Saturday, 27 May 2017

Underworld: Blood Wars

Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver, and Charles Dance

Director: Anna Foerster

91 minutes (15) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.40:1
Sony blu-ray region ABC
[Released 29 May]

Rating: 7/10
Review by Christopher Geary

“Don’t think... you’ll hurt yourself.” This fantasy action movie rattles along without pause for much ponderous horror, but Underworld: Blood Wars still offers a highly effective showcase for various gothic a-go-go riffs on the bloody legacy of a battle against beasts within. Following Underworld (2003), Underworld: Evolution (2006), prequel Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans (2009), and previous instalment Underworld Awakening (2012), this is the first of this franchise to be directed by a woman. However, the milieu of vampire-superheroine death dealer Selene (Kate Beckinsale) looks pretty much the same. Selene is invited back into the coven, where she is betrayed yet again by one of the council.

As a vampire elder, Charles Dance brings gravitas to this movie’s first act, setting up the premise of a new Lycan leader Marius (Tobias Menzies) who wants to end the feudal war, but only with full victory against the vampires, not a peaceful resolution to the seemingly eternal conflict. Sub-plots about festering revenge and unanticipated discoveries a propos the gloomy future of vampirism keep everything ticking over, until the final battles with a pivotal duel. Eventually finding refuge in the frozen north, Selene soon finds that her kind have mutated beyond death into more wraith-like creatures.   

Facing up to revolutionary challenges and the evolutionary changes of techno-modernity, as the 21st century’s science results in weaponised silver and UV light, Underworld has a lively narrative about struggles to maintain order, uphold and honour the ancient familial traditions, and explore the ramifications of a magical yet synthesised mythology. As ever for this genre franchise, and others like it, what makes the movie work as entertainment is the production’s seamless combinations of live-action stunts and photo-real animation (PRA) effects. It’s never difficult to accept the otherworldly qualities of this stylised action  adventure because the polished visuals maintain a superb standard throughout.    

Of course, it would also be easy to view this on-going storyline as a metaphor of class war, with vampires as wealthy overlords - favouring swordfights, and werewolves as the beastly proles - armed with machine-guns like army grunts. Allegorical interpretations aside, twisty plot elements converge on the final conflict where sunlight not moonlight might be decisive, but it is enemy memories derived from blood-tasting that reveals all the secrets and lies. So, in the end, blood will out, one way or another.

Monday, 8 May 2017


Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, and Andy Garcia

Director: Morten Tyldum

116 minutes (12) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Sony blu-ray region B

Rating: 6/10
Review by Christopher Geary

A shipboard romance in space? Yes, sci-fi trappings provide refreshingly cool backdrops to this otherwise insufferably corny adventure of, as the old song goes - ‘if you were the only girl in the world, and I was the only boy’. The boy is a mechanic named Jim (played by the ‘Star Lord’ himself, Chris Pratt), while the girl is Jennifer Lawrence as Aurora, and, perhaps, no other name screams ‘space-girl’ as loudly; not even Stella. Directed by the Norwegian maker of thriller Headhunters (2011), and Alan Turing bio-pic The Imitation Game (2014), Passengers is basically Titanic (1997) with twiddle knobs on, where one rogue asteroid from the cosmic depths replaces an iceberg in the North Atlantic.

While another couple in a movie like Arrival have to deal with first contact problems, this drama has only social contact problems, while it promotes the great human myth of love. Romance is fiction, not fact. Love is the greatest fantasy fixation of literature and cinema and TV, and the stories that we tell each other - to survive life in an indifferent universe. Love is a dream, that we all dream of; but nothing more than that. Love is the singularly perfect thing that cannot be true because all of humanity shares the flaw of an imperfect reasoning bound to our feelings of gross inadequacy. Love is like god because one has to believe in something, and big love makes sense got any pointless life, because it appears to be selfless when, in fact, it is merely evidence of selfishness. That’s why Jim wakes up Aurora when he knows it’s wrong. 

Jim’s awakening from hibernation is an unfortunate accident, just a glitch in the starship systems, but his decision to select a female companion from the trope of sleeping beauty in space is quite premeditated and yet an obvious act of desperation. Passengers is a sci-fi amalgam of various familiar plot details and genre visualisations. Its blatant borrowings include some classics - 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Alien (1979), The Cold Equations (1996), Sunshine (2007), and Prometheus (2012), and not to mention an heroic tragedy stolen from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Kahn (1982). The only way forwards for Jim and Aurora is to adapt to their circumstances and accept the curse of their lost futures apart, and tolerate the necessity of a second chance together.

Explosive decompression is another instance common to space opera cinema, and here it might be applied as a metaphor to a cross-genre plot mixing lonely stalker themes with a united-we-stand, like it or not, against impending catastrophe - when the starship seems doomed by failing tech. Can the hero fix it, saving thousands of wannabe colonists and so gain redemption for his betrayal? Passengers is not the worst sci-fi production of this type to appear since Alien Cargo (1999), but the 21st century’s new big-budget space movies should really be aiming higher in terms of concepts than this passable genre-tourist fare.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017


Cast: Natalie Brown, Jonathan Watton, Melanie Lynskey, Breeda Wool, and Christina Kirk

Directors: Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama, Annie Erin ‘St Vincent’ Clark, and Jovanka Vuckovic

78 minutes (15) 2017
Widescreen ratio 2.39:1
Soda DVD Region 2
[Released 8th May]

Rating: 5/10
Review by Andrew Darlington

The big lipstick kiss-print on the DVD cover-art, which also forms a skull, neatly catches the tone. Less triple-X status, more a defiant gesture. Although surely a female-centric project such as this is already as much an anachronism as a crusading quartet by gay directors or black directors? At the risk of sounding tokenist, we already have movie-activists Diablo Cody (Jennifer’s Body, 2009), Drew Barrymore (Charlie’s Angels, 2000), Megan Ellison (Zero Dark Thirty, 2012), Karen Rosenfelt (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn 2, 2012), Nina Jacobson (The Hunger Games, 2012), as well as Kathryn Bigelow, Gale Anne Hurd, Sofia Coppola, Emma Thomas, and on. But glass ceilings are there to be shattered, and every splinter counts.

This is an anthology, or portmanteau movie of four 20-minute segments. Arty ‘Twilight Zone’ short story episodes with no obvious theme, linked only by spooked nursery inter-titles of decapitated dolls, butterfly animations, a pincushion with human teeth, and a haunted doll’s house. Cine-literate Jovanka Vuckovic’s The Box quotes from George A. Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead (1968), but its ambiguity has an inexorably clinical momentum sprung from a seemingly random incident on the 3:55 subway back to the suburbs. Little Danny (Peter DaCunha) asks the stranger with the lazy eye what he has in the red gift box tied up in a red ribbon. After glimpsing inside, he loses his appetite. No breakfast, no evening meal. Is he sneaking junk-food from the school cafeteria? No, despite the delectable culinary food-porn on offer, despite daddy (Jonathan Watton) Robert’s ultimatum, he refuses. After five days without food they take him to the doctor who explains “if you don’t eat, you’ll die.” “So?” says Danny. Mom Susan (Natalie Brown) resumes secret smoking, and Dad’s under pressure. Danny whispers the secret of the box to sister Jenny (Peyton Kennedy), then to Daddy, who both also stop eating. On Xmas Day nobody’s new clothes fit, they’re all too skinny. With the three in terminal intensive care Mom starts haunting the subway hunting the man with the red box. She’s hungry. Zero resolution.

Despite Annie Clark’s primary genre being experimental rock under her 'St Vincent' persona – collaborating with Sufjan Stevens and David Byrne across five albums, her one-woman segment The Birthday Party is a contrasting black comedy, albeit Mom-themed and with a twittering electro-score. Subtitled ‘The memory Lucy suppressed from her seventh birthday...’ it has moments recalling the Fawlty Towers episode The Kipper And The Corpse, as effectively-frazzled Mom Mary (Melanie Lynskey) strives to conceal Daddy David’s corpse from creepy Nanny Carla (Sheila Vand), so as not to embarrass her daughter’s birthday event. With dead-Daddy finally revealed as the funky-panda head sitting at the table. Cue kiddy-screams, and long-term trauma.

From domestic interiors to “so fucking epic” vast desert exterior, Roxanne Benjamin’s Don’t Fall moves into more gut-wrenching traditional Horror Channel group-jeopardy splatter-core. Four slackers who’s “internal compass has failed me never” go off-trail in a camper-van, and find pre-Native American rock-art in the form of a horned beast territorial marker. “Maybe it’s cursed?” Yup, it’s cursed. Gretchen’s toxic graze turns shock-mutational in a convincingly nasty slasher killing spree. Her physical contortions recall Andy Serkis at his most grotesque. Until the rock-art has a new set of blood-red additional images.

Finally, Karyn Kusama has the strongest resumé, directing femme-actioner Aeon Flux (2005), and The Invitation (2016) as well as cheer-leader flesh-eating romp Jennifer’s Body. In Her Only Living Son single-Mom Cora (Christina Kirk) wears a cross on a chain, while bratty tousle-haired son Andy (Kyle Allen), is a troubled prodigy who also tears classmate Stacy’s fingernails off, spatters bloodstains across the bathroom, and has hairy horned toes. Everyone, including the postman, seems in on the secret that this episode envisages the outcome of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), with Andy’s real father – Satan, soon coming to claim him. Which force will triumph, Mom’s love or Andy’s dreams of “empires of misery”? With the same kind of maternal self-immolation as the vivid dream sequence in The Box, where the family carve and devour Mom as she’s sprawled on the dinner-table, making the ultimate sacrifice for their appetites, mother and son crush each other to death in a killer embrace. A closure probably dictated more by time-constraints than by reasoned plotting. By necessity sharp and razored to the bone, as a show-reel, this impressive and disturbingly varied female-centric quartet of miniatures should lead to follow-on mainstream commissions very soon.