Underworld: Evolution

Posted on January 20, 2006 at 12:12 pm

F+
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for pervasive strong violence and gore, some sexuality/nudity and language.
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Wine
Violence/ Scariness: Extremely intense and graphic peril and violence, many characters killed
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000F6IOBG

“Is that the same guy that was just sucking the blood out of the dead horse?”


That was my question to the critic sitting next to me in the middle of the movie. I liked the first Underworld. I thought it was comic-book fun and enjoyed its punk-gothic attitude and flashy design. But this sequel is an incoherent mess covered in sticky, goopy blood without one interesting action scene or fresh stunt.


Once again, it’s about the centuries-old battle between the lycans (werewolves) and the vampires. It turns out it all goes back to two brothers, one bitten by a wolf, one bitten by a bat. Selene (Kate Beckinsale, looking very fine in her leather jumpsuit) and mutant/hybrid Michael (Scott Speedman, mostly looking confused) found out at the end of the last movie that Victor (Bill Nighy, whose brief appearance that is the movie’s only bright spot) had lied to her about, well, pretty much everything, and now it is up to them to, I don’t know find something or kill someone or somehow save the world or at least themselves with a bad guy who looks like an anatomical drawing of the muscular system who has wings that act as a sort of impaling truth serum.

The juxtaposition of portentious “my lords,” “so the legend is true” and “you are unwelcome in my presence”-type talk with computers and helicopters is mildly fun. It’s handly to have the kind of fingernails that can pierce a paint can lid, and it’s cute when Selene crisply tells a man who says he isn’t afraid of her, “We’re going to have to work on that.” But it’s all kind of murky and never makes you care enough to figure our whatever it is.


Parents should know that the movie is very violent. A head is sliced off, bodies are burned, and many, many people/creatures are shot, impaled, blown up, and otherwise maimed and killed. Characters use some strong language and there is nudity and explicit sexual situations including a decadent setting with a man and two women.


Families who see this movie might want to find out more about the origins of the legends of vampires and werewolves.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Blade and the original Underworld.

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Action/Adventure Fantasy Horror Movies Thriller

Freddy vs. Jason

Posted on August 13, 2003 at 4:30 am

I hope needless to say, this extremely violent movie is only for the hard-core fans of the genre who are old enough not to be traumatized by it. Since I do not think I can be fair to these movies, this guest review was provided by the son of the Movie Mom, a 19-year-old fan of slasher movies who wanted me to give the movie an A-. Here’s what he had to say:

I was lucky enough to catch KISS in concert two days before I saw Freddy vs. Jason. Like KISS, the Freddy (“Nightmare on Elm Street”) and Jason (“Friday the 13th”) series have lasted for decades, are loved by ardent cult followings, and are hated by pretty much everyone else, especially parents and critics. The newest addition to the series will meet or surpass the expectations of the fans, while the heretics, I mean, deriders, will know to avoid it.

What is there to say about “Freddy vs. Jason?” The plot is ridiculous, and even if it made any sense it would be too pointless and too complicated to put down into a review. It’s just an excuse to have two of the scariest guys in movie history fight each other. Besides, the fans won’t want the key elements given away, and the plot isn’t what the naysayers want to hear about anyway. What both care about is the carnage.

It sure isn’t the characters or performances. Outside of the title characters, the cast is uninteresting, even interchangable; they’re only there to get killed anyway. Save for the classically trained Robert Englund, who reprises his role as the diabolical Freddy Krueger, there are no memorable performances, just busty, pouty-lipped girls in revealing clothing and stereotyped, drunk high school guys who scream and run and get gutted like fish. The highlights are definitely Freddy (of Nightmare on Elm Street fame) and Jason (of Friday the 13th fame), who kindly keep the audience from enduring the dumb teenagers for long, and join to engage in possibly the best movie fight you’re going to see all year, which is what we came to see. Cool, huh?

If you ask anyone why they love or hate these movies, they’d both probably answer with something like the above paragraph.

