Underworld: Awakening picks up the relative slack of Revolution and rejoins Selene’s story once again after the rousing medieval diversion of Rise Of The Lycans and is one of the strongest, most action packed and exciting entries so far. This one is cool because it goes for a shocking and ambitious premise: the human population on earth have somehow found out about the vampire and Lycan races and it’s caused all kinds of chaos. A human CDC kingpin (Stephen Rea) concocts a shady plan full of tainted vaccines, inter species psuedo genetic modification and various hidden agendas that poses a real threat to both sides while Kate Beckinsale’s Selene, who never seems to get a moments rest, wakes up from some kind of cryo-sleep in Rea’s spooky lab and must fight her way out, figure out his sinister plan and protect the daughter (India Eisley) she never knew she had from all these nefarious forces. There is a fucking tremendous amount of action in this one, nearly wall to wall and it just might have some of the most impressive set pieces, or at least the most satisfying for me as a fan. Rea is no stranger to the vampire/werewolf genres, he’s done vicious turns for Neil Jordan in both Interview With The Vampire and The Company Of Wolves. He makes a formidable enemy for Selene here and gets to chew scenes in that kind of super low key, almost laidback but still menacing way he’s perfected as an actor. Also in his employ is a strange Lycan super-breed who becomes the size of a literal tank when he transforms, so there are numerous incredibly badass sequences of her fighting this gigantic tank-sized werewolf that are so much brutal fun. She also finds herself at the bottom of an elevator shaft at one point with the speeding elevator in free fall headed right for her. Being the franchise that this is, she simply empties countless rounds from her guns into its incoming floor until it’s perforated with bullet holes and she can literally punch right through it. So. Fucken. Cool. Once again this franchise is not gonna be everyone’s thing and even for those who liked the first, these might get a bit repetitive but this world, action, effects, atmosphere and overall aesthetic is just so up my dark alley I could literally never get tired of them, and this was one of my favourites so far.
I feel like the Underworld films don’t get proper credit for just how visually magnificent and stylistically sumptuous they are. I mean sure the stories are often a muddle of faux Shakespearean shifting alliances and paranormal melodrama that are impossible to decipher but if you just approach them overall as the story of an ongoing war between vampires and werewolves with lots of preening politics, an abundance of beautifully gory, darkly balletic action sequences and the occasional splash of forbidden romance then you’re good, and don’t need to engage the brain much further. Take Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans, for example, which best I could figure is some kind of prequel to the first film where we see what went down between the two species hundreds of years before. Bill Nighy gives the word overacting new meaning here but is a lot of fun as Viktor, king of the vampire nation who has effectively enslaved all the werewolves for his own work/war effort and forces them to hunt down their own kind who rebel. His daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra) does some rebelling of her own by constantly defying daddy’s orders and carrying out a secret romance with Lycan leader Lucian (Michael Sheen). This overall unrest leads to the werewolf uprising and eventual incursion that will start a centuries long war. That’s all you need for story, trust me. What works best about this film is the resplendently beautiful production design and what makes it stand out in the initial trilogy is that it’s set far in the past so the uproarious gunfights become ruthless swordplay, the nocturnal urban atmosphere becomes a moonlit medieval castle aesthetic and never before has the franchise felt this gothic. Mitra is a beauty and then some, and while she’s not quite as lithe or physically distinctive as Beckinsale and her leather trench coat, she suits the ancient warrior aesthetic and does the Underworld name proud. Nighy is so far over the top I wanted him to calm down a bit before he had a stroke or something, he’s about as arch and theatrical as it gets but it suits the role and tone of the film nicely. Much of the film is sound, fury, blood and metal under inky black moonlight and some may have trouble deciphering the specifics of choreography under such a dim cloak of a visual palette but trust me it’s all there and it’s all *very* well done. This franchise has some of the most gorgeous, anatomically and aesthetically satisfying werewolves I’ve personally seen in horror, just great big bastards that look like they could rip a cow in half and are deadly in their speed, physicality and agility despite their hefty size. The Vamps have this eerie aristocracy to them and always seem calmly observant and deviously in charge, with help from the iridescent, creepy contact lenses the actors get to wear. The fight scenes are brutal and relentless, packed with gore and stylish weaponry and staged against spatially striking castle, river, forest and mountain vistas. There’s a shamelessly lurid sex scene between Sonja and Lucian where they’re literally writhing in slow motion on the edge of an impossibly baroque cliffside that is quite possibly one of the most arousing, breathtaking sex scenes I’ve ever seen on film. Say what you want about these movies man, and maybe I’m just a whore for visually stimulating horror films and am too generous on the ones that rely on the style over substance play, which is quite possibly the case, and I own that. However, I’m sitting there watching all of this play out and I’m in raptures about it, totally and completely entertained and pleased in my experience, and if that be the case, well I’m more than okay with all style and little substance, provided the style is as bounteous and well crafted as is the case here. *Great* looking film, if not a great one overall.
