A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 272 – Underworld

Underworld – November 27th, 2010

I think I’ve made it clear that I work in a library. As such, I am often asked if I’ve read whatever book a patron is checking out, returning or requesting. Sometimes I can say yes, sometimes I have to say no. I’ve found that regardless of what I say, I will usually be treated to that patron’s thoughts on said book. This got especially bad with the Twilight books for a while, and I really do try to be diplomatic at work. I have opinions, yes, but what it boils down to is personal taste. And when it comes to vampires? Twilight is not my taste. I like my vampires a little less sparkly and a little more nasty. I’m not looking for romance. I’m looking for action.

While I am well aware that this is a movie that is far more style than substance, I can’t help but like it because it does indeed deliver on what I want from a vampire movie. For one, there’s plenty of blood. As well there should be, since that’s kind of a key point of vampire mythology. There’s also plenty of back-stabbing and nefarious plans and sinister figures. Oh, and action. There’s a heck of a lot of action. And that’s a good thing. There’s also a pretty impressively detailed backstory and world for the movie to be set in, so I’m willing to forgive a lot. I’m willing to forgive the fact that this isn’t Oscar-worthy material. It was never intended to be.

It’s a little risky to go saying “Oh, it’s okay that this movie’s not great because it wasn’t meant to be great.” That leads to a whole world of crap where I excuse things like Lost Boys 2: The Tribe. For the record, I do not excuse that movie. But really, take a look at that. It’s a vampire movie with a lot of blood and a lot of action and a tiny dab of romance. And it stinks on toast. It’s a horrible movie with a single redeeming feature and his name is Corey Feldman. This movie, on the other hand, while not being a masterpiece of cinema or an instant classic horror movie, is still a perfectly good addition to the genre. The acting is a little overblown, but not bad. The writing is a little overblown too, which I honestly thing is on purpose and spurred the overblown acting.

This is a movie about a centuries-old battle between two supernatural species. The vampires live in posh mansions full of all the trappings of great wealth. They’re decadent, in the true meaning of the word. Their world is supposed to feel dramatic and cold and vast. The Lycans live in the sewers and subways. They’re hungry and eager. Their world is supposed to be desperate and angry. None of the set-up here lends itself to subtle emotion or performance. What action movie has nuance? They’re few and far between, okay? And nuance isn’t necessary to make this movie head and shoulders ahead of crap like The Tribe.

Really, a lot of effort was put into the world here. The mood of the vampires, with their mansions and private trains and crypts and elite armed force whose sole purpose is to guard against and take down the Lycans? That’s presented beautifully. It’s a goth kid dream here, really, but it’s also so very empty. The barely contained energy of the Lycans is well done as well. They’re all straining at the need for secrecy, just itching for a reason to act. And it all plays right into the backstory, which fuels the main plot.

Like I said, this isn’t award material. It’s pretty and it’s got a great mood to it and a fun world. But the actual story is just okay at best. Poor hapless Michael has no idea he’s the heir to a bloodline that can merge vampire and Lycan traits. Angry vampire Selene is certain that something is afoot in the sewers and vows to find out why even though the senior vampires, including the creepy Kraven, say otherwise. The Lycans, led by Lucian (I totally did not recognize Michael Sheen in this as the same guy who played David Frost in Frost/Nixon) are after Michael, so Selene’s after him too, and then she wakes up big bad vampire Viktor. It’s kind of messy, and there’s a lot of Selene going back to the mansion and arguing with Kraven, then leaving again when he tells her not to. There’s a lot of Erika, a younger vampire with the hots for Kraven, throwing bitch glares at Selene. There’s a lot of Selene lone-gunning it on the streets before once more heading back to the mansion to fend off Kraven’s advances. Oh, and a lot of Michael running away from people, towards people, getting caught, getting tied up, and generally being a puppet. The story I get. But the telling of it? Messy.

So really, it’s a good thing that the movie has all this style. And there is some substance there in the form of the worldbuilding done to support the plot. I give everyone a pass on the acting and I admit I really do enjoy Kate Beckinsale as Selene and Bill Nighy as Viktor. They both seem to have enjoyed their roles. The action is fantastic, there’s plenty of blood, and while I could do with a little less back and forth, the actual plot works fine. And in the end there’s some great back stabbing and well. These vampires are pretty evil when you come right down to it. They’re bad-assed (especially Selene and the head of the guard for the mansion, Kahn) and pretty much exactly how I like my vampires. What romance there is? Is kept to a minimum. Mostly there’s just a lot of action. And blood.

