A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 278 – Van Helsing

Van Helsing – December 3rd, 2010

I hadn’t seen this before tonight and back when we watched the Underworld movies earlier in the week Andy really wanted to put it in right away. But this movie is too long for a Tuesday or Thursday and Wednesday was Woody Allen’s birthday. So we’ve got a friend visiting for the weekend and when Andy said “How about Van Helsing?” I had to point out that generally? We like to give guests veto power while they’re here. It would just be mean to force something like Megalodon on someone who hasn’t really committed to this project. We’ve got to watch the movies because that’s the whole point. We bought them, so we’re watching them. Guests? They’re innocent. Except in the case of Incubus. That was totally given to us by a guest.

But back to Van Helsing. We gave our guest veto power on this one and our guest said “No, I’ve been meaning to see that and this seems like a good way to do it.” And so we put this in tonight. And now, having seen it, I can understand why Andy wanted to put it in right away. After all, it’s a very blue-tinted movie about vampires and werewolves and it features Kate Beckinsale. I am ashamed to admit I didn’t realize it was really her at first. I thought it was a cheap Kate Beckinsale knockoff. I think it’s the hair. It’s very ringletty. But yes, vampires, werewolves, dark ambiance and so on and so forth. It’s a perfect follow-up, especially given the tone in which it’s presented.

This is a movie that straight up knows what it is. It’s got a sort of Snakes on a Plane quality there. It knows its camp value. It knows it’s a big old wheel of cheese. And it revels in it. And I do like a movie that runs with that. The plot follows Van Helsing, a big hero type who wears a duster and carries some cordless circular saws and hunts down monsters. He’s been sent by a secret Vatican-controlled-but-really-quite-diverse organization to hunt down Dracula. The tiny town nearby, plagued by vampire attacks, seems a little reluctant to let him help, but they do anyhow because even though they apparently had two badass vampire hunters themselves, no one had actually killed a vampire in centuries until Van Helsing and his auto-firing crossbow and plucky comic relief friar arrived. And along the way, while Van Helsing hunts down vampires and has a total lack of romantic chemistry with Anna (one of the non-vampire-killing vampire hunters), there are tons of monsters.

We start the movie off with the creation of Frankenstein’s monster. Then we shift to Van Helsing hunting down Mr. Hyde. We get vampires and werewolves too, making this a real monster fest. I’m kind of sad really, that no mummies were involved. It seems like that would have completed it all. There’s a whole involved plot where Dracula is using Frankenstein’s monster to channel electricity into a bunch of primitive defibrillators to jolt his undead batmonkeybabies into life. He also somehow controls all werewolves and has a cure for them because only a werewolf can kill him. He keeps the cure in ball of ice filled with acid, you know, so he can grab it in a hurry. Me, I’d treat it like an epi-pen and keep it on me at all times.

To be honest, while I know there was lots of backstory attempted, with history behind who Van Helsing really is and what he’s done in the past, I didn’t pay attention. There’s stuff about Anna’s ancestors and the origin of Dracula. I don’t really care. The movie’s soundtrack was unpleasantly unbalanced and we had to keep turning it up to hear the dialogue at all or down so the action wouldn’t shake our apartment building down. So I missed a lot of talking and backstory. I don’t think it really would have added a whole lot. Someone’s ancestor did something. Someone else’s did something else. Vader is Luke’s father, blah blah blah. The story here is so not the point of the movie.

The point of this movie is the cheese factor. The point is to cram as many monster movie tropes in as possible, from Igor to the creepy gravedigger. It’s got bizarrely inexplicable bits, like the windmill that gets lit on fire at the beginning (I could have sworn Dracula told Frankenstein it was a castle, but then it was clearly a windmill). It’s got Kate Beckinsale’s tightly corseted waist and heaving bosom. It’s got things like a huge mirror in Dracula’s castle so he can creep out his human “guests” at parties. And in the end it’s got a stormy night and a battle between a werewolf and a vampire and if it had been directed by Joss Whedon I’m sure the plucky comic relief would have died but it wasn’t so he lived. It’s one of those really bad movies that comes out the other side of bad into camp, but then I think that was intentional, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I suppose as a tribute to classic monster movies, it succeeds in that it has a lot of fun tossing in everything but the kitchen sink (and a mummy). Now I’ll just sit back and wait for Van Helsing vs Billy the Kid.

