Voyage of the Demeter is all wet, Theater Camp a heartfelt celebration of dreams

Demeter quickly sinks

Much like the titular vessel, Andre Ovredal's The Last Voyage of the Demeter is doomed from the start. Overlong, tedious, and bearing the cross of a well-known conclusion – which the director errs in changing – the film is a vain attempt to approach the Dracula story from a different angle.

Having left Carpathia bound for England with a shipment of 50 crates of soil, the ship seems cursed from the start. While not unusual as cargo goes, the reaction of one of the dock workers to it portends bad tidings. Among the crew is Clemens (Corey Hawkins), an exiled doctor eager to return to England, as well as Toby (Woody Norman), the captain's grandson. These characters, as well as their shipmates, are not in the source material, yet their inclusion here is sound as it does not defy the logic of the film or novel's premise.

However, where the character of Anna (Aisling Franciosi) is concerned, Schut and Olkewicz make a serious blunder. Found as a stowaway, having been discovered in one of the boxes of soil, she eventually reveals that Dracula has brought her along to feed on her during the voyage. This reasoning simply doesn't hold water as the vampire would need more than one person to prey upon over the course of a three-week journey. Anna exists only to appeal to a particular demographic in the audience and nothing more.

I know I'm coming off as a stickler for details, but this is a lazy effort that unnecessarily dumbs down the novel. The assembled cast is very good, each actor showing a conviction in the material it doesn't deserve. As for the King of Vampires himself, he lurks in the shadows, becoming more visible as the film progresses. Any sense of suavity seen in the Count in previous incarnations is gone – this is a primal beast, more bat than man, a one-dimensional construct that fails to thrill, as do the action sequences Ovredal cobbles together. The various attacks that occur are all muddled, undone by a lack of lighting and quick cutting. There's no horror here, just confusion.

Of course, anyone with a passing knowledge of Dracula knows how this story turns out and that's a problem Demeter cannot overcome. This is an unnecessarily long slog towards the inevitable, an opportunity wasted to shed new light on one of pop culture's legendary characters, who is seen as nothing but a background extra. In theaters.

Camp celebrates young dreamers

Based on a short film, Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman's Theater Camp is an uproariously funny but heartfelt tribute to the directionless dreamers who find purpose in performing and the equally insecure teachers who foster them. Filled with one wonderfully awkward moment after another, the movie is a loving tribute, one that reminds us of the wonderful, frustrating period of searching for purpose we all go through and the joy of finding our respective North Star.

Unfolding at a brisk pace, one wonderful moment after another unfolds, all of it anchored by the well-realized characters and solid performances of the cast. Rebecca-Diane (Gordon) and Amos (Platt), met at the camp as students and return each year to teach. A long-held secret threatens to irreparably harm their friendship. Troy (Jimmy Tatro) is a fish out of water, a wannabe entrepreneur who comes up with one hairbrained scheme after another to save the camp. The temptation to sell it to a nearby competitor grows every day. Then there's Janet (The Bear's Ayo Edebiri), a fraud who has lied on her resume and been assigned a catch-all position. That she does not know what stage combat is yet needs to teach it is all you need to know.

Written by Noah Galvin, Ben Platt, Gordon and Lieberman, the film was shot in only 19 days and benefits from its hurried, economic shooting schedule. A kind of hectic energy seems to have been created that contributes to the urgency of the ticking clock narrative. Not only is there a deadline relating to the camp being foreclosed on, but the theater tykes must stage three different productions in three weeks' time. Throw in the fragile egos and needy personalities of all involved and there are far too many delicate, moving parts for something not to go wrong, and it does, spectacularly.

In the end, what we're left with is the sheer enthusiasm of the young performers, their dreams and disappointments ahead of them, their unbridled enthusiasm for performing a force you can't help but appreciate and get swept away by. The absolute elation evident when all the pieces fall into place is delightful to witness, the unadulterated confidence they display, wonderful to see because we know how fragile and fleeting these feelings are. Camp brilliantly reminds us of a time when all seemed possible, something that in hindsight we cherish all the more.

About The Author

Chuck Koplinski

Writing for Illinois Times since 1998, Chuck Koplinski is a member of the Critic's Choice Association, the Chicago Film Critics Association and a contributor to Rotten Tomatoes. He appears on WCIA-TV twice a week to review current releases and, no matter what anyone says, thinks Tom Cruise's version of The Mummy...

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