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Underworld: Extended Edition (DVD)

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Starring Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, Sophia Myles, and Shane Brolly

Directed by Len Wiseman

Released by Columbia Tri-Star


Take it or leave it, Underworld isn’t going to please everyone. Look at its placement on the great linear scale of genre offerings of the last ten years to see why. “Buffy”. Blade. The Matrix. There is such a thing as “overload” and audiences, as of late, have gotten not tipsy but absolutely tanked on dexterous leather-clad pretty young things leaping all over creation with wire assistance like an act out of Cirque du Soleil. Len Wiseman’s debut may not have been the instant hangover cure people were looking for, or for that matter the slaughterhouse rock-style vampire-versus-lycanthrope brawl a premise such as Underworld‘s would make one imagine.

Regardless of expectations, Underworld‘s thick Shakespearean twists hooked me. It’s an entertaining flick, maybe even a bit long in the tooth, but it moves and there’s a conviction behind the mythology Wiseman, screenwriter Danny McBride, and actor Kevin Grevioux have mapped out that is worth commending. Beckinsale delivers a subdued, graceful performance as well…something I can’t say for everyone in the film. I’m not blind to the awkwardness of the pacing (plot crunching flashbacks throw the story off kilter), nor am I a big fan of Patrick Tatopoulos’ Sleepwalkers-on-steroids werewolf designs either. In the end, though, Underworld is a good one to chill out to on a rainy day and if you need two hours to kill.

What can only be the result of a sweet box office take in September of ’03, Columbia Tri-Star has reissued the supernatural soap operatic workings of Underworld with an inflated “unrated cut.” I can imagine this would only cater to and please those who give a damn about the film in the first place.
The significant meat removed from the theatrical cut, and now restored, concerns the character of Michael Corvin (Speedman) whose participation in the grand scheme of the Underworld universe, I thought, was nothing greater than a stage prop. Corvin is the everyman caught between two feuding factions: Vampires and the “Lycans.” The latter are trying to get their claws on him because they believe he carries a genetic code within his bloodstream that’ll give them the upper hand in what could so plainly be seen as a class war. You don’t need to read between the lines to pick up on this seeing as Wiseman and co. make it quite clear: The vampires live a life of aristocracy while the Lycans are forced to live below ground. (Although, in the film’s ten-minute, nearly dialogue-free, wham bam opening you shouldn’t have a hard time distinguishing which race is more physically dominant.) Anyhow, the only vamp to catch on to the Lycans’ scheme is a “Death Dealer” named Selene (Beckinsale) who integrates herself into Michael’s life, initially out of priority to protect her own kind. As their chemistry develops, however, her hardened emotions crumble for Michael, even after he becomes bitten by a member of a race she has committed herself to wiping out using one silver nitrate bullet after another.

Suffice to say, Michael was in dire need of some “fleshing out” and courtesy of this extended cut he’s given a little more dimension through a scene in which he somberly recounts to Selene a tragedy that claimed his wife. Another character to benefit from some added minutes is Sophia Myles’ calculating bloodsucker known as Erika. What could otherwise be viewed as cursory reaction shots of her are now lent some depth when she’s continually rejected by Kraven (played by Shane Brolly, whose over-the-top antics gets no assistance whatsoever in this reissue). Notably these two, at present, share a scene that’s best described as “safe” sex and about as PG-13 as it come. Puhleaze. Filling out the rest of the newly inserted footage are minute shots that are questionable at best. They neither impair nor improve upon Underworld’s already existent convoluted narrative.

The picture quality on the DVD is razor sharp throughout, clean as a whistle, and bleak as all hell. Underworld boasts a unique color palette that rarely allows natural flesh tones to dominate the suppressing bluish and gray hues Tony Pierce-Roberts’ photography displays, with a little guidance of digital color correction. Columbia’s transfer holds it together, deep contrasts and all.

Underworld demands full use of the surround and gets it with a presentation that’s both powerful and highly detailed. When you can hear the variations of pitch and intensity given to each gun fired then you’ve got it loud enough. I can appreciate a mix that gives a genuine weight to the film and I respect anyone in post-production who can elevate Beckinsale’s often timid vocal level (as heard in various Van Helsing and Underworld interviews) beyond that of a mouse’s fart.

