Vampires


Vampires

Don't you just hate getting lipstick smeared all over your face when you kiss? Wait a minute that's not lipstick...

(2010) Mockumentary (IFC Midnight) Carlo Ferrante, Vera Van Dooren, Pierre Lognay, Fleur Lise Heuet, Paul Ahmarani, Alexandra Kamp-Groeneveld, Julien Dore, Batiste Sornin, Thomas Coumans. Directed by Vincent Lannoo

If vampires are to survive in the world they must by necessity keep well-hidden. For one thing, people would panic if they knew there were superior predators living amongst us, indistinguishable from our neighbors. For another, the panic would lead to genocide as humans have a vast numerical superiority; no, vampires benefit from secrecy.

Which makes a documentary about their society all the more puzzling. After several aborted attempts (when camera crews got invited into vampire enclaves and ended up being the main course), a film crew finally got placed with a vampire family in Brussels.

Vampire families are a bit different than humans. For one thing, they can’t procreate sexually (although they have plenty of sex). Children are brought into a vampire family by turning young people into vampires. However, vampires don’t age once they are turned so turning children is frowned upon – instead it is usually teens and youngsters who are turned.

This particular family’s patriarch is Georges (Ferrante), an old school bloodsucker who is a bit spineless in a lot of ways. He adheres strictly to the code of conduct set for vampires going back centuries from the first vampires. His wife Bertha (Van Dooren) is a bit more bloodthirsty but she’s a bit of a hausfrau as well. She and Georges make a good match.

Their kids are a bit of a problem. Grace (Heuet) is tired of her immortality and wants to be a normal human, going so far as attempting to kill herself on a regular basis. Since vampires can’t be killed by ordinary beings, the attempts are pretty laughable but still she perseveres – you have to admire her tenacity. Samson (Lognay) is, like many men his age, the libido of a 16-year-old. Of course, he’s considerably older – he’s 55 but he looks like he’s in his mid-20s. That leads him to a transgression that threatens the family’s stability.

Of course, vampires don’t really exist but that doesn’t mean they don’t make for an entertaining mockumentary. Belgian cinema hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, but good films in a similar vein have come from that country before – see Man Bites Dog – and this one works very nicely. There is a very tongue-in-cheek sense of humor here that is occasionally unexpected, hitting you like a ton of bricks. For example, the vampires have human secretaries who take care of their daylight needs and occasionally serve as an alternate food source in case of an emergency – these are normally vampire fetishists who long to be immortal and hope to be rewarded eventually.

Their food supply are mostly immigrants and runaways – people who won’t be missed and who are kept in a pen out in the backyard. In all other respects however this is a normal suburban family with all the problems and issues that beset most modern families. Making that modern family vampiric adds an extra dimension and adds to the humor but it also allows the filmmakers to comment on those very issues without pointing the finger at society in general or suburbanites in particular.

I was rather surprised by this movie in that it I hadn’t heard virtually anything about it. So far as I know it got no US theatrical release and has mostly played the festival circuit in Europe. I caught it on the Sundance Channel here and so this might be rather hard to hunt down but it is definitely worth it, particularly those who love vampires and don’t mind poking gentle fun of themselves and vampires in general – and suburbanites. Definitely them.

WHY RENT THIS: Tongue-in-cheek funny. Nice idea and well-executed.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Drags on a bit.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some bad words and some depictions of bloodletting and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Honestly? Couldn’t find any.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Animal Kingdom

African Cats


African Cats

These African Cats are just a bunch of cheetahs.

(2011) Nature Documentary (DisneyNature) Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey

Nature can be a harsh mother, one whose life lessons are sometimes cruel and at other times beautiful. The world that the predator cats of Africa exist in is one that is exacting, but one in which the devotion of a mother is as fierce and beautiful as it is in the civilized world.

Layla is an aging lioness, a fierce hunter and mother to Mara, a female cub. She lives on the South bank of a river as part of the River Pride, presided over by its only male, Fang. Like Layla, Fang is a battle-scarred warrior who is beginning to show the signs of his age.

Sita is a fearless cheetah, one who is bringing up five cubs alone, as is the nature of cheetahs. They live on the Northern bank of the river. She is trying to teach her children the necessities of survival, something that is not always easy with children, especially when she has to contend with hyenas, a sometimes scarce food supply and also the lions of the region.

Kali is the father of three strapping young male lions. He rules the Northern bank of the river and now seeks to expand his territory south. He must bide his time during the rainy season as the river is crocodile-infested, but as the summer arrives and the waters recede, he moves south to take on Fang. At stake are the lives of the cubs, all of whom will be killed should Kali take over; he will then father new cubs with the lionesses. The battle for survival has begun.

As with the annual Earth Day DisneyNature documentaries, the animals are heavily anthropomorphized, the most of any of these documentaries yet. Jackson, in his spirited narration tells us what the cat moms are thinking, feeling and planning, giving them human responses to situations that might not mirror what a big cat is thinking, feeling or planning. Some of these emotions and thoughts that are ascribed to the felines can be extrapolated from their actions but others are most certainly all invention. I find that bothersome somehow, as if we’re being lied to – which is probably over-sensitivity on my part but still I can’t help feeling a little bit uncomfortable with it.

Certainly their maternal instincts are highly honed and when cubs are missing, they become obviously distraught; when the cubs are threatened, they fight like berserkers, claws and teeth savaging their opponents.

Like all of the DisneyNature documentaries, the cinematography is absolutely breathtaking. Aerial shots of the vast savannah, the river winding through it like a muddy ribbon, thousands of wildebeests migrating through the territory like ants. The close-up shots of the lions and cheetahs going about their business are nothing short of amazing – watching Sita at full speed, her muscles straining for every bit of speed is something any viewer is going to remember for a very long time. It is a kind of savage beauty that serves to further amaze us at the diversity of life on this big blue marble.

However, the harshness of life on the plains makes for a fairly depressing movie. Lions and cubs are horribly injured and killed; they shiver in the rain and bake in the sun. Some become little more than skin and bones as they slowly starve to death.

The temptation to compare this to National Geographic’s documentary The Last Lions is hard to resist. Both movies focus on lionesses struggling to protect their cubs and both feature amazing footage of lions (and in the case of African Cats, cheetahs as well) in the savannah. However, the Nat-Geo film seems to be more concerned with calling attention to the dwindling numbers of wild lions in Africa while African Cats seems more disposed towards telling a kid-friendly story, so you have to give a nod to the other film on that score.

However, I found the Kenya-filmed footage in African Cats more compelling and more spectacular thanks to Fothergill’s well-honed sense of scope. He has also filmed the documentaries Deep Blue and Earth and may very well be the best nature documentarian alive. It kind of winds up as a push.

Disney’s heart is in the right place, using Earth Day to release films about our natural environment and tell stories that are played out in it every day. I don’t really love their need to turn these beautiful creatures into characters as if they should be talking and singing in one of their animated features; the narration should be kept to a minimum in my humble opinion because after all, a picture is worth a thousand words. Pictures like these are worth infinitely more, and those in charge of these wonderful documentaries would do well to remember that.

REASONS TO GO: Gorgeous cinematography of the majestic African plains and its inhabitants.

REASONS TO STAY: The storyline was too anthropomorphized and depressing.

FAMILY VALUES: There really isn’t anything that would cause a parent to give pause in allowing their children to see this.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: An original song by “American Idol” Season Six winner Jordin Sparks, “The World I Knew” is played over the closing credits, as the various animals that appear in the movie are identified in a humorous way.

HOME OR THEATER: The big African vistas should be seen on a big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Mercy (2009)