Horror Film Review: Underworld (dir by Len Wiseman)


Underworld is one hell of a confusing movie.

I saw Underworld when it was first released in theaters, way back in 2003.  And I’ve rewatched more than a handful of times since then, mostly because of my huge girl crush on Kate Beckinsale.  And every time that I watch this movie, I find myself wondering what the Hell’s going on.

I mean, I get it.  There’s a centuries-old war between vampires and Lycans and the Lycans are basically werewolves but they’re called “Lycan” because Lycan sounds better than werewolf.  The Death Dealers are vampires who go around and shoot Lycans on dark rainy nights.  And apparently, the vampires think that the Lycan threat has been neutralized because the leader of the Lycans, Lucian, is dead but maybe he’s not because Lucian’s body was never found.  And meanwhile, there’s three vampire rulers and two of the rulers get to sleep while the other one reigns and they switch out every few centuries.

Oh!  And the vampires and the Lycans are not really supernatural creatures.  Instead, they’re people who have been infected by a virus that causes them to live a really long time and have a craving for blood or something like that.  So, that explains why none of the vampires turn into a bat or anything like that during the movie.  Instead, everyone just runs around and does parkour and shoots guns at one another.

Also, the vampires don’t have to prey on human beings because they’ve learned how to clone blood because cloning is the solution for everything.

And also, everything happens at night while it’s raining because the vampires and the Lycans are secretly living in the same world with humans, they’re just living underground.  They’re living in an underworld, if you will.

Also ….

Well, listen, there’s a lot of plot in this movie.  Underworld lasts for 121 minutes and there’s really not a slow spot in the entire film.  In fact, that’s probably one of the film’s greatest strengths.  The nonstop action keeps you from thinking about how the plot of the film just seems to be something that the filmmakers made up as they went along.  Instead of wondering how everything fits together, you’re too busy watching as the movie flies from violent set piece to another.

Underworld‘s other great strength is that it stars Kate Beckinsale.  Nowadays, the action girl who kicks ass and defeats evil while looking good has become such a cliche that it’s easy to forget just how exciting it was when we first saw Kate Beckinsale, clad in leather and effortlessly dodging bullets and ruthlessly killing Lycans.  Though its impact may have subsequently been diluted by too many sequels and imitations, watching Underworld for the first time was a very empowering experience.  Watching Underworld for the first time, I wanted to be Kate Beckinsale. If Kate could defeat both vampires and Lycans without breaking a sweat then I knew that I could defeat my own insecurities.   Of course, unlike Kate, I didn’t have the advantage of movie magic to help me down a backflip off of a wall and I ended up spraining my ankle but still, Kate Beckinsale in Underworld was the perfect antidote to years of previously watching women in horror and action films be treated like either disposable victims or damsels in need of rescue.

In Underworld, Kate Beckinsale played Selene, a Death Dealer who tries to figure out why the Lycans are all after a human named Michael (Scott Speedman).  Selene also falls in love with Michael, which leads to some complications after Michael gets bitten by Lucian (Michael Sheen), the Lycan leader who wasn’t really dead after all.  Meanwhile, Kraven (Shane Brolly) wants to take over the vampires and a vampire elder named Viktor (Bill Nighy) is woken up early and then ages backwards through the film, which is actually a pretty clever idea.

And, as I said before, it never really makes much sense.  But, as incoherent as Underworld may be, it’s still an undeniably addictive viewing experience.  The movie is pure style.  It takes place in a world where it’s always night and it’s always raining and where everyone is beautiful and deadly at the same time.  Whether they’re a vampire or a Lycan, People in Underworld movies don’t merely enter a room.  Instead, they throw the doors open and allows blue light to flood in as they make a grand entrance.  At times, the film’s style is so kinetic and overwhelming that it threatened to get a little bit silly but, again, that’s a part of the film’s appeal.  While Kate Beckinsale thrills you with her empowering performance, the visuals grab you and say, “We’re going on a trip and don’t worry about whether it makes any sense!”

That’s why I’ve watched Underworld several times.  It doesn’t have to make sense.  It just has to kick ass.

 

 

For Your Consideration #4: I, Frankenstein (dir by Stuart Beattie)


I_Frankenstein_Poster

For the tonight’s final entry in For Your Consideration, I’m going to suggest that everyone take the time to consider a film that came out way back in January — I, Frankenstein.

“WHAT!?” someone out there is saying.  “It was bad enough when you tried to convince us that The Purge: Anarchy deserved an Oscar nomination…”

Okay, okay — hold on a minute.  You get upset so easily, it can’t be good for your blood pressure.  Anyway, have you calmed down now?  Good.

Here’s the thing — I said that I was going to suggest some films that I thought were worthy of award consideration.  The Oscars aren’t the only awards around.  There’s also the Razzie Awards.  The Razzies claim that their mission is to honor the worst movies and performers of each year.  To be honest, looking over some of their past nominations, it looks like they’re more interested in picking on easy targets like Lindsay Lohan and … well, I was going to say Adam Sandler but there’s a reason why most of his films are such easy targets.

