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About me

I am an unrepentant cinephile. Never too haughty to indulge in the sleaziest but always pleased to partake of legitimate art, I give everything a fair shot and strive to remove personal preference from the viewing experience. Though I indulge in all genres, I tend to gravitate most toward the horror, cult, drama, and musical genres.

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“Sometimes the only advertising a movie needs is the fact that it's being made. Such was the case with "The Haunting of Sharon Tate" which, controversially, was going to take the infamous murder of Sharon Tate and her friends by the Manson Family into the realm of horror. Or so it was suggested by th” read more

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“Directorial projects from people otherwise renown for their acting are usually a 50/50 affair. On the one side you have those best forgotten vanity projects and on the other you have the rare instance of absolute brilliance. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut, "Don Jon", falls squarely into th” read more

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The Haunting of Sharon Tate review

Posted : 4 days, 10 hours ago on 17 August 2019 01:58 (A review of The Haunting of Sharon Tate)

Sometimes the only advertising a movie needs is the fact that it's being made. Such was the case with "The Haunting of Sharon Tate" which, controversially, was going to take the infamous murder of Sharon Tate and her friends by the Manson Family into the realm of horror. Or so it was suggested by the title and marketing which got it a lot of attention. In reality, the film is something of a padded for running time mish-mash of new-agey hokum and by-the-numbers genre standards that fails at being a biopic or a horror movie...or any type of movie, really. Maybe it was a case of trying to beat a bigger movie to the punch (Tarantino's "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" was right around the corner, after all) or maybe it actually was a well-intentioned piece masquerading as a horror movie (the film's conceit allows it to "rewrite" history), either way "The Haunting of Sharon Tate" is one hell of a bad movie.

Problem number one with tackling a sensitive subject like a real-life prolific murder is getting the casting right. Obviously, in this case, that means the lead role of Sharon Tate, the iconic actress and titular character. The choice made here is a confusing one. Was it a matter of the production trying to cast at least one name of renown to further publicize their film or, worse, was this their best choice? Either way, we get Hilary Duff as Tate and, let me tell you, she is just THAT...Hillary Duff. There is not a single moment in this movie where you feel like she's doing anything but just wearing a costume and reading lines as Hilary Duff, much less that she's getting lost in the role. No, Duff is just Duff woodenly play-acting as someone else. It almost feels like a joke but the somber mood assures us it isn't. To add insult to injury, Duff bears absolutely no resemblance to Tate who the film brazenly shows us news footage of as a sour reminder of the bad casting.

The second biggest issue are the shades of the unknown/supernatural that are injected into the narrative to lead us to understand that Tate had a premonition of the fateful events a full year before they happened, then continued to be plagued by a series of vivid dreams foretelling everything up till the day of the crime (hence the use of the word "haunting"in the title). As this goes on you just begin to think of the character as a complete imbecile for even going to the place of the eventual murders much more staying there. The solution is as simple as leaving but all she does is get flustered, cry, and get even more of her nerves frayed by an unstoppable deluge of harbingers. Tate is portrayed as the leader of her circle, yet they play her sticking around helplessly waiting for the crime as her inability to convince those around her that she's anything but nuts.

Details of sudden outbursts of violence and chaos like the Manson Family murders are mostly privy to the perpetrators NOT those they victimized. In a movie, the sudden nature of a crime or the maddened reasoning for that crime are usually enough to terrify and intrigue and audience. Clear designations of good and evil can be made from this point of view. Characters are elaborated upon by means of their reactions and interactions. This film, on the other hand, makes the confounding choice to turn the tables on this obvious formula by giving the victims foresight and then having them trounce around like blithering idiots into the slaughter. This feeling persists despite the dramatic shift in the events that the film's ultimate themes allow for.

You see, bad acting and making the audience think ill of the dead isn't the only issue with the film. The aforementioned elements of the supernatural further complicate things. The film's events (sparse though they are) are tied together by the theme of destiny and whether we are in charge of our lives or driven by some horrifyingly uncontrollable roller-coaster of fate. Tate's visions and dreams serve as an inexplicable means to throw fate out of whack. A lot of the superficial details of the events of the murder ring relatively true to life but Tate's premonitions just make them feel false and in service of that very unnecessary conceit.

And, boy howdy, do they shoehorn these dreams into everything, too. In fact, the movie would be relatively short if they took out all the dream sequences and VERY undeserved jump scares. Mind you, the themes of fate explain why these sequences exist but they are still exactly what they are: FILLER. At a scant hour and a half running time this movie feels interminable and like it's running on repeat.

