Saturday, November 6th, 2004
Nightmares By The Sea
The Jeff Buckley documentary Amazing Grace: Jeff Buckley will make its Toronto debut at the Bloor Cinema on November 17 at 9:30 PM. Admission is just a non-perishable food item. The film has just started making the rounds on the film festival circuit, having screened at CMJ, Woodstock and Leeds. Check out this Rolling Stone piece for some background on the doc, which looks at the legacy of Jeff Buckley and investigates how it was that an artist with only one proper and modestly successful album managed to become so revered and influential – after all, the man’s name has become an adjective for every has (or thinks they have) a soaring, acrobatic voice.
It’s funny, I really enjoy Jeff Buckley’s stuff, but I can’t abide any of his copycats. Usually when I hear someone described as ‘Buckley-esque’, it means histrionics, drama-queen antics and self-indulgent warbling. Hell, even Buckley learned to rein things in and use his voice to serve the music instead of the other way around – compare restraint displayed on Grace versus the occasional over-the-topness of Live At Sin-e. Just because someone has the pipes doesn’t mean they have a clue how to use them properly.
So I finally got around to watching the Van Helsing DVD I won last week, and you know what? It wasn’t awful. In fact, I actually found it enjoyable for what it was. I think the key was that it was exactly the film it wanted to be, and that was a cheesy, campy, low-budget, old-school monster flick. It actually feels, no doubt deliberately so, like an old James Bond flick only set in the 19th century, and with rapid-fire crossbows instead of a Walther PPK and Dracula as the villain instead of Blofeld. Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale are both quite dashing and easy on the eyes as the monster-fighting heros and Richard Roxburgh is quite possibly the least fearsome Dracula to ever grace the screen. The Wolfman is fairly rote – there’s not much you can do with a character whose only dialogue consists of variations on, “Raarrrrhgh”, but the take on Frankenstein’s monster is a good one.
Comparisons to The League Of Extraordinary Gentleman are to be expected (“hey, how does one cheesy Victorian-era monster flick measure up against another?”) and I’d say Van Helsing fares better if for no other reason than there is no reference point for which it can be measured as a disappointment. I will complain that it seemed to hedge itself a little too much. Not enough jokes or self-awareness to function as a satire, not enough depth to be any sort of character piece, not enough money to offer up more than passable special effects, not enough creative action to distinguish it in that category. And not enough naked Kate Beckinsale (none at all, actually. Alas). The only thing there was too much of was too much of was running time – two hours plus is way too long for such a slight film. Oh well, it gave me something to veg out in front of last night. And it didn’t cost me a cent.
np – Pavement / Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe