Hey folks, Harry here... I have zero desire to spend another moment of my life on this lifeless wretch of a flick... So I'm going to let Quint, Capone and Pyul MacTackle go at it on this turkey. Vampires & Werewolves... I should love it right? Um, no... Had they done anything interesting with either... had either done anything remotely Vampire or Werewolfy... Had the dialogue not begun to sound like that of a Charlie Brown Grownup character after about 10 minutes in... Had there been a gram of character work by a screenwriter or a performer... Had there been a single instance of original art design work that excited me in the least... Take every minor problem I had with the last MATRIX film multiply them by a factor of 10,000 and take away all the wit and visual extravagance of that film... and you have UNDERWORLD. I saw it later in a day after watching the brilliance of AMERICAN SPLENDOR... it was like chasing the best merlot in the world with a diet coke in a styrofoam cup that'd been sitting on your dashboard on a hot summer day. Yeah... like shit...
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Sorry I've been away so long, but my life has been a whirlwind lately. Who woulda thunk a short film would be so much work? hehe
Anyhow, I was able to catch a sneak screening of UNDERWORLD the other night and thought I'd drop in a short review for you fine folks.
Since I heard of this project, I've been interested in the story. Romeo and Juliet, but instead of Montagues and Capulets we have werewolves and vampires. Being both a horror and Shakespeare fan I thought this was an inventive idea and looked forward to the first trailer...
Then I saw the poster while I infiltrated the American Film Market earlier this year. I was disappointed to see Kate Beckinsale in Trinity's outfit. Then I saw the trailer and while it looked nice, I wasn't happy about a few of the things I saw in it.
The Matrix leather and slo-mo didn't impress me at all. I was hoping they'd go for something slightly more... say... original. What really got me, though, was the look of the werewolves. Hairless CG werewolves DO NOT WORK. It didn't work in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS and it doesn't work here.
My excitement for the project turned into "Eh... I hope it doesn't suck too much." Then I was at Comic-Con and saw the UNDERWORLD presentation. I dug the hell out of the two screenwriters (especially Kevin Grevioux, a huge black dude who also plays a lead werewolf in the film and has one of the coolest bad motherfucker voices I've ever heard), thought they were pretty sharp, but then Kate Beckinsale came out.
She's a very, very cute girl, but she radiated contempt and superiority at Comic-Con. She is one of those girls that has "Bitch" stamped on her forehead.
Needless to say, after all that and the negative word coming out of the Toronto screening of the film, I almost blew off the screening. Things worked out in such a way that I was free that night and had nothing better to do, so I went.
To my surprise the movie isn't a complete piece of shit. It was actually pretty entertaining. That having been said it is also filled with some terrible acting, under-developed character motivations and a lot of iffy CG work.
Shane Brolly who plays Kraven, the asshole vampire, is terrible. This is the only film I've seen that he's been a part of, so I can't say if it's due to direction or his lack of talent, but he rushes through all his lines and they come out like they were being read by a shy student trying out for the school play. He has a good vampire face, though. I guess that's how he got the part.
Beckinsale is very adorable in the film. She's cute as a button in her little faux leather outfit. She does a fine job at the action and the more dramatic scenes. She never is better than "That was pretty good", though. She might have achieved a deeper level to her character if the love story between her and Scott Speedman's character hadn't been so forced and undeveloped.
The gore in the film is pretty good when it's there. It's kind of aggravating to see this film... an R rated werewolf vs. vampire flick... that has so few money shots. There are a couple, but it seems to me that the film is only a couple seconds of gore and two "fucks" removed from a PG-13 rating. If you're going to get an R rating in a film like this, why not go all the way?
The CG ended up not looking all that terrible. At least it didn't look as bad as AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS. But I still stand strongly against the design of the werewolves. They look more like were-jackals... with the long face and huge, humped neck. I've never been a fan of the "hairless werewolf" look and I'm still not.
The good in this film comes from the cinematography and some of the supporting characters, my favorites being the Vampire weapon expert and Michael Sheen who plays Lucian. The action is alright... the final fight in the sewers (you'll know it when you see it) is very cool and quick.
