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September 22, 2016

Winter chill prompts cinema escape

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(Courtesy Apparition Films)

Who says the only thing worth seeing over winter break was “Avatar?” This past winter, as James Cameron’s alien parable laid siege to the box office, theater dwellers were given the opportunity to venture deep into alternative realities and historical settings; or, as was the case with “The Young Victoria,” into alternative versions of historical realities.

Emily Blunt stars as the future Queen of England in the historical sudser “The Young Victoria,” directed by Canadian-born filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallee. Vallee has dabbled in period dramas before – case in point being his racy 2005 film “C.R.A.Z.Y,” which chronicled a young man’s struggle with his sexuality in 1960s Quebec. But with “Victoria,” he goes for broke. While seemingly relishing in the opulent décor of 19th century England, Vallee predicates the film largely on a teenaged Victoria’s struggle to wrench independence from the various oppressive forces in her life, among them her mother (a formidable Miranda Richardson), her mother’s supposed lover (Mark Strong) and the various political adversaries who would seek to use her power for their own devices.

With Blunt at the helm, Victoria is a sentimental, if not endearing dame, but she fails to conjure up the kind of spirit and gumption that seemed to come effortlessly to Cate Blanchett in her turn as the legendary Elizabeth I. It’s not Blunt’s fault, per se, as by the standards of her day, Victoria was a fairly conventional woman (Queen or not). But it does weaken the film, as does the script’s emphasis on the blossoming (but boring) romance between Victoria and her future husband Albert (Rupert Friend).

In addition to “The Young Victoria,” star vehicles abounded during the winter. If you’re not completely sick of watching Michael Cera play Michael Cera, you may get a kick out of his latest adventure, “Youth in Revolt,” based on the epistolary novel of the same name by C.D. Paine. Cera stars as soft-spoken Nick Twisp, a journal-toting outcast who spends most of his free time listening to records and fantasizing about sex … What teenager doesn’t?

Twisp gets the chance to live out his fantasies after he’s suddenly uprooted to the dingy environs of a trailer park. There he meets Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday, milking the ingénue thing for all it’s worth), a Francophile with a fondness for poetry-writing and bad boys in the vein Jean Paul Belmondo. To win her heart, Nick decides to shuck his nice guy ways. With the incendiary assistance of a mustached, gleefully smarmy alter ego named Francois Dillinger (also Cera), Twisp eagerly launches into a regime of delinquency – a regime that soon spirals far out of his control. It’s a pleasure to watch Cera break out – for just a bit – of the mold he’s constructed for himself, while the rest of the cast, including Justin Long and the always-entertaining Steve Buscemi, seem in top comedic form. If Cera keeps it up, he may stay a hot commodity in Hollywood long after he loses those baby-faced looks.

Like “Youth in Revolt,” which was first rumored to be in production back in 2006, “Daybreakers” has been in production for a while, but with the latter film, it’s not hard to see why. Although the film cashes in on the current vampire craze – see “True Blood,” “The Vampire Diaries” and the dreaded “Twilight” saga – it’s about as recycled and ludicrous as they come. The initial premise, conjured up by the Brothers Spierig, seems interesting and offers a more apocalyptic vision of the future than one may be likely to encounter in the typical Doomsday plot.

By the time “Daybreakers” picks up in 2019, most of the population has been changed – due to one pesky bat – into blood-sucking vampires. A few humans remain, farmed for blood in the swanky headquarters of Bromley Marks, the world’s leading blood bank. But that’s where the plot starts to lose all its vigor. The cast aides in the blood-letting; Willem Dafoe pulls in a truly awful performance as the leader of the human resistance, while Ethan Hawke, the former figurehead for grunge disillusionment in the ‘90s, seems to be sleepwalking through the picture.

If the acting weren’t enough to do you in, even the rules that govern this vampire universe are dull: wooden stakes are a go, while sunlight is a no, and even the strongest vamps fail to cast a reflection in a mirror. It’s a wonder then that an ad for a vampire fang-whitening kit features prominently in an early scene. How exactly are vampires expected to whiten their fangs if they have no reflection? And by that same Bela Lugosi school of vampire thought, wouldn’t that mean they can’t take pictures, either? It’s enough to drive a viewer batty.

Shayna Murphy can be reached at skmurphy@dailycollegian.com.

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