Archive | June, 2012

Underworld: Evolution – Review

17 Jun

I’ve been waiting years to watch this movie. Since I first saw Underworld , I’ve been left with that ending and so many questions unanswered. It isn’t like I didn’t have any access to this movie. I just never watched it for some reason. Now, finally, I have seen it and the story can continue.

Picking up exactly where the first Underworld left off, we have the vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and the hybrid Michael (Scott Speedman) on the run. Back at the mansion, Markus (Tony Curran), the other vampire elder, is awakened and finds out what Selene and Michael have done, but this isn’t his primary concern. Markus wants to find and rescue his werewolf brother, William, who was the first werewolf and unable to change back, from his prison. This would cause havoc in the world with werewolves not being able to control their transformations. Now, Selene and Michael, along with some unexpected help, must stop Markus before he can do this.

This movie is an all around improvement over the first film. The action is cooler, the story and the lore is explained more, and Markus is a great villain who gets a lot of awesome screen time. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the occasional overacting that is sometimes distracting.

A lot of what I’m going to say  may sound familiar because I said it in my other review. The story, that was above average in the first film, is only improved in the second one thanks to flashbacks that explain more in depth how the war between the vampires and the lycans started. The audience is also treated to some major key players telling their side of the story. There are also interesting flashbacks that better explain Selene’s tragic and brutal past.

There are loads of action scenes here that aren’t just more cooler, but better shot. There were times in the first Underworld that had the potential to be cool action scenes, but unfortunately the techniques used to shoot it kind of dulled the intensity. Underworld: Evolution never has a dull action sequence, and I’d go so far as to say most, if not all, of them pushed me to the edge of my seat, which is the best place to watch a movie.

This film does a great job, once again, in creating an atmosphere that you will not forget. The gothic metropolis is changed to a wintry, sometimes desolate, countryside filled with mysterious architecture from centuries past. The lack of defining color not only adds to the gothic mood, but also to the feeling of coldness. This just goes to show how important non-diagetic methods are to producing a specific type of tone or feeling.

A small problem that this film suffers from is cheesy writing that the actors do their best in delivering. All of the actors here are competent actors who are able to deliver fine performances, but if the writing is weak than the acting will be weak. The writing here is not what I’d call weak, but corny and derivative. It’s a small complaint that hardly detracts from the movie.

Underworld: Evolution isn’t just a step above the original, but also beats out a lot of the action films nowadays. It isn’t destined to be a classic, but it is definitely an entertaining escape that is memorable and completely worthwhile. Fans of the first one will love this one, but it isn’t going to impress people who didn’t like the original.

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Underworld – Review

14 Jun

I remember long ago going to a fantastic store called PrePlayed almost every Saturday to pick up a cheap movie. One of these movies that I got was Underworld. I remember being a kid and wanting to show this movie to everyone because I though it was just the absolute coolest movie. I haven’t watched it, until yesterday, for about four years, maybe even longer. I was worried that it wouldn’t be as good now that it was then.

There is a war raging between the Vampires and the Lycans (werewolves) for centuries. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a Vampire death dealer whose main task is to find and kill surviving Lycans, who are now almost extinct to the Vampires’ knowledge. The Lycans are actually thriving and Lucian (Michael Sheen), their leader has a plan to create a Lycan/Vampire hybrid using the human Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman). Against orders from Kraven (Shane Brolly), the acting head of the Vampires, Selene rescues Michael and brings him back to their mansion and awakens Viktor (Bill Nighy), a Vampire elder. This only ignites further the violence between the two species, and consequent betrayal for both Vampires and Lycans.

Richard Roeper called this film a “Shakespearean werewolf/vampire movie.” That is a very accurate description of Underworld because of it’s language, attention to aesthetic details, and the conflict and violence that erupt between the two clans and even amongst members of the same clan. The movie has unfortunately lost a bit of its luster since the days of my youth, but it’s still a cool action/horror film that is guaranteed to entertain.

The look of Underworld is absolutely phenomenal with its gothic architecture, costume and creature design, and use of underexposed color. Everything in the film seems to be a in the color range of black, white, or a shade of light blue. Along with the color comes an a city that would make the citizens of Gotham comfortable. As a viewer, the city was almost the strange part, whereas, I felt more comfortable in the Vampire mansion or underground with the Lycans. The costumes look equally gothic with the Vampires dressed elegantly and the Lycans in old ragged clothes. Finally, the creatures. Vampires look appropriately deathly, but the real standouts are the Lycans. The only CGI used was for their transformation, everything else was a costume and animatronic mask. This limited use of CGI gives the film a bit more magic because they had to physically create these werewolves instead of just designing them on a computer.

Unfortunately, the acting is where the movie shines the least. Kate Beckinsale, Michael Sheen, and Bill Nighy all perform well, but a certain Shane Brolly gives a cringeworthy performance. Everything he did either felt flat or way too overacted. He had an interesting and developed character, but he was awfully played. Scott Speedman falls into a kind of weird category in the middle. Most of his acting was ok, but there were a few times where he lost his footing and fell into the cheese.

I was more into the lore of the film than I was the action that took place. The backstories and histories of all of the characters and how the war began is incredibly interesting and above average for this genre. The action is still pretty cool. In the opening scene, there is a subway firefight that I could rank in my favorite intros of all time.This action is greatly aided by the sound design which does an incredible job at making the gun fire explode and even go so far as to accentuate running foot steps to heighten the mood.

Underworld is a strange breed a movie. It has great lore, mood, and action to make it cool. But the acting and development of some characters is sort of weak. A lot may disagree, but I still recommend this movie because, hell, I have a great time watching it. So if all the intellectuals can forget for two hours that a movie can purely just entertain you, then I guarantee that Underworld will deliver.

The Holy Mountain – Review

13 Jun

After seeing Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo, I knew that my next review would have to be The Holy Mountain. These two films can be considered cousins, as in they are both alike but also very different. Take the Zen and religion from El Topo and add a deeper layer of spirituality, condemnation of society, and, in my opinion, an infinitely more complicated storyline. This would make The Holy Mountain.

A Man (Horacio Salinas) wakes up after an unknown amount of time with flies covering his face. He soon meets up with a armless, legless man whom he soon befriends. After witnessing a hook drop out of a tower with gold in exchange for food, he climbs on and rides it back up. While in the tower he meets the Alchemist (Alejandro Jodorowsky). The Alchemist gathers seven other people who represent the planets and, also, his silent assistant and promises them immortality if they climb the holy mountain on Lotus Island and defeat the gods who are stationed there. Only after much spiritual training will they be able to undertake this task and achieve eternal life.

This film was an absolute marvel and made me think about who i am as a person. This pondering was done on a strange level that I never really explored before. I thought about what made up my being and what I truly believe in. The scary part was that I’m not 100% sure I know who I truly am. This and a message of reality vs fiction were huge messages amongst many in The Holy Mountain. Jodorowsky implores the viewer to go out and explore the world, and in so doing find yourself.

Those with a weak stomach may want to stay away from this film because the shock value has been turned up since El Topo. There are scenes in this movie that would make Takashi Miike cringe. I know I did. These scenes aren’t in the movie to simply shock an offend, though. If you see something that is trying to get your attention in this film, take note, because that means Jodorowsky is trying to say something important.

It’s fair to say that many people may be offended by the use of religious imagery. This is, indeed, a very controversial film and was called the “scandal of the Cannes Film Festival.”  Instead of condemning the use of these religious symbols, icons, and practices, open your mind a little more than usual and try to see past them. In other words, try to understand what their uses truly mean both in real life and in The Holy Mountain. What is Jodorowsky  trying to do with them? Getting offended by this movie would take away from the experience of it all, and even though it is a huge statement by Jodorowsky, it is just a movie and one man’s opinion. Get over it.

But, what did I think of the movie? It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and may never see again. Films aren’t made like this anymore, and that’s very unfortunate. Besides a few Indie gems and the occasional foreign film, audiences around the world are catered to just so the studio can make money. The Holy Mountain has messages on religion, war, big business, sex and its fetishes, spirituality, life, and death. Think about the blockbusters coming out this summer. Will they have even half of those messages, or just rehashed ones thrown in to give the movie some “depth?”