What this movie suffers from more than anything is the lack of development of the love story. It feels like they were going for a little depth, then decided to throw that on the back burner and focus on the flashy leather two fisted gun action. It's flashy and entertains the eye, but if you're not able to believe the love story the action seems rather empty.
It is even more distracting when the "flashback" love story is told so well... It's not shown very well... it's all done in that grimy, blurry, quick-cut bullshit until the end... But it is sold by Michael Sheen who at the beginning looks like your typical bad guy actor, but shows more depth and talent than most in the film by the time the credits roll.
At the end of the day, I don't feel any desire to see this movie again in the near future. I won't buy the DVD. I might catch it on cable. It entertained me while sitting in the theater, which is more than I thought it would, but has some seriously fatal flaws in the story and character development. If you're at all interested in the film, I suggest a matinee... or better yet, go see LOST IN TRANSLATION. That film opened before I could get my review in, but let me say here and now that it will be at the top of most critic's Best of the Year lists. Bill Murray and the yummy-yummy and remarkably talented Scarlett Johansson shine in the film.
Oh, before I leave I have to mention the commercial attached to the print. It was for some bullshit skin care thing. Why do the studios feel they have to put these damn things on before films?
That's it from me, squirts. By all that is holy in this world, SoBig is finally over and my Yahoo box is clear once more. Click my email address below if you want to talk to this crusty bastard. I'll be back as soon as I'm able. 'Til that day, this is Quint bidding you all a fond farewell and adieu.
Now for Capone... who seems to actually care for some of this dreadful nonsense. Personally, this film is a classic case of a film that both sucks and blows. Here ya go...
Hey, Harry. Capone in Chicago here. Get ready for a couple of major reports from yours truly starting in a couple weeks as the Chicago International Film Festival gets rolling. I've seen a preview of some of the offerings, including the opening night screening of THE HUMAN STAIN with director Robert Benton in person. Of course the film opens a week before the "Opening" night, but who's counting? More on that later. For now, here's a review of what will likely be this weekend's No. 1 movie, deservedly or not.
The latest dark and dingy, MATRIX-like supernatural action film to surface is a must-see for those who feel the need to see every movie having vampires in it (namely me) and a must-miss for the rest of you. UNDERWORLD is far from completely horrible. In fact, there’s a lot to like here for those of us that can’t get enough of seeing good-looking actors try to wrap their pouty lips around a set of pointy false teeth, and lisping their way through their performance. But the film gets so chatty and bogged down with vampire and werewolf (they call them “likens” or “lykens” or "lykins" here, but I refuse) folklore and mystique that the film loses its appeal about halfway through the proceedings.
The films opens with vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale looking as sexy as I’ve ever seen her in her vinyl or leather Catwoman knock-off) perched on the top of a building looking for werewolves to kill. Apparently for centuries, vamps and werewolves have been battling each other for supremacy of “the night,” whatever the hell that means. I was never quite clear what their war was about, but if anyone in the film thought too hard about that, what would be the point of the movie. Anyway, special military-trained vamps called Death Dealers spend their nights hunting werewolves, killing them with semi-automatic weapons filled with silver bullets. Sometimes they capture them and interrogate them to find the locations of other packs of werewolves...then kill them. The first problem with UNDERWORLD is seen right in the first action sequence set in an anonymous city’s subway system. During the more complex battles, it’s tough to tell who’s who. Both sides (in human form at least; we don’t see the werewolves as werewolves that often) dress the same, are built like football players or supermodels or both, and use machine guns and pistols to shoot at each other (the werewolves have bullets with encapsulated sunlight in them). With the exception of Ms. Beckinsale, I could not tell who was after who in the opening chase.
Once the bullets stopped flying and the smoke cleared, I got my bearings and figured out the situations. Turns out a large pack of wolfmen (no chicks in their ranks) are planning to invade the vampire’s lair during a critical time in the vampire cycle called The Awakening. To explain this process would bore you to tears, but it involves waking up one of the three vampire elders who take turns sleeping for centuries. Again, why they have to do this is never explained. Selene is at odds with the vamp leader named Kraven (Shane Brolly), who is said to have killed an important werewolf leader named Lucian (Michael Sheen from FOUR FEATHERS) many years earlier. But we find out early on that Lucian is good and alive, so what does that say about Kraven’s trustworthiness? Soon both sides are trying to get possession of a human named Michael Corvin (“Felicity’s” Scott Speedman), who somehow holds the key to uniting the opposing forces.
