Director: Kurt Wimmer
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Cameron Bright, Nick Chinlund, William Fichtner and Sebastien Andrieu
Runtime: 88 minutes
CARA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violent action throughout, partial nudity and language

Feast your eyes on Ultraviolet! From director Kurt Wimmer, the guy behind the surprisingly pretty okay Equilibrium, comes one of the largest wastes of potential since…well, since a long time ago.

This sci-fi story follows the war between humans and vampires. Excuse me, I mean the war between humans and Hemophages, people genetically modified thanks to a virus. Our main character, Violet, just happens to be one of these Hemophages and she is fighting the humans to keep herself and others like her from facing extermination. Sound very original? No? Okay so the premise isn’t great, but at least the movie looks neat.

Although clearly produced on a limited budget, with some of the cityscapes looking suspiciously like those of a computer game, the mix of vibrant colors and creative set design creates an interesting cinematic world that is as visually stimulating as something like Sin City.

The action is also well conceived, at least for the first half of the film. The futuristic setting offers a lot of cool gadgets, and they are used well. The “glass soldiers” that are featured prominently in the trailer are especially innovative. Instead of simply dying they shatter.

Sadly, pretty much everything underneath the superficial skin of Ultraviolet is passionless and incomprehensible. The two biggest problems: dialogue and acting. Here we have bad actors delivering stale lines.

Even though Milla Jovovich has proved that she can act from time to time, she is here only as eye candy. With this said, the unnatural smoothness of her face becomes distracting.

None of the supporting characters are any better, with Nick Chinlund, the bounty hunter “Toombs” from The Chronicles of Riddick, delivering the definition of a phoned in performance. Even if the script had any emotional weight, which it doesn’t, the acting alone would kill any actual sentiment.

Best of all, the dialogue continually gets worse and worse, so that by the end it becomes impossible to take seriously. There is a scene where a character removes his glove slowly, uttering, “It’s on.” No, for our sake, please turn it off. Did this just become a parody?

The worst thing about Ultraviolet, though, is the fact that it becomes hard to ever care about anything or anyone. The entire back story is delivered so quickly that there is no connection to the world or the individuals that inhabit it.

Unlike a film such as The Matrix, the premise is not revealed slowly with any hint of mystery and there are no individualistic or identifiable characters. As cool as Ultraviolet looks, it never feels like a place that could be real and the struggles of Violet herself seem just as artificial.

Yet, it appears that director Wimmer is aware of his creative downfalls and he saves the truly atrocious moments for last. Still, for those who are convinced that the pretty colors and flashing lights of Ultraviolet are worth the price of admission, there is one quote from the film that is actually perfect: “Are you mental?”

Critic’s Conclusion: Despite the stylish packing, Ultraviolet is an empty, shallow work of derivative sci-fi trash. Only for hardcore lovers of the material, otherwise: avoid, like a deadly viral infection


Rating by Dan Russell: 2.0 stars

When a Stranger Calls

When A Stranger Calls

Director: Simon West
Cast: Camilla Bell, Tommy Flanagan, Tessa Thompson, Brian Geraghty and Clark Gregg
Runtime: 83 minutes
CARA Rating: PG-13 for Intense terror, violence and some language

The curse of the bad horror film has endured pretty much since the beginning of cinema. Today, the trend is alive and well thanks to a recent glut of 70’s horror movie remakes like When a Stranger Calls.

The mediocrity of the new Dawn of the Dead is nowhere to be found, nor is the stunning horrendousness of last years The Fog. No, all that awaits unlucky audiences here is a completely undistinguished – the memory of this film should be wiped from existence.

Of course, even Rain Man would have trouble remembering the specifics of such a vapid excuse of entertainment that adds nothing of substance to its outplayed, over-produced genre. It hurts to realize that there are probably hundreds of un-produced scripts out there that will never see the light of day while every month senseless retreads are green lit right and left.

Of course, not everything is completely worthless in When a Stranger Calls. The cinematography follows “suspense 101” by creating a tapestry of shadows and gloom. It’s not terribly original, but it works.

Also, the casting isn’t entirely off-center. Camilla Belle (from The Ballad of Jack and Rose and The Chumscrubber) has credentials to show that she has some talent lurking within, although here it is completely wasted. Not for a single moment does she really portray any true emotions of fear, anxiety or even mere nervousness.

Of course, a terrible script helps nothing. Looking for twists? Shocks? A deeper meaning beyond the carnage? Yeah, try looking elsewhere. Oh, right, carnage should be mentioned. There’s not a whole lot of that, either. In fact, there’s not a whole lot of anything.

Still, the single worst element about this dull remake is the choice of director: Simon West. Here is a man best known for his bombastic action films, such as the admittedly decent Con Air and the unforgettably forgettable Tomb Raider: Lara Croft.

Too bad action and suspense are two very different concepts. Though it is technically possible to have subtlety in an action film, usually throwing a bunch of pretty colors on screen is enough to make passable fair.

