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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.
Unable to take the plunge and fully immerse itself into its own pool of ideas, Daniel Schechter’s Life of Crime – drawn from the pages of Elmore Leonard’s 1978’s novel, The Switch – is, sadly, neither here nor there.
Set in Detroit, Michigan circa 1978, Life of Crime is centred on inept and useless low-level criminals, Louis (Hawkes) and Ordell (Def), who hope to extract one million dollars from drunken real-estate developer, Frank Dawson (Robbins), for the kidnapping of his seemingly lonely socialite wife, Mickey (Aniston).
The plan seems pretty straightforward at first, but little did they know that Frank – who’s busy canoodling with his young mistress, Melanie (Fisher) at their vacation home in Florida – has already filed for divorce and is now more than happy to use this opportunity to sidestep the obligatory alimony payments.
Now that Frank has called their bluff, things get a little complicated for the hopeless thugs who have clearly not done their research and even more so when Mickey – who is being held hostage at a home of a Nazi-loving fanatic, Richard (Boone Jr.) – comes to realise that her matrimonial bliss has now truly come to end. The deepening relationship between Louis and Mickey only adds fire to the fuel, causing a riff between the two partners, who seem to be running out of both ideas and time.
While the film still manages to serve its purpose and deliver the goods – through a mix of black comedy and slow-burning tension –Schechter, who also wrote the adaptation, plays it too safe; an approach that doesn’t really allow for Elmore Leonard’s distinctive storytelling style to shine through. Life of Crime is not the first Elmore Leonard adaptation – see Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and Sonnefeld’s Get Shorty. Unlike those to adaptations, this lacks an edge, leaving it rather placid.
Aniston shines as the lonely trophy wife whose kidnapping – although distressing – also ends up being a one-way ticket out of her isolated and troublesome marriage. The actress, who is not usually seen in these types of roles, manages to show great versatility and the chemistry shared between her and Hawkes is equally convincing. Robbins is persuasive as the alcoholic, two-timing husband while Fisher was deliciously manipulative as the seductive mistress.
Capturing the 70’s era with plenty of polish and charm, Life of Crime is rather forgettable, despite occasionally popping into action – the source material deserved better.
Stepping away from its single-setting format, the unnecessary sequel to 2013’s disappointing but surprisingly profitable home-invasion thriller, The Purge, moves its story out of the house and into the streets where once again James DeMonaco’s intriguing but equally mind-boggling ideas are damaged by clumsy pacing and feeble performances.
The twelve months have passed since the last Annual Purge and the residents of a urban, dystopian LA are once again preparing themselves for the bloody ritual; an annual ceremony where any crime – including murder – is made legal for one night.
The story kicks-off with three story strands which come together early on in the film; married couple, Shane (Gilford) and Liz (Sanchez), are left stranded and vulnerable to attack, when they’re car breaks down under suspicious circumstances. Meanwhile, struggling diner waitress, Eva (Ejogo), and her daughter, Cali (Soul), fight for their lives when they’re wrist nightmares come true and they’re house is broken to. They’re eventually saved when a group of paramilitary personnel intervenes, killing their drunken attacker. However, they drag Eva and Cali out to the street, where they plan to execute them. Luckily for them, Leo (Grillo) – a policeman looking to avenge the death of his son by a drunk driver – saves them. Little does he know, however, that Shane and Liz have taken refuge in his car and, after some heated words, the group end up navigating the Annual Purge together.
Even the most cynical of filmgoers has to admit that, despite how ludicrous and seemingly implausible the idea of The Purge actually is, there’s something genuinely disturbing and deliciously unnerving about it. The idea of a legalised ‘personal cleansing’ ritual – which has supposedly managed to cut crime and poverty by half – definitely sounds like something worth exploring onscreen. However, as it is the case with so many interesting concepts it’s the quality of the execution that counts and, even though the film does manage to build tension and offer some thrilling action set-pieces, the execution is left wanting.
One of the main reasons lies behind the acting, or lack thereof, from a group of actors who look – and sound – like they’ve stepped straight off of a soap-opera set; Ejogo and Soul are utterly unconvincing and Gilford and Sanchez are unnecessarily theatrical, though Grillo keeps things together.
All in all, The Purge: Anarchy is a half-baked sociopolitical ideology and a semi-exciting thriller that, once again, lacks character and a solid spine.