December 3, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Van Helsing

December 3, 2010

Van Helsing

Do you love cheese? I mean, really, love the strongest, stinkiest, greenest cheese you can find? How about computer generated special effects? How about Kate Beckinsale? Hugh Jackman? If so, then this might be the movie for you.

Back in the forties there was an attempt to keep milking the classic Universal monster movies with derivative and sub-standard fare like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Sort of like the Freddy meets Jason movie from a couple years ago. This was just before the monster movie genre degenerated into self satire with the Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein. Tonight’s movie is a CGI laden “homage” to these lesser monster movies. It is like a cross between the Universal movies of yore and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The movie starts with a black and white segment where Dracula kills Dr. Frankenstein as a Transylvanian mob attempts to break into his castle. Frankenstein’s monster has apparently been commissioned by Dracula for some nefarious end in this strange mashup universe. We don’t learn more about that purpose for a little while because once the monster escapes from Dracula’s castle we cut to Notre Dame, where we meet our hero.

The Gabriel Van Helsing of this movie is not to be confused with Abraham Van Helsing, the vampire hunter from Bram Stoker’s novel. This Van Helsing is also a vampire hunter, but that and the name are about the extent of the similarity. Gabriel, for one thing, is a monster hunter and assassin in the employ of the Vatican. Being as he is played by Hugh Jackman Gabriel also has Wolverine-like memory problems and doesn’t really know anything about his own past. We join him at the start of the movie as he is hunting the nefarious Mr. Hyde – who here is a colossal digital creature with the first of a long series of ridiculous accents. (It’s at this point that the LXG vibe really begins to take over.)

A cardinal in the Vatican City (in Rome according to the title card) sends Van Helsing to kill Dracula. But first Van Helsing has to visit Carl, a sort of medeival Q in his lab where he has all kinds of useful monster-killing gadgets. Carl is played by David Wenham of LOTR and 300 fame who here is the comic relief with his strange accent, shuffling gait and submissive hunched posture. When the two of them reach Transylvania they team up with Kate Beckinsale, who here is NOT a vampire, but is the last living descendant of a long line of gypsy kings who have sworn to kill Dracula. Her brother, it transpires, has been bitten by a werewolf.

The mythology of this movie is a little muddy here. It’s unclear to me just where the werewolves come into things. When I first saw this movie I thought that the curse on the gypsy kings was somehow responsible for the werewolves (since traditionally werewolves are associated in my mind with gypsy curses.) I think that’s not really the case though. Dracula seems to have somehow created the werewolves to act as his servants, or as experimental test subjects for his attempts to us Dr. Frankenstein’s life giving electrical gadgets to bring his vast horde of stillborn children to life. Or something. Maybe it’s not actually SUPPOSED to make any sense. Maybe I should remind myself it’s just a show and I should really just relax.

I’m not altogether sure how this movie got made. It’s clearly got a huge budget, and it’s got a bunch of big name actors, but the entire thing from beginning to end sort of treads a thin line between stupid cheesy action and outright satire. It’s abundantly clear that film makers knew very well just what kind of movie they were constructing. It never takes itself particularly seriously. The one-liners and quips are often wince-inducingly awful. The menacing threat that must be stopped at any cost is a horde of flying digital vampire monkey babies that have a tendency to spontaneously burst into globs of green goo – which tends to undermine some of the tension. I love the design for Frankenstein’s Monster in this film, but his exposed electric brain would seem to be a fatal flaw for him. Kate Beckinsale’s character Anna spends practically the entire movie in a strangely corseted outfit that looks as if it’s trying to force her breasts to burst through her blouse – which you would think would make it hard to slay werewolves and vampires. In short, this movie is a complete mess.

So why do I still like it? Because I love my movies dripping in cheese. I’m slightly regretful that this didn’t spawn an entire franchise – although since the Wolf Man, Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster have already been dealt with it’s hard to imagine who Van Helsing would battle next. The Mummy and the Invisible Man I suppose.

December 3, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 274 – Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans – November 29th, 2010

Last night I mentioned hoping that this movie wouldn’t be bogged down by the issues the others had, flipping back and forth between backstory and present day. Truth be told, I was rather looking forward to this. I love backstory. But I was also wary of it, because well, a lot of the backstory was already told in the other movies and that makes for some trouble with maintaining tension and continuity. So, mixed feelings firmly in mind, on we went with the last of the Underworld movies. So far. Given the description of the possible fourth movie on Wikipedia, I’m nervous about going back to sequels after this.

I really rather wish I’d watched this first. I mean, my major issues with the other two had to do with integrating the backstory and worldbuilding into the main plots. I love backstory, but it ended up feeling like as interesting as it was, and as much as it added to the atmosphere, it ended up competing with the rest of what was going on. If this had come before, or maybe in between, I think then some of the more exhaustive backstory stuff could have been dealt with cleaner.

In terms of mood, this movie does set a nice stage. A nice blue stage. Seriously, this whole movie is in black and shades of grey and blue. Now, I happen to like blue, and it does make the red blood stand out well, but while I know the other movies were similar in color scheme, I really noticed it this time. Really, it’s clearly an intentional choice. On top of the whole blood thing the blue tone to all the visuals definitely makes it clear that the bulk of the movie takes place at night as well as making the vampires look all pale and inhuman. Of course, it also makes the werewolves look inhuman. And the humans look inhuman. So maybe something should have been done about that. But overall I like it.

With the mood and atmosphere set by the blue and black visuals of a looming castle and lots of sweaty werewolves and pristine vampires, we can move right into the story. And I do have to say that I liked the story. I knew damn well what was going to go down by the end, having seen it in a flashback in the first movie, but I did enjoy seeing the specifics of how it all played out and got to that point. According to the trivia on IMDB the first movie was originally pitched as a “Romeo and Juliet” type story, but to be honest I think this one is far closer. It’s even got the inevitable doom of the couple built in. We know that Lucien and Sonja, both second generation and born into their respective species (as opposed to created like most of the others), aren’t going to get a happy ending. So really the point of watching this is to watch for how Lucien got to the point he was at in the first movie. What, precisely, were the events that led him to make a deal with Kraven? How did he know Tanis and get him on his side too? And where did Raze come from?

And oh, oh all those bits are shown. This is truly Lucien’s story here. Lucien’s and Viktor’s. Sonja’s as well, obviously, but if you’ve seen the other movies you know she’s destined to go up in smoke by the end. So as backstory goes, it’s all for Lucien and Viktor and their eventual rivalry in the first movie. I very much liked how this movie took Lucien’s obsession with combining the vampire and werewolf bloodlines and gave it a nice solid background. It was something Sonja wanted, something she thought would bring about a new day for both species, and so Michael in the first movie is very much the child Lucien and Sonja never got to have. It’s not presented in a sledgehammery way, but firmly enough that I can see the thread of it and I like that. And I also like that Viktor is so very ruthless, but also crushed in his own broken and sick way when Sonja dies. Yes, he’s still a vicious dude who put his own daughter to death, but he cared in his own way. It could easily have played awkwardly, but Bill Nighy did a great job with Viktor. He chews the scenery, but also knows how to give his character an actual arc underneath all the chewing.

I think what pleased me most here was getting to really see the development of Lucien as a character, because he’s a villain for a good chunk of the first movie and here he’s the hero. It’s a solid plot about the cruelty of the vampires and how they created the lycans and abused them until the lycans rose up against them. Ignoring what happened later on after this movie ends, there’s a sort of triumph there. It balances the other movies nicely, really. But in addition to all that? There’s backstory for two of my favorite secondary characters in the other movies.

Now, Raze is one of the coolest lycans ever. Just listen to his voice! Not to mention that he’s played by one of the guys who created the characters for the original story. Kevin Grevioux has a fantastic presence, and in the first movie I loved him and wanted way more of him than I got. It’s great to see him here and see how he meets Lucian and ends up following him. He doesn’t want to be a lycan, sees it as a curse, and is more than happy to go up against the vampires who’ve destroyed so much. So yes, more Raze equals awesome. And then this movie gives me my other favorite minor character: Tanis. He’s clearly morally bankrupt in the second movie, but also has a sort of dedication to history that I love. He’s a self-serving archivist. I love him. He’s got a much expanded role in the backstory here, scheming for a spot on the vampire council, protecting his own interests over all else except the records he keeps. He seems to always be playing whatever side will help him come out best, but then there’s a great scene where all the vampires are gearing up for war and what is he doing? Packing up scrolls and books. And eventually, in between this movie and the first? He pissed off Viktor by telling the truth about him. Fascinating character. I love morally grey characters and well, librarian. Played by an actor I like. Right.

I think my only real complaint about this movie is a somewhat odd one for me. There’s plenty of action here, and lots of scheming and plotting and revolution and rebellion and the vampires are vicious and the werewolves/lycans are brutal and I love all that. But if the backstory is supposed to be about this doomed couple of Lucian and Sonja? There’s just not enough of them. They do have a number of scenes together, but it all picks up with them already in love. It felt a bit abrupt for me. But then it played out fine. It rang true enough when the end came. Enough so that I don’t mind a bit of revision to the original flashbacks. After all, this is an expanded version of all that, so they could go bigger and more expansive. Toss in some sword fighting and a bigger castle, better wolf transformations. And I’m all for all of those.

November 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

November 29, 2010

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

I have not seen this movie prior to today. I have to admit, not having seen it yet, that I have grave misgivings. Can you take the (admittedly very cool) medieval prologue from yesterday’s movie and expand it into an entire film of its own? I’m not sure what to make of an Underworld movie set entirely in the dark ages. Can it be as cool if it involves all armor and no rubber bodysuits? All crossbows and no swords? Can it be an Underworld movie without Kate Beckinsale?

The other issue is that this movie doesn’t really have anything new to add to the Underworld mythos. If you’ve seen the first movie then you know from the beginning how this one has to end. I suppose it works on a sort of Greek tragedy level – knowing the inevitable outcome of the story helps to build the tension. But it’s a little depressing knowing in advance how the story of Sonja and Lucian must play out.

On the other hand it is fun to see some of the other stories woven into this one. There’s the origin of Raze, for example, which is awesome (because Kevin Grevioux is awesome!) There’s the plotting and scheming of Tannis the chronicle keeper. And of course there’s an awful lot of Bill Nighy as Viktor, which is something I enjoy watching any time.

The fact of the matter is that this is actually a pretty fun hack-and-slash medieval action movie. The vampires are not particularly vampyric, in that they don’t really do anything but lurk around their fortress whipping their slaves and whining about how nobody respects them. They’re like super-strong knights in armor who burst into flame in direct sunlight, but not particularly cool beyond that. But then again, the title of the movie IS Rise of the Lycans, so you know that the werewolves are the real stars. It’s pretty much Braveheart but with an all werewolf cast. And on that level it works marvelously.

There’s rain-drenched sword battles, lots of triple-shot crossbows, giant ballistas, and hordes of immortal wolf-men. There’s the now-familiar wolf transformations from the first two Underworld movies with their sort of almost-stop-motion feel which is so cool. Probably the most impressive accomplishment technically for this movie is that it depicts the warped half-man wolf creatures running a lot and the gait that the animators have created here is probably the coolest run you could have for a human-shaped creature. Too often I have seen stuntmen on all fours attempting to run and it always either looks like a sped-up crawl or a stuntman waving his limbs while dangling from a wire (which is what it usually is.) Here the wolf-men have a very convincing lope that manages to be menacing rather than laughable. Good job Underworld animation team!

It’s also fantastic that for what is essentially a fleshed out flashback and spin-off film the producers managed to get so much of the original cast back. Michael Sheen as Lucian (particularly funny to watch now that Amanda and I have realized that he is David Frost from Frost/Nixon.) Bill Nighy of course, who must really enjoy getting so many paychecks out of this franchise after his character was so definitively killed off in the first movie. (I got the impression many times in this film that his cosmetic contacts were really irritating him, and that he was using that pain to inform his portrayal.) Kevin Grevioux is, of course, completely awesome – and still doesn’t get enough lines. I wish they’d make a Raze movie next – I’d love to watch that. With the sub-woofer turned way up. Oh, yeah. And I know Amanda was delighted to see Steven Mackintosh back as Tannis from the second movie. She loves a good librarian character and cheered during the climactic battle when he was trying to save his archives.

