Underworld: Blood Wars

For F*** Magazine

UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS

Director : Anna Foerster
Cast : Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver, Peter Andersson, Clementine Nicholson, Bradley James, Charles Dance, Daisy Head
Genre : Action/Horror
Run Time : 1h 32min
Opens : 1 December 2016
Rating : M18 (Violence)

underworld-blood-wars-posterTo paraphrase Dracula, the granddaddy of all vampires, “Watch them, the children of the night. What terrible movies they make!” The fifth instalment of the Underworld franchise sees Selene (Beckinsale) hunted by the Lycans and the Vampire coven that betrayed her. She can only trust her protégé David (James) and his father Thomas (Dance), a vampire elder. The duplicitous, power-hungry Semira (Pulver) plots Selene’s destruction, while the Lycan leader Marius (Menzies) plans a Lycan siege of the Vampires’ stronghold. Both sides of the conflict are in pursuit of Eve, Selene’s daughter with the Vampire/Lycan hybrid Michael. Selene and David pay a visit to the reclusive Nordic Coven, appealing to Vidar (Andersson) and his daughter Lena (Nicholson) to ally themselves with them as the centuries-long war rages on.

underworld-blood-wars-kate-beckinsale-1

Back in 2003, there was at least a modicum of novelty in the premise of Underworld, which blended slick Matrix-style action with supernatural horror. Also novel was the casting of Kate Beckinsale, then known predominantly for English costume dramas, as an action heroine. It’s safe to say that 13 years and four further movies later, said novelty has eroded. Underworld: Blood Wars is impressive in that it somehow manages to make vampires fighting werewolves (with machineguns flung into the mix) boring. This was originally conceived as a reboot and ended up being a sequel – we can’t say for certain if either option is better than the other.

underworld-blood-wars-theo-james-1

Director Anna Foerster has several TV credits to her name and makes her feature film debut here. Instead of injecting some new blood into a franchise that sorely needs it, Foerster dutifully emulates the style established by the first two films’ director, Len Wiseman. While location shooting in Prague does lend the proceedings some mystique and grandeur, everything is smothered in that bluish-grey filter the series has become infamous for.

underworld-blood-wars-theo-james-and-kate-beckinsale

The screenplay is written by Cory Goodman, whose credits include the mediocre genre flicks Priest and The Last Witch Hunter. The plot is muddled and conveyed via awkward chunks of expository dialogue. Even though we begin with a “previously on..”-type recap, what should be a straightforward story is still a challenge to keep track of. The political intrigue and back-stabbing within the vampire nobility is a pale imitation of the devious scheming we’ve seen on Game of Thrones and shows of its ilk. The action sequences are uninspired, barring a fun take on a cage match. The unintentionally funny computer-generated Lycans do make one hanker for the animatronic effects on display in the earlier films. A sojourn to the ice caves populated by the Nordic Coven should have made for a refreshing change of scenery, but it looks like a chintzy theme park.

underworld-blood-wars-kate-beckinsale-and-clementine-nicholson

Beckinsale cuts as elegant a figure as ever in that PVC catsuit, but she’s going through the motions. Selene’s long life has been marked by multiple tragedies, but she never feels like an actual person the way iconic action heroines like Ellen Ripley from the Alien series and Sarah Connor from the Terminator franchise do. She’s just there to look badass, which isn’t going to cut it.

underworld-blood-wars-theo-james-and-charles-dance

James reprises his sidekick role from Underworld: Awakening, remaining sullen and uncharismatic. It is always fun to see respectable English actors pop up to cash a paycheck, with Dance also returning, albeit briefly. Pulver hams it up as the vampy femme fatale, something she’s perfected on Sherlock as Irene Adler. Semira struts about in an assortment of costumes, including a particularly daring criss-crossing barely-there number, Pulver relishing the silliness of it all. It’s too bad that Menzies, sporting a scraggly wig, is altogether too bland as her Lycan counterpart. Also suffering aesthetically are The Nordic Coven vampires, who look like rejects from an episode of Xena: The Warrior Princess.

underworld-blood-wars-james-faulkner-and-lara-pulver

After sitting through 92 minutes of a film that felt far longer than that, it’s easy to arrive at the conclusion that this franchise’s blood has long since curdled. Providing neither pulse-pounding action spectacle nor a compelling, propulsive mythos, Underworld: Blood Wars leaves not a mark, but a stain.

SUMMARY: Between the confusing, over-plotted narrative, the stilted performances and the dull visuals, we can’t find much of a reason for the fifth Underworld movie to exist.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Disappointments Room

For F*** Magazine

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM 

Director : D.J. Caruso
Cast : Kate Beckinsale, Mel Raido, Lucas Till, Duncan Joiner, Gerald McRaney, Ella Jones
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 32min
Opens : 13 October 2016
Rating : NC16 (Violence and Some Coarse Language)

the-disappointments-room-posterA film with the title ‘The Disappointments Room’ is more or less asking for it. There’s that joke out of the way. The name makes it sound like this is a comedy-drama about a class of underachieving students who are galvanised by an inspirational teacher. Instead, it’s a supernatural/psychological horror movie.

Architect Dana (Beckinsale), her husband David (Raido) and their young son Lucas (Joiner) are looking to start over in the wake of a family tragedy. They move from the city to a sprawling, dilapidated country home, which Dana is intent on refurbishing. Unexplainable happenings in the house spook Dana, and she discovers a hidden chamber in the attic which was not in the blueprints. Dana learns that this is a ‘disappointments room’, in which wealthy families would lock away children who had birth defects and who would embarrass their parents. Dana sees visions of the cruel Judge Blacker (McRaney), the former owner of the house, and his deformed daughter Laura (Jones). Local handyman Ben (Till) arrives to help Dana with the repairs, but Dana finds herself losing her grip on her sanity as the estate’s dark past consumes her.

the-disappointments-room-kate-beckinsale-1

The Disappointments Room feels like the result of director D.J. Caruso picking up an instant ‘haunted house movie’ mix from the store and then missing a step or two during preparation. The film is co-written by Caruso and Wentworth Miller, marking the actor’s second produced screenplay following Stoker. While that Hitchcock-influenced Gothic family saga was unsettling and benefitted from Park Chan-Wook’s sumptuous direction, The Disappointments Room is a lot more rote. Creaky doors, a leaky ceiling, creepy paintings and a violent secret history are all present and accounted for. To be fair, it does look like an actual movie and doesn’t feel as cheap or schlocky as it well could’ve, but there’s just not a lot of personality to the house. The Adamsleigh Estate outside Greensboro, North Carolina, serves as the primary location. There’s nothing really that sets it apart from every other rickety, foreboding horror movie mansion.

the-disappointments-room-mel-raido

It’s very loosely based on a true story: Rhode Island residents Laurie and Jeffrey Dumas did discover a secret room in their house. A young girl named Ruth, who was born in 1895 and died five years later, was barricaded in said room. The couple did not report any paranormal activity. Sadly, the practice of segregating individuals with special needs from society out of fear and ignorance still continues to this day, and The Disappointments Room could have been a thought-provoking examination of societal attitudes towards the disabled. Instead, we get “they’re scary because they’re deformed”.

the-disappointments-room-duncan-joiner-and-kate-beckinsale

Beckinsale doesn’t seem to be phoning it in, but the way in which Dana is characterised does leave a lot to be desired. Instead of being tragic and moving, the back-story in which Dana’s infant daughter dies, leaving her wracked with guilt, comes off as convenient. The maternal hysteria that supposedly serves as the movie’s emotional core feels like reductive shorthand, a case of ‘blame it on the unstable woman’. Dana is depicted as capable and handy around the house, but because this motivation feels so familiar, nothing compelling comes of it.

the-disappointments-room-duncan-joiner-and-mel-raido

Raido is pretty bland as David. We see the effort that David puts into raising Lucas, but the character ends up as little more than the slightly schlubby dad who’s trying to cope with his wife’s meltdowns. This being a horror movie, the kid is incorporated into some scares, but we don’t get to understand the extent to which losing his baby sister and having his life completely uprooted has affected young Lucas. Till works his boyish charm for all it’s worth and the scenes in which Ben playfully flirts with Dana do provide a little levity, but the character would have worked better with some sinister undertones. As the main ghost, McRaney does a lot of standing around and staring ominously into the camera.

the-disappointments-room-lucas-till

Film music is often guilty of spelling out what viewers should feel, and this is most evident in the horror genre. Brian Tyler, whose work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Fast & Furious movies has raised his profile as a composer, turns in a score that borders on self-parody. Frenzied strings and loud ‘scare chords’ result in a complete lack of subtlety, and music that constantly lunges at the audience generates more annoyance than it does fear.

The Disappointments Room looks the way we expect a horror movie to look and sounds the way we expect one to sound. There aren’t really any surprises to be found, and it feels like the disappointments room itself should be a clue to a larger mystery, instead of being what the entire plot hinges on. It’s more a case of nobody trying really hard than this being a laughable display of ineptitude. When directors like James Wan are out there proving it’s still possible to make genuinely frightening haunted house movies that work, there’s not much excuse for The Disappointments Room.

Summary: If you’re tired of the same hold haunted house movie clichés, keep out of The Disappointments Room.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Trials of Cate McCall

For F*** Magazine

THE TRIALS OF CATE MCCALL 

Director : Karen Moncrieff
Cast : Kate Beckinsale, Nick Nolte, James Cromwell, David Lyons, Clancy Brown, Mark Pellegrino, Taye Diggs, Isaiah Washington, Dale Dickey, Kathy Baker
Genre : Drama
Opens : 19 June 2014
Rating : NC16 – Some Coarse Language / 93 mins
It’s a case of the almost-Danza with Kate as Cate. Beckinsale plays Cate McCall, a high-flying L.A. legal eagle whose promising career is threatened by alcoholism and a custody battle, ex-husband Josh (Lyons) planning on moving to Seattle with their young daughter Augie (Ava Kolker). Cate is assigned to defend Lacey Stubbs (Anissimova), a young woman put on death row who claims that she was wrongly accused of first degree murder. With her Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor Bridges (Nolte) by her side, Cate takes on what many deem an impossible case. Among the obstacles that stand in her way are possibly-crooked police detective Welch (Pellegrino), womanising judge Sumpter (Cromwell), a man she prosecuted and who was proven innocent and released from jail (Washington) plus the army of protestors camped outside the courthouse, convinced of Lacey’s guilt.


            The thought running through this reviewer’s mind for the duration of this film was “gee, this looks like it belongs on TV”. It turns out that The Trials of Cate McCall was not granted a U.S. or U.K. theatrical run, bypassing a video release and airing on the Lifetime Channel as a movie of the week, a death knell if ever there was one. As a courtroom drama, The Trials of Cate McCall is pretty much par for the course, offering nothing one wouldn’t find in any law procedural television show. The central mystery is moderately interesting rather than downright riveting; several plot developments questionable if not preposterous. More than a handful of artistic license is taken and law students will be crying “objection!” but for the layperson, it all makes just enough sense.


            In some circles, Kate Beckinsale is thought of as merely a pretty face and little else, but the truth is that she is a capable actress and makes for a believable lawyer here, somewhat reminiscent of her turn in the under-seen Nothing but the Truth. She projects confidence and brokenness equally well and makes the title character into someone the audience does very much want to see succeed. We see Cate dishevelled and crying but also taking control of the courtroom and it’s certainly not a bad performance from Beckinsale. Nick Nolte has pretty much been out of it for the last 20 years but still has gotten steady work as a dependable supporting player and, as his Academy Award nomination for Warrior proves, can still do good work. Not too much is required of him in The Trials of Cate McCall but he’s got the “gruff but kind” mentor figure thing down pat. James Cromwell makes full use of his hawkish mien as Justice Sumpter; he may be best remembered for playing a kindly farmer in Babe but prepare to throw up in your mouth a little when he pervs on Kate Beckinsale. Who’s the pig now?

            The Trials of Cate McCall features a capable Kate Beckinsale leading the charge but it really is nothing that hasn’t been done before, rote rather than sensational. The need for an emotional subplot involving Cate’s inability to connect with her young daughter is there to show how Cate struggles with her demanding job and with being a mother (hence the plural “trials” in the title), but it seems unnecessary at times. Writer-director Karen Moncrieff, like her lead actress, is competent, but every so often we get lines like “I’m f**king good at what I do and I intend to win this!” It’s bland, but not quite as ham-fisted a mess as it could’ve been.
Summary:  Kate Beckinsale is a strong lead and the supporting cast of somewhat-familiar faces backs her up well, but that’s not enough to pull this also-rans courtroom drama up from the doldrums.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong