Category Archives: Movies

Van Helsing (2004)

Van HelsingVan Helsing (2004)

Starring Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Shuler Hensley, Kevin J. O’Connor, Robbie Coltrane, Will Kemp, Elena Anaya, Samuel West and Stephen Fisher

Directed by Stephen Sommers

Hugh Jackman is cool and the ladies love him. He’s a total badass (see: X2: X-Men United), he’s good looking (see: Hugh Jackman), and he sings and dances (see: Oklahoma!, The Boy From Oz). Hugh Jackman is also probably the sole reason that I not only saw Van Helsing on opening night, but Laura saw it with me.

Van Helsing is brought to you by Stephen Sommers, who was also responsible for Deep Rising,The Mummy, The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King, among others. I’ve seen three of these films and liked one (Deep Rising, which was a campy, tongue-in-cheek monster movie). Van Helsing may well have been advertised as “from the writer/director of The Mummy and its ilk,” but either I didn’t see those spots or I subconsciously blocked them. Whichever is the case, had my conscious mind been aware of the writer/director’s previous efforts, I might have gone into Van Helsing with slightly different (read: lower) expectations.

I can say this: I didn’t like Van Helsing. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can say much more without venturing deep into spoiler territory.

Van Helsing begins in Transylvania, 1877. The villagers have their torches and pitchforks at the ready and are marching on Castle Frankenstein. The doctor is in his lab, the beakers are bubbling and the sparks are flying. The opening sequence is presented in black and white, as an homage to the Universal monster movies of old. Lightning flashes, switches are thrown, electricity courses, and the good doctor exclaims, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”

Dracula is pleased with this pronunciation. See, the count is Dr. Frankenstein’s financial backer. A sort of Vampire Capitalist, if you will. Victor is a bit naive, and it comes as quite the shock when he learns that Dracula has sinister designs for his creation. The doctor wants nothing to do with it, and he pays the ultimate price for his folly.

This is an unfortunate moment for Victor Frankenstein. It is also an unfortunate moment for Dracula and for Van Helsing as a whole. Bad for Victor because he’s dead, bad for Dracula because the monster breaks free of his retraints and starts wreaking havoc, and bad for the movie because Dracula’s bite is the first glimpse of things to come.

I’m talking about special effects. See, when Dracula bites Dr. Frankenstein, it’s not a simple matter of canines extending. No, we get a cross between a tiger shark and a boa constrictor. Teeth everywhere, distended jaw, you know the drill. It’s over-the-top and it looks like open-mic night at the SFX House. Bad.

The monster is able to incapacitate the vampire and, cradling the body of his creator in his arms, flees the castle pursued by an angry mob of villagers. There’s no escape for the monster, who winds up trapped in a burning windmill, crying as the whole mess collapses around him.

A year passes…

The homage is over, so when the scene opens on Paris at night, it’s in full color. Van Helsing is hot on the trail of Mr. Hyde, who turns out to be Shrek’s unpleasant older brother and a hallmark of shoddy computer-generated characters. Everything about Hyde is wrong. He swings from the rafters of the church, moving like an orangutan on speed. When he’s face-to-face with Van Helsing, there’s no eye contact. Oh, the slayer is supposed to be looking him right in the eyes, that much is clear, but he just … misses. Can’t blame Jackman for that. After all, he was probably looking at a tennis ball. Hyde just never fits into the scene.

Hyde isn’t particularly interested in a peaceful resolution, so a tussle ensues. It’s a chance to show off some of Van Helsing’s nifty gadgets and assault the audience with more bad “groundbreaking” special effects. In the end, one of the combatants is not so alive anymore and the other is declared a murderer by a crowd that has gathered on previously empty streets.

Van Helsing goes to confession and finds that the Church has another assignment for him. He’s working for a secret mutli-denominational agency that fights the forces of darkness on Earth. His mission: go to Transylvania and deal with a vampire problem. If Anna Valerious dies before the Count, then nine (nine!) generations (ha-ha-ha!) of her family will be denied entrance into Heaven. Q Division has some new nifty gadgets to help with the job. They’re also sending along a friar named Carl for comic relief.