Bottom line, The Holy Mountain may be one of the finest films that I have ever seen. I truly loved everything about it, and I will love it more every time I watch it since it demands multiple viewings to be fully understood. Take a glimpse through the looking glass, ride the snake, or tune in, whichever one you want to use. Find this movie somewhere and watch it. Chances are, it will give you new insight on the world and yourself.

El Topo – Review

12 Jun

Described as a mixture of Sergio Leone, Luis Buñuel, and Sam Peckinpah, El Topo is a surreal western from the bizarre and philosophical mind of Alejandro Jodorowsky. It’s violent, passionate, religious, and sexual, packed to the brim with images created to enlighten and disturb. This isn’t just a movie, it’s an other worldly experience.

El Topo (played by Jodorowsky himself) is a violent wanderer traversing the wilderness with his seven year old son (Brontis Jodorowsky). He soon begins a mystical journey to find and defeat the four gun masters in order to prove himself as the best. His journey leads him across barren deserts, a cave filled with deformed people crying out for help, and to a town inhabited by cultists who find murder on a large scale to be enjoyable.

Trying to summarize El Topo without giving much of it away is very difficult because the story is told mainly using powerful imagery. When it was first released in 1970, it was received very well by the underground film goers and, of all people, John Lennon who demanded that it be marketed better. Marketing this film proved to be a challenge because of the controversial topics and scenes that are meant to startle and confuse. Ultimately, it was lost for a number of years until its DVD release in 2007.

Unfortunately, this movie seems to drag on at points, and I feel that it might’ve worked a little bit better if it was shortened. It isn’t necessarily long, clocking in at just over two hours, but for an avat-garde quasi-western surrealist work of philosophical brutality it sometimes got difficult to sit through. Although I never recommend stopping a movie, and coming back to it later, I would understand why some people would want to do that for El Topo.

Even though the movie seems too slow at some points, it truly is a wonder to look at. The color of the sky blends very well with the barren look of the desert, and the added imagery makes it horrifying, beautiful, and moving. The editing also helps to create the mood of surrealism with sometimes choppy cuts to contrasting images, making a very unorthodox montage that would give Sergei Eisentstein a heart attack.

I would be lying if I were to say that I completely understood this film. I’d be lying if I said I understood most of this film. There’s a lot to absorb in El Topo, and practically all of it is not obvious symbolism. I read a review that said it was more of a Zen-like experience than a piece meant to be analyzed. It was all about the trip that the viewer takes, and the images and moods they are exposed to. I partially agree with this, but with the symbolism that I understand, I firmly believe Jodorowsky wants this film to be viewed multiple times, analyzed, and eventually understood.

Out of all the movies I have reviewed thus far, I can declare that El Topo might be the most estranging film. I can see where many people would stray away from this movie because of the attention to aesthetics and meaning rather than a strong storyline. For those who are looking for a strange take on the western with an intense look at western and eastern philosophies and religion, than El Topo is your movie. Be warned that it can get to be a little slow, and there may be times where you just want it to end. Still, this film is truly and experience that, like it or not, you will be glad you had the chance to witness.

Clerks 2 – Review

11 Jun

Although Kevin Smith intended to end his View Askewniverse series with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, he was always open to the possibility of making more. After the failure that was Jersey Girl, Smith reopened the Askewniverse to properly end the series with Clerks 2. 

As Dante (Brian O’Halloran) is about to open the Quick Stop store for another long day at work, he is shocked to find it in a blaze. How could this have happened? Well he soon finds out that the blame falls on his co-worker Randal (Jeff Anderson) for leaving the coffee pot on after closing. Now they are forced to find new jobs, and wind up at a Mooby’s Restaurant. Dante is soon to be married to his fiancé Emma Bunting (Jennifer Schwalbach) and moving to Florida the next day, so Randal has to give his best friend the best going away present ever at the expense of their boss, Becky (Rosario Dawson), who has her own plans when it comes to Dante. All this is done over the watchful eyes of Jay and Silent Bob who occasionally put in their two sense or wreak their own havoc.

When fans of Clerks found out that there was going to be a sequel, many were very upset even though they haven’t even gave the film a chance at that point. To be honest, I was also a little nervous before popping in Clerks 2 just because of how fantastic the original was. It seems like a very difficult act to follow, and after how ok Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was, I wasn’t as confident in this one.

To my pleasant surprise, I find it easy to rank Clerks 2 up there with the original. It still hasn’t lost it’s irreverent flair that made it so fantastic. There are jokes ranging from the Holocaust to beastiality. The slapstick humor that invaded Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is gone, which leaves room for Smith’s use of brilliantly clever dialogue that mirrors real life and his talent for creating ridiculous situations.

Seeing the original characters again for one last hoorah was a little sad, but awesome at the same time. Throughout the films in the Askewniverse, we’ve heard references and briefly seen Dante and Randal, but we never got to spend a lot of time with them. They are the original characters, and I find them the most interesting so another slacker adventure with them was a must. Jay and Silent Bob are back as well and as crazy as ever. Since they both are clean of drugs (yet, still selling them) they have to do their best to keep themselves occupied to avoid relapse. This is a clever and surprising twist on these beloved characters.

That’s what has always made these characters so great. They are so relatable. I work in retail and love talking about movies and annoying customers, although I do like to think I work a little harder than Dante and Randal. But still, seeing them just trying to get through the day is so satisfying. This time around, Kevin Smith has added a new level of maturity to the characters. They still are mostly up to no good, but they’re beginning to realize that they need to find a set path in their life. They also deal with changing friendships as adults, which may be easier the younger you are. There is a great dramatic monologue given at the end which is surprisingly impacting.

In the end, Kevin Smith has created a foul mouthed gem with Clerks 2. You can tell that Smith treats these characters with a special kind of respect and works hard in creating a story arc that we can all believe. This is a fitting end to the Askewniverse, leaving us with a newfound knowledge of Dante, Randal, and Jay and Silent Bob. The characters live on without our eyes watching, and I even caught myself thinking about what these guys would be up to today. If you love Clerks, then Clerks 2 is a must see.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back – Review

8 Jun

It was going to happen eventually. There was no point in hiding the fact that there was going to be a film all about Jay and Silent Bob. Kevin Smith has always been shocked to hear that the most popular characters he has ever created are the two stoners who hang outside of the QuickStop food mart. Nevertheless, he gave the fans what they wanted when he made Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

It seems that Jay and Silent Bob’s lives can’t get any worse when Dante and Randal finally slap them with a restraining order to stay away from QuickStop. They find refuge at the local comic book store run by Brodie (Jason Lee), who tells them that the Bluntman and Chronic characters are getting their own movie. Jay and Silent Bob are infuriated when they hear this since they never got any money from Miramax for their likenesses. They then decide to head to Hollywood to stop Banky (Jason Lee again) and Holden (Ben Affleck) from making the movie. Complications arise, however, when they get mixed up with jewel thieves and an orangutan, all while being chased by Federal Wildlife Marshall Willenholly (Will Ferrell).

Newcomers to the View Askewniverse, beware! This film is Kevin Smith’s giant inside joke to all of the fans of his previous movies. Many of the jokes are references pulled directly from all of his films from Clerks to Dogma. For the viewers who have seen these films, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is going to be a film that will give you a great amount of entertainment, but is probably Smith’s least strongest in the Askewniverse series.

As a person who is really interested in the world the Kevin Smith has created with his motley of characters, it was really rewarding to be able to see most of them in the same movie together. This is the film that really ties all of the other ones together. It almost added to the humor that Jason Lee plays both Brodie and Banky in the same movie, but it didn’t detract from the movie watching experience since I can easily discern between these two very different characters.

There were more funny and talented people in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back than you can really imagine. George Carlin has a great bit as a naughty hitch hiker willing to do anything for a ride and Chris Rock made me laugh considerably as his overly racist director of the Bluntman and Chronic movie. Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill even have cameos in this movie, making this the first movie they appeared in together since Return of the Jedi.

