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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.
Saddled with an overworked air of mystery that turns into vagueness and a little too much of a sullen atmosphere for its own good, Michael Petroni’s Backtrack finds one seemingly committed and haunted-looking Adrien Brody a little lost for guidance in how to bring about this effectively moody, but not at all frightening ghost-fest fiasco to light.
Set and shot in Australia, Backtrack tells the story of a troubled psychotherapist, Peter Bower (Brody sporting a relatively decent Aussie accent), who has recently moved to a new town for a fresh start with wife, Carol (Baird), after the loss of their young daughter Elvie (O’Farrell) to an incident caused by his own negligence. Unable to come to terms with her death and still very much haunted by crippling flashbacks, it takes some time for Peter to realise that a large portion of his most recent clientele – who all seem to be believe it’s 1987 - are actually ghosts, including one spooky-looking young girl named Elizabeth Valentine.
Unsure whether what he is seeing is real or if he’s having some sort of a mental breakdown, Peter decides to seek advice from friend and fellow therapist, Duncan Stewart (Neill wasted in his role), who thinks that there is a connection between his own personal tragedy and his latest array of patients, especially young Elizabeth, forcing him to go back to his hometown and investigate the repeated reference to 1987.
While the presence of the committed and reliable Oscar-winner, Adrien Brody, adds a note of credibility to proceedings, there is still a deep lack of complexity and originality in Michael Petroni’s derivative script which, unlike Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense which clearly is the main source of ‘inspiration’ here, seems to favour the style-over-substance approach. Predictability and familiarity are also plaguing factors and the fact that the audience can probably work out where the story is headed long before its leading man, doesn’t really leave Backtrack with enough storytelling power to pull itself out of the mess.
In the end, it’s relatively safe to say that Petroni’s second feature film – see 2003’s Till Human Voices Wake Us - leaves a lot to be desired. There is a decent idea in there somewhere and the air of intensity is somewhat effective, but what might have sounded good on paper doesn’t really necessarily translate on the screen. It's as if the film tries so hard to set the mood, that it forgets that in needs the occasional pop.
Serving as both a prequel and a sequel to the 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, the visually engaging but otherwise completely lifeless, The Huntsman: Winter’s War has arrived in the form of one big icy lump of disappointment. It’s a painfully unexciting fantasy adventure which fails to build any sort of intrigue, interest and innovation with it's potentially deep mythology
The Huntsman: Winter’s War begins with a lengthy prologue - set long before Snow White defeated the Evil Queen, Ravenna (Theron) - where we learn about Ravenna’s younger sister, Freya (Blunt) who, is betrayed a secret lover, has managed to awaken her magical powers of controlling ice and has now fled to the North to rule over her own glacial kingdom.
Having built an army of Huntsmen to conquer the lands and eventually defend her wintry palace, Freya is soon angered when she learns that two of her very best warriors, Eric (Hemsworth) and Sara (Chastain) have broken the ultimate rule and fallen for one another. She separates the two lovers through an act of dark magic and several years later, with Snow White now in power, Eric is trying to get back to some sort of normality; but when goblins take control of the Magic Mirror, Eric goes on a quest that soon leads him to his long-lost love.
Helmed by first-time director, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan - the French filmmaker was in charge of the special effects in the previous film - and scripted by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin of Hercules, Hangover II fame, the film takes itself far too seriously; a characteristic that paints the plot passionless and detached. Fetching visuals and the elaborate costumes keep things interesting, but the rich imagery cannot make up for the fact that the story is flat and painfully uninvolving, despite the film’s accomplished cast.
Hemsworth and Chastain, whose love affair is the supposed heart of the story, share very little chemistry, whilst both Blunt and Theron offer performances that seem to do no more than go through the motions. It’s an unconvincing and a joyless piece of filmmaking which feels empty, forced and most of all, unmagical.