I know that Uwe Boll has this terrible reputation both behind the camera as a director and in real life and to be fair he has made some ten-ton duds while adapting various video games, but he has also made some films that I have to say are really damn good genre exercises with impassioned sociopolitical undercurrents that he very clearly cares about. He did one about the Sudanese genocide in Darfur which was excellent but so fucking raw and intense in its depictions of those atrocities it gave me a panic attack and I couldn’t finish it, but I’ll review that one day. His more recent film Assault On Wall Street, however, couldn’t be a more timely, relevant or infuriatingly emblazoned piece when you consider how the tides of economic inequality have reached the breaching point on the shores of civility and infrastructural disproportion. Dominic Purcell plays a working class guy in NYC (very recognizably shot in VanCity tho) who has a titanic run of bad luck: his wife (Erin Karpluk) is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he’s laid off from his armoured truck job and the looming financial collapse causes him to lose everything (and I mean *everything*) in the space of a few weeks. He fights desperately, using first the system as best he can and when every avenue of established order fails him, he goes rogue and quite literally takes up arms and holds a bunch of wealthy Wall Street pricks hostage in their building with a gun after killing the corrupt hedge fund advisor (Barclay Hope) who betrayed him. It’s a very startling turn of events and it comes across in several ways simultaneously: a tragic, genuinely heartbreaking downward spiral that feels immediate, a lurid, stylistically heightened tale of pulpy vigilantism and a straightforward siege thriller. Boll doesn’t always juggle all these elements together in a way that feels cohesive or believable, but just enough to have them coexist in the same narrative and work for me as a viewer. Purcell is terrific, he often gets thrown these stoic tough guys after his star making turn on Prison Break but they trust him with an albeit equally tough but strikingly vulnerable and sad individual here who you can relate to and root for later on, if you can reconcile his extreme actions (I definitely could) in the face of utter negligence from his fellow human beings in greater positions of power. The cast is exceptional and includes the late John Heard as an abrasive, morally deficient Wall Street kingpin, Keith David, Edward Furlong and Michael Paré as Purcell’s compassionate coworkers and Eric Roberts himself as a slimy lawyer he hires who doesn’t help anyone much at all. This isn’t a perfect film and at times feels over the top and ‘arch’, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a believable, cathartic and rousing experience; all of us middle class peeps at one time have most likely felt as betrayed, slighted or mistreated by the system as Purcell’s character does here, and his violent call to arms might not necessarily be something to aspire to or even condone, but it’s as scathing an indictment and act of defiance against the strong arm of corrupt, anarchic capitalism as can be expected. Very effective film.
