What’s up with the current vampire/zombie craze?
Yes, there’s always been interest in the genre and its preoccupation with the dark side of human nature and sexuality — from the books of Bram Stoker and Anne Rice to the movies of Bela Lugosi and George A. Romero to the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. No doubt blood and bare necks and sucking and such will always be alluring, but what is it about this cultural moment in time that has so many geeking out on the idea of the undead?
In just the last year we’ve seen, among others, the campy yet oddly addicting HBO series True Blood; the reasonably effective thriller Quarantine; Korean auteur Park Chan-Wook’s typically overripe Thrist; the stellar Swedish film Let the Right One; the recently released Zombieland; and, of course, Twilight, a mediocre movie that seems to have captured the fancy of every female with access to Tiger Beat, Stephanie Meyer’s source-material series of books and/or the Internet. (Appropriately, dreamy British wuss Robert Pattinson looks like he just walked off the set of The Lost Boys, whether in character or not.)
Now comes Paul Weitz’s Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, a blatant bandwagon jumper that apparently can’t be saved despite a cast that includes John C. Reilly, Salma Hayek and Willem Dafoe. (See Cole Smithey’s review below.) Curiously, Weitz’s brother, Chris, is the guy behind New Moon, the latest entry in the Twilight saga, which is set for a Nov. 20 release and no doubt another round of rabid females who’ll see the movie multiple times.
So, again, what’s up our current undead fetish? Until Malcolm Gladwell tackles it in his next kooky, connect-the-dots book or essay, I’m going to say it has to do with the apocalyptic times in which we live.
Who needs health care or a clean planet or nuclear disarmament when we can live forever on blood and romance?
AMELIA — Hillary Swank and director Mira Nair (Moonsoon Wedding) team up to tell the story of Amelia Earhart (Swank), the Kansas-born aviation icon who disappeared during a circumnavigational flight over the Pacific Ocean in 1937. Given the film’s pedigree (Swank is a two-time Oscar winner, and biopics often give the Academy a boner), it’s curious that Fox Searchlight decided to not screen it in advance for critics. The cast also includes Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor and Cherry Jones. (Opens wide today.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated PG.) Grade: C-
ASTRO BOY — I’m not familiar with the 1960s Japanese cartoon that is the basis for this American retread, but I’m guessing it wasn’t this icky. The only excuse that can be made for Astro Boy is that it obviously has no idea how unsettling it is. Nor how drearily dull it is. That might be a blessing for it, but for not for us. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — MaryAnn Johanson (Rated PG-13.) Grade: D
CIRQUE DU FREAK — Scattershot and comically unbalanced, Cirque du Freak is a wannabe fantasy horror film that feels like it was shot underwater. That Cirque du Freak fails so miserably is a predictable symptom of overreaching greed. If its inevitable failure at the box office helps hasten an end to the mangled vampire genre for kids, then perhaps we can get back to the kind of blood-sucking pictures that give you nightmares rather than headaches. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — Cole Smithey (Rated R.) Grade: C-
GOOD HAIR — Chris Rock searches for the root of black America’s hair fixation is this naptastic documentary. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens Friday at AMC, multiple Showcase Cinemas.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated PG-13.) Grade: B
IL DIVO — Hard on the heels of the acclaimed Gomorrah, Italian corruption gets a much quieter but equally vigorous workout in Paolo Sorrentino’s highly stylized portrait of the country’s most enduring political leader, Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti (Toni Servillo). Teflon doesn’t begin to describe the Christian Democrat who led one after another of Italy’s rapid succession of administrations and survived a major bribery and corruption investigation, while opponents and former allies dropped mysteriously dead around him. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Ella Taylor (Rated R.) Grade: B
SAW VI — Even though Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), the psychopathic puppet master pulling the deadly strings in this franchise has been dead for a few installments now, something about the trailers for the latest torture-porn extravaganza speaks to a return to grisly form for the series. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated R.) Grade: B