New this week:
Dracula Untold—It’s hard to believe that there are any versions of the Dracula myth that remain untold. There have been earlier origin stories—the slightly underrated Dracula 2000 offered a particularly audacious and amusing one, for instance. But this may just be the first Dracula movie to suggest that the Count embraced vampirism in a spirit of noble self-sacrifice.
Set in the 1400s, Dracula Untold depicts Vlad Dracula, played by the pleasantly studly Welshman Luke Evans, as a gallant warrior-prince who loves his waiflike wife (Sarah Gadon) and his stouthearted son (Art Parkinson). Sure, he used to be called “Vlad the Impaler” for his treatment of his enemies, but now he just wants to protect his beloved Transylvania from the Ottoman Turks, by whom he was enslaved as a Janissary when he was a boy. He’s a reformed impaler, you see.
When the Turks show up at his castle, in the middle of Easter dinner no less, demanding, along with their usual monetary tribute, a new legion of boy slaves including Vlad’s own son, the Prince takes to a mountain cave where he once had an encounter with an ancient, desiccated vampire (Charles Dance). This old fiend gives him vampiric powers sufficient to bedevil the Turks, and if he can refrain from slaking his thirst for blood for three days, he’ll become human again, no harm no foul.
Everything goes smoothly. Vlad, family and country live happily ever after.
Just kidding. All manner of melodrama ensues. It’s about as historically convincing as a Ren Faire, but then, unlike life probably was in actual medieval times, Ren Faires can be fun.
So, despite a few missteps, is Dracula Untold. Some of its flourishes are grandly over-the-top—Dracula doesn’t just turn into a bat here, but a whole swarm of bats—and all are unembarrassed. At one point a groveling character says “Yes, Master”; at another a character flings back his head and howls “Nooooo!” These clichés are executed with no apparent irony, and the audience snickers a little. But we keep on watching.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day—If you’ve seen Steve Carell’s encounter with the very fake-looking kangaroo in the TV ads, it’s understandable if you’re dreading taking your kids to this movie. Not to worry, Disney’s adaptation of Judith Viorst’s 1972 children’s book favorite is nothing special, but it’s a lot better than its own marketing makes it look.
Alexander, the third of four kids, undergoes various humiliations and social catastrophes on his 12th birthday, and so do his older siblings and parents. Jennifer Garner and Steve Carell are funny as his impatient working Mom and his unemployed, doggedly optimistic Dad. Ed Oxenbould has an everykid naturalness as Alexander, Dylan Minnette is his confident older brother, and Kerris Dorsey, wonderful as Brad Pitt’s daughter in Moneyball, is his theatrical older sister. I liked how they didn’t mindlessly bicker; without pushy sentimentality, the ensemble manages to suggest a loving family.
Plenty of the gags in Alexander don’t work, but plenty do, and director Miguel Arteta sets a relaxed pace and tone that allows the charm of the actors to get across. And the Disney-ish atmosphere isn’t too oppressive—this is, at any rate, the first Disney movie I can recall with an overt penis joke.
The lesson that Alexander arrives at, of course, is that any day among loved ones in which nobody ends up at the morgue or in the hospital or in jail is a wonderful, beautiful, not bad, very good day. You can’t start teaching that soon enough.