Some films just place you right into the action without a moments setup, exposition or prologue, they just ruthlessly air drop you right into a furious bedlam of urgency and incident with nary a moment of narrative foreplay or warmup and I love them for it. Ted Geoghegan’s Mohawk is a breathless, unconventional and altogether brilliant horror/western hybrid (my favourite genre amalgamation) that tells the tale of young Mohawk woman Okwaho (Kaniehtiio Horn) fighting alongside her two lovers against a vicious regiment of American soldiers hellbent on her destruction as her Mohawk elders try to retain the tribes neutrality amidst a nasty personal vendetta on both sides. Peace and neutrality unfortunately just weren’t in the cards for the early days of America and the hatred, rage, violence and conflict of it all are reflected in this lean, mean, taught, streamlined and spectacularly thrilling piece of esoteric escapist exploitation that I have fallen in love with and immediately ordered the DVD. Horn is actually part Mohawk herself and owns the role with intimidating physicality and stoic yet emotional resolve, I’ve seen her work in Letterkenny and noticed her in Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor earlier this year, she’s one to watch out for. Okwaho’s two lovers are a fierce fellow Mohawk named Two Rivers (Justin Rain) and young British officer Joshua (Eamon Farron, who we remember as the evil Richard Horne in Twin Peaks: The Return). She does her best to protect them and the entire time she’s forced to run, fight and survive she is also with child, which makes for one intense character arc. The American soldiers are a mottled, complex bunch led by a cold, hard bastard of a captain played by the otherworldly looking Ezzra Buzzington in a performance of terrifying sadism, unabashedly verbose fury and curiously contradictory rationality that makes him a believable character with dimensions as opposed to a villain composed simply of leering caricature. This is in contrast to his second in command who is a gruff, racist asshole with headgear that Ichabod Crane would be proud of, played by Robert Longstreet who was so good as the groundskeeper in Haunting Of Hill House. I’ll be honest, not everyone is going to love this film: it’s severely low budget which is noticeable, it does this tightrope walk between brutal splatter horror sensibilities and eerie, surreal mysticism that might not work for every viewer and it may just be too much of a nerve wracking gauntlet for some to get through and keep up with the pace, violence and mile-a-minute sociopolitical flourishes peppered into the colourful, detailed dialogue. The things I’ve mentioned are all part of what made me appreciate this film though; the stirring opening credits scooped me up and threw me right into the action, the emotional core of Okwaho and her two lovers kept me caring for them even when action took over for character development a bit, the dastardly nature of the soldiers and preening theatricality of Buzzington’s villain was engaging, the audaciously unapologetic violence and surging momentum literally had me putting down my phone and hovering on the edge of my seat in rapturous tension. Not to mention the gorgeous, propulsive, dark-synth laden score by Wojciech Golczewski that keeps mood, atmosphere, menace and emotion thrillingly alive and pulls the slack shockingly tight for the duration of the film until it’s unbelievably fearsome climax. If you love sweeping, emotional stuff like Last Of The Mohicans but you also appreciate mean, fucked up, grisly horror tinged westerns like Bone Tomahawk you’ll dig this absolutely terrific film.
So Bruce Willis got his official Death Wish remake (which I still haven’t seen) and now it appears that Antonio Banderas has scored one too, albeit unofficially. Acts Of Vengeance is pretty much just another assembly like cheapie action thriller with a few big names attached, some decently choreographed fight sequences and a few recognizable character faces in underwritten throwaway supporting turns, a collective undertaking that seems to permeate the direct to VOD realm these days.
Antonio Banderas brings his Latin stoicism as a self absorbed defence attorney whose wife and young daughter are murdered one night on the way home from a song recital that he missed because he’s too busy with work (when will that plot point not be a thing anymore). He first descends into a guilt ridden booze cruise and then learns some martial arts with a Mr. Miyagi proxy and proceeds to hunt down his family’s killer, with the half assed help of a Detective (Jonathan Schaech) who literally spends his scenes texting on his phone rather than doing police work. Karl Urban shows up in an utterly thankless role that anyone could have played as another cop who is sympathetic to his crusade for revenge and helps him out here and there, but the role is way beneath his talents and I found myself just wondering why someone as cool as him would spend his time on such a baseline cop role. The late great Robert Forster has a pretty badass cameo as Antonio’s pissed off father in law, showing up for one single funeral scene to give him a stinging verbal beatdown and disappearing for the rest of the film. Paz Vega also shows up as a friendly nurse who takes him in when he receives one of many ass kickings at the hands of thugs, she’s a nice sort of ‘Penelope Cruz Lite’ presence. It’s a really derivative, fairly dull film to be honest, there’s absolutely nothing new here, it’s all been done much better elsewhere, Banderas is a listless protagonist, the character motivations (particularly that of the ludicrously written, out-of-nowhere villain) are pretty questionable and it’s just overall… bland. I did however notice that the end credits are dedicated to the director’s family, who I’m guessing he lost at some point? This would appear to be a personal project for him and I don’t want to detract from that but I have to be honest about the film on its own terms.
In always game to give a B movie a day in court but it’s gotta at least put in a game effort and ‘4GOT10’ (whatever the fuck that means) is just the film equivalent of an hopelessly flaccid penis. It’s also called “The Good, The Bad & The Dead” on some posters which is marginally more coherent and is a good indicator of how dumb and dead on arrival this thing is. It’s sad because it has a great cast, who for the most part are stuck moping, drawling, clawing their way through terminally bloated scenes with nary an editor in sight and spewing scant, anemic dialogue. Johnny Messner is a terrific actor who seems to be permanently stranded in this kind of fare of late, which isn’t always the worst thing (paycheque is a paycheque) but not even his engaging presence can do anything for this hastily cut turd. He plays some sort of ex convict who awakens in the desert with amnesia, surrounded by dead guys, guns and cash. Some kind of deal clearly went south and it gets worse with the arrival of a corrupt scumbag sheriff (Michael Paré) who tries to finish Messner off and steal all the leftover cash. Also eventually on scene is a bored looking Dolph Lundgren as a rogue DEA enforcer, Vivica A. Fox as his blathering station chief, Danny Trejo as the angry cartel boss who I guess was trying to facilitate the deal and all kinds of other forgettable cutouts. This film makes the grave and silly mistake of introducing each character with a freeze frame title card like ‘the outlaw’, ‘the enforcer’, ‘the sheriff’, ‘the braud’ (I’m not even kidding on that one) etc and I don’t know about you but I fucking hate that obnoxious stylistic contrivance, it was never cool and certainly still isn’t now. I realize that these actors have families to feed, mortgages to pay off and whatnot but like… could they have at least aimed a *bit* higher than something as wantonly awful and as this? Like… I’ve participated in entry level student film productions that were literally better than this, this crew should all just quit their profession and work at McDonald’s if that’s the way they’re going to behave. It’s tragic and embarrassing, and this is from someone who loves watching an endless string of B grade trash just to see actors I like. It doesn’t even make that cut, and you should avoid it lest risk slipping into a diabetic fugue state at the sheer cinematic malnourishment this fucker exudes.
Alright, the Bruce Willis space movie. Breach (aka AntiLife) isn’t terrible, it’s just not super inspired or original and if you go in with your nose already turned up at it, well that’s on you bud, you silly cinephile you. However, if you’re a periodically undemanding moviegoer who enjoys a nice schlocktastic cheapie once in a while you may just get a kick out of it. This thing riffs on everything from Doom to The Thing to Pandorum and if you don’t have expectations higher than Bruce Willis and Johnny Messner clearly got while filming their scenes then you’ll have just as much fun as the two of them clearly did. So it’s sometime in the future and earth has been all but decimated by a plague, the remnants of humanity are packed into a giant space station and hurtled towards a distant exoplanet called ‘New Earth’ under the stern, hambone stewardship of The Admiral (Thomas Jane). Most of the passengers slumber in tranquil cryogenic sleep save for a barebones maintenance crew managed by Willis’s once great colonel turned disgraced alcoholic janitor. They’re watched like a hawk by a military man (Timothy V. Murphy) that Willis literally refers to as a ‘space Nazi’ (to his face), but somehow a doomsday zealot manages to smuggle some freaky alien parasite onboard which quickly begins infecting the crew and turning them into ink spewing, putrefied space zombies. Willis and his team that includes Cody Kearsely, Corey Large, Callab Mulvey, Continuum’s Rachel Nichols and scene stealing Messner are stuck fighting off legions of what I suppose would count as the undead in a way but they’re more like a hive minded organism, really. Willis is cool here and actually looks like he’s having a modicum of fun compared to other B flicks he’s recently done. He also plays against type as kind of a reverse action hero and I never thought I’d see the day he plays a character that gets referred to as a ‘lover, not a fighter.’ Jane only has a few atypical military A-hole scenes but he fires off his lines with glib, cavalier flair and I find it hysterical how intensely he insists on wearing his pitch dark tinted aviator shades *indoors*, in a dimly lit spaceship no less. Look, it’s junk, I won’t call pretend it’s a great film, but as an avid lover of cinematic junk food it did the trick for me, and I had fun with it.
A handful of seasoned Hollywood action stars got their chance to fight terrorists on a plane including Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Kurt Russell, Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson (snakes count as terrorists, right?) and in Passenger 57 Wesley Snipes gets to as well in a kind of Coors Lite version of the aesthetic that is a bit more low-key when compared to the others but still fun. The real standout here is underrated Bruce Payne as some sort of super hyper mega terrorist, an ice cold aristocratic mad dog limey bastard who is being transported to execution IN FRIGGIN COACH and only guarded by one ignoramus cop. Why the rampant negligence in the face of such obvious nefariousness? Why, Wesley’s intrepid Air Marshal can step in to beat seven shades shades of shit out of Payne and all his varied cohorts of course, played by everyone from Elizabeth Hurley to Michael ‘Deputy Hawk’ Horse, how’s that for unintentionally eclectic casting. Throw in a reliably twitchy Tom Sizemore as Snipes’s best bud boss and Bruce Greenwood as a smarmy Airline CEO and you’ve got quite the roster. But how’s the action? Decent, yet nothings a standout and even the final villain death feels a tiny bit overwhelming like air being sucked out of the room (mild spoiler). Snipes is always a badass though and holds his own, I just feel like this would have been more impressive with a bigger budget, a longer runtime and some more chutzpah, bells and whistles and over the top carnage in the fashion of.. well what’s an airplane set action film I haven’t mentioned yet… Con Air? That’s a benchmark and hard to top. Anyways this one is a decent distraction while doing chores or whatnot.