November 27, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments

Underworld

November 27, 2010

Underworld

Back when this movie first opened in theaters Amanda and I happened to be in Boston on opening night. I don’t recall why or who we were with. Outside the theater where this movie was about to premier there were a bunch of pretty young Goth boys and girls in their corsets and frills with their big boots and eye-liner. I think we might have made some kind of snide comment, like you sometimes do, and I felt guilty about it. Because inside I’ve always secretly felt a kinship with those kids. I had a fascination with death and other morbid things when I was in High School. I’d have been Goth myself if such a thing had existed then, except that all the make-up and elaborate costumes would have been far too much effort for me. Anyhow – I wish now that I had hung out with those kids and gone into the theater to see this movie on opening night rather than waiting for its eventual DVD release, because it’s the most beautifully Gothic of all Goth movies, and it really is a joy to watch.

It’s a story of a modern day conflict taking place as part of a thousand-year-old war between vampires and were-wolves (called lycans here.) Modern-day here means that it appears to take place in present and the combatants mostly shoot each other with semi automatic pistols instead of hand-to-hand with fangs bared. The vampires are decadent, living in opulent covens full of high-tech security. The lycans are hunted fugitives striking from a secret sewer base. For centuries the lycans have been on the run, hunted methodically to the brink of extinction by the death-dealers, chief amongst whom is Selene. She’s a slinky leather-clad bad-ass with a chip on her shoulder who wants only to kill lycans. After an encounter with a couple of lycans in a subway tunnel she begins to suspect that they might be hunting for a specific human target – a young medical resident named Michael. She is soon proven right, though she has no idea the many secrets and plots that riddle both the vampire and lycan camps.

I feel like I could just do my whole review in the form of a long list of all the things I love about this movie. Oh, it’s not great cinema, but in terms of vampire action movies it is amongst the best out there. I just don’t know where to start. With the look of the film, I suppose. The production design is fantastic. The sets for the castle lair of Selene’s coven are fantastic, especially the inner sanctum where the ancient vampire who created her lies dormant at the start of the movie. Much of what you know about the history and technology of the vampires is presented visually here. The costume design is also astonishing. This is thanks to Wendy Partridge, who also worked on the costumes for Hellboy and Blade II. It is her we have to thank for Selene’s tight, tight pants, multi-buckled ass-kicking boots and voluminous jacket. The intricate robes of the ancient Viktor. The elaborate Gothic outfits of the decadent vampires who live in refined comfort far from the battle-lines. Every costume here tells a story – and there are so many of them that I crave for myself.

There are a few of the performances here that really draw my eye as well. Kate Beckinsale is fun as the take-no-nonsense Selene of course. The entire movie relies on her to drive most of the action and I certainly never got tired of seeing her kicking ass. But it’s a couple of the other roles that really garner more attention from me. Kevin Grevioux has a writing credit as well as depicting Raze, the most menacing of the lycans and right-hand-man to the lycan leader Lucian. His voice is simply unbelievable, which makes me wish that in story meetings he had pushed to give his character more lines. Man. And what I was most looking forward to as we put this in tonight was watching Bill Nighy as Viktor again. This was several years before he was transformed digitally into the tentically Davy Jones for the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, but many of the mannerisms he used in that performance are in evidence here. He’s just a fun actor to see at work, and this is a nifty character for him to play with. Viktor is one of three uber-powerful vampire lords, worshiped almost as gods, but he’s also got secrets and schemes which are revealed as the movie progresses.

That’s another thing I love about this movie. The world that is being created here is so rich and full of intricate back-story. Mixed in with all the vampire vs. lycan warring here there’s a kind of mystery. Or several mysteries which Selene must unravel. Why do the lycans want Michael? What’s Kraven’s game? What’s driving Lucian on so? Everything is related to events from centuries ago, and almost everything that Selene has been told about the past comes into question as the movie goes on. I love that there’s enough depth here to have a little plot in with the action, and that the back-story is rich enough that at the time of this writing two other movies in the series have sprouted from it.

This is the way a vampire action movie SHOULD be made. Some great action and special effects. A deep and interesting world realized through great production design and costumes with a fun cast as well. I wish I had seen it in the theater. On opening night. With the pretty goth kids.

November 27, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment