Darke Reviews | Underworld – Blood Wars (2017)

I’ve spoken of this before, but for the new readers please know I am the Vampire Queen of Tucson. It may be a type of prison for a vampire lover like myself, but it is where I am. I love Vampires. The first book I ever read on my own (and by choice) was one on vampires. I have a room in my house dedicated to vampires and general gothicness; working on a second even. I believe I have every book published by White Wolf on Vampire the Masquerade as well. I will consume almost anything Vampire related. So what does that have to do with Underworld?

When the first one came out in 2003, I think I watched my DVD copy of it once a week for 3 months. I *like* this franchise unironically. It has entertained me end to end. Sure some of the installments can be classified as

 

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t entertaining. Even the weakest of the franchise tends to put a smile on my face.

So should part 5 be left in the sun or does it continue to entertain?

First, unlike last film the rule of 3 is not invoked – technically. We have the based on characters by Kevin Grevioux, Len Wiseman, and Danny McBride credit, which is required. Then we have a story by Cory Goodman and Kyle Ward, screenplay (comes after the story) by Cory Goodman. Kyle Ward was writer on Machete Kills, which I hear was a blast and this project; while Cory Goodman is responsible for The Last Witch Hunter and Priest. As I said in the LWH review Goodman isn’t known for complexity in his plots, but he does have a taste for atmosphere and a certain air about the project with always a strong touch of the supernatural.

As with all Underworld films,  time is subjective. We’re not sure when the year is, how long between films has actually occurred and it really doesn’t matter. The story so far is recapped again bringing anyone new to the franchise up to speed, then jumps in head first. It plays on one of the more annoying conceits to give the set up, by if you can swallow that pill you can move on. Selene is on the run from well everyone, but is still a level of wicked in a fight that it rarely pans out for the hunters. Now they hunt for her in a bid to find her daughter, the pure blood hybrid of what should be incredible power. Who is they? The Lycans lead by a new mysteriously powerful leader Marius and the vampire council who really just want her dead – save one member of the new vampire council Semira.  Selene must avoid capture and find a new way to survive against the threats from all sides for the purpose of….something. Yeah, ok so much like the others this won’t win any awards for depth or meaning. Power for the sake of Power is the theme of the day and Selene is mostly on the defensive trying to survive against all-comers; which thankfully she is skilled to do. The question you need to see the movie to answer is “for how long?”

Kate Becksinale returns 13 years later from the origin of Selene and full disclosure – I have a massive girl crush on her so I could be more forgiving. She goes for a more weary, battle fatigued Selene; one who has loved and lost and in that she nailed it. Theo James (Divergent) returns as David. He is still trying, but his performance is so wooden I could use him as a stake. I give him credit for trying and there are so many hints of someone who can act and can emote I think he might be fine in the next one….maybe? Conversely Lara Pulver (Edge of Tomorrow, True Blood) as Semira is a joy to behold. This woman went all out for her vampire and while her performance dances a needles line on campy and sexy she brings it all together. Tobias Menzies (Edmure Tully on Game of Thrones, Outlander) playing Marius is one of the more credible villains the movies have had since we lost Michael Sheen. I have to also acknowledge Daisy Head (Fallen later this year) and Bradley James (Damien and Merlin TV series) both turn what I thought would be unremarkable, forgettable characters into something just a bit more. They are still largely a third class character in the hierarchy, but at least these two made it interesting.

Director Anna Foerster (Second Unit director on 10,000 BC, Aeon Flux, Day after Tomorrow) does a good job with her ideas being executed. The actors turn out decent(ish) performances. She (or Cory) made the decision to give both Vampires and Lycans a few new tricks in their arsenal. She introduces some interesting new concepts and unique visuals. Though her combat sequences and cut choices will need some work before the next movie as  the further these movies progress the worse the combat gets – save one scene. It may be reminiscent of other scenes from better movies, but they made it their own under a beautiful (even if it was CG) sky. It also evokes a gothic, sexy vampire feel I’ve been missing.

TL;DR

Underworld Blood Wars is a solid continuation of the franchise. It brings in new ideas, new concepts, while tying up some loose ends and per usual Underworld films sets up a next one. I am not tired of the series and really was entertained for the majority of the film. It has some pacing, continuity, and editing issues but I have seen worse in higher budget films. It won’t likely make its budget ($35 million) back here in the States, but it’s combined worldwide gross should probably double it by the end of its run in a few weeks.

I may have to sit down with some like minded friends to ask why this franchise has such staying power when others of its ilk fail. Kate Beckinsale’s physique not withstanding.