Exit Wounds is one action flick in an unofficial yet unmistakable early 2000’s trilogy together with Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 The Grave. What do they have in common, you may ask, that I’ve dubbed them a trilogy? Besides all three being directed by lo-fi action guru Andrej Bartkowiak and sharing many of the same cast members in a sort of recognizable posse, they just have this intangible time capsule vibe backed by hip hop music of the times from folks like Aaliyah and DMX, the presence of standup comedians in supporting roles, ridiculous plots built around endless set pieces and are just so totally ‘of their time’ that I love them on sheer novelty value alone. One day I’ll have to do a longer, more comprehensive piece on all three as a whole but I just rewatched Wounds for the first time in a while and it’s just as goddamn silly yet awesome as I remember it being when I was a teenager. It does feature Steven Seagal in a comeback of sorts, purged of his ponytailed zen phase and ready for some inner city urban destruction. He’s actually really dope as rogue detective Orin Boyd, a tough but reckless cop that no precinct seems to want as he has this uncanny knack for sniffing out and laying the hammer down on department corruption. After being fired by his former sergeant (Bruce McGill turning up the ham) for excessive force he’s assigned to a precinct elsewhere in Detroit under the command of a tough as nails CO played by the lovely Jill Hennessy. It isn’t long before he finds trouble again, tangles with mysterious drug runner DMX and uncovers a cabal of dirty officers doing no good shit headed up by Michael Jai White who is welcome in any film in my book. I can’t say the same for Tom Arnold though, who has to be one of *the most* irritating onscreen presences and I’m not sure why they keep letting him be in stuff but life is full of mysteries I guess. Anthony Anderson shows up as he does in all three in this trilogy and there’s appearances from Isaiah Washington m, Bill Duke and a very young Eva Mendes. This film only really has a plot to service action set pieces, which are all well done and exciting if you can get over the fact that there ain’t much else it has to offer. Seagal is good though and does some impressive stunt work like doing a fucking Olympic long jump thing over a car that’s speeding towards him. Fun stuff, but I’d recommend the other two in the trilogy first.
The zombie genre is so saturated these days that most new entries just try and stir up the pot by default and do something innovative with the scenario, but it’s refreshing when a filmmaker goes for a simple, honest to goodness zombie film with little to no frills and we’re reminded of why we fell in love with the genre in the first place. William Kaufman’s Daylight’s End is an earnest, brutal and rousing undead post apocalyptic piece that benefits from a strong ensemble cast, wicked sharp tactical direction and a script that adds just the right amount of character work in between the gunplay and gore. Johnny Strong plays a lone gunslinger who bands together with a tight knit tribe of survivors protected by gruff leader Lance Henriksen, while undead forces gather against them and they try to fight their way out of a severely destroyed Dallas to somewhere safer. The only real deviation from classic zombie lore here is that these creatures can’t stand daylight and only come out when it’s dark, leaving the daytime scenes to have this eerie, desolate feel while most of the heavy action takes place atmospherically after dusk for a nice Vampirish flourish. Kaufman is a real master at staging tactical, realistic feeling action and as such blocks his actors, chooses his weapons and makes his kills feel exciting, propulsive and immediate. Strong is every inch action hero material, Henriksen makes a stoic and sage pack leader and surprisingly emotional work is provided by the usually cavalier Louis Mandylor as his son and top lieutenant. This is obviously a low budget film and one can see that but the story they’ve told and the world they’ve built using what they had is really impressive, and stands with some of the best zombie shoot-em-up’s out there. Check out Kaufman’s New Orleans set cop flick Sinners & Saints too, which also stars Strong as a relentless badass and also features flawlessly directed action scenes, they make a cool genre double feature together.