marvel Studios

Corey Stoll as Darren Cross a.k.a. Yellow Jacket in Marvel’s Ant-Man. Photo: Marvel Studios

Aside from Greer’s unfortunate typecasting, other room for improvement in Ant-Man comes in the way of its villain, Darren Cross a.k.a. Yellow Jacket played by Corey Stoll. Though Stoll does a solid job at playing the unhinged cold hearted antagonist, perhaps a little more insight into his history with Pym and emotional motivations would have made the villain’s presence more captivating and memorable.

Overall, Ant-Man is a fun, focused and refreshing entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe that benefits from its separation from the events currently unfolding in its other films while still managing to maintain a few small connections (seriously no pun intended that time!) .

What did you think about the film? Share your likes and dislikes in the comments, but please, always be respectful.

Till next time folks!

Review: Dawn – A short film by Rose McGowan

Dawn: A Short Film Directed by Rose McGowan

Dawn: A Short Film Directed by Rose McGowan

Rose McGowan has acted in a wide range of cinematic and television work throughout the years. One of my earliest memories of McGowan was her appearance as Amy Blue in the 1995 feature length, The Doom Generation where two troubled teens connect with a wayward drifter and themes of sex, violence and alienation reign supreme. From that point on, McGowan’s eclectic acting career was something that consistently stayed on my radar.

After many roles ranging from indie to mainstream, McGowan finally releases her directorial debut in the form of Dawn, a short film written by M.A. Fortin & Joshua John Miller. Dawn in many ways, continues the aforementioned themes of sex, violence and alienation, though in a much subtler context.

As we meet the titular character, played by Tara Lynne Barr, we are brought into a world of seemingly welcoming color yet saturated in loneliness as the teenage Dawn listens to the “teachings” of her mother who states that “There are certain things a lady must not ignore when it comes to pleasing a man. Taking care of her looks, being easy going. It’s the way of the world.”

This recurring message becomes the primary force in Dawn’s decision making as she navigates her first sexual awakening. The mixed messages that Dawn receives from her family and society only help her to both simultaneously follow and disregard her mother’s advice. Despite the film’s 1960s settings, it’s not difficult to see that Dawn is a response to the contradictory and exhausting pressures young girls and women currently face.

Scene from Dawn. Credit: Blackdog Films

A Ssene from Dawn.    Photo Credit: Blackdog Films

It’s clear that McGowan chose her settings thoughtfully as every scene manages to invoke a feeling of discomfort whether we are sharing a quiet moment in Dawn’s home or during the films intensely climatic final moments.

McGowan herself describes the film as “a cautionary tale” and further elaborates that “We hurt girls with casual negligence. We change the course of lives with a stereotypical view shared thoughtlessly. We shape the minds of the innocent. Let’s think different and be better.”

Dawn is a strong debut film filled with focused themes, unsettling beautiful cinematography and understated yet effective acting from a relativity unknown cast.

Here’s hoping McGowan and her team have more stories to share.

Haven’t see Dawn?

Watch it for free online now via Rose McGowan’s Official YouTube Channel and share your thoughts in the comment section!

Film Review: What We Do in the Shadows

What We Do in the Shadows

What We Do in the Shadows – Directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi

I very rarely go to the theater these days to see comedies. It’s not that I don’t want to laugh. I love a good comedy! However, with movie prices being what they are, I find that my theater funds often go towards more visually elaborate films and I usually leave the more minimal films for at home viewing.

However, when I encountered the trailer for a documentary style vampire comedy called What We Do in the Shadows, I was immediately sold. Theater prices be damned!

Luckily though, despite its limited release, it was playing at one of my favorite (and affordable) movie spots in Chicago, The Logan Theater. So I contacted my usual movie going posse and off we went into the night!

The premise of Shadows centers around three centuries old vampires, Viago, Deacon, and Vladislav as they deal with the struggles of practicality in the modern world in their New Zealand home. The film features Flight of the Conchords star Jermaine Clement along with Boy director Taika Waititi and Tangwai actor Jonathan Brugh.

Deacon, Vladislav and Viago

Deacon, Vladislav and Viago

What We Do in the Shadows kept me, along with my fellow movie goers, in an almost constant state of laughter. Much of the film’s success is owed to its ability to blend classic horror tropes with modern day pragmatism. We watch as vampire Viago is frustrated with his flatmates’ refusal to “lay down some newspaper and towels” before drinking of their victims after ruining his couch. “The red one?”, they ask. “Well, NOW it’s red!” he replies. Later, Viago inadvertently displays why this seemingly practical approach doesn’t do much to enhance the ambiance of an evening’s blood-lust as he awkwardly attempts to woo his unwitting victim.

