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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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Catherine of Siena: The value Catherine makes central in her short life and which sounds clearly and consistently through her experience is complete surrender to Christ. What is most impressive about her is that she learns to view her surrender to her Lord as a goal to be reached through time. 
<p>She was the 23rd child of Jacopo and Lapa Benincasa and grew up as an intelligent, cheerful and intensely religious person. Catherine disappointed her mother by cutting off her hair as a protest against being overly encouraged to improve her appearance in order to attract a husband. Her father ordered her to be left in peace, and she was given a room of her own for prayer and meditation. </p><p>She entered the Dominican Third Order at 18 and spent the next three years in seclusion, prayer and austerity. Gradually a group of followers gathered around her—men and women, priests and religious. An active public apostolate grew out of her contemplative life. Her letters, mostly for spiritual instruction and encouragement of her followers, began to take more and more note of public affairs. Opposition and slander resulted from her mixing fearlessly with the world and speaking with the candor and authority of one completely committed to Christ. She was cleared of all charges at the Dominican General Chapter of 1374. </p><p>Her public influence reached great heights because of her evident holiness, her membership in the Dominican Third Order, and the deep impression she made on the pope. She worked tirelessly for the crusade against the Turks and for peace between Florence and the pope </p><p>In 1378, the Great Schism began, splitting the allegiance of Christendom between two, then three, popes and putting even saints on opposing sides. Catherine spent the last two years of her life in Rome, in prayer and pleading on behalf of the cause of Urban VI and the unity of the Church. She offered herself as a victim for the Church in its agony. She died surrounded by her "children" and was canonized in 1461. </p><p>Catherine ranks high among the mystics and spiritual writers of the Church. In 1939, she and Francis of Assisi were declared co-patrons of Italy. Paul VI named her and Teresa of Avila doctors of the Church in 1970. Her spiritual testament is found in <i>The Dialogue</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The gates of hell cannot withstand the power of heaven. Gates of sin melt in the presence of saving grace; gates of death fall in the presence of eternal life; gates of falsehood collapse in the presence of living truth; gates of violence are flattened in the presence of divine love. These are the tools with which Christ has equipped his Church.

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