Freddy vs. Jason makes for a more interesting contrast than, say, Freddy vs. Chucky or Jason vs. Michael Myers would make, mainly because of the killers’ personalities. Whether you prefer killers like Jason who brood mutely while hulking towards you with a cleaver or killers like Freddy, a wild-eyed, deranged, wisecracking, sharp-fingered bloodthirsty hillbilly, no one will be left unsatisfied. The crowd I saw it with laughed, occasionally shrieked, and applauded, especially whenever Freddy cackled while slaughtering someone or Jason disembodied a victim. They obviously loved it, as will probably anyone who pays to see it. So much, in fact, that they’ll see the inevitable sequel. Sure, the chances of it even being considered for an Oscar nomination are even less than those of KISS ever getting a Grammy, but whether it’s a guilty pleasure or the film you’ve been anticipating ever since you first read about it on Wes Craven’s website, Freddy vs. Jason delivers.

Parents should know that the movie contains lots of nudity and some sex, lots of foul language, and characters who drink and do drugs. There is also an ambiguous date rape and a brief racial slur towards the only black character in the entire movie. Oh yeah, people are gutted, stabbed, impaled, torn apart, sliced open, burned, crushed, and killed in just about any way that produces lots of gushing blood. But if it’s any consolation to conservative parents, all the kids who engage in stupid behavior pay for it pretty heavily.

Families who see this movie should discuss the enduring appeal of slasher films, particularly the consistent theme that teens who have sex or use drugs get horribly killed. They may also want to talk about the impact a film like this has compared to more realistically portrayed violence as in “Saving Private Ryan.”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the others in the series as well as the clever and convention-challenging Scream.

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Horror Series/Sequel

Frailty

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Many great horror movies deal with families; that is where we are all most sensitive. This uneven film exploits that vulnerability but is ultimately unsatisfying.

The film opens on a dark and stormy night; Fenton Meiks, (Matthew McConaughey) a troubled-looking young man, has walked into the Texas offices of the FBI. He claims to know the identity of a serial killer, known as “God’s Hands” and he wants to tell his story.

As the story unfolds in flashback, Fenton describes growing up with his widower father (Bill Paxton) and younger brother Adam. It’s a generally happy household; Fenton and Adam are close, and kind to one another, and their father clearly cares for them both. Bill Paxton’s Dad character is convincing as a working-class guy with enough love and discipline to bring up his two boys alone, which makes his subsequent transformation very disturbing.

One night, he gets the boys out of bed to declare that an angel has brought him a vision. They’re living in the End Times, and God has selected the family for a special mission, to seek out and destroy demons, who are moving among humans in the last days. The demons look like ordinary humans, but Dad knows the difference — he says that he receives their names from heaven, and can see their sins at the moment he dispatches them by touching them with his hands. He uses a divinely selected ax and a lead pipe to perform the actual “destruction” of the demons.

Adam, the younger and more pious of the brothers, believes what his father tells him and immediately throws himself into the role of divinely appointed avenger. Fenton, older, keeps his doubts secret until his father actually drags home a bound woman and then executes her in front of his children.

Fenton is horrified, but forced to take an increasingly active role in the “demon” hunting. His initial rebellion against the new family business is handled by his father firmly, but lovingly. His dad has no doubts but realizes how difficult it is for his son to accept his new role in the universe. Nevertheless, as Fenton resists more and more, his father takes increasingly stern action, eventually locking his son in the cellar, to pray for a vision.

The genuinely horrifying premise of this film is undercut by its ham-handed writing, which makes the plot even less plausible. The dialogue is full of wooden homilies like “The truth is pretty unbelievable sometimes,” which Matthew McConaughey’s character drawls just before spilling the beans to the FBI. The dialogue is unintentionally funny at a number of points, especially when Bill Paxton is carefully delivering exposition on his insane plot. What is supposed to be a chilling matter-of-fact tone sounds more like a cold reading of the script.

This is not to say that the film is not frightening. The “destructions” are horrifying. The fact that we do not see the worst leaves the graphic details up to our imaginations. The scenes of Fenton locked in the cellar are extremely harrowing. But the most disturbing aspect of the plot is that the murders take place in front of the young sons, and committed by a beloved father. As Alfred Hitchcock said of the death of a child in an early film of his, “It was an abuse of cinematic power.” For a film as empty as “Frailty,” there is simply no excuse.

Many children will be disturbed by the spectacle of a loving father going crazy and becoming a homicidal maniac, and the consequences for the family. There are a number of shocking and tense moments among all the schlock.