However, a good suspense thriller requires much more; it requires finesse and pacing, and a use of the more invisible properties of film. Mr. West knows nothing of this and his clunky, dead directing erases any sense of immediacy or threat. Mood and atmosphere dissolve into nothingness as tension becomes tedium.

This, mixed with wooden performances by nearly all the major players, leads to a suspense thriller without, you guessed it, suspense or thrills.

Please don’t see this movie. The lack of ambition behind every element of this production is staggering. Passionless and mechanical as a whole, even the trailer holds the majority of the narrative within a short, two minute time span.

Sadly the more money a film like this earns the more encouragement the producers find, accepting lower and lower standards of quality as they continually shove their C-grade “horror” down our throats.

If you don’t want to believe this, just wait until March when The Hills Have Eyes comes out. Of course, anything would be a step up considering how low the bar has now been set. And remember, When a Stranger Calls, don’t pick-up.

Critic’s Conclusion: This is a bad, bad movie that is best forgotten. Unfortunately there is nothing witty or clever to say about it; just avoid this film. Save your money, your time and those oh so precious brain cells that can be burnt in many other, infinitely more interesting ways.

When A Stranger Calls

Rating by Dan Russell: 1.5 stars

Underworld: Evolution

Underworld: Evolution

Director: Len Wiseman
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Shane Brolly, Derek Jacobi, Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy
Runtime: 105 minutes
CARA Rating: R for Pervasive strong violence and gore, some sexuality/nudity and language

Attention: If you are a fan of the film Underworld, chances are you will enjoy the not-so-originally titled sequel Underworld: Evolution (filmmaking 101: if you want a trendy title, add “evolution” or “resurrection” at the end.)

However, for those who were less than impressed with the barely mediocre original, such as that Dan Russell guy, it is a pleasant surprise that this sequel exceeds its predecessor in both vision and quality.

Directed and conceived by Len Wiseman, the husband of lead star Kate Beckinsale, the atmosphere here is dripping with style, as there is a rustic, cold feel to every image that works spectacularly.

The action scenes, an undeniably major draw for a genre film like this, are well-done as well. They are spaced appropriately throughout the film, thus helping the script avoid bunching all the expository scenes into a lump, leaving an uneven mix of pure narrative and pure eye candy.

Still, at times the camera work falls into the trap of overusing extreme close-ups. Sure, to a point this technique can help enhance the feeling that we are “there,” but it quickly becomes annoying and it pretty much hides the specifics of the action.

With this said, Underworld: Evolution is only a moderate offender of the “shakey cam,” and the reasonable mix of computer generated special effects and practical effects such as complex make-up and animatronics is a breath of fresh air.

Of course there is little surprise that the plot has nothing special to offer. There is something about a waging war between vampires and werewolves (excuse me, Lycans), where a new breed will rise and then blah, blah, blah.

True, amidst a convoluted mess of two dimensional characters and cliches lies the essence of an interesting story, but too often is any real narrative interest attained. Few characters leave any lasting impression, and as names and events are brought into focus the universe of Underworld: Evolution becomes a jumble with little consistency.

The first film is nicely summarized, at least, so this sequel offers something for both fans and new audience members alike.

Also, true boredom is never reached thanks to some sharp pacing. All too often do films with terrible plots linger on their weakest aspects, yet here the moments that don’t work in this episodic script are quickly passed by in favor of something more interesting.

The acting is much like the plot in that it is never truly terrible, nor is it ever inspiring. Kate Beckinsale certainly passes her job as “sexy but tough female hero” with flying colors, though that is not exactly an original performance to pull off.

The other lead, Scott Speedman, could have given his performance in a coma, and the rest of the cast never stands out in any way.

The drab acting is likely a conscious choice rather than a result of lazy filmmaking, but that doesn’t change the fact that it really hurts many of the subtler moments. Especially noticeable is a complete lack of chemistry between our two main heroes. At least there isn’t a lot of hammy over-acting.

Overall, for a sequel to a modest hit Underworld: Evolution is a success. It isn’t a revolutionary film, nor does it stray much from the roots of its influences (i.e. the Blade and Matrix trilogies.) However, it is an enjoyable if forgettable experience that offers exactly what it promises without ever becoming too preachy or pretentious.

Critic’s Conclusion: Ultimately an uneven cinematic experience, Underworld: Evolution is neither a masterpiece nor a failure. This is a solid case of “what you see is what you get,” and what the film lacks in twists and originality it makes up for with a competent understanding of its genre.

Underworld: Evolution

Rating by Dan Russell: 3.0 stars

Cry Wolf

Cry Wolf DVD cover

“Avoid suspicion, manipulate your friends, and eliminate your enemies.
– Dodger (Lindy Booth)

Equal parts Scream and Wild Things, one thing that Cry Wolf does is keep the viewer guessing, an impressive feat in light of the many cliches that the film is rife with – a testament to the thought and care that went into developing both the story and the characters, as well as the performances that brought the story to life.