Anna isn’t the sole hope of the Valerious family, but her brother Velkan isn’t Kate Beckinsale, so he’s going to be effectively removed in the next scene. Velkan is out hunting a werewolf, and he gets himself into a sticky spot. Turns out he’s not hunting alone, though. His sister and a dozen villagers are there for backup. Alas, though everyone is armed to the teeth, Velkan’s gun is the only one loaded with silver bullets. Yeah. Oops.

There’s a lot of shooting, a bit of caged and uncaged werewolf slobbering, and eventually Velkan and the werewolf wind up going over a steep cliff and into a river. So long, Velkan. So long, werewolf. For now.

Van Helsing boards the H.M.S. Surprise but forgets to take any of Master and Commander‘s fairly realistic water effects with him. After a brief sea voyage, he and Carl arrive in the village and are met with less than open arms. The vampire brides arrive just in time to allow Van Helsing to prove his benevolence, and they bring along some of the worst blue-screen effects in recent memory.

A cow is thrown through a roof, the villagers panic, Van Helsing shows off his new gas-powered repeating crossbow, and Anna shows that she is one resilient woman. Actually, she gets the living shit beat out of her and bounces back like a super ball every time. Doesn’t matter whether you throw her through a window, off a roof, or through a window and then off a roof, she comes right back at you with her sword a-swinging. She’s tough. The cow makes it, too.

Anna and Van Helsing should team up, but she’s not convinced. She’s going monster hunting, and she’s going right now. Van Helsing discourages her with a spray of Bat Gas, and when she wakes up, he’s gone and there’s a werewolf stalking her. Great.

This isn’t the same werewolf that took a swan dive with Velkan. In fact, we never see that werewolf again, and there’s no explanation for its absence. Perhaps “there can be only one.” No, this werewolf is none other than Velkan himself, bitten by his dance partner and thus lycanthropated. It’s his first full moon, so he’s shedding like nobody’s business.

Van Helsing isn’t nearly so far away as we might expect, and he comes rushing in to save Anna from a lifetime of scratching at fleas and licking her own crotch. Anna does prevent Van Helsing from killing the werewolf, however, so there’s a good bet that we’ll be seeing him again later.

Meanwhile, Dracula and his brides are scheming to bring their evil offspring to life. Seems that Frankenstein’s monster was going to be key in this little plan, but he was lost in that windmill fire. Big D is banking on Velkan’s werewolf blood being the key, so the furry chap is tied to a platform and raised up to be used as an unwilling conductor for unhealthy doses of direct current. The juice passes through Velkan’s body and outward along cables that are attached to the spawn of the undead, who are encased the same lumpy, brown, disgusting sac that every spawn of every undead from every other movie have been encased in since time immemorial. And the sacs are filled with the same white goo, too.

The fruit of Dracula’s loins are brought to life, and the brides lead them down to the village to feed. Alas, the werewolf blood wasn’t enough, and the little cherubs pop like green zits about five minutes later, leaving their mothers to wail and moan. The spawn of Dracula, by the way, look pretty much like the amazing bat boy of Weekly World News fame.

After a brief fracas with the bad guys (Dracula employs dozens of belligerent Jawas), Kate and Leopold escape the castle and come across the same windmill that Victor and his big boy fled to a year ago. The floor isn’t entirely stable, and they wind up falling through to a cavern below where, lo and behold, Frankenstein’s monster still lives. Anna wants to kill the monster, but Van Helsing can sense evil, and boltneck ain’t it. Three darts from a blowgun in the back, and the monster is subdued.

Frankenstein’s monster, by the way, is pretty much the best critter in the whole movie. As Van Helsing says, he’s not evil. He’s also got green lightning in his brain and his heart. It’s one of the few effects that’s actually pulled off throughout the movie. He turns out to be a very helpful fellow, despite the fact that Van Helsing offers to trade him for Anna.

Oh, yeah, Anna. Dracula captures her. There’s a big chase involving a werewolf, the brides and a carriage pulled by Transylvanian horses. In the process, Van Helsing is bitten by the werewolf, Anna is captured, and every child learns that reindeer Transylvanian stallions really can fly.

Van Helsing and Carl (who has been researching the history of Dracula and the Valerious clan this whole while) plot to get Anna back without giving Dracula the monster. See, Van Helsing lied. Unfortunately, Dracula found out where the monster had been hidden and captured him anyway. Nonetheless, Anna is rescued.

Van Helsing (or, Gabriel, as Dracula calls him … they’ve got a little history, these two, despite the fact that Van Helsing can’t remember it) is going to turn into a werewolf. That’s bad. But Carl calculates that they’ve got forty-eight hours before the next full moon.

Stop. Rewind a bit. Forty-eight hours? Wasn’t Velkan just attacking Anna during his first full moon? Yes, he was. But that’s not important right now. The fact is, the full moon is coming in forty-eight hours. Don’t ask how. It just is.

Carl has managed to figure out how to get to Dracula’s Castle, so everybody packs up their gear to go after his toothiness so they can stop his evil plot. There are thousands more bat sacs hanging from the ceiling of Castle D, and now that they’ve got the monster, the happy family will soon hear the flitter-flut of little wings in the halls.

The good guys also learn that Dracula has a cure for lycanthropy. Why? Well, if a person of strong enough will were to be turned into a werewolf, he might be able to resist the vampire’s command. Oh, yeah, and the bite of such a werewolf would kill Big D.

Gabriel frees Frankenstein’s monster and turns into the only halfway-decent looking werewolf in the movie. Dracula turns into Venger, from the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon. They grapple. Anna and Carl coerce Igor into showing them where the antidote is, but he double-crosses them. Carl manages to get away, but the final bride shows up and proceeds to kick Anna’s cute little ass.

The monster rescues Anna, and there is way too much swinging on cables between The Two Towers. Again, the bad bluescreen rears its ugly head. Carl throws the antidote to Anna, then rescues the monster from certain death. Gabriel bites Dracula. Anna swings into the wrasslin’ room, administers the antidote just in time, then dies.

Yes, dies. Anna has taken beating after beating throughout the entire movie, then dies after Were Helsing pushes her onto a couch. It’s just too comfy! Gabriel howls and transforms back into Shirtless Hugh Jackman and the ladies in the audience wipe another bit of drool from the corner of their mouths.

Van Helsing takes Anna’s body back to the Ewok village to the top of a hill, where he burns her on a funeral pyre. And I whispered, “Mufasa!” as her ghostly visage appeared in the blue sky, a single, shimmering tear running down her cheek.

Movie Review: Hellboy (2004)

Hellboy (DVD)Hellboy (2004)

Starring Ron Perlman, John Hurt, Selma Blair, Rupert Evans, Karel Roden, Doug Jones, Jeffrey Tambor, Biddy Hodson and Dr. Niles Crane.

Directed by Guillermo del Toro.

When I got home from work Friday night, there was a pair of tickets for a Saturday afternoon matinée of Hellboy on the table. Though I’ve never read the Hellboy comics (graphic novels, whatever), I’ve been psyched about the movie since I learned that Ron Perlman would star. I became more psyched when I saw the first trailer a couple of months ago.

It should be noted that I love movies based on comic book heroes. I love good movies based on good heroes, I love bad movies based on bad heroes, and I love everything in between. It should also be noted that I know the difference between a bad comic book movie and a good comic book movie.

Did you see:

  • Captain America starring Matt Salinger? That was a bad comic book movie.
  • The two made for TV Captain America movies starring Reb Brown? Those were both bad comic book movies.
  • The Punisher, starring Dolph Lundgren? Ouch.
  • The original X-Men? What’s this? That didn’t suck! That didn’t suck at all!
  • Spider-Man, starring Tobey Maguire? Sweet! It’s the Spidey I’d always hoped to see on the big screen!
  • X2: X-Men United? Hell yeah, we’re on a roll!
  • Daredevil, starring Ben Affleck? Oops! Can’t win ’em all I guess. But it’s not a total dud.
  • Hulk, starring Eric Bana and a bunch of green pixels? Flawed, but I still enjoyed it.

Hellboy is this year’s first superhero movie. Later this month, Thomas Jane will attempt to right the wrongs perpetrated by Dolph Lundgren and company when The Punisher hits the big screen again. Then there’s a bit of a wait (unless you count Van Helsing, opening May 7th) until Spider-Man 2 hits in July. After that … well, I don’t know of anything after that, off the top of my head.

