Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse

Director: Colin Teague

Released: February 2015

Rated PG-13

Run Time: 97 Minutes

Ben Kingsley: Drago
Julian Morris: Gareth
Tamzin Merchant: Rhonu
Jassa Ahluwalia: Lorne
Jonjo O’Neill: Brude

In the past decade, Universal Studios has released a number of direct-to-video sequels.  Many of them for The Scorpion King.  Quite frankly, none of them were any good.  One of the first DTV sequels that Universal did release was a sequel to the 1996 fantasy adventure film, Dragonheart.  Dragonheart: A New Beginning was….eh.  It wasn’t bad, but it was clearly inferior to the previous film in every way.  The original film was absolutely fantastic.  It was a simple story bolstered by a fantastic cast and crew.  Starring Dennis Quaid, Pete Postlethwaite, David Thewlis, Dina Meyer, and Sean Connery as the voice of Draco, Dragonheart was one of my favorite films of that decade.  It had a simple story, but it was one that had a lot of heart(pun intended).  The most spectacular part of the film was the dragon, voiced by the legendary Sean Connery.  He not only gave the dragon its voice, but also its personality.  So, why didn’t the second film succeed?  Well, given the way that the first film ended, there was no real way to make a sequel unless they wrote around the ending of Dragonheart.  It was also released directly to home video, which is usually not a good thing.  So, 15 years later we get a second sequel: Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse.  How does this one fare?

Dragonheart 3 begins its story at Hadrian’s Wall in Britain with young Gareth training to become a knight under the current and greedy knight-commander.  After refusing to take protection money from a local potter, Gareth is humiliated and demoted.  After learning that a comet had crashed nearby and possibly contained gold, Gareth sets out north of the Wall to find the comet.  Find it he does, but when he tries to crack it open, a dragon appears instead.  Attacked by savages led by the ruthless sorcerer, Brude, Gareth is mortally wounded, but manages to save one of nine dragon eggs.  Impressed by this level of valor, the dragon gives half of his heart to heal Gareth.  The two begin to form a unique friendship in order to battle the sorcerer.  For a direct-to-video sequel, Dragonheart 3 has a lot going on, narrative-wise.  While half of it barely makes any sense, it surprisingly keeps you interested.

There’s actually a good amount of action that permeates the whole film.  There’s some pretty decent sword-fighting going on.  My real issue is that the camera-work sometimes gets in the way.  You have way too many close-ups which really doesn’t help the choreography at all.  The explosions are mostly practical with some impressive pyrotechnics at work.  There is actually not a ton of CG in scenes that don’t involve Drago.  What CG there is, isn’t really bad.  Drago himself is actually fairly impressive, far more than the dragon in the second film.  What good is a dragon without a great voice?  In the original Dragonheart, it was Sean Connery.  In this one, we have Sir Ben Kingsley.  While I don’t necessarily think he’s at the same level as Connery, his voice-work is nonetheless impressive.  He gives the character a noble, yet very cynical vibe which makes the dragon’s interactions with Gareth fairly amusing.  Outside of Ben Kingsley, there isn’t an actor here that I’ve heard of or even made an impression on me.  Jonjo O’Neill, who plays Brude is the mustache-twirling villain of the film.  The guy who plays Lorne is pretty amusing especially when he’s messing around with his spells.  Overall, though, the acting is kind of meh all around.

One of the greatest aspects of Dragonheart was its soundtrack.  While Sean Connery gave the dragon its voice, Randy Edelman gave the film its heart and soul.  It was playful, epic and emotional.  Mark Mckenzie, who also did the soundtrack for the second film, utilizes the best parts of Edelman’s score to great effect.  The original music that Mckenzie did for his film isn’t too bad.  The production values for Dragonheart 3 are decent.  The dragon doesn’t look like a miniature of Draco, like the second movie.

Is the film perfect?  I’ve asked this question many times, and my answer is almost always no.  There are a few problems with The Sorcerer’s Curse.  For one, it’s main villain is hilariously terrible.  Brude is essentially a mustache-twirling villain like I said above.  His motivations for waging war on people don’t go much beyond “I don’t like them, so I’m going to kill them.”  He’s got magic, so that has to count for something, right?  Not so much.  The other “villain” is the knight-commander who “collects” payments from the village that he so “lovingly” protects.  He’s a greedy and back-stabbing scumbag.  He’s not as over-the-top as Brude, which makes him a far more believable villain, so why isn’t HE the main baddie?  The dragon is the best part of the film as far as visual effects go, but even he pales in comparison to Draco from the first film.  Drago isn’t badly animated, the film just lacked the budget to really give the dragon the appearance he deserved.  The story is a hot mess of cliches.  It’s also very predictable.

As far as direct-to-video movies go, you could certainly do worse than Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse.  It actually isn’t terrible.  It isn’t all that great either, but it’s light-years beyond the second film.  They actually put effort into this one.  Ben Kingsley helps elevate what is otherwise a very ho-hum script and plot.  The use of Randy Edelman’s score is actually pretty good.  But at the end of the day, it’s still pretty average as far as movies go.  Aside from Mr. Kingsley, the film just doesn’t have the star-power that the first movie did.  It’s not unexpected as Dragonheart 3 is a fairly low-budget affair.  It’s still better than Scorpion King 4.  It has that going for it.  It’s definitely worth a rental at least.  I can’t recommend buying the Blu-Ray at full price, because the only special feature on the disc is “Bringing Drago to Life.”  It shows some insight into how Ben Kingsley gives the character life, but it’s just fluff at the end of the day.  Rent it first.  Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse gets a 7/10.

The Birth of A Nation

Released: March 1915

Director: D.W. Griffith

Rating: N/A

Run-Time: 3 hours

Lillian Gish: Elsie
Mae Marsh: Flora Cameron
Henry B. Walthall: Col. Ben Cameron
Miriam Cooper: Margaret Cameron
Ralph Lewis: Austin Stoneman
George Siegmann: Silas Lynch

During the very early years of film, namely between the 1890s and 1927, films were silent, with the exception of music.  Early on, films were generally a minute long and had somebody playing a piano off to the side of the screen.  It was a very new invention that spread like wildfire.  Nobody had ever seen anything quite like it.  During the early days of the 20th century, we began to see actual feature-length films with real movie stars.  During the subsequent years and events including World War I, films had been used for propaganda world-wide.  I’m getting ahead of myself here, but the use of film would become extremely important.  One of the earliest feature films is also one of the most notorious in film history: D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation.  Released in March of 1915, The Birth of a Nation was one of the first truly “narrative” films ever created.  But it was also 3 hours long, which was completely unheard of.  It was a Civil War epic.  But the film was notoriously controversial for it’s portrayal of African-Americans during the Reconstruction.

The story of The Birth of a Nation follows two families caught on opposite sides during the Civil War.  I’m not going to really get into the story, because that really isn’t why I’m doing this.  This isn’t so much of a review of a film, as it is an analysis of the effect that the film had on political and racial issues.  This isn’t normally something I would ever consider doing for this website, but considering the film turns 100 next month, I feel it’s the perfect time to do this.  I should tell you that this film is public domain so it is available everywhere, should you choose to view it.  Being a film buff, I had heard about The Birth of a Nation, but had never actually seen it.  I talked to some people, and they had never heard of it.  Why not?  This is one of the most controversial films ever conceived.  The first thing I’m going to do is discuss the film itself and its merits.  Being released in 1915, The Birth of a Nation is first and foremost a silent movie.  No dialogue save the actual text that appears on the screen.  The music is mostly a combination of classical music.  The first thing you will notice is the picture quality.  It’s black and white, has a lot of scratches and artifacts.  This is 1915, so film-making was still pretty rudimentary.  The other thing you will notice is that during certain scenes, the tint of the screen will change color.  It’ll go from a sepia-toned color to red or green or blue.  It did that to really accentuate the mood.  The Birth of a Nation is actually one of the very first movies to do anything like that.  It was also the first to actually use night-shots.  The film was pretty revolutionary as far as filming techniques go.  It’s use of panning camera shots and still-shots had never really been done before.

For a movie that’s a century old, the acting is actually really good.  Lillian Gish’s Elsie and Henry B. Walthall’s Col. Ben Cameron stand out.  Again, this is a silent movie, so all the story-telling has to be done using body language.  Lillian and Henry are absolutely incredible in their roles.  In fact, most of the actors did a real great job.  The only one that really overdid it was Mary Alden as Lynch’s housekeeper.  That was unintentionally hilarious and over-the-top.  Overall, though, the quality of the acting is quite high.  The first half of the film is a Civil War drama with some pretty decent battle sequences.  Again, that’s not something that had been attempted yet.  The second half that tells the story of the Reconstruction is where people start having problems with the movie, and rightly so.  Basically, the film portrays the African-Americans as brutes who are laying waste to the white man’s world in the South.  A few things should be mentioned.  One:  This never happened.  Two:  D.W. Griffith did employ actual African-Americans to star in his movie, BUT, he took a number of his white actors and painted them up to look like African-Americans, poorly I might add.  If you compare the two, it’s very obvious who is actually black and who’s painted.  Our structure is very different from that of an African-American, so I’m not entirely sure how Griffith managed to get away with that.  The technique was used to allow white actors to portray black roles, but it’s known as a very racist technique in this day and age.  The film also portrayed the Ku Klux Klan as good guys and saviors.  The reality was that these guys were terrorists and scumbags.

It is very, VERY obvious that The Birth of a Nation is a racist movie.  There’s absolutely no question about it.  When it was released in 1915, not even 60 years had passed since the end of the Civil War.  Naturally, racial tensions were extremely high.  The NAACP, which was formed in 1909, had attempted to get the film banned.  The film actually caused a number of protests and riots in major cities across the country.  It certainly didn’t help that Nation was largely inspired by the play, The Clansman, by Thomas Dixon, Jr.  That book, combined with The Birth of a Nation inspired a second Ku Klux Klan movement during the 20s.  The Birth of a Nation was also the first movie to be screened at the White House.  The film was clearly historically inaccurate, but that didn’t stop white supremacists from using it as a recruiting tool and propaganda against minorities, mainly African-Americans.  Despite the fact that The Birth of a Nation was revolutionary for its time in terms of film-making techniques, it was also reviled as a very racist picture.  D.W. Griffith was also painted with the racist brush.

D.W. Griffith was born to Mary Perkins and Jacob “Roaring Jake” Griffith in 1875.  His father, Jacob Griffith was a colonel in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, so Griffith was there during the Reconstruction.  He had produced short films before 1910, but The Birth of a Nation was his largest success, but he was frustrated by the criticism that was leveled at him for Nation.  In response, he crafted Intolerance.  He eventually would co-found United Artists with the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks.  Griffith’s legacy is still being felt around the world.  Today, people are still absolutely enraged at the film, and the idea that some people would even consider even playing pieces of it in classrooms.  The fact that a movie like this can still piss people off a century AFTER it was released speaks to the film-making mastery of the man who made it.  From what I’ve read, D.W Griffith had no personal politics to speak of, so I can’t say for certain that he was racist, even though some of his movies clearly were.

While some of today’s films deal with racism in certain ways, none of them were really flat-out prejudicial the way The Birth of a Nation was.  I’m going to be honest here: I think that The Birth of a Nation is a good movie.  Is it enjoyable?  Not particularly, especially if you’re sensitive to racism.  I certainly don’t begrudge people who refuse to see this movie, because it is blatantly offensive.  I look at the film as a piece of cultural history, regardless of its inaccuracies.  It’s a significant film in the way that it pioneered techniques that are used by film-makers all over the world.  It had some really great performances and helped usher in a new era of film-making.  So, from a technical standpoint, it’s an amazing achievement in film.  Narratively, not so much.  The inaccuracies and portrayal of the African-Americans and the KKK are too much to ignore.  I’m not going to give The Birth of a Nation a score, because the film itself and the reactions to it speak for themselves.  There’s really not a whole lot I can say that can do it justice.  The film is in the public domain so you can watch it anywhere for very little, if not for free, but it is also available on DVD and Blu-Ray.  There is also the issue of censorship when it comes to movies like this, but that is another post for another day.

