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DVD Shopping Bag: Richard Kelly’s The Box

And the Vampire’s Assistant hits home shelves.

By Robert T. Trate     February 23, 2010


The Vampire’s Assistant Circus Du Freak and The Box arrive on Blu-ray
© Bob Trate

 

When The Box and The Vampire’s Assistant came out in the fall of 2009 I had very mixed feelings about seeing them. The Box by Donnie Darko’s Richard Kelly had a great premise. Push this button and receive a million dollars. The catch is someone in the world will die when you push that button. This is a heavy psychological drama and we all know that Kelly does heavy really well. The Vampire’s Assistant immediately caused my eyes to roll into the back of my head. I still had the desire to see it but to be honest it was more of, just how bad was it really going to be? I did have that little glimmer of hope that perhaps the trailer was selling us the current vampire trend as a disguise for something else. Then the reviews came. It’s funny that after being a critic for all these years I still find the amount of stars or a letter grade to dictate whether or not I’ll see a movie in the theater. Both of these films got poor reviews and had quick deaths. Later while flipping through an Empire Magazine I saw their review of The Box and they loved it. I then thought that maybe I missed out on something. Thankfully their DVDs and Blu-rays are now out and that chance of blowing 20 plus dollars is down to a monthly Netflix rental.
 
The Box is written and directed by Richard Kelly. His screenplay is adapted from the short story “Button, Button” by the Richard Matheson. I wish that I could say Matheson’s story would be enough to bring me into the theater but it was not. After trying to sit through Southland Tales numerous times the Donnie Darko sheen has lost a lot of luster. The Box has that creepy presence about it set in seventies nostalgic glow. What Kelly does to really drive home the Hitchcockian presence is to engulf the film in Bernard Herrmann-type music. The film unspools with numerous threads and one can only hope that each will connect to another part of the film. Some do but many, in what is becoming a trademark for Kelly, are left open. This is fine for those that like to think about their movies but here Kelly throws a lot at you in what should be a simple thriller. It is there where I’m sure many people lost interest in the film.
 
Kelly’s “red herrings” or distractions in the film become just that. Why does the man with the box have this bizarre scar? What is the point of knowing that Cameron Diaz’s Norma also has a deformity?  A single scene backs it up but really the deformity has no bearing on the overall film. This simple premise of pushing a button, receiving money to do so and its dire consequences takes a drastic turn that even Hitchcock never would have thrown at us. Norma’s husband (James Marsden) works on NASA’s Viking program. He discovers that the man with the box is tied to NASA. However a full explanation as to whom he truly represents is glossed over and eluded too with classified information written on the screen at the film’s beginning.  After this totally engrossing film I found myself loving the beginning and the ending yet hating the middle. The middle is filler and perhaps Kelly prolonging Matheson’s story with his own otherworldly fantasies.
 
Despite all this I have the desire to sit through it again knowing how the film ends with no trepidation. The film is twisted, dark and a science fiction quagmire. It has been a long time since any film has made me want to sit through it again and dissect all its secrets. Richard Kelly’s The Box warrants yet another, if not multiple, viewings.
 
To turn 180 degrees in the other direction is to watch The Vampire’s Assistant Cirque Du Freak. The recent trend in Hollywood now is Vampire movies. With Twilight’s popularity we will see all kinds of these films for the next couple of years. What I never expected to see was a late-seventies-Disney-type Vampire film. But The Vampire’s Assistant Cirque Du Freak is not a Disney film. In actuality it is produced by Universal Studios. It has the feel of the type of films Disney produced from that decade. It could be really dark, twisted and scary yet it isn’t. The villains easily chew through their scenes and could be truly horrific monsters yet the PG-13 rating keeps them in check. The PG-13 rating is one of the problems with The Vampire’s Assistant Cirque Du Freak.The “13” year old girls are already going to see Twilight and the 13 year old boys have other interests than their sisters’ Vampire film. This film is actually for someone much younger than the PG-13 audience the MPAA thinks it is for.
 
The other problems for the film come from its three leads. Darren (Chris Massoglia) and Steve (Josh Hutcherson) are best friends who live in a Tim Burton type town we saw in Edward Scissorhands. Darren fits in perfectly with the world in which he was raised. His one fault that is keeping him from having a perfectly acceptable life is Steve, the town’s bad seed. The circus comes to town and without them going there would be no movie. A haphazard voiceover allows us to know that Darren is obsessed with spiders and Steve with vampires. They encounter both in Larten Crepsley played by the incredibly miscast John C. Reilly. Crepsley is a red headed vampire from Baltimore whose act in the circus involves a deadly spider. Darren steals it after the show and when all is said and done agrees to become Crepsley’s assistant to save Steve who is bitten by the spider. These three characters are supposed to be our window into this world. Yet each acts as if this really is some Wonderful World of Disney TV movie. There is little in the way of tenacity for the characters from the actors. Each seem to go through the motions of would be hero, mentor and soon to be villain.
 
Sadly there seems to be a great back story and prophecy in this film. These characters are so dull that only Uncle Walt would bring them back for a sequel. Which brings me to my final problem with the film, it’s would be saga aspect. The prophecy is that two brothers are supposed to launch the next vampire war. Clearly these two characters are Steve and Darren. The revelation and back story are far more interesting that the Cirque Du Freak yet a lot of time is spent on these circus characters. What is even more appalling is that they are the better actors in the film. Ken Watanabe, Salma Hayek, Orlando Jones, and Kristen Schaal (from Flight of the Concords) supply the only real performances in the film.
 
Perhaps The Vampire’s Assistant Cirque Du Freak was doomed from the start. It could have suffered from the writer’s strike, the vampire gorging of Hollywood or be the last of the new book sagas the studios were buying up. The film does have one of the best opening title sequences I have seen in a long time. Then again when was the last time you ever read a review where someone said the title sequence was better than the whole film?
 
Thank God for Netflix.
 
ACTION / ADVENTURE / KUNG FU/ THRILLERS / WESTERNS
 
Dangerous Calling ~ Stephen Caudill
 
Dirty Harry/Magnum Force (Action Double Feature) [Blu-ray] ~ Clint Eastwood
 
Double Identity ~ Val Kilmer
 
Flame and Citron ~ Thure Lindhardt
 
I Corrupt All Cops ~ Tony Leung Kar-Fai, Bowie Lam, Anthony Wong, and Wong Jing
 
Ichi the Killer [Blu-ray] ~ Nao Omori
 
The Informant! ~ Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, and Melanie Lynskey
 
The Informant! [Blu-ray]
 
The Internecine Project ~ James Coburn, Lee Grant, Harry Andrews, and Ian Hendry
 
The Last Grenade ~ Stanley Baker, Richard Attenborough, Alex Cord, and Honor Blackman
 
Like A Dragon ~ Kazuki Kitamura
 
Open Graves ~ Eliza Dushku, Mike Vogel, Jose Casasús, and Lilliam Kouri
 
Person of Interest ~ Elise Rovinsky, Cuyle Carvin, and Julie Bell
 
Power Play ~ Peter O'Toole, Donald Pleasence, David Hemmings, and Dick Cavett
 
Presumed Innocent/Frantic (Thriller Double Feature) [Blu-ray] ~ Harrison Ford, Raul Julia, Greta Scacchi, and Brian Dennehy
 
Road of No Return ~ Michael Madsen
 
Smiling Maniacs ~ Franco Nero, Martin Balsam, and Fernando Rey
 
Soo ~ Jin-hee Ji, Seong-Yeon Kang, Man-seok Oh, and Gi-yeong Lee
 
Stephanie's Image ~ Melissa Leo, Janis DeLucia Allen, JP Allen, and Mara Luthane
 
Taxi Hunter (Ws Sub) ~ Anthony Wong
 
Tundra ~ Alfred Delcambre, Merrill McCormick, Jack Santos, and Earl Dwire
 
White ~ Zbigniew Zamachowski
 
Wrong Side of Town [Blu-ray]
 