First off, Laura and I both liked Hellboy. For a movie of this genre, that’s saying quite a bit. I’ll sit through just about anything superhero-related (see: the Captain Marvel and Captain America black and white serials of 1941 and 1944, respectively). Laura is not nearly so patient, tolerant, or forgiving of her movies. Granted, she enjoyed X2 quite a bit, but there’s a big difference between what she’ll sit through and what I will.

Though my knowledge of the original source material is admittedly scarce, I do know that Ron Perlman is the perfect choice to play the title character. Hellboy is cock-sure, laid-back and a bunch of other hyphenated stuff. He’s also very funny and can be incredibly sensitive. Perlman brings every aspect of that personality to the screen flawlessly. Couple the performance with excellent makeup/prosthetics/costuming, and you’ve got a brilliant lead character.

David Hyde Pierce is another fabulous casting choice. Granted, it’s just his voice, but that voice fits the character and the physical manifestation of Abe Sapien to a tee. The body is supplied by a fellow named Doug Jones, of whom you’ve probably never heard, but have probably seen in other movies.

Rounding out the “freaks” is Selma Blair as Liz Sherman. She’s a very dark character, with a lot of insecurity, fear, and self-loathing. She’s also Hellboy’s love interest. Oh, and she tends to start fires with her mind when she’s traumatized. Like pretty much every other character in the movie, this is a solid performance and I have absolutely no complaints.

The rest of the good guys: John Hurt as Professor Broom, Rupert Evans as Agent John Myers, and Jeffrey Tambor as the oft-irritated Doctor Manning.

And then there are the bad guys. Nazis. In the history of cinema has there ever been a better group of bad guys? Look what they’ve got going for them: they’re snappy dressers, very punctual, extremely well organized, utterly ruthless, goal-oriented, and they’ve got some of the best theme music in history. They are, as Miscellaneous G™ points out, instantly identifiable as the bad guys whenever they appear. There’s never any ambiguity about it. Whether the protagonist is Indiana Jones, Captain America, or the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, as soon as you see a Nazi on the screen, you know he (or she) is a bad guy. Period.

These particular Nazis (including the lovely Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S.) have joined forces with that dastardly villain, Rasputin. Seems that poisoning, shooting, stabbing, clubbing, hanging and drowning the bearded bastard just wasn’t enough to keep him down. Now (well, starting in 1944, actually) he’s helping Hitler’s jackbooted flunkies open a portal to the depths of outer space, where dark and hungry gods slumber in H.P. Lovecraft’s shadow.

It is in this manner that Hellboy arrives on Earth. The portal is opened, but the Nazis are thwarted by a young Professor Broom and a bunch of Uncle Sam’s finest boys in uniform. The portal is closed before the real baddies can catch the interstellar express to Scotland, but not before Hot Stuff, the cutest li’l devil you ever did see, gets through.

Another bad guy I should mention is Kroenen, ’cause, damn. I mean, this guy is quite possibly the single coolest masked baddie since the mother of all masked baddies, Darth “Don’t Call Me Ani” Vader. He’s the clockwork Nazi who takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Actually, he takes an impaling and walks away from it. He deflects bullets with two wicked swords that he keeps hidden up his sleeves. And get this, he doesn’t even have to deflect those bullets! Seriously, they just bounce off him! But he deflects ’em anyway, because he’s just That. Bad. Ass.

So, the bad guys are defeated (for now) and Hellboy is adopted by Professor Broom. Jump forward sixty years. Hellboy is now Ron Perlman, Professor Broom is now John Hurt, and that damn Rasputin doesn’t know when to say when. He’s back (thanks to the remarkably well-preserved Ilsa), he’s stirring up all kinds of trouble, and it’s up to Hellboy and company to put a stop to it.

What follows is a smash-bang romp that only pauses for breath a few times before the end credits roll. There’s a satisfying amount of action mixed with a classic Beauty and the Beast love story that stops shy of being overly sappy, special effects that don’t (always) scream “look at me, I’m a special effect!”, and a liberal dose of laugh-out-loud Hellboy one-liners.

Unfortunately, there’s also a sticky bit with the story that doesn’t play out very smoothly. The biggest stumbling block for me: a strange clue that – in a logical leap worthy of Burt Ward’s Robin – takes our heroes to Moscow in an attempt to put an end to Rasputin’s shenanigans once and for all. In the immortal words of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!” Of course it is, but a trap of which the machinations are subtle and confounding.

Not surprisingly, right prevails. Laura was quite pleased that, despite the availability of Agent John Myers – who is quite the dashing fellow and a downright decent guy, to boot – Hellboy gets the girl in the end. Overall, I was very, very pleased with the movie. Despite the convolution of the story midway through, it remained a treat to watch, and I fully plan on seeing it in the theater again.

Afterthought: As I wrapped up my review of Hellboy, I realized that I had all-but completely neglected the movies based on DC superheroes in my earlier list. For the record, I thought that the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman movie was a complete riot. The first Batman movie starring Michael Keaton is in my top five favorite superhero movies of all time. Unfortunately, someone at Warner Brothers got it into their head that the villain in each movie had to be a bigger star than the guy playing Batman. That, in addition to various other insanities perpetrated on the productions, drove the franchise into a plunge that reached rock bottom with Batman and Robin. I’m hoping against hope that Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale can breath some much needed life and dignity back into this beloved character. Superman suffered a similar fate, and whether or not he can be revived remains to be seen. By today’s standards, the first movie in that series seems a bit on the hokey side, but Christopher Reeve played Clark Kent and his Kryptonian alter-ego perfectly, and that performance stands out against dated costumes and special effects.

The Ring, One Hour Photo and Double Whammy

The RingWhen The Ring was released, I heard that it was scary. The kind of scary that keeps you up all night, painfully aware of every sound the wind makes outside your bedroom window. That kind of scary.

It’s not.

It wants to be, but it never really manages to move beyond vaguely creepy. The problem is, I can’t put my finger on where it goes wrong. The premise is interesting (watch a videotape, die seven days later), but the execution is rather sloppy. There are appropriately dreary settings, some pseudo-creepy music, and a couple of interesting special effects. There’s a twist at the end that failed because it just isn’t twisty enough. I think movies like The Usual Suspects have ruined twists for me. Now the plot twists must be intricate and imaginative and catch me completely off guard, yet I need to be able to look back at the movie and slap myself in the forehead for not seeing it coming (see: Fight Club). There is some interesting imagery in The Ring most of it (but not all) in the killer videotape. Yet, to paraphrase one of the main characters, even that is very student film-y.

Final verdict: disappointing. Nonetheless, I’m curious to see if the original (Ringu) is any better.

I also saw One Hour Photo and Double Whammy recently. Both were entertaining, each in their own way. The latter is something of a dark comedy while the former is simply dark.

One Hour PhotoRobin Williams is über-creepy in an almost invisible way in One Hour Photo. The whole movie feels extremely surreal, and some people might call the ending a bit anti-climactic. I found it interesting, though, that Sy Parrish (Williams) continues to be a sympathetic character to the very last frame, despite the fact that he sometimes feels quite sinister. Gary Cole seems to be made to play a manager (see: Office Space), a profession which has been getting almost as much flak as lawyers of late. Interestingly enough, Cole’s character never comes off as sympathetic in the least, even when it seems that something in his life is threatened.

I was quite pleased with One Hour Photo especially since the trailer I saw led me to make some assumptions about the plot that were shattered when I actually saw the movie. I like trailers that mislead me in this way. I like trailers that don’t make seeing the movie seem redundant. I could rant, but I won’t.

Double WhammyDouble Whammy stars Denis Leary, Elizabeth Hurley, Steve Buscemi, Luiz Guzman, Chris Noth and others. Buscemi is a bit under-used, and that’s about my only complaint. This isn’t a laugh-out-loud movie, but it’s still quite funny. It’s also dark without being overly depressing. Elizabeth Hurley makes a fairly believable chiropractor, which I found amusing. I will say that my chiro has never twisted my neck like that, but that really the only adjustment she made that my chiro hasn’t done to me. Well, except the sex. I’ve never had sex with my chiropractor. Ever. He’s a good-looking man, don’t get me wrong. He’s just no Elizabeth Hurley.