Should you see it?

If you like this series or Vampires? Yes, yes you should. We get precious few GOOD Vampire movies, much less entertaining ones and this fits at least in the latter category.

You talk as if you don’t like it, but say its good?

No. I am commenting on its flaws of which there are many which I can’t in good conscience ignore for the purposes of the review. I still think its OK and I am still entertained by it. I still continue to enjoy these movies without a hint of guilt or irony about it.

I do like this movie. No if’s, and’s, or but’s.

Yeah, but you’re biased.

Maybe, but I also do like movies that entertain me. Last year had so much mediocrity I am not particularly hopeful for this year. At least I felt something as I watched it.

Will you watch it again?

Sure if someone wants to take me out on a date to watch it. Or hell just take me out to watch it.

Buying it?

Without a doubt it will be mine.

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Darke Reviews – Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)

Continuing the countdown of the Underworld series we move now into the third entry of the franchise. Underworld, the story you didn’t really care about. I mean Underworld: The Two Towers. I mean Underworld Werewolves need love too. …gah sorry. Underworld Rise of the Lycans. In Hollywoods quest for mining blood from a stone they have resorted strongly to the prequel; with the Underworld franchise being no exception. This was the franchise film for my ex, she was the werewolf lover and me the vampire lover; which was no end of running jokes in our household.

Is Rise of the Lycans worth the 90 minutes of your time it takes to watch.

Much like last week, we have a total of nine credits under the writing category. Three belong to the original characters, so we get to ignore them. The story is by Len Wiseman , with the addition or Robert Orr and Danny McBride. McBride has a character credit, which leaves us Orr, who has done nothing else save the Jeffrey Dean Morgan thriller The Resident. Screenplay credits, in other words the script, goes to three: McBride (again), Dirk Blackman (how can that be a real name), and Howard McClain. Blackman was the scriptwriter on the the underrated sci fi take of Beowulf called Outlander, but vanished after this. McClain also worked on Outlander as both writer and director, who also vanished after.

Under their pen the story now focuses on the story of Lucian (Michael Sheen) and Sonja (Rhona Mitra) and their Romeo and Juliet like romance under the eye of her father Viktor (Bill Nighy). I am using the Romeo and Juliet romance accurately here. It adds to the story of Tannis (Steven Mackintosh) and introduces us to a still human Raze (Kevin Grevioux). We are now several hundred years in the past for this story, sometime after the trapping of William Corvinus, the first Werewolf, and before the birth of Selene. Time is subjective with this series at best.

We have the direction of former production designer and make up expert Patrick Tatopoulos. You may know him from the early seasons of Face/Off on SyFy, but he also was involved in Stargate, Spawn, Pitch Black, Cursed, The Cave, Silent Hill, Trick R Treat…..the list goes on. This was one of his first, and sadly only, forays into directing. He showed a strong hand at the helm and keeps the overall style of the original films. It has a tight focus overall, but act three quickly reminds me of The Two Towers with Michael Sheen going full Aragorn in his trench coat, the rain, and lots of swords. In typical series fashion it is on the lower end of the budget but they stretch it for all that they can.

The casting keeps all that they could reasonably. Sheen has to carry the movie as an ‘younger’ version of the leader he is to become. Thankfully he has all the charisma to do so; even if some scenes push credulity. Nighy continues to chew scenery like you wouldn’t believe, I am starting to think the heavy blinking is irritation with the contacts, but the man is able to carry himself as a heavy despite his comic background. He is also given the oppotunity to show a few different emotions this time, which he takes with quiet resolve. Playing the role of Sonja is Rhona Mitra (Doomsday, The Last Ship) , and unlike the actress from the first film, Mitra actually fits the description when the line is uttered “you reminded him of his precious Sonja”. As a bit of trivia, and a point of desire to be honest, she refused to remove her fangs during filming instead saying they felt as if they always should have been there. She clearly plays the role of someone who not only physically would remind Viktor, but also personality and general badassness. She does well with the raw physicality of the role and sensuality as well.

The technicals hold true to Underworld stylings with blue lighting filters, deep shadows, and an overall near black and white look to the film. The abundance of black leather remains surprising, but c’est la vie. When there is CG work it isn’t that great, but it never has been. The best shots are of the physical werewolves. These are some of the best were’s on screen looking large, in charge, and not entirely ridiculous. The challenge with any werewolf is to allow the actor to emote as both the skull and mouth are structured entirely differently, though they do what they can due to the large amount of time needing to focus on the werewolves.

TL;DR?