If your head is spinning just from my one paragraph synopsis you probably won’t be able to make heads or tails of the entire two-hour film, but every so often UNDERWORLD makes it worth your while to stick around. The film’s bled-dry look practically makes it a black-and-white movie, which I liked. The set design and art direction reminded me a lot of the first Tim Burton BATMAN movie. There are very modern elements to the technology both sides are using and their are some cool Victorian touches as well, particularly in the costuming. The wire-works action stuff works better here than I’ve seen in just about any post-MATRIX film. When Beckinsale and her crew jump from a dozen stories up and land in the street, there’s actually some umph to their impact. They manage to defy gravity without being totally weightless. First-time director Len Wiseman (former props manager for INDEPENDENCE DAY and STARGATE and current fiancee of Beckinsale’s) also does a nice job making the action scenes fluid and exciting (even if you can’t tell people apart). He doesn’t insist on rapid-fire editing all the time, particularly in the final hand-to-hand showdowns that make up the film’s climax. I should also throw in here that the wonderful Bill Nighy (recently seen in I CAPTURE THE CASTLE and LAWLESS HEART) is on hand in UNDERWORLD as the vampire elder Viktor, Selene’s mentor. His performance is a little...eccentric, so don’t be surprising if people in the audience crack up laughing when he’s on screen. They did at my screening, and rightfully so, though the humor is totally unintentional.
UNDERWORLD is a classic case of style over substance, but the film isn’t all filler. There are some interesting new wrinkles added to and subtracted from the rule books of vampires and werewolves. Beckinsale is particularly effective even though I’m confused how she can even see the werewolves she’s pursuing with her hair always hanging in her face. I may have to file UNDERWORLD in my Guilty Pleasure drawer. You might also.
Lastly, here's that Pyul MacTackle fella that chimes in, but never introduces himself in person... He's either so good looking he doesn't want to get a reputation for hanging with "geeks" or he's so wildly attracted to me, that any time he takes 3 steps in my direction he does one of those Forrest Gump tremors and 3 zits erupt on his forehead. I'm not sure which, but anyone that didn't like UNDERWORLD this much can't be all bad...
Once again, I didn't see you at the Underworld screening, but they did have two theatres, so who knows. Thought I might send you my thoughts anyway, especially since, as every good talkbacker knows, there's nothing Harry Knowles wants more from a movie, any movie, then a good old fashioned Vampire Werewolf fight. Be it Romantic Comedy, a touching drama about a severely retarded (fill in the blank), an Adam Sandler snuff film or even, yes, The Matrix, nothing makes a movie memorable like a good old fashioned no holds barred Vampire Werewolf showdown. Oh yeah. Brother!
Am I right? What could be cooler than Blood sucking freaks going toe to toe than the moon ravaged lupine hordes? Throw in a tight leather clad Kate Beckinsdale, an industrial soundtrack, and enough black lipstick to make even Dungeons and Dragons cower in shame and you've got the makings of the Goth Movie Spectacular of the year. Right?
Well, Goth kids, Sony execs and vampire werewolf fight fans cover your eyes. Someone's about to get hurt.
Underworld, much like the Vampires of myth and legend, is lifeless, soulless and lacking even the faintest of a pulse. I cannot even begin to stress just how clichÃ©d, bland and unoriginal this mockery really is. And I'm pissed, absolutely appalled at the response I'm hearing from people I talk to about this crapper. "Well, the trailer looks cool," I keep hearing "So I'll give it a shot." You know, it saddens me as I slowly realize that it is not the writers, directors, actors, producers or even the studio heads that keep Hollywood afloat these days. It is the brilliant trailer editors that can make any festering pile of monkey doo look like a steak sandwich slathered in Bleu Cheese for 2 minutes and 31 seconds. "Damn, that looks tasty," you think to yourself. And no matter how many people you meet who have tasted it that decry "BUT IT'S A FESTERING PILE OF MONKEY DOO UNDER CLEVER LIGHTING!" you still thank "Yeah, whatever. Maybe I'll like monkey doo."
So the first thing I'd like to do, before I begin to tear this turd apart piece by piece, is spend a little bit of time talking about the trailer. If you're reading this, then odds are, you've seen it. And if you've seen it, I tell you this now in all honesty and no uncertain exaggeration, you have seen almost every single special effects shot in the film. You know how most trailers hint at the wonderful special effects in the film, saving the real money shots for the theatre experience where they really earn your eight bucks? Well, the nice people at Sony and Screen Gems thought it would be nice if, for a change, they instead showed you every single penny they put into their special effects budget BEFORE you saw the movie, so instead of being wowed by the special effects, you could settle back and appreciate this movie for what it truly is. I'm not kidding. Everything even remotely cool that happens in this movie is right there, ready to be watched on Apple.com right this very minute. Oh, there's maybe a second before or a few seconds after that are the tail end of the special effects, but all told, every real money shot this movie has to offer, you've already seen. For free. God bless Sony's generosity. So if you have any plans whatsoever on seeing this movie for more 'stunning' (and I use that term very loosely) special effects, just watch the trailer again, and skip this. You've already seen it. And what little you haven't seen, isn't worth seeing. Trust me.
But this is only the beginning of Underworlds problems. Perhaps you aren't interested in seeing Underworld for it's special effects. Perhaps you're interested in the mood, the storytelling or even just because you're a fan of vampires and werewolves and like a child with two bees in a jar, you want nothing more than to see them fight. Well, don't you worry, Underworld has absolutely nothing for you folks either. It's an equal opportunity disappointment.
First and foremost, this isn't really a vampire movie. Nor is it really a werewolf movie either. This is primarily because it doesn't actually have any vampires or werewolves in it. Oh, there are people who CLAIM to be Vampires and others who CLAIM to be Werewolves. They're even kind enough to indulge in each others delusions by CALLING each other vampires and werewolves. But I dare them for even one second to prove it.
Now I'm not some hardcore vampire/werewolf lore historian here to contradict points of legend versus the concepts of this movie. That's not it at all. There is some very basic shit missing from this film and quite a bit of thematic elements that are completely abandoned by Underworlds 'Reinvention' (the filmmakers word, not mine) of these creatures.
According to Underworld all Vampires 1) are Eurotrash. 2) have pointy teeth 3) can defy gravity 4) can be killed by specially made 'Sunlight bullets', really big fucking swords, light blood loss and extreme close ups on the jaws of a werewolf approaching the screen 5) are all pretty much evil, rotten bastards that will believe anything someone tells them despite their years and years of experience and 6) Are really old.
According to Underworld all Werewolves 1) are Eurotrash (except for one very large Michael Clark Duncan impersonator) 2) Can grow pointy teeth when they turn into large, bipedal hairless doglike creatures 3) can defy gravity 4) can be killed by silver bullets (kind of, this is the one cool idea in the film) 5) are pretty much evil, rotten bastards that have no real personality aside from being pretty pissed off and 6) Are really old.
Underworld contains zero references to: Coffins, crosses, garlic, running water, invitation legends, stakes, holy water, transformation into bats, wolves or mist, vampiric powers over the mind, wolves or curses. There is one mention of drinking blood, in a story that we are to assume occurred a couple hundred years ago. Blood is mentioned later, or rather cloned blood is, but apparently the vampires are awaiting FDA approval for the stuff. (I shit you not.) Sunlight is mentioned as a weakness in flashback, but that doesn't really matter, because Underworld only takes place at night. There is no day whatsoever. The movie is one, long, fluid story that takes place over the course of several 'days' without the sun ever once coming up. It's the anti-Bay. Ever wonder how the film world balances itself out after it suspends night for Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer movies to show universal day the world over as everyone in the world wonders about the fate of our heroes in oh so cinematic daylight? Underworld is that answer. Vampires also breathe, can be drowned and can have CPR performed on them oddly enough.
Underworld is also very dodgy on how one actually becomes a werewolf or a vampire. It is said that you can actually be born as both and it's hinted that a bite can actually do it, but neither is ever really talked about, except in passing.
So I'm sure many of you out there are asking right this very second: "So what? It's a 'Reinvention'. They're doing something different."
No. They're not.