Denis Leary is Denis Leary. He can play a cop or a hood and he really doesn’t have to change his attitude much. Here, though, he’s a much more sensitive Denis Leary. He’s not quite so edgy, and he’s not constantly puffing on a cigarette. Still, he’s Denis Leary, and there’s enough edge and gruffness and smart-assitude (smart-assishness? smart-assivity?) that he’s not relegated to being a wimp.

Double Whammy has a fairly tight and well-woven plot, characters that are interesting (if a bit stereotypical), and some amusing bits of dialog.

“…but I think you got a little bit of racist in you.”
“Whoa! Yo. Bro’! No.”
“… but don’t take it personal, because you’re white and you don’t know any better.”

It’s not an amazing film, and the dialog isn’t Mamet, but it’s satisfying and I enjoyed it, and that’s good enough for me.

Lucas Struggles to Release Heart, Imagination

George Lucas
George Lucas

With the release of Star Wars in 1977, George Lucas captured the heart and the imagination of the world. After 22 years, Lucas began the slow and difficult process of returning both with the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 1999.

“I guess it was about 1995 or so when I decided that I’d held onto these things long enough,” Lucas admitted recently during an interview at Skywalker Ranch in Nicasio, California. “So I’m giving them back.”

The process has been more involved than Lucas anticipated. “I thought the first prequel would do the trick. Jar Jar Binks. Jake Lloyd. I was sure that would be the end of it.”

The world, it seems, is not so eager for the freedom Lucas offers. “I was sure the second one would finish the job,” he said. “Hayden Christensen is the perfect choice to free the world’s captive heart. I hadn’t counted on Ewan McGregor, though. He’s exactly what everyone envisioned a young Obi-Wan Kenobi would be like.” McGregor’s portrayal of the Jedi Knight is, some say, the string that ties the prequels to the original trilogy.

McGregor’s acting ability isn’t the only thing that has stymied Lucas’ attempt. “The boys over at ILM did one heck of a job with the Yoda/Dooku…” Lucas chuckled. “Come on. Dooku. My kid made that up. That’s funny. Anyway, the whole lightsaber battle was much better than I anticipated. I thought that one would be the ultimate imagination liberator. Boy, was I wrong.”

“Fans of Star Wars are simply too used to this type of captivity,” says noted psychologist Bernard Shenck. “It happens all the time in hostage situations. The victims begin to sympathize with and even love their captors. That’s exactly what’s going on here. And it’s been going on for over twenty years. Those behavior patterns are extremely difficult to break.”

Avid Star Wars fan Elmer Gibbin reinforces Shenck’s theory. “Lucas is going to blow us all away with Episode III,” Gibbin insists. “He’ll wrap everything up nicely. The showdown between Anakin (Christensen) and Obi-Wan (McGregor) is going to be awesome!” Gibbin continued with his glowing predictions for another twenty minutes until asked about midi-chlorians, at which point he became withdrawn and hostile.

Shenck predicts that Lucas may have a bumpy road ahead of him. “If he’s not able to completely release the world’s heart and imagination from captivity with the third prequel, he may have to make sequels to the original trilogy.”

“No,” says Lucas. “That simply will not happen. Once Episode III: Invasion of the Return of the Revenge of the Son of the Phantom Clone wraps up, I’m finished.”

When asked about rumors that Steven Spielberg would be directing the sequels, Lucas shook his head emphatically. “Absolutely not. Steven is a great friend, but I have to be honest: he’s the sort of director that would re-capture all the hearts and imaginations I’ve worked so hard to set free over the past few years. I can’t risk that.”

The Matrix Revolutions (2003)

The Matrix RevolutionsThe Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinket Smith, Monica Bellucci, Harry Lennix and The Guy

Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski

I’ll say it again: I loved The Matrix. I still do.

If you’ve been paying attention, you might recall that I wasn’t quite so fond of The Matrix Reloaded.

Tonight, I saw The Matrix Revolutions. Yes, there are spoilers here. Best not to read if you haven’t seen it.