New Alien Movie!!! Confirmed!!

UPDATE – 2/24/2015

As you can see below, the news that there is going to be a new Alien film being directed by Neill Blomkamp has made waves.  Now what’s recently come up, is the direction the film may take.  According to the Alien5-Movie website, veteran creature effects artists Tom Woodruff and Alec Gillis will be involved with the creature designs and effects.  That’s definitely a bonus.  According to some interviews, it seems very likely that Sigourney Weaver will reprise her role as Lt. Ellen Ripley and Michael Biehn as Corporal Dwayne Hicks.  If this is true, and the concept art that we have seen is pointing to this, is that this new Alien film will ignore the third and fourth movies.  There’s no word on whether or not Lance Henriksen’s Bishop character or Newt from the second film will show up.  It’s entirely possible, and I hope it will be the case.  Since this is going to be a Neill Blomkamp feature, it’s very possible to expect actor Sharlto Copley to be involved in some way.  It was Neill Blomkamp that gave us Sharlto Copley in the first place, so his presence can be expected.  What we also know is that Alien 5 won’t be released until after Ridley Scott finishes and releases Prometheus 2.  This very well could be the Alien film that people have been wanting for years.  20th Century Fox is apparently the driving force behind this now, so I’m crossing my fingers and hoping.  If all this is true, we are going to have a lot of happy Alien fans, myself included.

*End Update*

A little while ago, I made a post about some concept artwork for a possible new Alien film.  Well, it has been confirmed by Neill Blomkamp via Variety that he will be developing the next Alien feature film.  I can’t even begin to express how thrilled I am.  It’s unclear as to whether Sigourney Weaver or Ridley Scott will be involved in some capacity, but with Blomkamp involved, this could be really, really good.  Why now?  I’m speculating, but I think Fox is jumping on this for a number of reasons.  One: Prometheus.  It’s a love it or hate it kind of movie, but it did take place in the same universe as Alien.  It had connections to the previous franchise, but it was still its own movie.  The other reason could be the success of the video game Alien Isolation.  I’ve played through that game a number of times, and each time my heart was pounding.  It’s intense and it really captured the atmosphere and look of the original film.  I think Prometheus and Alien Isolation sparked a new interest in the franchise, and I believe that Neill Blomkamp could bring a fresh set of eyes and perspective to a series that has been plagued by problematic sequels(not bad movies by any stretch, but flawed)and two lousy spin-offs.  I remember back in 1994-95 that there were rumors on the World Wide Web(as it was known)about a fourth Alien film.  I kept my eyes on it and sure enough, we got Alien Resurrection in 1997.  That’s nearly twenty years since we’ve had a proper Alien film.

I think the time away from the film franchise could do it some good.  Alien 3 was plagued by the lack of a script and major studio interference.  It got so bad, that the film’s director, David Fincher, ended up leaving the project frustrated by the whole situation.  I’m honestly surprised that Alien 3 turned out as well as it did.  The Assembly Cut of the film was a better film, but it highlighted a lot of issues that the theatrical release had.  Characters showed up and disappeared without any explanation, but the film had really great performances, especially from Sigourney Weaver.  It was intense, brutal and a hell of a ride.  Alien Resurrection suffered from having a very different tone.  The previous films were dark, gritty and terrifying.  Resurrection was a fairly light-hearted affair with a dark sense of humor, yet a very cliched premise.  It was fun, and had colorful characters, but it was too different from the others.  So, what do we know about this new Alien film?  Absolutely nothing at this point.  It just got the go-ahead from Fox Studios, so it’ll be another year or two before we see it.  Is there a possibility that it could bury the franchise permanently?  It’s possible, but I doubt it.  Neill Blomkamp has two fairly successful movies already under his belt: District 9 and Elysium.  His new movie, Chappie is looking to make some serious waves later this year.  This guy knows exactly what he’s doing, and I think it’s smart for Fox Studios to bring him on board.  It’s too early to really say whether this movie will be any good, but I seriously doubt it could be worse than the Alien Vs. Predator movies.  I know there are people out there who will say, “Leave it dead!”  As I said in my post about the artwork, while I wouldn’t mind seeing Ellen Ripley again, I would also like the film to take on a new hero/heroine.  Alien proved that a woman could handle being a hero.