The Vampires and Werewolves of Underworld are nothing more than superhumans that, having had removed all but the most basic of concepts, are Vampires and Werewolves in name only. Underworld never even begins to try to reinvent these creatures at all. There is nothing to replace what's missing. No new habits or ideas to chew on, mull over or enjoy while watching. Period. Underworld borrows, rather than reinvents, and simply 'trims the fat', so to speak, to tell the story it wants to tell.
And to top it off, Underworld has almost ZERO mood. There's never any feeling or soul to it, which brings me to why, exactly, I mentioned all the associated concepts that are lacking from this movie. There is simply something fascinating about vampires and werewolves. If there wasn't, there wouldn't be so many movies about the damned things. Or so many books. Or legends. There is something about the notion of great power coming with an awful curse, the notion of a man becoming both more than a man and less of a man at the same time that inspires the imagination. Whether it be the horror a man experiences as he loses the very things he never knew he held so dear and having to suffer that loss for all eternity, or the notion of becoming something so uncontrollable that a man would want nothing more than to die, if only for that single moment of peace. Talk all you want about those 'cheesy old Universal monster movies', but by god, those movies had heart. Those movies had soul. Those movies dealt with the very essence of what it was to be human.
Those 'cheesy old monster movies' managed to understand the very essence of what those crazy old legends were really all about.
But maybe that isn't what you like about Vampire/werewolf lore. Maybe you simply love the sheer fright of the notion of these once human beasts prowling the night, with the ability to suck a person dry of every last drop of blood whilst they slept or tear a grown man limb from limb in a heartbeat.
Well folks, Underworld possesses neither of these thing, not a single moment of pathos, not a single moment of horror. In fact, aside from one sequence in the beginning of the film, there is no evidence whatsoever that there's anyone that's NOT a Vampire or Werewolf living in the city this takes place in. There is a small group of people that apparently are going somewhere, once (probably leaving town before all hell breaks loose) but we are never again treated to anything remotely like the outside world.
And this is one of the primary faults of the film, as we are never shown just how these beings deal with the world at all. The Vampires don't feed, werewolves can control their changes and they don't have to worry about the moon (unless they're a new werewolf), and neither needs jobs. The Vampires sit around having parties that look exactly like those live action role playing events you see at every sci/fi, fantasy or movie convention, but without all the rock, paper, scissors (I swear, they're always playing Rock, paper, scissors...watch them some time, I'm not making this shit up.) Everyone looks like they just walked out of a casting call for 'Fashionably dressed corpse number 1' in a Marylyn Manson music video. They really, truly, never actually do anything. And since it's always night, we never get to see what they do at dawn. Do they sleep like other vampires? Or do they just stay indoors, eternal insomniacs with nothing more to do than sit around and bore one another with their ennui? And the Werewolves? Lord only knows what they do, aside from hanging out playing Fight Club the home game and getting ready to fight Vampires.
But let's pretend for a moment that you don't give a shit about any of this. Let's acknowledge that I'm full of shit for wanting silly little things like mood and mythology. "So this isn't a Vampire film. We get it. How's the fucking movie?"
How is it? It's a meandering mess that borrows every shred of mood or idea from other sources. I once heard an electronic musician publicly refer to Billy Corrigan (Smashing Pumpkins) as Borrowing everything from electonica but giving nothing back. The exact thing can be said about Underworld, word for word. Underworld takes not only it's cues, but it's entire art direction from obvious sources. The Matrix. Dark City. The Crow. But not only is Underworld 'in the style of', it pirates exact shots, entire sequences. Matrix fans are gonna shit bricks when they see the rotating-staring-down-several-floors-of-a-dilapidated-stairwell-as-the-heroes-trod-up-it shot that not only looks just like the same shot in The Matrix, but may well have been shot on the same set. the shots that aren't pirated are shot so claustrophobically, that you can never actually see anything around exactly what you're looking at. What work did go into the art direction was all but completely cut out of the film by poor cinematography choices. And of course, anytime the visuals fail to set the appropriate mood, fear not, for Underworld is more than ready to blast industrial and electronic music at the drop of a hat to try to fill in the blanks. Of course, that never really helps much.
