Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Underworld House of War

     Today we will be discussing a Chinese war movie with a famous American star, a pretty standard action flick, and the exponentially diminishing returns of a fantasy/horror franchise that has played itself out.  Not the most stellar collection of films I've ever reviewed.  If that disappoints you, think how I felt sitting through all of these in a row.

Underworld:  Awakening - I don't really know where to start with this one.  Let's discuss the plot, although that sounds like there was plotting involved, beyond plotting how to pull a few more dollars out of hardcore fans of the first two movies who weren't chased completely away by the third.  After humans gain widespread knowledge of the existence of vampires and lychens,  Seline and Michael (only seen in this installment in cameo) are captured and placed in suspended animation.  Seline awakens to discover that she now has a psychic connection with a young woman, the daughter she was unaware she was pregnant with.  How a child gestated in undead flesh I have no idea, maybe half undead sperm had something to do with it.
      Poor, poor Kate Beckinsale.  She had such a promising early career in films like Much Ado About Nothing, Cold Comfort Farm, and the Aviator.  Even in the early Underworld films she was a captivating presence that could easily be said to elevate the material by her participation.  I would like to say that she did the same for this film, but she seems tired of the character and unable to take the increasingly silly story line seriously.  I hope she can someday overcome this typecast.
     Usually with a film like this, I could at least give it a little credit for some good action sequences, but there was nothing here that was exciting enough to enable me to forget how little I was enjoying the story.  The special effects were obvious and outdated looking CGI that did nothing to enhance the experience whatsoever.
      I really like supernaturally themed movies when they are done well, but perhaps it is time for the ghouls in the Underworld to finally rest in peace.  Available on DVD.  1 out of 5*

Safe House - I don't really have a lot to say about this film.  It was a fairly uninspired, fairly blase action flick, that was elevated slightly by the lead performance of Denzel Washington (much like many a so-so action flick before it).  Ryan Reynolds pretty much mugs away much of said elevation. If mindless car chases and explosions are your thing, you might while away a little time with this one.  It wasn't awful, and the production values are decent.  Not my thing, though, I honestly had trouble staying awake.  Available on DVD.  2 1/2 of 5*

Flowers of War - This picture suffered from what I'm beginning to think of as "War Horse Syndrome" where the first half of the film seems like it was part of a much better movie than the second half.  This film was China's submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscar's this past February, and it must have barely qualified to compete considering the amount of English used in the film.  This was due mostly to the surprise casting of Christian Bale in the film's leading role.  It is a bit of a stunt, but one that pays off as it is largely Bale's performance (as well as that of co-star Ni Ni), that secure this film the backhanded compliment of being my favorite movie reviewed in this post.
     The plot is interesting and the film starts well.  During the Japanese invasion of Nanjing, China in 1937, an altar boy, several young female students, an American mortician, and a gaggle of giggling courtesans all take refuge in the local Catholic church while the city falls around them.  There are several interesting subplots established early on, but the second half of the picture quickly devolves into cinematic cliches and sentimentality.
     It is possible that I am being slightly too hard on the picture due to inescapable comparisons to the far superior film City of Life and Death.  It is also about the 1937 invasion, and I just saw it a few months ago.
I usually enjoy director Yimou Zhang's work (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower) a little more than this.  Nominally positive response.  Available on DVD.  3 of 5*

     Hopefully I'll have a more enthusiastic reaction to something I see soon.  You'll be the first to know.

Related articles:  Muppet Impossible: Life and Death Protocol (City of Life and Death review)

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