Wrong Side of Town
 
ANIME
 
Bleach, Vol. 25
 
Dairugger Collection One ~ BanjouGinga
 
Tower of Druaga: Part Two - The Sword of Uruk ~ Todd Haberkorn, J. Michael Tatum, and Travis Willingham
 
CARTOONS
 
Alice In Wonderland ~ Arthur Q. Bryan, Ralph Moody Dinah Shore
 
LEGO: The Adventures of Clutch Powers
 
Davey and Goliath, Vol. 1
 
Davey and Goliath, Vol. 2
 
Davey and Goliath, Vol. 3
Davey and Goliath, Vol. 4
 
Domo, Vol. 1
 
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (Two-Disc Edition) ~ Mark Harmon, Alyssa Milano, James Woods, and Chris Noth
 
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths [Blu-ray]
 
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (Amazon Exclusive with Lithograph) [Blu-ray]
 
COMEDY AND LOVE Mania Style
 
Analyze This/Analyze That [Blu-ray] ~ Robert Deniro
 
Grumpy Old Men/Grumpier Old Men (Comedy Double Feature) [Blu-ray] ~ Walter Matthau
 
Criterion Collection
 
Eclipse Series 20 - George Bernard Shaw On Film (Major Barbara / Caesar and Cleopatra / Androcles and the Lion) (Criterion Collection) ~ Wendy Hiller, Rex Harrison, Claude Rains, and Vivien Leigh
 
Make Way for Tomorrow (Criterion Collection) ~ Victor Moore, Beulah Bondi, Fay Bainter, and Thomas Mitchell
 
HORROR
 
The Alcove ~ Laura Gemser, Annie Belle, and Al Cliver
 
Beast of Blood ~ John Ashley
 
Blood For The Muse: The Omega Edition ~ Josh Robinson, Tina Krause, Terry M. West, and Tammy Parks
 
Blood of The Vampires ~ Eddie Garcia
 
Brides of Blood ~ Kent Taylor, John Ashley, and Beverly (Hills) Powers
 
Caretaker, The ~ Jennifer Tilly, Judd Nelson, Jennifer Freeman, and Jonathan Breck
 
Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant [Blu-ray]
Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant ~ Chris Massoglia, John C. Reilly, Salma Hayek, and Josh Hutcherson
 
The Crazies [Blu-ray] ~ Lane Carroll, W.G. McMillan, Lynn Lowry, and Richard Liberty
 
Dead Snow [Blu-ray] ~ Vegar Hoel
 
Dead Snow (Sub)
 
Fernando Arrabal Collection 2 (3pc) (Ws Ltd Sub) ~ Alain Bashung, Leila Fischer, Spike Lee, and Mickey Rooney
 
Horror of the Blood Monsters ~ John Carradine
 
Mad Doctor of Blood Island ~ John Ashley
 
Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead [Blu-ray] ~ Jason Yachanin, Kate Graham, Ron Jeremy, and Lloyd Kaufman
 
Sorority Row ~ Briana Evigan
 
Sorority Row [Blu-ray]
 
SCIENCE FICTION / FANTASY
8 Avatar ~ Roger Kwok
 
Alice: A Look into Alice's Adventures in Wonderland ~ Documentary
 
Beyond Sherwood Forest ~ Robin Dunne, Erica Durance, Katharine Isabelle, and Julian Sands
 
The Box ~ Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, and James Rebhorn (see Tim Janson’s review)
 
The Box [Blu-ray]
 
Initiation of Alice in Wonderland: The Looking Glass of Lewis Carroll ~ Documentary
 
Meteor Apocalypse ~ Joe Lando, Claudia Christian, and Cooper Harris
 
The Philadelphia Experiment: Invisibility Time Travel and Mind Control - The Shocking Truth ~ Documentary
 
TV LAND
 
Adam-12: Season Four ~ Martin Milner
 
Beverly Hillbillies Collection (4-DVD) ~ Buddy Ebsen, Irene Ryan, Donna Douglas, and Max Baer
 
Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Complete Season Two (Slim Pack) ~ Jane Seymour
 
Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Complete Season Three (Slim Pack)
FlashForward: Season One Pt.1 ~ Joseph Fiennes, John Cho, Sonya Walger, and Courtney B. Vance
 
My Three Sons: Season Two, Vol. 1 ~ Fred MacMurray, Don Grady, Stanley Livingston, and Barry Livingston
 
Night Court: The Complete Third Season ~ Harry Anderson, Markie Post, John Larroquette, and Charles Robinson
 
Nurse Jackie: Season One ~ Edie Falco
 
Nurse Jackie: Season One [Blu-ray]
 
Outlaw Bikers ~ Gary Biggar, Ryan Boyko, Edward Winterhalder, and Scott Hilton
 
Wartime Britain ~ Michael Gambon, Patricia Hodge, Michael York, and Ralph Michael
 
UNDENIABLE CLASSICS
 
Legend Collection - Macbeth (1948), Citizen Kane (1941), Chimes At Midnight (1965), The Trial (1962), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) & Mr. Arkadin (1955) ~ Orson Welles
 
BOX SETS
 
Mikels' Bloodbath Collection: Mark of the Astro-Zombies (2002) / Dimension In Fear (1998) / Female Slaves Revenge (1997) / Cauldron: Baptism of Blood (2004) (4-DVD) ~ Tura Satana, Liz Renay, Brinke Stevens, and Shanti
 
British Noir Double Feature: The Slasher (aka: Cosh Boy), Twilight Women (aka: Women of the Twilight) ~ James Kenney, Joan Collins, Betty Ann Davies, and Robert Ayers
 
Forgotten Noir Double Feature Vol 13: Breakdown & Eye Witness (aka: Your Witness) ~ Ann Richards, William Bishop, Anne Gwynne, and Sheldon Leonard
 
Robert Trate writes two weekly columns for Mania the DVD Shopping Bag and the Toy Maniac. Robert also participates in a pod cast that reviews movies, comics and celebrates all things geek. Check it out at You’ve Got Geek on You.com.
 

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 6 of 6
1 
fenngibbon 2/23/2010 10:55:09 AM

 From the description of The Box given here, the problem with it is exactly what I thought it would be:  the story isn't long enough to sustain a full length movie.  That occurred to me as soon as I realized it was the same story that was presented in half an hour on the Twilight Zone revival series from the 1980's.

jdiggitty 2/23/2010 12:40:19 PM

Vampires Assistant was only the 2nd movie I've walked out on, the 1st being House of the Dead.

hanso 2/23/2010 4:10:44 PM

So I shouldn't watch the Vampire's Assistant?  I got Soririty Row via Netflix as well, maybe I'll give that try.

Also wanted to mention that I f***ing hate the deal Netflix made with different studios and now I gotta wait 30 days after release for Netflix to have the flicks.  I wanted to watch Justice League and The Informant this week damn it!

themovielord 2/23/2010 4:55:02 PM

Hanso I got the JL movie at Best Buy today with the Owl Man figure! The Spectre cartoon I hear is awesome!

hanso 2/23/2010 5:33:31 PM

Damn u Trate, damn u and your quick acquisition of films I want to watch!  Owl Man figure sounds dope.

jdiggitty 2/24/2010 1:28:11 PM

Yeah, hanso, I'm pretty mad about the Netflix thing too. Not sure what they were thinking agreeing to this. Its just putting me in a brick and mortar store on Tuesdays and skipping new releases from them alltogether. Here's a shocker. New releases at Blockbuster are now $6. That's CRAZY!

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