But nevermind all that, we already established that you might not care about mood. How about that action? Yeah. How about it? I'm still waiting to see it myself, and I've seen the god damned thing.
Want some Vampire on Werewolf action? Good luck, because Underworld doesn't have any. Oh there are Vampires FIGHTING Werewolves alright. Mostly Werewolves in human form, and the fighting is all with guns or in one case, and only one case, whips. On rare occasions, the Werewolves change into large, hairless, badly rendered dog like creatures that are either kept in total darkness or are only shown for a split second to keep you from seeing how bad they look. And just when you're about to see a werewolf tear into some vampire flesh or just when you're ready to see a werewolf bitch slap a vampire across the room...the shadowed werewolf approaches the screen menacingly, opens its slavering maw into the camera's eye and the movie cuts away. Then we're treated to other characters hearing the sounds of screams and gunshots. Not only do we not get to see what happens, we don't even get to know how it turns out. Almost everyone who dies in the film does so by gunshot or grenade...in human form. And even then the action presented isn't even remotely interesting. It's cut so poorly and so quick that you never get an idea for what's going on.
But most importantly, you don't care.
The depth of character here is so shallow here that were it cooking oil, you couldn't sautÃ© mushrooms in it. Everyone is one dimensional and almost no one has a backstory, and what backstories are present are so tired and clichÃ© that it's almost laughable. The dialog is stiff and reeks of the pseudo-intellectual ennui ridden banter of the aforementioned live action role playing games. And most absurd, the story is told from the entirely wrong point of view.
Underworld focuses upon Selene (Bekinsdale) the ridiculously monikered 'Death Dealer' as she tries to unravel the mystery of why the Werewolves want Michael (Scott Speedman). For some unknown reason, she becomes obsessed with figuring this all out and protecting him. This simply isn't the story that Underworld should be telling. It should be telling the Michael's story. The exposition should be from his point of view.
Imagine if you will 'The Matrix' told from Trinity's point of view, rather than Neo's. Imagine if, during the opening, we are treated to a Carrie Ann Moss voice over explaining the Matrix, the Agents and exactly why they were looking for Neo. Then imagine it being roughly the same film, without the moments of Neo alone trying to figure things out. This pretty much sums up Underworld. Everything is laid out from the beginning, with only a few plot points kept hidden. But all the horror, all the mystique of the monsters in this movie, is undercut and completely ruined by Selene's introductory explanation. And thus, we never really feel anything. We don't get the shock of being caught in a subway station shoot out. We don't get the horror of first seeing a man turn into a werewolf. We don't get 'What the Fuck' reaction of finding out the badass women you've found yourself attracted to is really...a blood sucking monster. Nope, nothing at all like that. It's pretty much a go through the motions movie from that opening scene.
And get this...Sony's been selling this as 'Romeo and Juliet' with werewolves and Vampires. Yeah, uh, that's bollocks. Complete Bollocks. First of all, Romeo and Juliet was a tragedy. This isn't. Secondly, if I remember correctly, Romeo and Juliet was a romance. There was some kind of funky love subplot or at least an attraction between the title characters. My Shakespeare must be rusty, because this didn't have any of that. And no, it's not just because Beckinsdale and Speedman have all the sexual chemistry of Donnie and Marie Osmond, but rather, because there are no romantic elements, scenes or themes in the film anywhere. there's one ALMOST kiss, which turns out to be a ploy to get one character quickly handcuffed, but that's it. Selene for some unexplained (no seriously, unexplained) reason tries to protect Michael, but it never once feels to the audience like love.
In fact, several audience members I talked with after the film claimed that they were very happy that the movie never tried to be a romance. that the characters never hooked up romantically. Kind of a funny reaction for a film being billed as 'Romeo and Juliet' don't you think?
So there's no romance, no vampire on werewolf action, flawed storytelling, bad dialog, terrible editing and cinematography, bad special effects, sunlight bullets, and oh yeah, the story's pretty lame and lacks any real conclusion aside to set itself up for a sequel. (No really, not just "oooh...they could make another one" it's "Hey, we're making another one whether you like it or not, so much so, we're not really going to end this one")
So is there any reason to see Underworld? Well, the credits are quite nice and not nearly as lifeless and boring as the movie before them. Otherwise, no.