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’ve written about this film before a few years ago and absolutely trashed it, but after a revisit is realize that I was either too harsh or my tastes shifted, because FearDotCom, although a narrative catastrophe, is a stylistic and artistic wellspring of morbidly beautiful visual excess. It almost doesn’t even belong in a movie theatre or home screen but in some avant garde museum as an experimental piece of video. The plot, as far as I could swing it: Two detectives (Stephen Dorff and Natascha McElhone) in one of those constantly rainy, impossibly bleak inner cities investigate a string of murders tied to a strange website and carried out by a sadistic, monotone lunatic (Stephen Rea). Both the website and the murders are apparently linked to the ghost of a creepy little hemophiliac girl with a bouncy ball, but how or why remains a mystery because the film doesn’t feel the need to coherently explain any of its plot points. The cops, the killer, other various oddballs, the website, none of it is strung together with any kind of proper storytelling adhesive or logic and there’s simply no piecing it together in a way that makes sense. That leaves you to give up and let the film wash over you as a sort of sensory experience, an expressionist’s dream of eerie sound, striking viscera, abstract visuals and potent atmosphere. The film works on that level, if you can compromise story for ambience. This is one of those cities like in The Crow, Dark City or Seven where it’s always raining, always nighttime, all the light fixtures swing and strobe uneasily, every subway station is abandoned, smokestacks and power plant silos stand sentiment across the horizon and the residential buildings look like they’re limping along after a severe earthquake. It was filmed in Luxembourg and Montreal but is obstinately set in NYC which leads to hilarious contradictions in architectural landmarks. The ghostly images and horror elements look like they’re inspired by everything from Murnau to Merhige and are at times truly inspired. The cast, although hailing from various genre paths, all somehow seem suited to something this weird. Dorff comes from horror roots and has perfected this angry, brooding aura to a science, McElhone seems to handpick the strangest projects and is always an ethereal presence in whatever she shows up in, Irish character player Rea mostly stars in Neil Jordan stuff and is no stranger to the bizarre while genre legend Udo Kier shows up in the most random, wordless cameo of his career. The visual aspect is almost indescribable until you’re neck deep in it, picture the stark stylistic choices from The Matrix with some serious Silent Hill vibes and a very ‘Euro’ flavour to the whole thing. It’s interesting that an American studio horror flick about stuff like cops hunting a serial killer and some murder website ended up looking, feeling and sounding like something from a literal other dimension, and that kind of outcome can’t be written off as simply a bad film in every way but viewed as a messy yet provocative experimental curio. It’s just a shame the story got fatally shredded somewhere between conception and execution, or this could have been something really great. Oh and fun fact: the producers couldn’t secure the web domain name ‘fear.com’ because whoever owned it wouldn’t sell *for any price*, so in the film when we see the actual site it’s ‘feardotcom.com’ which is so hilarious to me and just adds to the overall weirdness even more.
As far as comparing The Wachowski’s V For Vendetta to its source material by Alan Moore, I may be one of the only few who feels like the film is an improvement. The graphic novel is beautifully written but bleak and drab in many instances where the film adopts a rich, full bodied and ever so slightly hopeful tone in the adaptation forage. I know Moore is somewhere out there in his yurt on the plains, reading my review on a 3G tablet and cursing my name, but oh well. Fierce political commentary, blitzkrieg action picture, careful interpersonal drama and more, this has aged well (scarily well depending on the angle one views it from) and holds up gorgeously fourteen November 5ths on since its release.
Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving make Stockholm Syndrome sexy again as Evey and V, two very different individuals whose lives have both been upended by the tyrannical, fascist British Government. He’s a vicious vigilante freedom fighter with scars on the outside and inside, she’s a wayward civilian swept up in his brutal quest to overthrow an evil dictator (John Hurt in beast mode), first as witness and later as accomplice. This involves a complex laundry list of various betrayals, sieges, escapes and terrorist acts, all brought to life in breathtaking spectacle. An underdog secret policeman (Stephen Rea, a study understated excellence) doggedly pursues them and questions his own loyalties, while the chosen date of Guy Fawkes day (hey, that’s today!) looms ever closer and with it V’s promise to blow the shit out of the parliament block.