Now, as far as this year is concerned, I’m sure that the people behind the Razzie awards are already busy coming up with snarky things to say about that Kirk Cameron Christmas movie.  And good for them!  However, I’m simply suggesting that instead of just settling for nominated Kirk Cameron a gazillion times, the Razzies might want to give some consideration to another potentially deserving film that came out this year.

Personally, I really wanted to like I, Frankenstein.  It was produced by the people behind the Underworld films, all of which are definitely guilty pleasures of mine.  And it starred Aaron Eckhart, who is such a good actor even if he rarely seems to get the lead roles that he deserves.  That said, even before I saw the film, I had my doubts about whether an actor with the almost satirically all-American facial features of Aaron Eckhart would be believable as a reanimated corpse and sad to say, he was not.  You could definitely imagine Eckhart playing a legendary big game hunter who has decided that he’s going to add Frankenstein’s monster to his wall of trophies.  But as the monster — well, not so much.

In I, Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s Monster survives through the centuries and eventually ends up fighting a bunch of demons for some reason.  Or something like that.  I have to admit that I was never quite sure what was going on in I, Frankenstein.  Some of that was because I was bored with the movie and a lot of it was because the movie felt less like an actual film and more like a collection of highlights.  This is one of those films where off-screen narration was necessary to describe a huge chunk of the movie’s plot.

And, finally, I just couldn’t buy Aaron Eckhart as a monster.  He’s too handsome in his own clean-cut, middle American way.  There’s a reason why Aaron Eckhart was convincing as the symbol of good government decency in The Dark Knight and that’s the same reason why he’s not very convincing playing a creature who has been built out of random body parts.

So, to the people behind the Razzies, I would encourage them to continue to try to come up with the perfect Kirk Cameron joke.  But don’t forget about I, Frankenstein.

It’s worthy of your consideration.

And speaking of consideration, For Your Consideration will continue tomorrow with 6 more films that are worthy of your awards consideration!

Quick Review: Jack the Giant Slayer (dir. by Bryan Singer)


url-1Wow, looking at Jack the Giant Slayer, it’s easy to tell where that near $200 million went. Note that this review maybe just a little spoilerish, but not too much if you’ve already watched the trailers for the film.

I walked into Jack the Giant Slayer with a smile on my face. It started off doing something I really love in movies, playing the score for the film as the production companies were announced and going so far as to play with the Bad Hat Harry logo, replacing the Usual Suspects with a set of giants. That had me feeling good, and reminded me of Timur Bekmambetov’s Wanted. Overall, it’s a Brain in your Lap kind of film. As long as you give it too much thought, you’ll be okay. I don’t see myself running back to see it, but I’d probably watch it again if it were on tv.

Everyone knows the story of Jack, who traded in his horse for a bunch of beans. They grew into a giant stalk and he climbed up it to find giants. Director Bryan Singer (X-Men 1 & 2, Superman Returns) reunites with his The Usual Suspects writer Chris McQuarrie, writer/director David Dobkin (Fred Claus & The Change Up), and Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After) to expand the tale. This version of the story tells of a time where after the beanstalk grew, giants came down from a land far above and waged war with mankind. The great king of the realm was able to stop the war by way of black magic, having a crown forged from the heart of a giant that grants the wearer control over the entire giant army. After banishing the army, he had the stalk cut down and there was peace in the land.

That strange tickle in the back of your mind, if you’re experiencing it, is you recalling the backstory to Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy 2: The Golden Army. It’s almost the same thing. Jack even gives a similar set of visuals to tell the tale, which was kind of nice.

So, jump to many years later, and you have Jack (Nicholas Hoult), a poor farmers boy who in trying to sell his horse is given a set of magic beans. The stalk grows, kidnapping the land’s princess in the process (Eleanor Tomlinson) and the King (Ian McShane) sends his guard up it to retrieve his daughter.

What Jack the Giant Slayer does well is that it tries to shift the story around as it moves. For me, I found that when I expected one thing to occur, the movie would twist and give an angle that I hadn’t expected. I like that it at least tried to do that. Mind you, I went to into the film completely blind, having never seen any of the trailers or commercials. If you haven’t seen anything about this film, don’t look at any of the trailers, you’ll only hurt yourself.

Casting wise, this movie is like watching a set of friends get together. Although Hoult is the hero in this story and plays him well, his screen time feels like it’s stolen from him by Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci (Captain America: The First Avenger) and Bill Nighy (Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest), who in particular seems to be the go to bad guy these days as the main general of the giants. Ian McShane, who plays the King, is always worth watching, but he suffers from the same issues as Eleanor Tomlinson’s in her role as Isabel. They aren’t given a while lot to do overall. McGregor, on the other hand seems like he’s in his element here as the Captain of the Guard.