While I would certainly like to see Ridley Scott direct this film, he already did Prometheus and is hard at work on the sequel to that film as well as Blade Runner 2.  James Cameron is also busy with his Avatar sequels.  Truth be told, I would actually like to see David Fincher be allowed to direct his vision of an Alien film.  Won’t happen though, considering he’s still bitter about his experience on Alien 3.  When I first saw that concept artwork that Mr. Blomkamp had released, I had truly hoped that Fox Studios would take this seriously.  Well, they are and I hope that they give Blomkamp the latitude that he needs to craft an incredible film, because he’s already made  two awesome movies.  I’m honestly looking forward to seeing what Blomkamp can do with this franchise, and I’m also looking forward to who gets to be involved with the film when it finally enters production.  I’m hopeful that Neill Blomkamp can bring Alien film franchise back into the spotlight.  This is a franchise that is loved by many, many people, yours truly included.  It deserves another shot.  So, check out that Variety article that I linked to, because it has some of that concept artwork that I mentioned.  So, I’m absolutely thrilled that Fox Studios has decided to take another stab at Alien.  I would love to see Sigourney Weaver’s reaction to this news.  I really would.  I think after Prometheus, people were itching for a new Alien film.  We’re about to get another express elevator to Hell.  I’m game.

Dracula Untold

Released: October 2014

Director: Gary Shore

Run Time: 92 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Luke Evans: Vlad
Sarah Gadon: Mirena
Dominic Cooper: Mehmed
Charles Dance: Master Vampire

Vampire movies have been a staple of the horror genre for nearly a century.  Nosferatu and Dracula were among the first.  Dracula took the world by storm, featuring a great performance by Bela Lugosi as the titular character.  Many different actors have played the count over the decades.  Obviously, Bela Lugosi was the first, then Christopher Lee, Frank Langella, Gary Oldman, Gerard Butler, and Thomas Kretschmann.  The latest actor to play the character is Luke Evans, who played Bard in The Hobbit, and Ian Shaw in Fast and Furious 6.  The character of Dracula is a fascinating one, as he is based on the historical figure of Vlad Tepes III, otherwise known as The Impaler.  So, why is Dracula such a great character?  In part, because of Bram Stoker.  He based his story of Dracula on actual figure and turned him into a vampire.  It’s not surprising given the stories of Vlad’s brutality.  Last year, we got a new Dracula film starring Luke Evans.  So, how did turn out?

Dracula Untold opens as Vlad and a small company of his best men discover the helmet of Turkish scout.  Coming to the conclusion that the helmet got washed downstream from a nearby mountain, Vlad and company investigate.  They come upon a cave that houses a terrifying secret: A vampire.  Racing home to his family, he consults a monk about the monster.  He feels that his people have enough to fear from the Turks, led by newly crowned sultan, Mehmed.  When Mehmed’s messengers show up at Vlad’s doorstep demanding 1,000 boys to be recruited into Mehmed’s army, Vlad slaughters the messengers.  In doing so, he saves his only son from being enslaved.  But he also brings war to his own country.  Fearing that he’s outnumbered, Vlad returns to the cave where he found the demon to gain the power to destroy the Turks.