I had fun tonight. This is definitely the lesser of the three Underworld movies in my opinion, but it’s still amusing and it still does just what it sets out to do. It makes me want to play some more Castlevania: Lord of Shadows.

November 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 273 – Underworld: Evolution

Underworld: Evolution – November 28th, 2010

Tonight we continue our vampire movie trilogy with the second Underworld movie. I hadn’t seen this one before (and I haven’t seen tomorrow’s either) so I was curious to see how things would pick up after the first. After all, there’s so much backstory in the first movie, so there’s plenty to work with in a sequel. And work with it they did! Except working with it also meant more backstory. It’s a backstory bonanza! Again, to the detriment of the actual in-movie plot.

Not that I have a problem with the actual plot, but there’s just so much crammed in here and the movie is only so long. This isn’t The Lord of the Rings. No one was going to sit through a three hour long vampire action flick. So things get glossed over and characters get short shrift and there’s some muddy storytelling. But overall it does feel like they had a good idea here and a nice big world and they cared enough to really try and create something epic in tone. It falls a little flat in places, but as with the first movie, there’s a sense of scale and history that I think give the movie a great mood.

When it comes to atmosphere, this movie and its predecessor are really very similar. It’s the same basic feeling to the world, where the vampires are haughty and entitled and the lycans are downtrodden and angry, and they all exist in a world apart from that of regular humans. What’s nice here is that the conflict between them, the reasons for it, and the repercussions of the first movie all get dealt with in a way that relates to that division of worlds. The first vampire and first werewolf are revealed to be brothers, and their father has been keeping tabs on them for centuries, watching and keeping the fights of their species as remote from humanity as possible.

Fortunately for this movie, the worldbuilding, with the conflict between the two brothers and the consequences of their actions being the basis of the plot, flows a little better than the worldbuilding in the first movie. I had some issues last night with the worldbuilding taking precedence and therefore forcing the movie’s story to get messy. And there is messiness here too. Sloppy things like the magical repair of Selene and Michael’s Land Rover (or the equally magical appearance of another one after their first gets smashed up in a remote location). I don’t think that the werewolf brother got nearly the time he should have. The sex scene felt shoehorned in where something more suitable to the rest of the movie could have been. The whole thing with vampires being able to absorb the memories of the people whose blood they drink? Why on earth would you ever leave someone behind who knew anything of value if you knew the guy chasing you could do that? And I wanted more made of Markus’ hybrid status.

This, I think, is my biggest complaint (bigger than the romance, and I really wasn’t fond of that – it’s sort of like the Star and Michael scene in The Lost Boys – I get the point but I don’t really need to see them in bed). At the end of the first movie one of the lycans is killed over Markus’ crypt. His blood seeps down into the crypt, awakening Markus and turning him into a hybrid with unheard-of powers and strength. And while he does make for a super bad guy, with his creepy bat nose and giant wings and talons, the fact that he’s a hybrid, and that’s where those powers came from, barely enters into things. He could just have been a super old vampire by the time the climactic fight scenes happen. After all, his brother, the first lycan, is permanently wolf-like and seemingly super powerful. More so than most lycans. So why wouldn’t the first vampire be similar? If they weren’t going to make any fuss over him being a hybrid, why bother doing it? It just ends up being messy. I’d guess it was so no one could argue that Michael with his super hybrid powers should be able to overpower a plain vampire, but well. Viktor almost got him. It was Selene who saved the day then. And she does it here too. I just wish the worldbuilding done with the hybrid stuff had actually played into things here for more than Michael. It’s the proverbial gun that doesn’t go off.

Still, there was a lot I liked about this movie. As I said, I much enjoyed the worldbuilding and backstory. I still love Selene and Michael got to do more than run this time, which was nice. I liked his growing realization that he’s not human anymore and that he’s going to have to adapt to a whole new way of life. He’s going to have to follow new rules and use the powers he’s got. It was a good development for his character. And Selene continues to be a bad ass, fully capable of kicking butt and holding her own. I loved Alexander Covrinus, though I do have to wonder how they got Derek Jacobi involved in this movie. Still, however they did it he has a great presence for the role of the ultimate patriarch in this world. My other favorite new character was Tanis, the exiled vampire historian. For one, I have a fondness for Stephen Mackintosh. For two, I love a librarian in any form. For three, go action research! He was a fun grey area character, playing both sides and keeping his little library in rather comfortable exile. I also liked that there was less dithering around. People find out new information and then they go and do something with it.

I don’t know if I liked this movie better than the first one or worse. Probably they’re about equal overall, but for different reasons. I admit, I’m very curious about the third movie, which I believe is a prequel. Hopefully it will take care of my desire for more attention to be paid to the lycans, and maybe it will feel balanced, since it won’t be doing the backstory/present day thing. I am nervous about the fourth movie mentioned on Wikipedia as being in pre-production, but who knows if that’ll even go far enough for me to worry about it. We’ll see.

November 28, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Underworld Evolution

November 28, 2010

Underworld Evolution

There were three years between when the first Underworld film came out on DVD and when the second one did. This may explain why, when I first bought Evolution and put it in to watch it, I had to stop and go find the first Underworld movie so I could watch that first. There’s a short opening block of text and a voice-over by Kate Beckinsale, but the movie definitely supposes a foreknowledge of the characters and plot of the first movie.

This movie concentrates on two brothers: Marcus, the last surviving elder from Selene’s coven, and William, his unfortunate lycanthropic brother. There’s an action-filled prologue which sets the stage way back in the middle ages. Marcus, Viktor and Amelia are armored werewolf hunters who come across a village that William has slaughtered. Even as they start to burn the unfortunate victims they begin to awaken and transform into unstoppable half-wolves that pull the vampire brigade from their horses. Finally the vampires confront and capture William himself – a snow-white lycanthrop who seems twice as large as any of the others.

I enjoy this prologue for a number of reasons. For one thing it’s nice to see Bill Nighy again since his Viktor is one of my favorite things about the first movie. Having him here in this flashback goes a long way towards convincing me that this movie is very solidly in the same universe as the first one. The other thing this prologue does well is set the bar for the action in this movie.

I would say that this is a much more action-heavy movie than the first Underworld. Not that the first movie lacked action, but it had to lay down a lot of the ground rules for the Underworld universe and introduce all the characters and warring factions. This movie hits the ground running and has all the setup done in advance. There aren’t many plot twists or revelations like those towards the end of the first movie, it’s just a straight forward action movie set up. Present us with the stakes (the danger of an unchecked incursion of medieval feral lycans who cannot even turn back to human form – or worse a plague of lycan/vampire hybrids) and introduce the factions involved, then let them slug it out through a series of increasingly loud battles.

The biggest addition to the mystique of this movie is the introduction of a big secret paramilitary organization of humans who have been keeping tabs on happenings at Selene’s coven. They remind me a lot of the Watchers from the Highlander TV series – they know everything that’s going on but they don’t interfere and they clean up the mess afterwards. They are headed by a mysterious but noble figure played by Derek Jacobi. He actually does turn out to have something to do with the whole plot involving the two brothers, and of course he also provides Selene with a lot of cannon fodder for the final confrontation with Marcus.

I don’t feel that this movie has the same charm as the first one. The characters aren’t as deep and the story isn’t as interesting. But it feels very much a part of the same world, and I enjoy it on that level. It also is a far more action oriented movie. Indeed it’s more adult and R-rated in every way. There’s a ton more blood. There’s a little nudity and sensuality. But mostly it’s just big action scene after big action scene. Kate gets to flex her muscles as an action superstar, which is a lot of fun to watch, and there’s a ton of fun effects and make-up work on the lycans and Marcus. This movie is more eye-candy than the first one, but shallower. I’m quite curious now to see just what the third movie – the prequel – is all about.

November 28, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

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