Continue reading The Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Underworld (2003)

UnderworldUnderworld (2003)

Starring Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly, Erwin Leder, Sophia Myles, Robbie Gee, Wentworth Miller and Lord Sandwich

Directed by Len Wiseman

Last night, Laura and I went to see Underworld. Since the Internet is nothing if not a place for the masses to make their opinions known, here’s my review.

I wanted Underworld to be a vampires ‘n’ werewolves retelling of The Bard’s Romeo & Juliet, I really did. I wanted to see passion and chemistry. I wanted the vampire and the werewolf to be consumed by desire and need for one another. I wanted hot girl-on-lycanthrope action.

You can’t always get what you want. You don’t always get what you want. I didn’t even get a little bit of what I wanted.

First off, there’s Selene, played by the (I’ll admit it) very fetching Kate Beckinsale. Two words: black leather. Oh, and another word: brood. Selene wears black leather – a lot of it – and broods. Boy, does she brood. She also kicks a fair amount of were-ass. Unfortunately, what she doesn’t do is fall madly in love with Michael (played by some guy whose name I haven’t the inclination to look up on IMDB.). Well, maybe she does, but how, when and why are beyond me. It just never comes across.

Then there’s the other half of our star-crossed couple, Michael. His destiny is tied to that of both the vampire vampyre and werewolf lycan clans. To spoil the how would imply that there was real logic in the reason his destiny is so bound. When the explanation of why he’s so important finally arrives, though, it doesn’t really add up. Here’s a one. Here’s another one. Put them together and you should get two. What you actually wind up with is some imaginary number.

Chemistry is a two-way street. Or maybe chemistry is a door that swings both ways. Regardless of which it is, our Romeo doesn’t really fall in love with Juliet at any point. What he does is stumble around confused and befuddled most of the time. He also writhes quite a bit. He’s a good writher.

Michael and Selene aren’t the only characters in Underworld. There’s Kraven, the current head of the toothy coven. He’s a snappy dresser, he wants Selene to be his queen, and he’s incredibly boring. Surrounded by British accents, this guy is awkwardly American. By “awkwardly,” I mean that certain words have an almost Irish lilt to them, leading me to wonder if the accent (or what some in the United States might consider the lack of one) is artificial. Kind of like Colin Farrell playing an American, only not nearly as well. Accent aside, Kraven is simply dull. He has no aura of authority, he doesn’t exude any measure of power, and his presence doesn’t demand any respect whatsoever. He’s been left in charge of the coven, yet I couldn’t see a single reason why any self-respecting bloodsucker would listen to the guy.

The leader of the werewolves turns out to have the most interesting story of any character, but to go into detail about it would give away parts of the backstory that actually make sense.

Action. There’s a fair amount of it. Mostly second-rate Matrix-style shootouts with werewolves crawling on the ceiling. Yes, the ceiling. I had no idea that werewolves could do that sort of thing. Perhaps they were bitten by a wolf that had been bitten by a radioactive spider.

In terms of special effects, there’s nothing in Underworld that hasn’t been done before and done better. The werewolf transformations were clunky, and far less interesting than David Naughton’s metamorphosis in An American Werewolf in London. The gunplay was, as I mentioned previously, a poor imitation of The Matrix. The weapons themselves were pretty much ripped right out of Blade.

As an action movie, Underworld is average at best. As a love story, it completely fails. With regards to the former, it met my expectations. Where the latter is concerned, I was quite disappointed.

On the bright side, Laura got in free.

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

The Matrix ReloadedThe Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Nona Gaye, Hugo Weaving, Harold Perrineau, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci, Helmut Bakaitis and Lambert Wilson

Directed by The Wachowski Brothers

If you haven’t seen The Matrix Reloaded then I’d suggest you spend those six or eight or ten dollars of your money on something worthwhile, like X2: X-Men United. Or forty-eight rolls of toilet paper.

I loved The Matrix, I really did. The concept was interesting, the story was cool, the special effects were amazing, Keanu Reeves looked slick, Carrie-Anne Moss is hot, and Laurence Fishburne is a major bad-ass.

What the Wachowski brothers did with Reloaded was trash all the intangibles and keep most of the eye candy.