Visually, Jack the Giant Slayer is a treat. The differences in size between the giants and mortals are similar to the Ents in the Lord of the Rings films, and some of their appearances (and habits) are down right nasty. The action sequences in the film, and there aren’t many, are good but not exactly extravagant. The movie goes out of its way to try to build a world for the story, and I felt it worked out okay, especially during the 2nd half of the movie. The effects are nice. From a 3D point of view, the sense of distance is there particularly during the climbing sequences, but it’s not required that you see this in 3D, despite that there are objects moved close to the camera.

So, with all this praise, is there anything that’s wrong with Jack the Giant Slayer? Yeah, actually and what’s wrong only has just come to mind while writing this part of the review. Two problems:

1.) The trailer gives you absolutely everything you need to know. I was going to avoid mentioning what problem #2 was, but the trailers already show that at some point there’s a big battle between the giants and mortals. That being said, the rest of the trailer gives away so much to what the film was about that you really don’t need to see it. The action sequences you’re viewing there, that’s the story.

2.) This second one is just a tactical error.  The 2nd Half of the movie, while pretty on the visuals, throws logic completely out of the window, with a scenario that’s pretty one dimensional in design. The actual battle tries to be like the Battle of Helm’s Deep in the Lord of the Rings movies. Humans defending the land, giants attacking it. It worked for the Battle of Helm’s Deep because that a city in a wall. The battle could only come from one direction. However, the city in Jack the Giant Slayer isn’t like that. I was expecting giants to swim around it, or climb over the walls (especially after the damage that was made), but nope. Heck, if undead hordes can pull it off in World War Z, clambering over each other to get over a wall, I can’t imagine creatures more than 5 times the size of humans not being able to do the same. I felt it lacked a lot of imagination there and they could have come up with something just a little more dangerous in that battle sequence.

So, Jack the Giant Slayer was okay. It won’t break any kind of records or make too many waves, but cast saves it from becoming worse than what it could be.

Trailer: Total Recall (Official)


Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 scifi classic, Total Recall, remains one of Arnold Schwarzenneger’s better films. The film was an adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novellete, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, and in 2012 it will once again go up on the big-screen as a Len Wiseman remake.

Wiseman’s film looks to take the basic premise of Dick’s novellete and some of the changes made for the Verhoeven production. What looks to have been changed in this upcoming remake is the absence of Mars as the backdrop for the character Douglas Quaid who believes he is actually a secret agent working to free Mars from the tyrannical rule of one Cohagen. This time around the setting is instead a dystopian future Earth where the planet has been split into two super-factions the rule planet. There’s Euroamerica which combines the North American and European Union into one sovereign entity and it’s rival in New Shanghai which puts together the economic powerhouses of China and the nations of South East Asia.

It is in this new backdrop that Colin Farrell’s Quaid must run from the forces of Cohaagen (played by Bryan Cranston) and help the freedom fighters trying to change things for the better. The trailer itself shows less of the cheesy look of the Verhoeven film and instead goes for a much slicker art design that some people have called the Mass Effect-look. I must admit that the fully-armored forces chasing after Quaid look like Blue Suns mercenaries from that BioWare scifi rpg.

I will say that the trailer does a great job in referencing similar scenes and sequences from the original Verhoeven film while adding in new touches to give the film it’s very own unique look. For one of this summer season’s last films before fall season begins this one looks like a must-see.

Total Recall is set for an August 3, 2012 release date.

Trailer: Wrath of the Titans


2010’s Clash of the Titans remake wasn’t what fantasy fans were expecting. Yes, it had spectacle and taking advantage of 3D (rage of the time due to the success of Avatar), but how the film ended up quality-wise left much to be desired. For an epic summer blockbuster film (as hyped by it’s ads and marketing push) the film felt very underwhelming. It showed in the box-office as it failed to generate Olympian-level cash though it still generated a little under $500million worldwide. I’m guessing it’s this number which greenlit a sequel to a remake of a film that never had one.

Wrath of the Titans forgoes having just two titans battle it out with Perseus (Sam Worthington) stuck in the middle. This time around the sequel will deal with the weakening of the Olympian Gods as human worship wanes while at the same time the powers of the imprisoned Titans rise. So, from the trailer alone this looks to have action that’s even more amped up than it’s predecessor. Previous director Louis Leterrier has stepped aside as director and in his place for the sequel is Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles…which I thought was actually quite good despite what my partner-in-writing Lisa Marie says about the film).

Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes return to their roles from the previous film. Replacing Alexa Davalos in the role of Princess Andromeda from the first film is Rosamund Pike who now takes the role as Queen Andromeda. Bill Nighy and Danny Huston join the cast as Hephaestus and Poseidon respectively.

Wrath of the Titans is set for a March 30, 2012 release which just reinforces my point that the summer blockbuster season seem to be encroaching into Spring with each passing year.