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Underworld: Blood Wars (2017)

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Underworld: Blood Wars

Underworld Blood WarsStarring Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Charles Dance, Lara Pulver, Tobias Menzies, Clementine Nicholson, Bradley James

Directed by Anna Foerster


Underworld: Blood Wars is the fifth and potentially final movie in the series. It’s too short, as the last film in the series also was, skipping over important pieces of resolution towards the end, but otherwise serves as an appropriate denouement.

As it opens, Selene (Beckinsale) is on the run from just about everyone. The remaining vampire clans hate her for killing elders Viktor and Marcus. The lycans hate her because of her prominence as a Death Dealer, sending many wolves to the grave. Humans may still want her dead, too, although the mass extermination that opened Underworld: Awakening isn’t touched upon here.   

The vampires have begun rebuilding, although the purge has left them severely weakened and on the brink of extinction. To make matters worse, the lycans have regrouped under the leadership of Marius (Menzies) and are planning one final attack to finish them once and for all. The coven leader, Semira (Pulver), lures a reluctant Selene out of hiding in order to train an army of new recruits for one last battle.

I found Blood Wars unpredictable on more than one occasion (I also abstained from watching the last trailer, which was incredibly spoilery). Some of its developments are surprising, and it’s to the film’s credit that it juggles quite a few characters (many of them new) with ease. It’s most similar to Len Wiseman’s original Underworld in that sense. It cares about this world and its history, spending an admirable amount of time putting new players on the board while shuffling established ones to keep fans on their toes.

Because of this, I really enjoyed Blood Wars. Awakening was a fun action movie that was too worried about slowing down for a second in order to offer a substantial story. It was disappointing to wait six years for another Selene adventure so half-baked. But Blood Wars understands why the franchise garners its loyal following and is genuinely interested in expanding the mythos through new characters and possibilities. It’s the first time since the original that a Selene movie isn’t “The Selene Show.” She’s a great character and Blood Wars makes appropriate use of her, but others share significance and spotlight this time, and it’s most welcome.

Blood Wars splits its focus so Theo James’ David is as important as Selene. Indebted to her after Awakening’s events, he’s sent into the field to bring her in to help the vampires. He goes from a throwaway character (in Awakening) to one of the most important in a way that bridges earlier movies with the most recent ones. He shares many scenes with Charles Dance, whose return lends this endeavor more weight and authority. Dance is joined by another “Game of Thrones” alum, Tobias Menzies (Lord Edmure Tully himself) as the new lycan boss, Marius.

Marius isn’t as developed as Underworld’s previous lycan leader, but like Michael Sheen’s Lucian, Menzies is sympathetic about his ruthlessness. We never come to like him as much as Lucian, but there’s a sense of remorse in his villainy that feels true to the series.

Finally, Lara Pulver channels Eva Green as the vampire leader. She’s very fun to watch and steals every scene she’s in. I don’t want to compare her to Bill Nighy’s Viktor, except to say she strikes a similar combination of wicked camp without the obviousness. Other actors, like Clementine Nicholson and Bradley James, have little to do but are no less welcome. For the first time since the original, Underworld is ripe with ancillary characters that could be fun to watch in future iterations.

Blood Wars is also like the original Underworld in that it never pulls off a really great action sequence. Director Anna Foerster comes from television, and Blood Wars shows it. The opening motorcycle chase and ensuing fight are wasted, and the larger scale conflicts never come alive with the necessary excitement. They’re not bad, just perfunctory. Selene goes Thunderdome with a new Death Dealer in the best bit, although the close quarters throwdown ends just as it’s getting interesting. And the Selene versus Marius battle is rousing, if a little too fast. I can promise you I won’t see a better sight at the movies all year (or ever) than the lanky Beckinsale battling a hulking lycan on a frozen lake, though.

And Foerster has strengths that benefit Blood Wars. Selene is nearly broken, having lost everything throughout the last three movies, and a considerable chunk of her arc is charting how she deals with that. She spends her life on the run, having sent her vampire/lycan daughter into exile without knowing where (so her enemies can’t use her blood to find her), and that decision leaves her devastated. When she’s cornered by a pack of lycans, she’s exhausted; and the anguish is all over Beckinsale’s face. This is no longer the character we met in the first movie who loves her job and relishes her duty. Beckinsale isn’t afraid to go vulnerable with Selene, and she crafts a better character the more she does it. Critics moan about her “slumming it” inside this long-running franchise, overlooking the good and subtle work she does with Selene every time.

Blood Wars marks the first time none of the original writers have been involved in the writing. Cory Goodman’s script moves the series into mystical territory with the addition of a new Nordic Coven, vampires living in isolation on the edges of civilization. They’ve sat out the entirety of the Vampire and Lycan War, although it’s never made clear why. Nor is it explained how this clan possesses the ability to appear and disappear at will. The vampires of Underworld were brought into existence through genetic mutation, so this deliberately mystical infusion is a big step forward.

Anna Foerster has alluded to a longer cut of Blood Wars, and the movie would benefit. Fans of the series should be happy, despite some choppy character bits and a finale where major issues are resolved with minor emphasis and a little voiceover narration. The final battle is resolved in a laughable way (I’ll never stop chuckling at the way those lycans just turn around and shuffle off), but it works because the major villains are still handed cathartic action movie defeats. Blood Wars is a worthy addition to the franchise and an even better conclusion for Selene. It captures the spirit of the original while offering fun bursts of action, and Kate Beckinsale has never been better. What more can you ask for?

 

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Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On

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Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston

Directed by Johnny Martin


When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.

Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.

Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.

 

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2.0

Summary

Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!

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Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility

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Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita

Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita


The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.

The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.

The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.

From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.

The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.

Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.

The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.

  • Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
2.0

Summary

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.

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Satan’s Cheerleaders Blu-ray Review – Sacrifice This Snoozer At The Altar!

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Starring Jack Kruschen, John Ireland, Yvonne De Carlo, Jacqueline Cole

Directed by Greydon Clark

Distributed by VCI


The ‘70s. Satanism. Sultry cheerleaders. Sex appeal. With these tools nearly any low-budget filmmaker should be able to turn out something that is, at the very least, entertaining. The last thing a viewer expects when tuning in to a film called Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977) is to be bored to tears. But that is exactly the reaction I had while watching director Greydon Clark’s wannabe cult comedy. Even on a visual level this film can’t be saved, and it was shot by Dean Cundey! No, unfortunately there isn’t a cinematic element in the world that can overcome a roster of bad actors and a storyline so poorly constructed it plays like it was written on the day. The only saving grace, minor as it may be, is the casting of John Ireland as Sheriff B.L. Bubb (cute), a hard-nosed shitkicker who adds all the gravitas he can muster. But a watchable feature cannot be built upon the back of a single co-star, as every grueling minute of Satan’s Cheerleaders proves.

The cheerleaders and jocks of Benedict High School rule the campus, doing what they want, when they want, with little else on their minds except for The Big Game. Their belittling attitudes rub school janitor (and stuttering dimwit) Billy (Jack Kruschen) the wrong way. What they don’t know is Billy is (somehow) the head of a local Satanic cult, and he plans to place a curse on the clothes (really) of the cheerleaders so they… suck at cheerleading? Maybe they’ll somehow cause the jocks to lose the big game? When Billy isn’t busy plotting his cursed plans, he spies on the girls in the locker room via a hidden grate in the wall. I guess he doesn’t think being a sexual “prevert” is fair trade enough; might as well damn them all, too. Billy has his own plans to kidnap the girls, for his Lord and Master Satan, and he succeeds with ease when the girls’ van breaks down on the highway; he simply offers them a ride and they all pile in. But when Ms. Johnson (Jacqueline Cole) gets hip to his plan the two tussle in the front seat and Billy winds up having a heart attack.

The squad runs off in search of help, coming across the office of Sheriff B.L. Bubb (John Ireland), who, as the name implies, may be a legit Satanist. Bubb invites the girls inside, where they meet his wife, Emmy (Yvonne De Carlo), High Priestess of their quaint little satanic chapter. While the girls get acquainted with Emmy, Bubb runs off to find Billy, who isn’t actually dead. Wait, scratch that, Bubb just killed him for… some reason. The girls figure out things aren’t so rosy here at the Bubb estate, so they hatch an escape plan and most make it to the forest. The few that are left behind just kinda hang out for the rest of the film. Very little of substance happens, and the pacing moves from “glacial” to “permafrost”, before a semi-psychedelic ending arrives way too late.

“Haphazard” is one of many damning terms I can think of when trying to make sense of this film. The poster says the film is “Funnier Than The Omen… Scarier Than Silent Movie” which, objectively, is a true statement, though this film couldn’t hope to be in the same league as any of the sequels to The Omen (1976) let alone the original. It is a terminal bore. Every attempt at humor is aimed at the lowest common denominator – and even those jokes miss by a wide berth. True horror doesn’t even exist in this universe. The best I can say is some of the sequences where Satan is supposedly present utilize a trippy color-filled psychedelic shooting style, but it isn’t anything novel enough to warrant a recommendation. Hell, it only happens, like, twice anyway. The rest of the film is spent listening to these simple-minded sideline sirens chirp away, dulling the enthusiasm of viewers with every word.

A twist ending that isn’t much of a twist at all is the final groan for this lukewarm love letter to Lucifer. None of the actors seem like they know what the hell to be doing, and who can blame them with material like this? I had hoped for some sort of fun romp with pompoms and pentagram, like Jack Hill’s Swinging Cheerleaders (1974) for the Satanic set, but Clark provides little more than workmanlike direction; even Cundey’s cinematography is nothing to want on a resume.

Viewers have the option of watching either a “Restored” or “Original Transfer” version of the 1.78:1 1080p picture. Honestly, I didn’t find a ton of difference between the two, though the edge likely goes to the restored version since the title implies work has been done to make it look better. Colors are accurate but a little bland, and definition just never rises above slightly average. Film grain starts off heavy but manages to smooth out later on. Very little about the picture is emblematic of HD but given the roots this is probably the best it could ever hope to look.

Audio comes in the form of an English LPCM 2.0 track. The soundtrack sounds like it was lifted from a porno, while other tracks are clearly library music. Dialogue never has any obvious issues and sounds clear throughout. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

There are two audio commentary tracks; one, with director Greydon Clark; two, with David De Cocteau and David Del Valle.

A photo gallery, with images in HD, is also included.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with director Greydon Clark
  • Audio commentary with filmmakers David De Cocteau & David Del Valle
  • Photo gallery
  • Satan's Cheerleaders
  • Special Features
1.3

Summary

Although the title is enough to reel in curious viewers, the reality is “Satan’s Cheerleaders” are a defunct bunch with little spirit and no excitement. The ’70s produced plenty of classic satanic cinema and this definitely ain’t it.

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