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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Black Sea

For F*** Magazine

BLACK SEA 

Director : Kevin Macdonald
Cast : Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Tobias Menzies, Ben Mendelsohn, Bobby Schofield, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Michael Smiley, Karl Davies
Genre : Thriller/Drama
Run Time : 115 mins
Opens : 12 February 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Coarse Language and Some Violence)

What motivates anyone who goes on a treasure hunt? Is it as simple as “fortune and glory, kid”, the answer famously given by Indiana Jones? In this adventure thriller, we learn glamour has no part in the equation. Former naval submarine captain Robinson (Law) falls on hard times after he is laid off by a marine salvage company. When he hears about a WWII German U-boat lying at the bottom of the Black Sea, supposedly laden with gold, Robinson jumps at the chance to find this treasure. Leading a team of British and Russian roughnecks, including 18-year-old rookie Tobin (Schofield), Robinson heads out to sea in an old fixer-upper of a Russian submarine. Lone American Daniels (McNairy) is sent by the expedition’s mysterious, wealthy backer to keep an eye on the proceedings. Over the course of the journey, everyone on board realises that as cruel as the sea may be, human nature might just be even crueller.

            Black Sea is directed by Kevin Macdonald of The Last King of Scotland fame and this seems far more in the director’s wheelhouse than his previous film, the young adult romance adaptation How I Live Now. Macdonald and screenwriter Dennis Kelly have assembled an old-fashioned adventure flick the likes of which we don’t quite see any more these days. The dialogue is expectedly salty, but naturally so and it doesn’t feel like the script is straining to sound tough. There’s a believable griminess to the lived-in environs of the submarine and while several story elements are far-fetched, there’s an air of well-researched authenticity throughout. Sure, there are the expected clichés at play: the hero whose job has kept him away from his estranged wife and child, the greenhorn who gets picked on by the seasoned veterans, the “company man” akin to Paul Reiser’s character from Aliens, the one unstable guy who’s nevertheless excellent at his job and that old adventure movie hallmark, lost Nazi gold. However, the stakes are kept high and it’s far less predictable than this reviewer thought it would be, Macdonald masterfully sustaining nail-biting tension throughout.

            Adding to the film’s believability is the meticulous production design work by Nick Palmer, who re-created the submarine interior on soundstages when it proved impractical to shoot the entire movie in an actual vintage Russian submarine. There are a few instances when the computer-generated exterior shots can feel a tiny bit dodgy, but it’s nowhere as egregious as in recent submarine movie Phantom. The scenes in which the divers leave the confines of the submarine and trek through the silt of the sea floor, being careful not to fall into underwater ravines, are thrillingly realistic.

            Black Sea is superbly cast, Russian actors including Grigoriy Dobrygin and Konstantin Khabenskiy lending personality and dimensions to the Russian crew members who in most other movies would blur together as peripheral characters. Slick, charming, handsome Jude Law’s transformation into the gruff submarine captain from Aberdeen, Scotland is thoroughly convincing. Here’s a leader you’ll want to root for, but who is flawed in the most human of ways, his judgement called into question since greed factors so heavily into the mission. Ben Mendelsohn is entertainingly mercurial as the unbalanced, knife-wielding Fraser. Scoot McNairy is every bit the fish out of water the “company man” always is in films of this type. Bobby Schofield lends the film a degree of heart and is able to become more than just “the kid”, so much so that audiences will feel protective over him.

            A tough, exciting adventure flick, Black Sea balances its old-fashioned genre elements with well-drawn characters and packs in a healthy amount of thrills and spills. Director Macdonald makes full use of the claustrophobic environment, a sealed tin can deep underwater in which testosterone bubbles over and one small mistake could jeopardise everyone on board. Sure, the logic isn’t 100% waterproof, but on the whole, this is a sturdy, well-built vessel.


Summary: Take the plunge into the Black Sea with this grizzled, supremely thrilling submarine flick.
RATING: 4out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong