Shaken and Stirred
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The Return of Stephen Hunter!
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This eases the Elvis Mitchell pain a tad bit. He reviews VAN HELSING.

It features a fair number of diversions for us dull-normals. I was entranced by the flickery quality of Kate Beckinsale's Transylvanian accent, which came and went more mysteriously than Dracula. He can turn into a giant muscular bat, but she turns from an Eastern European Gypsy princess to a graduate of some tony Oxbridge finishing school in a trice! That's a much better trick! Next, there's the issue of Hugh Jackman's hair extenders. Smashing jolly good work, chaps! His locks are thicker than 10W-40 in subzero weather.

Then there are the landscapes and the architecture. More convincing than the many digitized monsters that mash through it, the landscapes of "Van Helsing" have a kind of existential pictorialism, all the colors taken from the palette of Edvard Munch, dim greens, lusterless grays, parched ochers. Allen Daviau, the cinematographer, has worked with Steven Spielberg and knows what he's doing. Meanwhile, the castles, with their unlikely catwalks and jiggling drawbridges and sheets of stained glass, conjure Escher at his most whimsical, aided by Gorey at his most depressed.

The plot, alas, calls up less exalted sources: It could have been constructed by a 17th-tier hack working in a cracker-box office on La Brea behind a chili-dog stand in 1946, at the end of the classic monster-movie run when the genre had resorted to the creakiest gimcrackery. It decodes to nothing less than "Van Helsing & Frankenstein vs. Dracula & the Wolfman" and therefore fits in nicely with that lost oeuvre of "vs." pictures, such as the dazzling "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" and the whack job "Santa vs. Jesus." (The Internet Movie Database yields more than 3,200 movies with "vs." in the title.)

Oh, Stephen, how I've missed you these Fridays!

Let's just hope he's really back.

worm: "Virginia, No One Can Warn You," Tift Merritt

thingy/s to check out: Probably Van Helsing, despite the review

namecheck: I hate it when I blank out on names. No, name check today friends!

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