I spoke earlier of possible good intentions and, indeed, one of the movie's only redeeming qualities is that it ultimately uses this profoundly stupid setup to try to give history a bittersweet resolution. Yes, without ruining anything, the new-agey subtext (if you can call it that, with its overbearing obviousness) about destiny lends to a form of alternative end to those tragic events of long ago. The basis of all this is oddly fitting, given the hippie culture of the time and their open mindedness toward Eastern spiritual concepts. Does this save the movie? Not at all. In fact, it underlines how they chose to focus on all the wrong things to get to the end.

Some redeeming factors: The cinematography is pleasant, giving you that sun-bleached California look with a dash of faux dating and realism (lens flares abound for all you that hate them). However, the most noteworthy element in play here is the excellent and atmospheric score from Fantom. One wishes it were in a film better suited for it. Special kudos to the people playing the Manson Family who do a relatively good job of feeling menacing and monstrous, although I wonder if the quality of their performance was elevated by their comparatively fetid peers.

"The Haunting of Sharon Tate" is godawful, boring, and downright idiotic. It's polished enough to give the impression it's none of those things but it's impossible to deny that fact once you watch it. Worst of all, it takes a piece of history and belittles its players by making them seem like complete morons for a good, long time before trying to tidy up that mess with some mumbo-jumbo. Avoid this nonsense at all costs. 1/10


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Don Jon review

Posted : 1 week, 4 days ago on 10 August 2019 01:02 (A review of Don Jon)

Directorial projects from people otherwise renown for their acting are usually a 50/50 affair. On the one side you have those best forgotten vanity projects and on the other you have the rare instance of absolute brilliance. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut, "Don Jon", falls squarely into the latter category.

The titular Jon (played by Levitt) is a veritable Casanova stuck in a comfortable rut of habitual behavior; from his home life, to his every relationship, and, yes, to his intimate life. However, all semblance of peace and security is thrown awry when a woman that defies his expectations enters the scene. Jon begins a tumultuous battle with himself even as he begins to experience a dramatic self-actualization that takes him from self-obsessed pretty boy to selfless man.

On the surface "Don Jon" is about the destructive power of porn addiction and its debilitating effects on the proper development of your average male. For all its relative comfort, Jon's life is robbed of meaning by his dependence on pornography and its unreachable standards However, the film proves to have a deeper and more meaningful grasp on the subject than it would let up. From his father's toxic masculinity, to his sister's inability to live outside her phone, to his girlfriend's controlling nature, virtually no one in Jon's world is without some form of addictive or destructive behavior.

All this is amusingly presented in a twisted facsimile of a modern rom-com (which, of course, have their own ridiculous standards). Indeed, objectification and its dehumanizing effects are thoroughly lambasted and in a way that we might find hits uncomfortably (although hilariously) close to home. We, as viewers, are not spared but make no mistake, this isn't a preachy affair. No, in fact, Jon's journey is a hopeful one.

And there truly lies the ingenuity of this movie. It would have been easy to make a cynical piece about this subject but Levitt opts to make an uplifting one with a profound message about the importance of selflessness both in normal life and in an intimate one. "Don Jon" is that revelation we all know is right around the corner but we fear because we know it means being taken out of our comfort zone. It's a red pill in cinematic form. An essential film not only for the modern male but for the modern person.

Honestly, I'm floored at how exceptionally well made "Don Jon" is. From it's clever, subversive writing, to its self-aware editing, to its fantastic cast (something of a surprise of its own), and its sudden unexpected heart. Then again, why should I be? Levitt has been subverting expectations for a good long while now. This movie is a treasure. 10/10


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Us review

Posted : 1 month ago on 19 July 2019 01:56 (A review of Us)

Jordan Peele made a colossal impact with his debut feature "Get Out" and all eyes were on him when time came for his follow-up effort. The burden of the sophomore slump has taken many down with it but its pretty safe to say that Peele won't be one among those. "Us" proved that he not only deserves to be in the genre but that he is truly an innovator that it desperately needs.

The story follows Adelaide Wilson (a riveting Lupita Nyong'o) whose childhood encounter with a picture perfect double of herself leaves her seemingly traumatized into adulthood. When visiting the place of that encounter during a vacation later in life, she and her family are confronted by their duplicates, angry beings that crave the life that their counterparts have for themselves.

"Us" is conceptually rich and excitingly original. Even if one can trace the idea of doppelgangers to plenty of folk tales, Peele takes that eerie concept out of the realm of rumor and into that of feasibly realistic while never losing any of the otherworldy aura. A deft feat indeed and achieved here by making the origins of the doppelgangers not so much the point of the story more than a reason for it to happen.

Though much entertainment and intrigue is derived from working out the the origins of these creatures (dubbed the Tethered) the real wallop of the story comes from its subtext and almost cautionary message. Yes, much like "Get Out" before it there are bigger things at play here but, dare I say, the horror takes the front seat in this one and Peele's approach to social commentary is much more deft and careful. In the span of two films his touch was expertly refined making this movie much easier to digest as entertainment while never once losing sight of its goals.

Adding to the appeal of the film is the fact that the villains are, in effect, played by the very same people playing the protagonists. Nyong'o shines in the dual roles and if i were forced to give you only one good reason to see this movie I'd say watch it to see her work. Peele also has quite the eye for making the uncanny feel uncomfortable and credible while never losing any artistic touch. The outstanding and unique score, as well, contributes to the unsettling atmosphere. Special kudos to Peele's continued innovative approach to tension relieving comedy in his work. It proves a breath of fresh air to the standards that have plagued the genre for years.

The Tethered themselves fall in that category that brands them immediately iconic with their strikingly red jumpsuits and jerky, volatile demeanor. It's definitely no easy task to create something so simple and yet so instantly recognizable. Coupled with a genuinely interesting backstory and, more importantly, being utilized to represent the manner in which we tend to create our own greatest foes by keeping certain people "in our shadows" but never allowing them to rise, the Tethered prove that they are also substance above style.

To say more about "Us" is to ruin a genuinely engaging experience. Peele has sealed his status as an important figure in horror and in the course of two films has elevated the art. "Us" walks that fine line between message and entertainment expertly. It also provides us with some of the most memorable, original, and disturbing villains in a good long while. By no means miss this movie. I give "Us" a 9.5 out of 10.


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Magic in the Moonlight review

Posted : 1 month ago on 17 July 2019 11:59 (A review of Magic in the Moonlight)

A light comic romp set in the French countryside during the '20's where a renown illusionist and hard-nose skeptic (Colin Firth) is tasked to disprove the abilities of a beautiful, American medium (Emma Stone) that has made her way up into socialite inner circles. Stumped by her abilities, he begins to see the drabness of life as meaningful for the first time in ages. As can be expected, his efforts are met with a battle of credulity that leads to revelations, not so much about the supernatural but himself.

Leave it to Woody Allen to spin yet another yarn about a scrappy, youthful beauty that falls madly in love with a much older eccentric after drastically changing his life. It's been one of the staples of his oeuvre for decades, only becoming increasingly disturbing as real life and allegations hang a dark cloud over his legacy. Whatever his past may or may not reveal about the nebbish auteur it is undeniable that he's made some of the most influential films of our time and, even when not at the height of his powers, can dish out a slice of breezy,whimsical engaging fare. So, where does "Magic In The Moonlight" fall?

If one were to point out one glaring fault in the film, it's that nothing particularly new can be said about Allen as an artist with this piece. To a seasoned fan of his work this will be a blip in the radar, albeit far from an offensively bad one. To a newcomer it will be a pleasant and breezy watch but not one that might inspire further investigation of Allen's work. It also suffers from some unfortunate (tough still professional) lighting that makes the whole affair somewhat ugly to look at and doesn't really chime with the location, setting, or mood.

Colin Firth is an exceptional lead and an absolute pleasure to watch as the somewhat overly stuffy Stanley, a career magician and unflinching debunker. Seeing him wrestle with the unknown, reassess his life, and see the world through both new and old eyes refreshed is quite the treat. It is this character arc that immediately wraps you into the goings on and, though you can see the ending coming a mile away, keeps you hanging on till the credits roll. Not to insinuate that anything might incite the desire to leave. The film is rife with an excellent supporting cast, clever and charming dialogue, great locations, and a genuine atmosphere that spirits you away to the time portrayed.

So, as with any romantic comedy, you need a female lead to play off the male. As customary with Allen films (again, somewhat disturbingly so in hindsight) that lead tends to be much younger than the male and certainly way out of his league when it comes to looks. The more than capable (and one of my personal favorites) Emma Stone takes the role of the endearing medium Sophie. This should be great news as Stone has more than once proven to have the chops, the timing, and the charm to pull off anything thrown at her but it pains me to say that her character falls somewhat flat.

While it'd be easy to pile the blame fully on her capabilities it would also be disingenuous. In short, Allen's script does nothing truly interesting with her. Stone ultimately feels like a wasted talent. She is neither presented as smart enough despite it being clear she's no dummy, witty enough despite have some excellent exchanges with Stanley, or interesting enough despite being the focus of Stanley's investigation and affections. Instead she comes off as somewhat daft at times and, worse, downright needy at others. This is a woman beholden to the approval of a man. It all feels so dated. Had this been set in present time it might just be downright offensive. We are expected to believe she'd be a source of inspiration for the lead and, less credibly, one that captures his rocky heart.

At first this holds weight because her abilities befuddle Stanley and give his life renewed purpose but as the story progresses the illusion no longer holds. Though the themes of the film center around the true magic of life being in matters of the heart it all ends up feeling somewhat contrived. There truly is no reason for him to love her or her to love him, at least not with what was shown to us. He fell in love with an idea, she fell in love with a curmudgeonly cynic but REALLY they fell in love with each other despite all that? Really, that's the best you could do? How often does this really happen? Here is Allen's ultimate downfall. In real life this relationship would not even be fathomable much less lead to the sappy ending.

All that said, the film IS an enjoyable watch. There is nothing grossly awry with it, after all, it just makes zero impact in Allen's filmography and might prove utterly forgettable to a casual viewer once all is said and done. This feels more like a glorified stage play that is still having the kinks worked out. Its woeful misuse of Emma Stone is a downright shame though Colin Firth does much to keep that dynamic going. This is Allen on automatic, be grateful that he can churn out entertaining material even then. I give "Magic in the Moonlight" a 6 out of 10.


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Underworld (2003) review

Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 13 July 2019 04:22 (A review of Underworld (2003))

"Underworld" is interesting in that it that it is very clearly a product of its time that hit theaters at just the right moment. Any sooner or later and it would of been the target of ridicule. Alas, it was not at least not by the viewing audiences (critics weren't particularly kind). Admittedly, I am one of the ones suckered by it and I'm 100% okay with that. It came at the precise moment when the collective hunger for three films was at an all time high and it fulfilled those needs in its own distinct way. For that reason, it remains something of a guilty pleasure for some and a downright classic for others.

Let's be honest here, this movie owes a lot to the alluded to three films. These three movies had an immense cultural impact with their visual style, dense mythos, deadly serious tone, unique color palette, and focus on stylized action. They were: The Matrix, The Crow, and Blade. Indeed, a cursory glance at "Underworld" will belie those influences. Imitation need not be frowned upon every time, however. "Underworld" also tapped into the goth/metal/alternative subcultures which, at the time, had reached a commercial mainstream peak.

So, with the stars aligned, the story of a leather and latex-clad vampiress assassin in the midst of a centuries long feud with Lycans (werewolves) captured the imagination of audiences and became something of a surprise hit. Made on a tight budget the film also impressed seasoned fans of genre fare with its dedication to practical effects work. Fans of action had a glut of it here with seemingly every inch of "cool" squeezed out of gunplay and fancy moves. To its credit the movie never completely devolves into an orgiastic frenzy of flips and kicks. Instead, it bides its time between indulgent action set pieces and a mystery story. It also doesn't have pretensions of being overly clever. It is what it is and it's good at being just that.

It's brooding tone and distinct blue on black color scheme sets it apart while complimenting the material though it might wear thin on some viewers. Sets, effects work, and costumes are particularly impressive given how low the budget was. You'd think this was a mega-budget affair.

The cast, too, is quite a win for the viewer. Bill Nighy entrances as Viktor, the ruthless leader of the vampires. Kate Beckinsale surprised back then for going from comedy and drama roles to a full on action heroine complete with steely gaze, cold demeanor, and impressive fighting skills. Michael Sheen as Lucian, the leader of the Lycans, stands out in a role that proves to have more substance than the viewer initially suspected. The rest of the cast too seems very much involved in the process and, overall, you feel like you got more than you bargained for in all the best ways.

Ultimately, "Underworld" is kind of a big, silly movie. This is vampires versus werewolves, after all, but something about it just makes it memorable. The mix of its particular aesthetics, its almost staunch refusal to wink at the audience, it's impressive production values, and fantastic cast somehow all just click and elevate the material from goofy to a damn good time.

