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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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Augustine of Canterbury: In the year 596, some 40 monks set out from Rome to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons in England. Leading the group was Augustine, the prior of their monastery in Rome. Hardly had he and his men reached Gaul (France) when they heard stories of the ferocity of the Anglo-Saxons and of the treacherous waters of the English Channel. Augustine returned to Rome and to the pope who had sent them—St. Gregory the Great (September 3 )—only to be assured by him that their fears were groundless. 
<p>Augustine again set out. This time the group crossed the English Channel and landed in the territory of Kent, ruled by King Ethelbert, a pagan married to a Christian, Bertha. Ethelbert received them kindly, set up a residence for them in Canterbury and within the year, on Pentecost Sunday, 597, was himself baptized. After being consecrated a bishop in France, Augustine returned to Canterbury, where he founded his see. He constructed a church and monastery near where the present cathedral, begun in 1070, now stands. As the faith spread, additional sees were established at London and Rochester. </p><p>Work was sometimes slow and Augustine did not always meet with success. Attempts to reconcile the Anglo-Saxon Christians with the original Briton Christians (who had been driven into western England by Anglo-Saxon invaders) ended in dismal failure. Augustine failed to convince the Britons to give up certain Celtic customs at variance with Rome and to forget their bitterness, helping him evangelize their Anglo-Saxon conquerors </p><p>Laboring patiently, Augustine wisely heeded the missionary principles—quite enlightened for the times—suggested by Pope Gregory the Great: purify rather than destroy pagan temples and customs; let pagan rites and festivals be transformed into Christian feasts; retain local customs as far as possible. The limited success Augustine achieved in England before his death in 605, a short eight years after he arrived in England, would eventually bear fruit long after in the conversion of England. Augustine of Canterbury can truly be called the “Apostle of England.”</p> American Catholic Blog When we go through pain it is easy to feel abandoned or forgotten, but suffering doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us, He does. Even Jesus suffered, and He was completely without sin.

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