In terms of extras, there are some exclusive to this edition that include a new commentary with Wiseman and his actors Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman, previously missing on Columbia’s first disc which featured not one but two production commentaries that don’t survive the cut here. As with any discussion amongst close friends, this scene specific track is filled with some good laughs. Speedman is the brunt of many jokes beginning with the trio point out, in the film’s opening shoot-out sequence, a moment in which the actor slides across the floor to pull a woman out of danger and winds up grabbing her crotch! As the movie progresses Wiseman takes the time to touch on the new footage citing reasons for their deletion (mostly pacing concerns), but he makes it a point at the beginning of the commentary to state this is not a “director’s cut.” Hmm. Beckinsale meanwhile good heartedly points out her flaws (sure thing, babe) and sometimes goes so far as to take jabs at scenes that don’t work. “I feel like the child of divorced parents,” Speedman says when he’s caught in the middle of a Wiseman/Beckinsale bickering match. Ah, love.

I’d suggest listening to the commentary first to get a feel for what’s new if it’s been some time since you caught the theatrical cut.

I knew “Fang vs. Fiction” (47m 4s) was inevitably bound for some DVD release of Underworld, because it wasn’t included on the first and that surprised me. This made-for-television documentary is guaranteed fun for freak show value as we’re taken behind the vampire and werewolf legends and are introduced to a few “real” creatures of the night. Holy guacamole!

This docu paves the way for the seven featured on Disc Two, all of them recycled from Columbia’s original offering. “The Making of Underworld” (13m 01s) is your standard fluff, EPK, explanatory piece that details the plot, character motivations, blah, blah, blah. It’s similar to something you might find on HBO. FX supervisor James McQuaide and the CG team break down the effects shots in the aptly titled “The Visual Effects of Underworld” (9m 54s). One of the highlights revealed here is some trashed footage of Tatopoulos’ practical werewolves crawling on a train rooftop that was later replaced by some more fluid, albeit CG, Lycans. You’ll be glad Wiseman looked to the computer for aid in this instance, trust me. He didn’t do it all the time, however, as his enthusiasm shows in “Creature Effects” (12m 20s) that he’s still got love for the traditional “man in the rubber suit” magic. Tatopoulos, here, is given his due to defend the craft of practical effects and go into a few details about the creation of both the Lycans and the lackluster vampire/werewolf hybrid. “Stunts” (11m 41s) focuses on the wire work, gunplay, and fighting while “Designing Underworld” (10m 44s) pulls back the curtain on both production design and costuming; each of the lead crew members behind these departments laid an impressive amount of history and cultural references into their work, kudos to them. “The Look of Underworld” (19m 10s) takes an appropriate amount of time establishing Wiseman’s own illustration abilities and uses this introduction as a way to establish how he expressed the look he wanted to cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts. This featurette is interesting in that it not so much sheds light onto Roberts on-set work as it does on the digital lighting process that followed. Finally, “Sights & Sounds” (9m 6s) takes a break from the routine interviews instead blending some behind-the-scenes footage for a harmless, fun montage.

Elsewhere on Disc Two you should find six scenes extracted for a side-by-side “Storyboard Comparison” (6m 41s) feature that’s easy to chapter through if you’ve had your fill of one sequence. Be sure to check out Beckinsale shaking her ass at the camera, the stunt coordinator taking a nasty slip, and a Lycan testing the water with his paw in an “Outtakes” reel (3m 41s) on Disc 1; and if you’re tolerance is high, Columbia has also carried over Finch’s “Worms of the Earth” music video (2m 41s).

The packaging is bulky enough that if you dropped it from a high place onto someone’s head, it’d do some damage. I’m a fan of creative packaging and Columbia has delivered in spades with slipcase and clamshell artwork that do not work unless they’re combined as intended. Now, the source of that “bulk” I mentioned… Columbia has also included a copy of IDW’s Underworld comic adaptation as well as a slim production art booklet. Is this Christmas, or what?

Underworld: Extended Edition
Sony Pictures
Directed by Len Wiseman

Special Features
Commentary by Len Wiseman, Kate Beckinsale, & Scott Speedman
Fang Vs. Fiction
The Making of Underworld
The Visual Effects of Underworld
Creature Effects
Stunts
Designing Underworld
The Look of Underworld
Storyboard Comparisons
Outtakes
“Worms of the Earth” music video


4 out of 5

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IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor

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Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.

On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.

The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.

While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.

What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.

While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.

  • Alive in New Light
5.0

Summary

IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.

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The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell

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Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law

Directed by John Law


I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.

The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.

The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.

  • Film
3.5

Summary

The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.

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Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions

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Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa

Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa


During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.

Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).

What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.

While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.

Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.

While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.

With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.

  • Before We Vanish
4.0

Summary

Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.

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