Is this movie perfect? Far from it. If anything its a snapshot of the times but it's also one that hasn't aged horribly. It's aged with an air of nostalgia that makes everything that's starting to feel silly just this side of acceptable. Despite it's serious approach, the movie never shies away from being what it is, a big ol' monster slugfest and, because of that, it will be fondly looked upon. Need proof? This became a franchise. One that always got decent returns on its budget. Somebody keeps watching these for a reason and a lot of that good faith was earned on this sole film. I give Underworld 7/10.



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Underworld: Evolution review

Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 13 July 2019 03:39 (A review of Underworld: Evolution)

With the unprecedented success of "Underworld" under his belt, Len Wiseman returned to helm the follow-up with a considerably larger budget and more stylized vampire action and black leather to fill a hundred Hot Topics. However, it wasn't long before he dispelled the old adage of "bigger is better".

"Underworld: Evolution" picks up directly after the events of the first with our heroes, Selene and Michael Corvin (Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman, respectively) on the run after they're unfathomable bond and betrayal set in motion a series of events that brought Selene's master to his death and the worlds of Lycans and vampires to disarray. In the wake of this chaos, another elder vampire wakes and that's when things get stupid.

The setup is logical, the action is as ridiculous but entertaining as before, and all the self-serious goth meets The Matrix aesthetic is on high but the film quickly comes undone with the presence of Markus (Tony Curran) as the big bad. Markus' story necessitates a retcon of the idea that Viktor was the first and most formidable vampire, essentially telling the audience that they're fools for ever finding that guy a threat. In a bid to up the ante and introduced a bigger and more imposing menace, the film effectively treads on the good work of BIll Nighy who had commanded every scene as Viktor in the first film. Worse, Markus, for all his bluster, is ultimately a weak replacement that inexplicably didn't put his current plan into effect until Viktor's death despite having a virtual life insurance the whole time. The film tries to explain this away by telling us that he feared Viktor's armies but the fact that they wouldn't dare kill him anyway makes it all nonsense.

You see, the film starts by showing us a Markus that was dead set on locking his Lycan twin away but by the time Markus returns he's dead set on releasing him and creating some sort of master race. It's ludicrous to even type this stuff up. It almost feels like they were missing some intrinsic piece of backstory that would lead us to care or believe that Markus' loved his brother enough to bite his tongue for years and then finally unleash his wrath upon Viktor's death. If it is, bad news, it was pivotal. As it stands the movie lacks it and comes off as preposterous

That, however, is the least of its sins. The film introduces a character so baffling and useless that it literally made me watch the movie twice to see if I missed something. Derek Jacobi as Corvinus, the father of all three races of beings in this universe has SOMEHOW always been behind the scenes and only tidies up for the vamps and Lycans and basically is an exposition machine that serves no purpose but to overcomplicate a concept that didn't need muddling with. When I say he serves no purpose, I mean he literally refuses to get involved save by proxy of our heroine. We could of done without this joker and had the same results.

While they never undo the balance of supernatural and science (Lycans and vampires being genetic freaks) that the first movie set forward they do make it profoundly stupid by verifying that the legend of Corvinus it's based on is true. This effectively makes Markus even more stupid by making him a guy that somewhere along the way was actually bitten by a bat and mutated because of his genetic predisposition. This gets dumber when you realize that if that part of the legend turned out to be reality then that means his brother had to, by chance, be bitten by a wolf too so he could spawn werewolves. Before this movie this was just a legend that people used to explain a condition, after this movie it's a literal headache-inducing reality. Oy vey.

And the nonsense piles on with ridiculous deus ex machina and the butchering of their own mythos just to fit in this plot with Markus and his brother. Oh, Viktor has a key in his chest all along and that's tied into the locket that was on his daughter and Lucian. All these "reveals" feel forced and totally unnecessary. A single key would of been sufficient, did they have it out for Bill Nighy or something? Sure felt that way.

"Evolution" is mind-numbingly overwrought. It thinks it's clever but it's really jaw-droppingly stupid. The action is a respite from the absurdity and Kate Beckinsale's Selene is someone you want to see in something far better than this dreck. Effects are mostly fantastic save a few moments that, despite the budget boost, look atrocious. I'm looking at you intro CGI werewolves.

I had seen this movie previous to reviewing ages ago and I remembered nothing about it. Now I know why.


