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Underworld: Awakening: Flashy Vampires and Werewolves
The fourth film in the Underworld series, Awakening starts off with the vampire and lycan communities being exposed and the humans declaring an all-out war against them. During the purge, vampire Selene (Beckinsale) and hybrid Michael are taken captive and cryogenically frozen. Selene awakens twelve years later in a lab to discover that the humans have won and the remaining vampires and lycans have been driven deep into hiding. While searching for any evidence of Michael’s fate, she runs into the young girl who freed her from the lab, her hybrid daughter, who is being tracked by people desperate to get her back.
Beckinsale doesn’t seem very interested in being in the film. She’s ok when she’s fighting, mainly because the camera’s moving too quickly for you to keep tabs on her, but when the action settles down into an emotional moment, she seems bored at best. Her character barely seems fazed by her lost twelve years or by the fact that she now has a daughter. She has a going-through-the-motions vibe going on, which is completely at odds with the heightened stakes she’s up against. That being said, the sheer amount of bodies she leaves strewn in her wake is highly gratifying, as is the image of her brandishing her twin guns while defying gravity.
The film is flashy but confusing, and this confusion doesn’t stem from a lack of prior knowledge of the series, but by shoddy storytelling and lazy acting. The direction doesn’t get a free pass either. The rapid, choppy fight scenes look impressive but are nonetheless infuriating, especially when they make the logistics of the more important killings vaguer than they already are.
On the plus side, though, the stunts have a sort of balletic quality to them. When Selene jumps off of buildings or over fences, she could almost be mistaken for a dancer if not for her bright blue irises and icy expression. Also, the lycans look like a feral version of Xmen’s Beast and while they aren’t particularly scary, the scenes where they transform from humans to werewolves are pretty cool.
The most irritating thing is how the human versus vampire/lycan war was almost completely ignored. It was used almost solely as a set up for Selene to be captured, completely sidestepping a perfect opportunity to forge a connection between the film universe and the real world. This ethnic cleansing war should have, at the very least, struck a political and emotional chord with the audience. And while a twist in the middle of the film does bring the story back around to how the vampires and lycans dealt with the war, it’s overshadowed by the onscreen bloodbath.
If you’re a fan of the previous Underworld film, this one is more of the same and may be worth a watch.
Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s chillingly and satirical short story, The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, Brad Anderson’s madhouse thriller serves up a star – studded cast frolicking in plenty of morbid fun in the unnerving but equally flimsy, Stonehearst Asylum.
Written by Joe Gangemi, Stonehearst Asylum is set in late 1899 and is centred on Edward Newgate (Sturgess); a recent medical school graduate of Oxford University who is looking to gain clinical experience at the titular mental institution. Arriving there on Christmas Eve, Edward soon meets the establishment’s mad superintendent, Dr. Silas Lamb (Kingsley), whose unorthodox way of providing care bemuse Edward. Lamb’s methods – which allow for his patients to seek their own healing methods and do whatever they see is a fit – doesn’t sit well with the fresh grad and he finds himself in more than one awkward situation with patients.
All soon becomes clear, however, when Eddie discovers hostages locked in the basement and a grave secret that he must admit no knowledge of in order to help rescue the imprisoned.
Shot in Bulgaria, the film carries an unnerving energy. Sadistic electroshock treatments, violent rapes and random patient sedations are just some of the tools of torture which Stonehearst Asylum is using to induce fear and horror and for the most part, it does accomplish its goals.
However, although its costumes and set-design – not to mention its sprawling landscape – are a nice example of a period-piece done well, there is a problem with the suspense and this nagging little feeling that it could have been all a little bolder and a little scarier.
Luckily though, its A-list cast which includes the scenery-chewing Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine help elevate the film and it’s only the over-the-top antics of Kate Beckinsale and the fragile performance of Jim Sturgess that let the side down.
Adapting Edgar Allan Poe is no easy feat, but Stonehearst Asylum uses a very particular type of British black comedy well, providing a fun, if underwhelming, viewing experience. On the back of cult successes like Session 9, The Machinist and The Call, Anderson carries a reputation for creating eerie and subtly sinister worlds in his films. He achieves this here, to an extent, but beyond the aesthetics exists an occasionally flat film.
Channelling his inner-Liam Neeson, if you will, multi Oscar-winning actor and occasional humanitarian, Sean Penn, dips his toes into what is a new type of emerging genre: geriaction. While it’s unlikely that Hollywood executives and actors will be using it anytime soon, the term refers to action films starring ‘aging actors’. At 54, Penn is no spring chicken, but the California native is in tip-top shape for Pierre Morel’s surprisingly flavourless and action-less thriller, The Gunman.
The story follows special operative Jim Terrier (Penn); a mercenary stationed in Congo who provides security services for mining operations. During his time there, he meets and falls in love with a humanitarian-aid doctor, Annie (Trinca), who is also there offering medical support for those in need. However, when asked to liquidate the local Minister of Mining by his shady bosses, Cox (Rylance) and Felix (Bardem), Terrier must oblige. Soon after carrying out the hit, he flees the country without as much as a goodbye to Annie.
Eight years later, Jim is once again in Congo and soon becomes the target of an unknown hit squad. Barely making it out of there alive, he makes his way to London in order to seek out his old partners and see if they can help him figure out who is behind the mess. However, Jim’s digging and snooping is not entirely welcome and after finding his way to Annie once more, the wanted couple has no choice but to go on the run together to Barcelona where they hope to come up with a plan to get themselves out of the chaos.
One of the most surprising things about The Gunman is how its final onscreen realisation is nothing like what its trailers suggests. It’s painfully slow, very chatty – the dialogue is filled with political gobbledegook – and, in terms of action, well, there isn’t any. Apart from a couple of shockingly brutal and bloody exchanges, the rest of the story is pretty lifeless and uninspiring. On the upside, the film’s aesthetics – courtesy of cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano – is effective and its use of sharp and vibrant imagery adds the much-needed pizzazz to the story.
As for Mr. Penn, he spends most of the time trudging around looking bored, tired and oh yes, shirtless. His broodiness rarely translates into more than just looking plain expressionless. Then again, his stunt work is pretty impressive and there is a certain sense of gravitas that he brings to the table; unfortunately, just not enough energy to make us all care.