V says it best when he growls: “People shouldn’t be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people.” There are large scale, prescient ideas at work here and despite being based on a graphic novel it feels eerily akin to our own world. V is a product of this damaged, corrupt system who has become a monster and is now ready to administer horrific dark justice on those who wronged him, working his way up an increasingly grotesque chain of despicable politicians with grim resolve. There’s a righteous fury to his quest and no other actor could have better captured the fire and brimstone behind that mask like Weaving does, he works wonders with his voice alone. There’s a lot more action than in Moore’s novel but can you really blame the Wachowskis? They are incredible at staging set pieces and the character of V suits the swooping, knife throwing, roof leaping, swash, buckle and bloody bodily harm on display here. There’s a strong undercurrent of compassion and humanity here to, as seen in my favourite sequence of the film: Portman’s Evey is locked up in a government prison and ready to wade into despair before she finds a rolled up scroll detailing the story of the cell’s former roommate and her struggles during the rise of this horrible regime. It’s in this short flashback scene alone we see all that’s worth fighting for in the microcosm of one girl’s life and feel the justification of not just V’s violent rampage but the collective uprising it stirs in the people. Great film.
Control is a clunky psychological thriller that gets away with feeling realistic by the skin of its teeth thanks to four terrific actors who are so good that they somewhat cloak the incredibly silly narrative. Built around a high concept psychiatry experiment, Ray Liotta plays a vicious career criminal psychopath who is recruited into a secret government program by hotshot Doctor Willem Dafoe. Dodgy mood altering pharmacology is used to try and augment Liotta’s antisocial, violent behaviour and increase empathy levels, thus making him a productive and well adjusted member of society. It seems to work at first, he gets a steady job and meets a nice girl (Michelle Rodriguez cast wonderfully against type). But demons catch up with al of us, and the drugs start having side effects, which complicate the whole thing. Liotta is combustible in the role and gives it his all, he has few genuine lead roles but whenever they throw him one he always shines. Dafoe is incapable of a false note and makes his character work, while Irish veteran Stephen Rea makes creepy work of Dafoe’s sinister superior doctor. They’re all great, it’s just the story that falls into silly territory, especially with a huge WTF twist right at the end that takes the wind right out of the film’s sails and feels completely unwarranted. Come for the actors, stay awhile for the actors, make of the script what you will.
Neil Jordan’s In Dreams will blow you away as far as the style department goes, if being a little short up in terms of story. It’s your serial killer chiller given a supernatural twist a lá The Cell: Annette Bening plays a relatively innocuous woman who shares a sort of psychic bond with a murderer out there somewhere, his motives and actions related to her in atmospheric dream sequences that use specific imagery and sound to provide vague clues. The danger hits closer to home, however, when her own daughter is kidnapped by this killer. Her dreams are dismissed by her shrink (Stephen Rea) and a detective (Paul Guilfoyle), but when her pilot husband (Aiden Quinn) is also put in the crosshairs, she’s forced to use what scant, surreal information she has to track down the source and stop him. He’s played by Robert Downey Jr. of all people, who is already an odd enough choice before you take into account the mop of dreadlocks he’s adorned in once he does show up. He’s menacing enough in his own Downey way, but I can’t help feel it was a bit of a stunt cast on Jordan’s part. The main draw and enjoyment I got out of it is the hyper stylized, meticulously lit dream sequences that could be lifted right off the screen and put on canvas, they’re simply gorgeous. The story just can’t seem to keep up with the visuals though, it’s a retread we’ve seen many a time without much deviation from the path. Still, the colour palette and stark imagery hold enough power to deem this a winner in that respect.
It’s mind-bender time with The I Inside, a supremely trippy little psychological thriller with shades of everything from Stay and Jacob’s Ladder to Memento and The Jacket. It’s not derivitive though, finding it’s own little bubble of confusing plot twists and unreliable reality for our protagonist, played by Ryan Phillipe, to navigate. He plays a man who awakens in a hospital with no memory of the last two years, how he got there or what went wrong. The head doctor (Stephen Rea) informs him he’s come out of a coma, but offers little other information. Soon time blurs out of mind and he awakens yet again, this time two years in the future, once again in the same hospital. Somehow he can travel in a rift between 2000 and 2002, and must find the connection between the two, and how it relates to him. Now, forewarning: This is one goddamn confusing film. I’m usually pretty adept at distilling dense, scattered or otherwise inaccessible story lines, but this is a doozy. I’ve only seen it once and wound up not having a clue how it all ended up, whether it was due to scattershot writing, or the filmmakers deliberatly making it near unfathomable just to put you in his predicament for effect. Either way, it’s a confounding blizzard of time shifts, strange characters, mental blank spots and perceptive trickery that I’ll need at least a few more viewings to get a handle on. Two different women show up at various points in time, played by Piper Perabo and a chilling Sarah Polley, each claiming to be his wife and messing with his head even more. The only thread that links the two time periods besides him is a mysterious heart trauma patient (an excellent Stephen Lang) who recognizes him in the future and gets his own dose of WTF in the process. This is based on a stage play called Point Of Death, and as such has that intimate, one location feel. We’re never allowed to see outside the hospital in either era, adding to Phillipe’s paranoia and unease. I sometimes think about this film, and what it all really meant, and keep reminding myself to slot in time for a revisit. Take a look, and see if you can figure it out the first time around.
Neil Jordan’s film version of Interview With The Vampire is simultaneously one of the most sumptuous and tedious visions of the affliction to ever hit cinema. On the one hand, it’s an absolutely gorgeous, atmospheric and old worlde glance at two damned souls who carry out their macabre destiny with flair and vicious grace. I say tedious as some kind of bitter compliment, because no other film has quite captured the internal torture of eternity or the nocturnal gloom that must prevail over such an existence quite as well as this film has. It barely runs over two hours and we feel like we’ve been planted in front of the screen for years. Such is the dedication of director Jordan, a sneakily versatile gent who augments his stylistic and tonal approach to whatever material he is working with. The film is exciting and raises a pulse, but only on its terms, and for long periods of time we sit through languishing despair that no doubt adds to the mood, but exists to serve the psyches of our two leads, and dares the viewer to suffer alongside them. I have somewhat of a bone to pick with certain producers behind the scenes who no doubt had a forceful hand in the casting of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. You see, author Ann Rice had her heart set on a filmic version starring Rutger Hauer as Lestat, and Lance Henriksen as Louie. Now, Cruise and Pitt are at the utter opposite end of casting types in Hollywood, and while Jordan is never a guy to compromise or chase stars right off that bat, I am still sour when I think of the film we’ll never see, starring two actors infinitely more fascinating and vampiric that Brad and Tom. Nevertheless, I have som much appreciation for the film that I can’t take it too hard, and remain a steadfast fan. Pitt plays Louie, a depressed Louisiana plantation owner with nothing left, especially to lose. He meets roaming vampire Lestat (Cruise), who promptly turns him, and the two embark on a century spanning odyssey of nighttime escapades, thoroughly fraught with homoeroticism. It’s isn’t so much an organized narrative as it is a lengthy look at these two, trapped by their condition and making the bitter best of it. They meet others along the way, including Armand (a slinky Antonio Banderas), Santiago (Jordan regular Stephen Rhea, lively evil incarnate) and Claudia, a child who Louie turns. She’s played by Kirsten Dunst in the best performance of the film. A young girl with the vampire curse thrust upon her at such an age, who mentally matures into a steely, furious woman trapped in the body of a ten year old. Not many actresses could succeed at that, but she is a spitfire little shryke who dominates every scene. All this is being retold by Louie to a 1990’s journalist (Christian Slater) who morphs from bemused disbelief to cold terror, and eventual morbid fascination. It’s a slog to get through, but an ornately beautiful one with some really bloody effects and the always terrific stewardship of Neil Jordan, whose films are never short of mesmerizing, whichever genre they fall into. A dark, dingy horror with lacy elegance at its core.