As the film progresses through a series of hilarious and impeccably-timed macabre meets mundane scenarios, one of our vamps turns a victim into one of their own. They must then deal with the pitfalls of life with a newbie vamp such as poorly executed attempts to fly through their second floor window or bragging to just about everyone they encounter that he is now a vampire.

While the film does turn to gore-tactics from time to time, its spot on delivery creates a reaction of genuine laughter rather than disgust. At least that seemed to be the general consensus during my screening.

For someone like myself, who will typically watch almost any supernatural offering, What We Do in the Shadows was a truly vibrant and refreshing take on the horror, comedy and documentary genres.

Not sold yet? Watch the first six minutes of the film on YouTube!

Trailers! Trailers! Trailers! (My top trailers of the moment)

I love watching movie trailers. I often find myself going to Apple trailers and just clicking through anything that sounds even remotely interesting (and somethings that don’t) as I sit there for potentially unhealthy amounts of time. The last month has been an exceptionally great time for trailers (in my humble opinion) and I can only hope the feature lengths can keep up the same sense of awe, humor, terror and/or excitement their bite sized counterparts do.

So without further ado, grab some popcorn and feast your eyeballs (not ON your eyeballs. Ewwww)…

Crimson Peak in which Guliiermo Del Toro gives us a Goth Tom Hiddleston.

What We Do in the Shadows in which vampires live together and hilarity (and awkwardness) ensue.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron (TV Spot #2) in which everything is truly awesome.

Barely Lethal in which “Sansa Stark” FINALLY gets to kick some ass.

Mad Max: Fury Road in which we witness a violent desert ballet and Charlize Theron continues to amaze.

Any trailers got you pumped? Post a link in the comments!

Film Reviews: Boyhood and Wild

As much as Academy Awards nominations are likely built upon Hollywood politics and a lot of arguments can be made for and against its overall legitimacy, I do enjoy awards season as it gives me a nice little checklist of films I might not normally see (I like checking things off lists. It fools my brain into thinking I’m being productive).

Last weekend, I saw Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and Jean-Marc Vallee’s Wild at Chicago’s Logan Theater (located at 2646 North Milwaukee Avenue).

First up, Boyhood.

boyhood

The most fascinating and impressive aspect of Boyhood lies not in its story but rather its unique cinematic achievement of filming the same actors over the span of twelve years. While the story feels genuine, had the same film been shot using different actors for the various time periods, the film would have been substantially less compelling. That’s not to say that it wasn’t well-written, in fact despite the film being called Boyhood, it manages to create realistic and moving depictions of growth for most of its main cast.

Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and the film’s young lead Ellar Coltrane, took on quite a challenge jumping into and out of these roles through various emotional stages, ages,weight losses and gains in their lives. Despite the potential challenges of filming these actors at various stages of their lives, the performances appeared to be very fluid played seemingly with ease.

In tackling such a tremendous length of time, the film does suffer from the occasional fatigue that can happen with a three-hour film. Leaving one to wonder not long after the film’s first two hours, what marks the end of one’s Boyhood or childhood in general (at least in Linklater’s mind).

This will likely be the film to sweep the awards ceremony on February 22nd.

Secondly, Wild.

banner-wild-film_1

Wild focuses on the emotional and physical journey of the real life Cheryl Strayed. A young women who, after the loss of her mother, fell into a downward spiral of anger, depression, sex and drugs. After reaching her personal rock bottom, she embarks on the rigorous three month journey of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

Initially, I was concerned that this film would go the narcissistic, over-privileged and self-indulgent path that was Eat, Pray, Love. However, the film deals with real loss through an intensely gritty lens. Unlike Eat, Pray, Love, the point of Strayed’s (Reese Witherspoon) journey lies in her searching for solutions by confronting the very thoughts she’s been fighting so hard to ignore rather than relying on the mystical idea that someone or somewhere else has all of life’s answers ready for the taking.

While Strayed does encounter an interesting and sometimes scary cast of characters on her journey, the heart of her excursion remains movingly introspective. The stylistic directing choices of overlapping audio and visuals from different time frames help to enhance the film’s often frantic, visceral and dark themes. While Wild itself was unfortunately not nominated for Best Picture or Best Director, Witherspoon’s Best Actress nomination is a deserving one.