Monday, October 26, 2009

First Impression: Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant

This is the first look at the 2009 film, directed by Paul Weitz, and based on the books written by Darren Shan. Now, if you tried to look for the Darren Shan books on the blog you’ll have noticed an absence of them.

In truth I have only read the first book – though I have the second as it was given to me as a gift for the collection. Why haven’t I read the second or bought any more of the series? Because I was singularly unimpressed with the first book. Badly written, was my first impression, lacking in any kid to adult nuance was my second. I was left so cold by the first volume that I had no desire to read further. Walking into the cinema I had no preconceptions based on the book, indeed I was so unimpressed by the first book that I couldn’t even remember the storyline.

Actually, that isn’t entirely true. I had two preconceptions. Firstly, that the film surely couldn’t impress me less than the book had and secondly… well my second preconception, scrap that - it was more a dread, came from a still I had seen and… to be fair we’ll get to that soon enough…

So, we have a tale of Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia), a straight A student and his wilder best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson), who seems to lead Darren astray. Together they go to the Cirque Du Freak – a freak show visting town and… well here came my dread in the form of Madame Truska, played by Salma Hayek – a bearded lady. I mean, come on, you have Salma Hayek in your film and you stick a beard on her! That said other assets were nicely displayed and the beard seemed to be grown and shorn at will (except, distressingly, when turned on and then it appeared) but even so it seemed… well, regular readers will already know of my Salma obsession.

Anyway they see an act which kind of appeals to both of them. The act involves one Larten Crepsley (John C Reilly) and his spider Madam Olga. Now, Darren has a thing for spiders and Steve a thing for vampires, and Steve just so happens to recognise Crepsley from a picture in a vampire book. As the outraged moralists of the town shut the show down, the boys creep backstage and are separated. Steve asks to be made a vampire, but Crepsley refuses – the boy has bad blood. Darren steals Olga. However, when she subsequently bites Steve he has to go to Crepsley and ask for the antidote to her poison. Crepsley offers to give it if Darren becomes half vampire and his assistant.

After this Darren has to die, be buried and dug up but Steve realises what has happened and is intercepted by Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris), a man who wants to start a war between the vampires and the vampaneze. The difference between the two? Vampires do not kill (to feed), they can release a gas in their breath that knocks humans out and then take a small amount of blood (from the shoulder). The vampaneze drain the human and kill them.

The plot most probably veers away from the books – I wouldn’t know but, after book 1, this is probably no bad thing. However, bearing in mind that this is a kids film, I really rather enjoyed this. It was certainly better than some of the big screen vampire excursions this year. I was particularly taken by John C Reilly’s performance that, to me at least, was reminiscent of Gene Wilder (in particular his performance as Willie Wonka, believe it or not). I should also mention that Nick Cave and the Bad Seed's Red Right Hand gets on a soundtrack, again, but that's just an excuse to mention Nick Cave.

However, perhaps the last word should go to my 12 year old son – as he really is the target audience – who left the cinema extolling the virtue of the film, not too subtly suggesting he wanted the DVD when available and explaining that it was “much better than Twilight”... as they say, out of the mouths of babes…

The imdb page is here.


Gabriel said...

Hey Andy,

Not sure when that movie comes out in Oz, but it's on my radar. So it spans more then the first book? I haven't read the books and don't think I will, but you still think it's enough for us old fellas to enjoy :)

I was wondering if it was a lite version of Hammer's VAMPIRE CIRCUS?

Oh, I fully understand your Salma obsession, I almost had a heartattack when she walked onto the screen in Desperado...

You've got the love children, I laughed at that Twilight barb, it's a surprise that they don't get to write reviews for movies etc due to their honesty.

Actually come to think of it, I'd like to read a guest review of your son of what he thinks of this movie compared to Twilight :p

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Gabriel - from what I can gather it (very loosley) covers the first three books.

It is a kid's film but it is also the fourth vamp film I have seen at the mainstream theatre this year. It was more worthwhile than Rise of the Lycans (as RotL seemed a pointless exercise as we knew the ending), it was more interesting than Blood TLV (which itself was boring) and it was better than lesbian vampire killers (which was dire, though pretty).

As for us old fellows, well I enjoyed the experience today - not as much as some films this year (Watchmen, Zombieland, star trek, coraline, inglorious basterds... god its been a good cinema year) - but I also had the school half term and child excuse! ;)

I really couldn't say it is a Vampire Circus lite, story wise, and to be fair it can't compete with that Hammer gem quality wise.

David and a guest review... hmmm... don't know if I could drag his carcass of the X box long enough for it to be written... ;)

Zahir Blue said...

A dear friend of mine saw this film and loved it.

Your son's name is David? Huh, that is my real name...

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Zahir, David is a good name... his grandad, also a David, thinks so also.