Great performances save what threatened to be a cookie cutter ensemble of characters. We all know who they are because they are in every movie like this: the basically good kid who has been drummed out of every other prep school because he is misunderstood, the rebel, the jock, the nerd who exists on the periphery of the group, the hot chick who is smarter than most people give her credit for and, of course, the couple. The writing does a great job, however, of adding dimensions to the characters that really do make them come alive.

The story starts out innocently enough with our group of friends latching onto the murder of a local girl and using it as fodder for a game; inventing a serial killer, The Wolf, who terrorizes school campuses at Halloween. Once the details of their game start to unfold before them, it becomes a fight to survive this Halloween night or find out who among them is behind the ever-heightening game.

Critic’s Conclusion: Sleek and sexy, Cry Wolf is a movie that, like most of the characters in it, has more to offer than may first appear. Although each twist in the plot is predictable by itself, the ongoing trail of twists and turns keeps the final outcome always one step beyond the horizon.

The DVD special features are nothing groundbreaking, but enjoyable and fun if you enjoyed the film. The writer, director and producer show a great command of both the film and filmmaking in their commentaries on the deleted and shortened scenes, while they get to toot their collective horns with the inclusion of the short films that got them both established in the filmmaking community and secured the funding for this particular endeavor.

King Kong

Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody
Runtime: 187 minutes
CARA Rating: PG-13 for Frightening adventure violence and some disturbing images

King Kong movie poster“This isn’t an adventure story, is it Mr. Hayes?”
-Jimmy (Jamie Bell)

The one thing that one should definitely take away from the latest rendition of the classic King Kong is the unique vision that Peter Jackson brought to it, or at the very least his ability to better portray what some have always heralded as the story behind the story. This is not a monster movie or even an action adventure movie, it truly does examine the human animal from the highs and lows of his character: from the depths of greed and self-aggrandizement to the heights of his compassion and thirst for both knowledge and self-betterment.

Let me open by saying that I really liked this film, but the length really did become a bit of a distraction. Someone really needs to sit Peter Jackson down and explain how long movies are supposed to be. We let him indulge himself with the Lord of the Rings films and, frankly, we have created a monster.

The special effects are done in the grandiose Peter Jackson style from the “Lord of the Rings” films. Everything is huge and overstated, making the mundane seem suddenly spectacular.

Additionally, he added a lot of monsters to this remake, including the now infamous bug scene, which was filmed for the original King Kong before being cut for because it was “too graphic”.

The character of Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) was significantly more developed in this version of King Kong. Jackson made her a central character, instead of using her as a window dressing, as earlier depictions of this story did. This strengthens the interaction between Ann and Kong, making the film stronger than its predecessors and serving to make Kong a believable and intelligent character, not just a scary monster.

Although the additional dimensions added to Ann’s character, it did begin to drag on. Too much time was spent showing her struggle to make a living in New York and the introduction of her dear friend Manny was pointless. Jackson also depicts a fair amount of time on the ship, allowing the crewmembers to develop a relationship with Ann and building back-story to several other characters.

While some of this helps to explain why the crew would risk their lives to rescue a woman they just met, at times, it is tiresome, as with the back-story for Evan Parke and Jamie Bell’s characters. Frankly, it seemed like the film was purposely stretched out in an attempt to make it more important. Sadly, it felt a bit forced.

The natives are handled more intelligently. While his treatment of the aboriginal people in the film has been called racist all over the Internet, I disagree. The natives in the original picture were almost Vaudevillian Amos and Andy caricatures. Instead, these natives are bloodthirsty savages, much as you might expect of a people who spent their entire existences cut off from the rest of the world, living in the shadow of a wall that stands between them and utter doom.

Interestingly, the original leading character has been split in Jackson’s version, creating Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler) and Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody). Driscoll becomes the writer and Baxter the suave leading man.

I can appreciate the reasons for divvying up the character, but I’m not entirely convinced that it worked. Baxter becomes a hollow shell, which might be on purpose. Driscoll is forced into the role of hero for the sake of his love for Ann. However, the love is never convincingly played out. The split was a bold idea that had some merit, but in the end weakened both halves.

I am also not completely sold on Jack Black. While I am a huge fan, I do not know that he is well suited to a dramatic role. Admittedly, his character, Carl Denham, is supposed to be a fast talking snake oil salesman, which Black conveys more than adequately, he also comes across as hammy and there is always a part of you that is waiting for the punch line.

Critics Conclusion: Fans of “King Kong” will love this film; it is packed with several tips of the hat to its predecessors and gives you a lot of what you wanted to see in those earlier efforts. At the end of the day, this film is more than worth the price of admission and even the time one has to invest in seeing it. Go see it, but show up about fifteen minutes late and go get your popcorn as soon as the boat sets sail. You will not miss anything and will love every second of it.

Larry “LarryMac” McCloskey

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