Lycans is not the weakest of the franchise. They were also painted into a corner with the story somewhat where some elements *must* happen. It also isn’t the best. From a financial standpoint it made its money back, almost in the first weekend and more than doubled it when you look globally.  That said, this also has the weakest financial turn for any of the franchise, with Awakening having the highest.

It isn’t my favorite of the series, but I do enjoy it. So where does that leave us?

If you feel the need to marathon the film series then you can absolutely enjoy this. I don’t think I’d recommend it as a standalone viewing unless you enjoy Underworld as a series. It does standalone with no real need to watch the others, but there’s not enough draw on it’s own either.

To sum up: “That was fun I guess.”

 

 

Darke Reviews – Underworld Awakening (2012)

I’ve decided Mondays this month shall be Underworld related. Unsurprisingly I own all the Underworld franchise films and have at least one poster from the series on my walls in my house. There was a time when I was playing City of Heroes I would watch Underworld and Boondock Saints every other day….for three months. So with that in mind, and the fact that I haven’t reviewed any of these films I am going to review them each monday this month, but in reverse order. Why reverse order? Why not? The closer we get to Halloween the more awesome the movie gets? It just happened to be the film Jess grabbed from her DVD shelf? Pretty much…a mix and match of those answers.

So, how is the 4th installment of the Underworld franchise?

The first warning comes in that there are a total of 9 credits related to writing. Nine.

 

This blow is softened only by the fact three of the credits are for character creation at the hands of Len Wiseman, Kevin Grevioux, and Danny McBride. That still brings us to six. Len Wisemen is repeated again in the story credit with John Hlavin, so in reality we only have four total writers on the work. Still…Jess’s Rule of Three applies. For those not familiar it is the rule where if you have more than three writers on a project that the movie downgrades by exponential degrees with only a handful of exceptions.  Hlavin had no film credits prior, but did some story editing for The Shield. Wiseman created the series and has been involved the entire time, when not creating Sleepy Hollow the series. The last two credits go to Allison Burnett who didn’t have a great track record with films such as Fame and Untraceable on his resume. Then, however, there is a great writer J. Michael Stracyznski. I know him best from Babylon 5, but he also was a writer on Thor and Sense 8. Sadly this many writers with such differing backgrounds and levels of experience makes it hard where to place the blame for the overall script.

How do I feel about the script?

 

Ok directing? Neither Måns Mårlind or Björn Stein had any US film experience prior to this. This does not surprise me however, as much of the movie feels like other films I have seen come out of northern and eastern european filmmakers. There’s just something about the structure of shots, geography, and overall film production that reads European vs North American. The pacing shifts, the budget seems to get tighter in some areas while it gets abused in others still.  I think what saves them on this project is the fact that Wiseman is involved along with Kate Beckinsale reprising Selene.

Kate once again fills the all too familiar corset and body suit and shoots her way through the setting with brilliant blue eyes, black hair, and pale skin. I think her familiarity with Selene makes so much of the movie possible as she is the audience connection into what is otherwise unconnectable. Theo James (Divergent) is almost laughable trying to be tough against the known Selene, he reminds me of a puppy puffing its chest and barking at a wolf. He has zero chemistry with her and next to no charm. Thankfully the movie gives us Stephen Rea who is an amazing and totally underrated actor who brings a level of gravitas to his roles that works really well for the films he is in, such as V for Vendetta or Citizen X.  We are also given the gift of Michael Ealy (Almost Human, The Following), who has an easy charm like Chiwetel Ejiofor that allows him to glide in, sync up, and work with anyone.

From an FX perspective – how can a movie get that much worse over this much time? In 9 years graphics should have gotten better not worse. Then I look at the production design and make up department and see a distinct lack of Patrick Tatopoulos. I’d like to think part of the 70 million dollar budget went into the effects, a significant part. Perhaps it did, but…it doesn’t show.

TL; DR?

This movie is a guilty pleasure. It isn’t good. Not by a longshot. It does some interesting things with the story and certainly advances the plot, but I just don’t care. Granted none of these films are great films, but this one is the weakest.

Should you watch it?

Well…only if you want to complete the series or prep for the next film. Otherwise Nope.

 

On a semi related note: do you like the youtube clips inserted in the review? Trying something new.

 

 

Darke Reviews – I Frankenstein (2014)

This one is coming a lot later than it’s release date, but judging from the Box Office none of you have seen it. I suppose that counts for something? Every bit of word of mouth review I have heard for this film said it was god awful. I even heard it hit 0% on Rotten Tomatoes for a bit; though I can’t verify that as I don’t check other reviews before writing my own. I will stand by that til the day I die (not that death is really something I consider a limitation). Honestly due to the word of mouth alone going into this I expected the worst. The trailers didn’t do it much justice, despite the fact this is from the producers of Underworld; a film series which I rather enjoy for all it does bring.