Neo: Despite the newfound power he displays at the end of The Matrix, The One isn’t really all that impressive. Inside the Matrix, Neo is ostensibly free from the machines’ control. Their rules mean nothing to him now. I mean, he can fly, right? Unfortunately, he still has no idea what he’s supposed to be doing. He has promised to show the people “…a world without rules and controls. Without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible.” Instead, he shows them…

Zion: Take one part Ewok village, add a liberal dose of every post-apocalyptic civilization ever portrayed on film, sprinkle in a freshly-ground rave, and you’ve got Zion. I don’t think any aspect of Reloaded was more disappointing to me than the Thunderdome-meets-Battlestar Galactica mish-mash that was Zion. Apart from being a conceptual and visual letdown, Zion also slams the brakes on Reloaded. Sequences that take place in the last refuge of humanity seem to drag on as Morpheus and Lock butt heads, Trinity and Neo show off their various receptacles (in what feels like the longest and most unnecessary love scene ever concocted), Morpheus orders a rave, and Commander Adama… excuse me, Councilor Harmann… offers his sage advice to the ever-perplexed Neo.

Morpheus: Within the confines of the Matrix, Laurence Fishburne epitomizes cool. Everything about him screams “bad-ass,” from his sunglasses, to his clothes to the way he walks. Taken out of the simulation, though, he’s diminished by the fact that half his crew is gone and some fairly powerful elements think he’s off his rocker.

Agent Smith: Hugo Weaving is damned cool. The fight scene between Neo and countless Agent Smiths is impressive, as eye candy goes. Ultimately, the brawl is moot and we are shown that The One just doesn’t have the power implied at the end of the first movie. Neo uses his vaunted flying ability (again, the very thing that showed how unfettered by the rules of the Matrix he has become) to run away.

Action: In general, the fights and shootouts in Reloaded looked pretty good. Some were a bit pointless (such as the aforementioned Burly Brawl), and bullet-time was over-used, taking the edge off its novelty. The 14-minute car chase was fun to watch and one of the few times we get to see how capable Morpheus is of doling out the smackdown.

The Keymaker: I very much liked the concept of the Keymaker, a venerable program who opens doors for the resistance and seems to know where Neo needs to go. Of course, because he knows this, he must eventually be eliminated. The Keymaker tells the heroes that there’s a door inside of a building that must be opened, but also that the whole building will blow up if they do it wrong. While this is being explained, Reloaded trips over itself getting to Neo through that door. Where scenes in Zion slowed the film’s pacing down to a snail’s crawl, following the Keymaker’s instructions kicks it into hyperdrive. The result is a jumble of flashbacks and gunfire whose sole purpose is to get Trinity (who has promised Neo she would stay out of it) into the Matrix, put her life in danger, and further confuse the already-befuddled Neo.

The Architect: Speaking of confusing Neo, here’s a guy who babbles on about iterations and anomalies in a monologue whose logic is reminiscent of Vizzini in The Princess Bride (“Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me!”). Perhaps the intent here is to confound the audience and convince them that they need to see Reloaded a second time to make sense of the Architect’s babble.

The Matrix Revolutions: If you’re willing to sit through ten minutes of end credits, The Brothers Wachowski (or, more likely, The Brothers Warner) have included what they must consider a bonus: a teaser for The Matrix Revolutions. Alas, there’s no payoff here to justify the wait. The teaser is a flash of half-second clips mingled with the occasional line of dialogue, but with absolutely no hook. When I saw the trailer for Reloaded prior to watching X2, I very nearly uttered a Neo-like “Whoa!” While the final product didn’t live up to my expectations, the trailer made me want to see the movie, ASAP. This just doesn’t happen with the Revolutions teaser. Perhaps this is partly because of the ultimately disappointing experience I’d just had with Reloaded, but more likely because the new teaser just lacks punch.

The Matrix Reloaded is a movie that tries too hard to expand upon some of the concepts of the original while stomping all over others. The end result is a disappointment, a shoddy addendum to a movie that stands well on its own and doesn’t deserve the kind of treatment it receives from its successor. Will Revolutions redeem the trilogy? Perhaps, but it shouldn’t have that unenviable burden in the first place.