I was going in with some reserve watching Dracula Untold.  Why?  The last Dracula film that I saw and reviewed on this site was Dario Argento’s Dracula.  That film is quite possibly one of the worst Dracula movies I had ever seen.  You can read my review of that film by clicking on the reviews tab at the top of the page.  I say some, because when I heard that Luke Evans was going to play the character, I was intrigued.  I liked Luke Evans in some of his previous movies.  He’s gotten to the top of the heap rather quickly.  He has a tendency to play dark brooding characters.  He’s good at it, so Dracula seemed like a natural fit.  Then I found out that Dracula Untold was going to be rated PG-13.  That pretty much scared me off from seeing the film in theaters.  Did they not know how terrible PG-13 horror movies are?  Not only that, but also a PG-13 vampire movie?!  Horror fans don’t need to be reminded of how terrible the Twilight films are.  Here’s the thing:  Dracula Untold is NOT a horror movie.  I know what you’re thinking:  A non-horror Dracula movie?!  Believe it or not, yes.  This is more of an origin story about the character, and as a result, has a kind of superhero-vibe about the whole thing.  Yes, the character did monstrous things when he was human, but this new film paints him in a fairly different light.  We get to see him as a family man who loves his wife and son and is willing to do whatever it takes to protect them, even if it means becoming a creature of the night.

When I saw I, Frankenstein when it came out, I was severely disappointed in it.  It was a total wreck that disrespected the story, the character and was an overall mess.  I’m glad to see that Dracula Untold handles its characters much better.  If you know your history, then you would know that Vlad was a very brutal man, impaling his enemies on giant spikes.  The stories say he did that to thousands of people, even though the actual number might not be that high.  But he was also a great leader and well-respected, as well as feared.  Dracula Untold definitely touches on certain aspects of the historical period.  Be warned, this is a fantasy-action film, so liberties were obviously taken.  The action in the film is pretty darn good.  We have some pretty decent sword fights, but the meat of the action takes place after Vlad becomes a vampire.  When he uses his new abilities, he becomes a force of nature.  Basically, the only things that he’s vulnerable to are sunlight and silver.  Luke Evans did an amazing job bringing this character to life, particularly when he’s with his wife and son.  He gives the character a sense of responsibility and humility that plays to the character’s strengths.  The rest of the cast is also good.  Dominic Cooper plays Mehmed, the newly crowned sultan who has known Vlad since they were children.  Mehmed is a bit of mustache-twirling kind of villain, though.  Cooper does a good job, anyway.  Sarah Gadon plays Vlad’s wife, Mirena.  She’s the one character in the film that keeps Vlad from going over the edge.  Even though she knows what he’s become, she has faith that he can fight it.  The one character that didn’t get as much attention but is clearly important is the master vampire, played by Charles Dance.  We don’t know much about him aside from the fact that he sold his soul to a demon for ultimate power, but was tricked and got trapped in a cave.  So, he offers Vlad a way to defeat his enemies.  This isn’t the first time Charles Dance played a vampire.  He played a vampire lord in Underworld: Awakening with Kate Beckinsale.  He’s great at playing villains and mysterious characters.

The visual effects in this film are astounding.  The scenery, even though it’s CG, is spectacular.  It gives you a sense of grandeur that can only be offered to someone of Vlad’s stature.  One of the most spectacular elements of the movie, is Vlad’s ability to control bats.  He uses this to full effect on Mehmed’s army, and it is something to behold.  The battles are epic and brutal for a PG-13 film.  The sword fights are well-choreographed.  It’s a dark film, given the subject matter, but it IS a movie about Dracula.  It has to be dark.  These ARE vampires, I can tell you that.  They have fangs, they turn into bats, and they don’t friggin’ sparkle when hit by sunlight.  They disintegrate.  Luke Evans definitely commands the screen as Vlad.  The film isn’t perfect, though.  Because the film is so short, it pretty much eschews any development for characters that aren’t Dracula.  There’s also the whole bit where he can turn back into a human being after 3 days of resisting his thirst for blood.  Uh….okay.  That’s odd, and I’m not quite buying it.  Outside of that, though, it’s a solid action flick.  I really dig the fact that while the filmmakers were clearly influenced by Stoker’s book and the historical figure, they took the character in a different direction.  It’s a direction that I think will serve the character in future installments, which I’m sure there will be.  Overall, it’s a very solid action flick that’s one of the better Dracula films of the past 20 years.  I’d recommend a rental at least, despite its problems.  8.5/10.  I like it.