Lets talk about the writer, Kevin Grevioux (Underworld) and the concepts he wanted to bring to screen. I discussed earlier the fact that Robocop also wanted to address the element of What does it mean to be a man? Where Robocop plodded along and refused to get to the point on that concept like some petulant child, I Frankenstein goes the other way. The movie has more exposition than anything I’ve seen recently, what keeps it from being painful is the fact that between the exposition is light tension and some relatively beautiful fight sequences. The entire concept of the film seems to revolve around the concept of the soul and does a man like Frankensteins Monster have one? What is it that makes him what he is? Is he a man, he is certainly not human, nor infernal, nor divine. Each scene of exposition seems to tie back to this basic concept; as do most of the relevant plot points. In this the movie succeeds heads above Robocop. Its also somewhat clumsy at times with it and a nasty habit of too much dialogue when they bother with it and dialogue said without a soul behind it.

Sadly that falls on the director and additional screenplay credit Stuart Beattie. It saddens me how hollow this one is when you compare it to other works he has done, such as “Pirates of the Carribean: Curse of the Black Pearl” and a movie few of you have seen but all of you should, “Tomorrow, when the War Began”. TWWB is Red Dawn told better. It is shot beautifully, the characters are endearing and cover the gamut of what youd expect, but it does so much right and has actual heart to it. That is what saddens me about I,F. It has no heart, no soul of its own, which is ironic in a movie about a mans quest for a soul. It comes across too paint by numbers and a slight variation on Underworld; enough so that they could be in the same universe.

How you ask?

This is the story of a centuries old secret war between two diametrically opposed forces. Both sides become curious about a single individual with the intention on capturing and controlling him to give their side the advantage in the war. Be that advantage as a basis for a psuedo science experiment to create an ubermensch or just a weapon that can defeat the enemy. The “choosen one” wants to decide his own destiny and after resisting finally joins the war but on his own terms and his own side.

Which film did I describe? You can’t tell and thats a problem. A saving grace of the I,F story is the fact that they don’t deal with the Jesus metaphor in the central character that was ripe for the picking.

The acting is all over the place in the movie, which doesn’t help enhance the story. You have cases for overacting, underacting and people who are just phoning it in. Aaron Eckhardt as the Monster, decides to go for the underacting and apparently wants to show he could have played Batman as well. He is quiet, brooding and barely says a word focusing instead on long glares through his eyebrows. Jai Courtney (the abomination called the 5th Die Hard film) also went to the underacting school; though in his case I don’t know if its underacting or that he may infact be an animate mannequin. Bill Nighy showed up for the paycheck and decided to do what he does best and be the most awesome thing on screen. I really want to see a film with him and Gary Oldman, that would be fun to watch. Miranda Otto (Eowyn from Lord of the Rings) has not aged well the past few years, but tries her best and at least does well when she’s working with Eckhardt and showing the others how it’s done. Then there is Yvonne Starhovski (Chuck for some of you, Miranda from Mass Effect 2/3 for others) as Terra. I swear this girl cannot help taking roles where she’s reanimating the dead. She, like Otto, tries her best to play the role and pulls off a believable scientist. The movie thankfully only teases a bit of romantic or sexual tension between Terra and the Monster, and for that we owe them a debt of gratitude. It would have worked, but also would have been entirely unnessecary.

As far as the effects go, the transformation from Gargoyle/Angel to Human is one of the more beautiful effects I have seen and works in every situation. Conversely, the human to demon transition does not work nearly as well. The look of the Gargoyles themselves are mediocre at best. The Weapons and other technical effects are loaded with the traditional Underworld pretty but not practical factor. I also am left with questions on the housing market in Eastern Europe after watching it as nearly every building looks as if it should be condemned.

TL;DR time? I suppose.

I, Frankenstein is actually watchable if you enjoyed the Underworld series. Its light, its fluffy and makes for great background noise if you watch it on DVD or Netflix – which is its most likely venue for most people.

I cant say you need to see this film in good concience. but its certainly not the worst thing this year. It currently is floating on the top of the flotsam and jetsam of rubbish we have been delivered by Hollywood thus far. Wait for Redbox or Netflix folks.

I am hoping, though it is likely in vain, that 300 Rise of an Empire (I’d have preferred Battle of Artemisia its original title) coming in March will be the first film I can recommend with my soul ( stop laughing) intact.