Families seeing this film will want to discuss both Adam and Fenton’s reaction to their father’s revelations. What would you do if your father or mother told you they were commanded by God to kill the guilty? An especially troubling aspect of the movie implies that the father’s visions are real, and that God has actually selected a number of people to kill specific evildoers with an ax. Families of any faith will want to discuss the difference between the movie’s depiction and real-world religion.

Families who enjoyed this film will want to see “Psycho”, “The Brood,” “Carrie” and “Unbreakable”, four excellent films with similar themes.

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Horror

Arlington Road

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This is a very scary movie about a very scary subject — terrorism. Indeed, its release was delayed due to concerns about the sensitivity of the material. Jeff Bridges plays Michael Faraday, a professor who specializes in terrorism, still grieving for the loss of his wife, an FBI agent who was killed in a Ruby Ridge-style shootout. He is befriended by a new neighbor, Oliver Lang (Tim Robbins). At first, Lang’s family seems like an all-American family straight out of an “Up With People” concert, but Faraday begins to suspect that under their bright smiles and peppy friendship might be something very sinister.

Faraday’s friends think that he has become a little unhinged from his wife’s experience. But as he continues to investigate, he discovers more and more disturbing information about the Langs.

This movie will give thoughtful teens some things to think about — balancing the need for security against individual rights, the difficulty of deciding whom to trust, and the factors that lead to hate crimes. The references to acts of terrorism in the US that are so close to reality you will think you recognize them make this more thoughtful than the usual thriller. The very first image, of a boy walking in an immaculate suburb, bleeding from an accident, sets the stage for the unsettling story, and the ending is not only scary, but hauntingly so.

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Drama Horror Thriller

Sleepy Hollow

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This is less the Washington Irving story than it is “Scream” set in post- revolutionary times. Its production design by Rick Heinrichs is ravishingly eerie, all gray skies, looming spires, gnarled branches, and rearing horses. The magnificent collection of character actors is almost another element of the production design, with faces right out of Holbein or Daumier. But the spurting blood, rolling heads, and postmodern sense of irony are jarring and uneven. (It’s set in 1799, the end of the century, get it?)

Johnny Depp plays the honorable but easily frightened Ichabod Crane, in this version not a schoolteacher but a sort of 18th century detective, committed to the use of science and logic. He is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of murders attributed to the Headless Horseman, the ghost of a bloodthirsty Hessian soldier, who steals the heads of his victims because his own was stolen from his grave.

Crane insists that the murderer cannot be supernatural, until he sees it himself. Still, he analyzes the evidence to find the secrets that link the victims together and the human force driving the Headless Horseman.

The themes of science vs. supernatural and appearance vs. reality appear throughout the movie, as Crane must understand his own past in order to see the truth. He describes himself as “imprisoned by a chain of reasoning.” He keeps coming back to a toy given to him by his mother, a spinning disk with a bird on one side and a cage on the other. As it spins, the bird appears to be inside the cage, an optical illusion, and, not by coincidence, the very illusion (persistence of vision) that makes us think that the people in the thousands of still pictures that make up a movie are really moving.

Depp plays Crane with the right haunted look and rigid posture. But the ludicrousness of some of the plot turns and the exaggerated fright reactions leave him with the most outrageous eye-rolling since Harvey Korman’s imitation of a silent film star. Indeed, the movie frequently brings to mind those sublime “Carol Burnett Show” movie parodies, especially when the villain ultimately finds time for a detailed confession as the planned final victim is waiting for the Headless Horseman to arrive. The wonderful Christina Ricci is wasted in an ingenue part.

Parents should know that this is a very, very gory movie, with many headless corpses, lots of spurting blood, heads being sliced off and bouncing to the ground, various other murders, a couple of “boo!”-type scares, and of course characters perpetually in peril. The heads all show up eventually, too. There is a brief but non-explicit scene of a couple having sex, several very gross moments, and a scene of torture in an Iron Maiden. This is only for teens who really enjoy slasher movies, and then if they can’t find a video of something better, like “Poltergeist” or director Tim Burton’s own “Nightmare Before Christmas” or “Edward Scissorhands.”

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Fantasy Horror
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