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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


John C. Reilly stars in a scene from the movie "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant."
In keeping with its unwieldy title, the gently ghoulish "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" (Universal) is an unfocused adventure tale that gets off to a stylish start, but bogs down in a meandering story line and overlong fight scenes.

Along the way, director and co-writer (with Brian Helgeland) Paul Weitz's adaptation of three novels in Darren Shan's "Cirque du Freak" series of children's books offers a bleak outlook on conventional family life.

Thus, strait-laced, small-town high school student Darren (newcomer Chris Massoglia)— whose rather macabre coming-of-age story provides the basic arc of the narrative—is saddled with overbearing parents (Don McManus and Colleen Camp) who demand that he keep his grades up in preparation for the rat-race future they have mapped out for him.

Darren's longtime best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson), by contrast, is neglected by his widowed, alcoholic mother. As a result, he's a rebellious teen who constantly derides Darren for his timid conformity and challenges him to break the rules.

Spider-loving Darren and vampire-obsessed Steve share a taste for the outlandish, and both are bored with life in their bland burg. So when an unseen rider in a passing car— a black-and-violet Rolls Royce, no less—drops a flier at their feet advertising the one-night-only performance of the titular circus, they're thrilled.

One of the featured acts in this sideshow, along with beard-sprouting Madame Truska (Salma Hayek) and Japanese giant Mr. Tall (Ken Watanabe) is skilled spider trainer Larten Crepsley (a commanding John C. Reilly), whom Steve recognizes as a 200-year-old bloodsucker he's seen in an occult book.

Through a series of complications not worth unpacking, Crepsley—who turns out to belong to a race of human-friendly, plasma quaffers who anesthetize their victims and drink only a smidgen of blood at a time—becomes Darren's mentor after transforming the lad into a so-called "half vampire." (Unlike the full-blown variety, Darren can survive in daylight.)

Steve, though, ends up in the thrall of a group of homicidal vein-drainers known as the Vampaneze, which is unfortunate since they're locked in a centuries-old conflict with Crepsley and his softhearted ilk, making the two young pals, perforce, implacable enemies.

As the undead and their proteges throw each other around with Herculean force and inflict the occasional dagger wound, the tolerant circus folk—including Darren's new sidekick, Evra the Snake Boy (Patrick Fugit), and his love interest, Rebecca (Jessica Carlson)—provide the young demi-Dracula with an alternate family to match the alternative dad he's found in Crepsley, making, so the script would seem to imply, his journey to the dark side worthwhile.

After all, to paraphrase some heavy-handed moralizing Rebecca dispenses, "It's not what you are, it's who you are" that counts, Count.

The film contains considerable hand-to-hand and knife violence, some crude and crass language and a pornography reference. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

****
 Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.




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James: This James is the brother of John the Evangelist. The two were called by Jesus as they worked with their father in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had already called another pair of brothers from a similar occupation: Peter and Andrew. “He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1:19-20). 
<p>James was one of the favored three who had the privilege of witnessing the Transfiguration, the raising to life of the daughter of Jairus and the agony in Gethsemani. </p><p>Two incidents in the Gospels describe the temperament of this man and his brother. St. Matthew tells that their mother came (Mark says it was the brothers themselves) to ask that they have the seats of honor (one on the right, one on the left of Jesus) in the kingdom. “Jesus said in reply, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We can’” (Matthew 20:22). Jesus then told them they would indeed drink the cup and share his baptism of pain and death, but that sitting at his right hand or left was not his to give—it “is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23b). It remained to be seen how long it would take to realize the implications of their confident “We can!” </p><p>The other disciples became indignant at the ambition of James and John. Then Jesus taught them all the lesson of humble service: The purpose of authority is to serve. They are not to impose their will on others, or lord it over them. This is the position of Jesus himself. He was the servant of all; the service imposed on him was the supreme sacrifice of his own life. </p><p>On another occasion, James and John gave evidence that the nickname Jesus gave them—“sons of thunder”—was an apt one. The Samaritans would not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to hated Jerusalem. “When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’ Jesus turned and rebuked them...” (Luke 9:54-55). </p><p>James was apparently the first of the apostles to be martyred. “About that time King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword, and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest Peter also” (Acts 12:1-3a). </p><p>This James, sometimes called James the Greater, is not to be confused with James the Lesser (May 3) or with the author of the Letter of James and the leader of the Jerusalem community.</p> American Catholic Blog Walk the talk. Show, don’t tell. Values are caught, not taught—all variations of one theme: A good example is essential for good parenting.

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