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Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009) review

Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 13 July 2019 02:58 (A review of Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009))

Two movies into the "Underworld" series, the creative team made a surprisingdecision to make a prequel instead of move ahead with the story that had just earned them a healthy sum at the box office. But was it really a strange choice? In retrospect, no. Despite its exciting action and amped up visuals, "Evolution" had effectively weakened the foundations of the first movie that had endeared the public to the franchise. So it was logical, even wise, choice to attempt to repair that damage.

And so they did with "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans", which gave the viewer a chance to see the very roots of what had started the hateful blood feud between Lycans and vampires. Where "Evolution" had complicated the mythos with extraneous characters, pre-Lycan werewolves, and a cheapening of Viktor's menace, "Rise" sought to remind us why we were invested in this story to begin with.

At its core, the movie is yet another take on the forbidden love formula of "Romeo and Juliet" which, let's face it, is hard to screw up or dislike. A smattering of subtext about race and justifiable insurrection make this tried and true approach all the stronger and, just like that, we have an immediately likable hero in Lucian (an engaging Michael Sheen) to go against the villainous vampire that owned every scene he was in in the first movie, Viktor (Bill Nighy). Rhona Mitra is uniquely beautiful and poised as Lucian's paramour. These three give a movie about monsters fighting each other much more credibility than you'd think.

Patrick Tatopoulos, who formerly was in charge of creature design, takes on the directorial reins and brings the presentation down from gothic comic book fare to fantasy horror drama while never losing that visual aesthetic cohesiveness that makes the film feel undoubtedly like part of the series. His keen eye serves the material exceptionally well and the action, though still fantastic, seems far more realistic than previously in the series. Better yet, it stands out as the most rousing and visually arresting. Most importantly, he makes sure the film has its own strong identity and never lets the audience miss Beckinsale's Selene.

Again, the effects work is a mixture of the practical and CGI with the latter being used only when absolutely necessary and downright logical (i.e. hordes of hundreds of wolves). The dark monotone hues help the two mediums work together very well despite a few minor hiccups here and there. The sets and costuming are spectacular and really work to give the world a lived in look so pivotal to making fantasy or period pieces work.

You wouldn't think they could wring much out of a backstory they touched upon quite a bit in the previous two installments but the writers managed to do not only that but give it a surprising amount of substance and heart. More importantly, they retroactively give meaning to some of the weaker points of "Evolution" and allow you to forgive some of the stupider ones (the key mechanism in Viktor's chest) by actually given heft to the Lycan's plight and Viktor's hatred of them.

"Rise of the Lycans" can not exist without its ties to the first "Underworld" film but it certainly does much to stand apart on its own. In all honesty, this is probably the best film in the series and while that is not a hard bar to reach it is rare that a sequel outdoes the film that birthed it.





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Underworld: Awakening review

Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 13 July 2019 01:20 (A review of Underworld: Awakening)

The fourth installment in the "Underworld" franchise gives us a twelve year time leap thus excusing itself of the obvious loss of of its lead characters (Scott Speedman's Michael Corvin) and instead focuses on the outcome of genetic tampering of his DNA and Selene (Kate Beckinsale), namely a daughter that is the target of both vampire and Lycan attention in a world that has driven both species near to extinction in the aftermath of the "Underworld: Evolution". Sounds heady and over-convoluted but, trust me, it it isn't.

No, unlike the overwrought and unnecessarily over-complicated plot of "Evolution" (which this chronologically follows) this installment is blissfully simple. This frees the viewer to stop wrestling with the ridiculous leaps in logic, retconning, and plot holes of that aforementioned film and just sit back and enjoy. Granted, they may have taken the dedication to simplicity a bit too seriously but unlike some of the plot elements in "Evolution" nothing is headscratchingly bogus or stupid.

Yes, "Awakening" is mean, nasty, and to the point and all the better for it. At the very least it proved to be a thrilling way to spend a paltry hour and twenty minutes (slightly over the 30 minute mark if you count the suspiciously long credits). Despite its incredibly short runtime, the film never lets up. It delivers what, by this point, the series really has to offer: gorgeous action, slobberknocking confrontations between monsters, and the thrill of seeing Kate Beckinsale put boots to butts.

"Awakening' is a film that realized the story needed to be herded out of the tangle "Evolution" had drawn it into and that it couldn't revisit the past as "Rise of the Lycans" did. Instead it gives us a "(wo)man on the run" movie that quickly becomes a "rescue mission" movie. Not to say it abandoned the world-building attributes of the series. In fact, it manages to fit that in quite nicely into the state the characters are in and the villain's motives.

The directors know how to handle action and the set-pieces here are a fun time through and through. You'll find yourself more than glad to leave your brain at the door and watch Selene do her thing. Effects are a bit more reliant on CGI than before but physical effects were not totally abandoned.

This movie isn't going to win awards but it knows that and just runs with what it is. It doesn't pretend that the post "The Crow" gothic aesthetics are in or that it can be as good as the best "Blade" movie or that it didn't crib a bit from "The Matrix". It's boiled down the essence of what we find cool about the movies previous and done away with the burden of some of the overcooked plotting that, frankly, wouldn't work anymore. Here is "Underworld" at its most basic and I can appreciate that.

Wanna see an over-serious, monster-action slugfest? This will do you just fine. Sometimes it's okay to just think somebody is badass for a good stretch of minutes.


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Underworld: Blood Wars review

Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 13 July 2019 12:48 (A review of Underworld: Blood Wars)

By this point in a franchise, you're either looking for a decent ending or, in the rarest of scenarios, are still highly invested. I was in the former camp. The "Underworld" franchise is one that somehow kept creeping up under the radar and always pretty much doubling or tripling its budget to ensure that a new one was just a few years around the corner.

"Underworld: Blood Wars" has Selene still on the run from both Lycans and vampires, who both seek the blood of her child to ensure their survival or evolution. She is soon recruited by the vampires that have ostracized her in a bid to win the war against the rising tide of Lycan rebels at their door. However, not all is as it seems.

This fifth installment came after the breezy and action-packed "Underworld: Awakening" which, though a quick watch, tapped into the series' visual strengths and packed a pleasant visceral punch. Comparatively, "Blood Wars" brings the goings-on to a sudden halt with a story that skips over the relevant human issues brought forth in its predecessor and just goes back to the well. Unfortunately, that well is running a bit dry. Worse yet, don't try to go back to your roots if you can't afford to.

Yes, that's right, the budget on this installment was slashed in half compared to the previous film and it shows. Conspicuously absent are hordes of Lycans (werewolves) and in there place are just guy in fur coats that we are assured turn into them...sometimes. Even when they do, it seems too little, too late. The action scenes (something the series always managed to pull off even at the worst of times) are lackluster and underwhelming here. Costumes and sets look a bit more suitable for direct-to-DVD than a theatrical film and the lighting (still that signature blue hue) manages to somehow be "off".

However, we can't solely blame budget. After all, the third installment (Rise of the Lycans) had the same budget and managed to be easily among the best in the series, sported tons of practical effects wizardry (yes, hordes of Lycans), was a period piece, AND had some stunning action set pieces. The blame here lies on a script that feels a little too thin despite having more plot than the previous one and terribly pedestrian direction from its director, Anna Foerster. Under more capable hands this movie would of been a bit more palatable.

The actors aren't anything to write home about either. Kate Beckinsale is not allowed to shine much as Selene (with some heavily reduced screen time), an absolute shame as she is the ONLY reason to stick around for this series at this point. To be fair, she looked miserable in this so it was probably for the best. The main villain Marius (Tobias Menzies) has the presence of a fart in the wind and the secondary villain, while better, is not precisely amazing.

This series has time and again used dubious methods to sort some of its wrinkles out and here its at its worst. The Michael Corvin character is unceremoniously dumped (after being a stand in replacement), Selene's daughter is pretty much only spoken about and "shot around" when onscreen, the involvement of humans is completely ignored after being a huge issue in "Awakening", and Selene is put through one of the most incredulous (even for a movie about werewolves and vampires) story ringers ever in a bid to make her a savior figure she already was anyway.

So does it provide a suitable ending for the series at least? Somewhat. Is it satisfying? Not remotely. In fact, a lot of the elements in play feel like a cop out or completely fall flat. This series ends with a whimper not the bang it should have. I give "Underworld: Blood Wars" a 2 out of 10.


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Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) review

Posted : 2 months ago on 21 June 2019 07:53 (A review of Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977))

Failing his duty as an exorcist, a spiritually shaken Father Lamont is tasked with the duty of validating Father Merrin's work in light of a progressive Church's attempts to discredit it and call him a heretic. In the process he uncovers why Regan MacNeil was targeted and meaning of Merrin's work in light of the larger scale plot of the demon Pazuzu.

This follow up to one of the perennial classics of film was destined to fall short of the mark. After all, how do you live up to something so universally lauded and feared? The answer is, you don't. This, however, doesn't bar you from making a good film despite living in the shadow of a greater predecessor. Unfortunately, "The Exorcist II: The Heretic" doesn't quite achieve that goal either.

Oft maligned and ignored in favor of the vastly superior "The Exorcist III", part two has a pretty awful reputation. Ripped apart by critics and audiences alike, it tends to be treated worse than the red-headed stepchild. Truth be told, It's earned a lot of that criticism but that's not to say that it deserves all of it. No, in fact, upon reviewing the film shows an admirable bit of ambition and, at times, it even manages to stir up something of the response it was aiming for but, first, we must get the negatives out of the way.

Its foremost sin is that it quickly undoes the deep character work that was established in the first movie, relegating Father Karras and his role to a virtual non-issue by choosing to solely focus on Father Merrin's legacy. Given the heft of Karras' sacrifice and the fact that the story arc of the first depended so much on his journey from doubtful and apathetic to willing martyr, it almost feels like an intentional blow below the belt when he's not even cursorily mentioned.

You almost forgive this as the introduction to Father Lamont and his assignment is engaging enough a start but once the concepts of science and religion cross paths the movie asks far too much of its audience. It's quite the remarkable shift as the tone goes from acceptably somber and ominous to downright incredulous as a "mental synchronizer" is used in a hypno-therapy session to essentially link the minds of the priest and the now "normal" Regan MacNeil. Were this intended to be a b-movie (or if it followed one) then the concept could be shrugged off as a silly piece of deus ex machina but since it's not it stands out like a sore thumb. That bit of incredulity really mars the entire affair, as from that point forward you begin to ask too many questions.

Another huge blow to the original comes subsequently as we find out that the demon was never really cast out of Regan but that she remains somewhat susceptible to it (how much so being determine by the needs of the movie, no less). This revelation sets Lamont on a mission to find the source of Merrin's first encounter with the demon, seemingly a means to help Regan. What follows is a long and convoluted second act that feels burdensome and clumsy at times and visually adventurous at others. Limitations of either budget or effects manage to hobble most of these attempts and plunge them deep into laughably bad territory.

The movie seems hellbent on explaining science with religion and vice versa but does so in such an incompetent fashion that the science comes off as more hokey than any piece of dubious doctrine. The ultimate revelation that Pazuzu is targeting people that are essentially supposed to be a step forward in evolution would of been far more interesting, and credible, if it had been cast entirely in a mystic light. There's an intriguing nugget of an idea there, for sure. That the increasingly evil world, symbolically represented by the habits of locusts (both as beings of nature and as an avatar of Pazuzu), could be changed by those that bring healing and light to it (the "good locusts" trained to change the course of the hive mind and people like Regan). A phenomenal concept but it feels half-formed in the movie and hindered by the psuedo-science.

The final confrontation between good and evil in this movie is the nail in the coffin. The demon attempts to destroy Regan one more time via other means because, apparently its hold on her wasn't as strong as it boasted, and, well, it just this harebrained, huge set piece that serves more to confuse than to give you something conclusive or satisfactory. I feel that Boorman's earlier approach to showing the influence of evil with juxtaposed images and other camera tricks would of worked far better than to have a priest beating on somebody like an enraged chimp.

Other notable faults include: Laughable dialogue at times, some confoundingly bad or uneven acting from otherwise good actors, and an unruly pace. Most notable is the razor thin character arc for Father Lamont. One of the strongest points of the original is here turned into a something best inferred than actually felt or seen. Lamont (Richard Burton) basically goes from doubtful of his abilities to determined to help to driven by demons and he rarely looks or acts any different between these stages.

All those grievous faults aside, there are interesting portions of this movie. The director uses an interesting array of visual tactics to communicate large ideas that, at times, are pretty admirable. It is, as aforementioned, quite ambitious in the scope and breadth of what it's trying to do, even if it doesn't quite achieve that most times. Ennio Morricone provides an exceptional score that actually lends a lot of atmosphere to the events even when they don't deserve that honor. There are some beautiful sets and locations and some interesting work with lighting to be acknowledged. Likewise, the intro to the film and the buildup to the finale are actually pretty decent.

In the end, however, the bad FAR outweighs any good. The film depends so much on its predecessor that you can't even watch it on its few merits. I can see where this idea was going and it could of been great. Alas, it turns out to be more of curious failed experiment more than anything else. However, strange things do warrant a peek every now and then and I think that is where this one stands. A weird item that on occasion can be revisited if only to see what could have been behind all the incompetence. 4/10


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