As funny as all of these actors are in this movie, having so many of them in there made it difficult to concentrate on one main plot. The movie starts to become almost a sketch film of sorts with Jay and Silent Bob running into the strangest of people on their cross country trip. I began caring less and less about Bluntman and Chronic and more about what the next silly thing is that’s going to happen next. When the amount of stars and jokes begin to overshadow the plot of the movie, the movie is put in danger of becoming less and less interesting.

I also had a bit of an issue on the way the jokes resorted to something involving farts, sex, or falling over. Sure, it’s great to hear the foul mouthed Jay rant about his thoughts on women and seeing both Jay and Silent Bob get into crazy situations are fun to watch, but it gets a little old after a while. The movie went on for way too long and the witty dialogue that is relevant in most Kevin Smith movies is missing.

If you have seen the other films in the Askewniverse and don’t mind tossing your brain out the door for this often mindless comedy, than this is a movie worth seeing at least once. Jay and Silent Bob are great characters and I liked seeing them in the main role with the leads from the other films taking a back seat. It’s also interesting to see how Smith’s universe ties so intricately together. It’s certainly not Smith’s best movie, but it’s an ok film if you’re a Kevin Smith fan.

Dogma – Review

6 Jun

With Chasing Amy, Kevin Smith proved that he had the capability to write screenplays that are both funny and dramatic, but also very mature and personal. This cinematic tradition continues with his 1999 film that both praises and mocks religion, Dogma.

Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck) are homesick. Problem is, they can’t simply just go home being fallen angels banished to the Wisconsin area by God. When they find out that a sacred archway of a church in New Jersey is their ticket to heaven they vow to use it to get home while seeking out violent retribution on the way. Meanwhile, the angel Metatron (Alan Rickman) is sent to the house of Bethany Sloane (Linda Fiorentino) to task her with stopping these two angels from ever passing through the archway which would consequently destroy the world. She is given help from a few unlikely beings: the forgotten apostle, Rufus (Chris Rock); the muse Serendipity (Salma Hayek); and two “prophets”, Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith).

When Dogma first came out, many different Christian communities were up in arms due to the so called “offensive nature” of the movie. Kevin Smith is clearly not mocking religion or faith. He is mocking the fanatics and bigots who shove their religion down the throats of other people or those who are un-accepting of others beliefs. It’s a very personal film for Smith, much like Chasing Amy, because there are times where his own beliefs are made clear, despite what other may think of them.

This film is packed with stars. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have great chemistry as actors, and I would go so far as to say that Affleck gives his most under rated performance of his career. Linda Firorentino and Salma Hayek are just fine as their characters if nothing special. Chris Rock delivered a few chuckles, but came off as a bit too over the top. Alan Rickman owned every scene he was in, but the real scene stealers, in my opinion, once again go to Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith. I’m just a sucker for Jay and Silent Bob.

What you will probably notice is that Smith’s graphic crude dialogue is significantly dimmed down for Dogma. This is for the best considering the religious themes that are dealt with. Not only would it be disrespectful, but out of place for a movie like this. This isn’t to say anything is lost in the dialogue. It is still as sharp and witty as ever with lines that will most definitely be quoted. The long monologues are also back, and save for a great one once again delivered by Affleck, they seem to go on for a bit too long sometimes and I found my attention drifting.

Smith also amps up the violence to a surprising level. With Clerks and Mallrats, there were a few scenes of very mild comedic violence, but in Dogma there are some crazy action bits that are highly entertaining. Going into it the first time may be a bit shocking to newer fans of Kevin Smith, but it’s fun as hell and just adds a little unexpected flavor to the film.

To compare this to Chasing Amy and Clerks may be a bit unfair, because they are works of comic genius. On the flip side, I have no problem saying this tops MallratsDogma works not only as a comedy, but also as a part fantasy, part action film. Kevin Smith goes all out on this one and it shows. Die hard Askewniverse fans and casual film goers will have a great time with this movie. I easily recommend it.