Video Verdict: ‘Daybreakers,’ ‘Legion,’ ‘Edge of Darkness’

Ethan Hawke, left, and Willem Dafoe star in the vampire drama “Daybreakers.”

This week’s new video releases include a police drama starring Mel Gibson and two thrillers steeped in the supernatural.

 

Daybreakers
3 stars (out of four)
Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and brief nudity
Lionsgate
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Admit that you like vampire movies these days and everyone assumes you climbed aboard the “Twilight” Express a couple years back. In my case, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m an old-school vampire nut, a guy who was touting the merits of “Nosferatu” (1922) and “The Horror of Dracula” (1958) long before bloodsuckers were cool.

The trouble with vampire films is that so few are actually good. For every “Near Dark” or respectable interpretation of Dracula (think Bela Lugosi), we get a half dozen movies like, well, “Twilight.” Still, I always get a little excited when somebody takes another stab at bringing the undead to life, and with “Daybreakers” some of that excitement remained after the credits had rolled.

Written and directed by brothers Michael and Peter Spierig, the film adds a respectable twist to vampire mythology, and that’s no easy feat. The film is set in the not-so-distant future when a virus has turned the majority of Earth’s populace into bloodsuckers. The few humans left either live on the run or have been placed into coma-like states where they are essentially milked for blood. In fact, the human population is perilously close to extinction, and that’s bad news for vampires, too. They can’t, after all, live without food.

A corporation run by vampire businessman Charles Bromley (a deliciously evil Sam Neill) is working on a synthetic blood substitute, but its chief researcher, Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), hasn’t had a significant breakthrough. He does, however, discover a separate scientific solution that could save both vampires and mankind, but not everyone in the vampire class is keen on that.

Most vampire films stumble in their plotting, but “Daybreakers” is original enough to avoid that pitfall. It’s also well-acted, particularly for a film of its genre. Hawke is strong throughout, and the supporting cast includes Willem Dafoe and Claudia Karvan.

The Spierig brothers could have been more aggressive in their pacing, as the film loses momentum occasionally, but it’s still a reasonably good choice for anyone looking for bloody vampire fun.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of feature, a poster gallery and an audio commentary featuring the Spierigs and makeup effects creator Steve Boyle.

 

 

Legion
2½ stars
Rated R for strong bloody violence and language
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Movies with religious themes are intriguing because they run an above-average risk of offending a major portion of the viewing public. They often come across as either heavy-handed sermons or – even worse – sacrilegious, and that isn’t helpful to a filmmaker trying to attract a large audience.

That considered, who could resist watching a movie about an archangel who disobeys God’s will by descending to Earth, loading up on automatic weapons and vowing to protect a pregnant woman from other angels?

Right out of the gate, “Legion” puts religious viewers in an awkward position. If they root for the Archangel Michael (Paul Bettany), who sets out to protect the aforementioned woman, they are essentially rooting against God’s army. Michael, however, subscribes to the belief that it’s more important to do what God “needs” than what he actually requests. This is an interesting philosophy that seems to argue that God can make mistakes. No?

Personally, I think movies that challenge people’s beliefs – religious and otherwise – are refreshing because they encourage us to think. Unfortunately, “Legion” stops challenging viewers as soon as it moves beyond the setup.

The minute Michael pulls into the remote desert truck stop where his charge works as a waitress, the film becomes nothing more than a bloody and violent action flick. First, Michael informs the few people occupying the stop that God has lost faith in humanity and sent his angels to wreak havoc on Earth. For a never-explained reason, Michael believes he can save mankind by protecting the waitress, and he convinces everyone to help out. That means viewers get to watch as a motley crew of “heroes,” including Tyrese Gibson, Lucas Black and Dennis Quaid, battle waves of attackers. Unfortunately, all this fighting distracts from the most interesting aspects of the story, such as who viewers should actually be rooting for.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include several making-of features.

 

 

The Edge of Darkness
2½ stars
Rated R for strong bloody violence and language
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

In “The Edge of Darkness,” Mel Gibson delivers his first lead performance in a feature film since 2002, and it’s a reminder of what made him a movie star in the first place. Gibson’s portrayal of Boston Police detective Thomas Craven is so solid it will probably make you wish it was in a better movie.

“Darkness” isn’t bad, per se. It’s just not as good as Gibson, and that’s because the plot is so complex that it’s easy to lose track of what’s happening, particularly toward the end.

Things get off to a powerful start when Craven brings his daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic), home for a visit, only to watch as she’s gunned down on the front porch of his Boston home. At first, Craven’s police comrades assume he was the target and Emma was collateral damage. But Craven’s investigation uncovers clues indicating that Emma was hiding a dark secret. The plotting gets increasingly twisty as he unravels the truth, and that’s where things get tricky. Alert viewers should be able to keep everything straight, but it’s not easy.

Adding to the frustration is the film’s ending, which director Martin Campbell delivers at breakneck pace. There’s something to be said for rapid pacing, but Campbell goes too far, rushing past key moments that could have been strengthened by additional screen time. Still, it’s nice to see Gibson back in front of the camera, and his excellent lead performance is shored up by a great supporting turn from Ray Winstone.

The DVD version of the film has no extras. Blu-ray special features include additional and alternate scenes, a look at the miniseries that the movie was based on and a profile of Campbell.

 

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Daria – The Complete Animated Series”: MTV’s popular animated show about teen outsider Daria Morgendorffer is making its way onto DVD for the first time. This set includes all 65 episodes on eight discs.

“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – The Complete Fifth Season”: A young Will Smith starred in this popular 1990s sitcom about a youth sent to live with relatives in California to escape inner-city Philadelphia. In this season, he falls in love and gets engaged. Nia Long, Tatyana M. Ali, Karyn Parsons, James Avery and Alfonso Ribeiro also star.

Larry McMurtry westerns: Two movies with ties to novelist Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” miniseries are hitting the street this week. The first, “Dead Man’s Walk,” is a prequel to “Lonesome Dove” and focuses on two young Texas Rangers who come upon hostile situations during the Santa Fe expedition of 1841. David Arquette, Jonny Lee Miller, Brian Dennehy, F. Murray Abraham, Keith Carradine and Jennifer Garner star. Also out is “Streets of Laredo,” the final story in the “Lonsome Dove” franchise. James Garner plays Woodrow F. Call, a troubled bounty hunter who sets out to capture a fugitive. Sissy Spacek, Sam Shepard and Ned Beatty also star.

“Legend of the Tsunami Warrior”: This magical story takes place in 17th century Thailand where a princess becomes the target of dangerous pirates. She has an army to defend her, but it becomes apparent that only a magic cannon located at the bottom of the ocean is capable of winning the battle, so her allies must try to obtain it. Made in Thailand, the film is presented in Thai and English with English subtitles.

“Tidal Wave”: Korean disaster film loaded with computer-generated special effects. An earthquake in the middle of the ocean sends a massive tsunami toward the resort beach of Haeundae on the south coast of Korea. Vacationers must scramble to escape the impending destruction. Presented in Korean and English with English subtitles.

“Pulling John”: Documentary film focused on John Brzenk, an arm wrestling champion for 25 years. At age 40, John realizes he’s not what he used to be physically. So, he struggles with the big question: Should he retire on top or keep fighting the good fight? Directed by Vassiliki Khonsari and Sevan Mattossian.

 

 

Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com

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1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized, Video Verdict

One response to “Video Verdict: ‘Daybreakers,’ ‘Legion,’ ‘Edge of Darkness’

  1. This comment is independent of WordPress, isn’t it? Interesting. I’ve seen none of the movies of which you speak. Good luck.

    Like

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