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Review: Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, The Unknown Woman, The Unborn, The Women and Notorious

By March 22, 2009December 31st, 2013No Comments

Underword: Rise of the Lycans posterA friend of mine audi­tioned for Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (pro­duced in Auckland in 2006) and did­n’t get a part. I was pleased to report to him yes­ter­day that he had dodged a (sil­ver) bul­let there as this non­sensic­al pre­quel to the Kate Beckinsale leather-fetishists fantasy series was not going to do any­one’s career any good.

The usu­ally great Bill Nighy plays Viktor, lead­er of a bunch of aris­to­crat­ic (but strangely demo­crat­ic) vam­pires in middle ages middle Europe. They earn their keep by squeez­ing pro­tec­tion money out of the loc­al humans – sup­posedly keep­ing the were­wolves out of their hair – but evol­u­tion is not on their side and the wolves are in the ascendant.

The usu­ally great Michael Sheen (David Frost in Frost/Nixon, Tony Blair in a few things) is a human-werewolf hybrid, kept as a slave/pet, who falls in love with Viktor’s daugh­ter Sonja (Rhona Mitra) and ini­ti­ates a Spartacus-like revolt. Complete balder­dash from begin­ning to end, even the effects are trashy.

The Unborn posterThe Unborn is an atmo­spher­ic hor­ror in the Exorcist tra­di­tion with more than its own share of sil­li­ness. Ingénue Odette Yustman (Cloverfield) plays pop­u­lar stu­dent Casey Beldon, who is being haunted by vis­ions of a mys­ter­i­ous child who may or may not be the one killing her friends (none of which stops her wan­der­ing freely around the house in her under­wear with the cam­era fol­low­ing slav­ishly at butt-level).

In one of the more bizarre plots of recent times, it turns out that the con­cen­tra­tion camp doc­tors at Auschwitz, in one of their exper­i­ments on twins, unwit­tingly unleashed a Jewish demon called a dyb­buk who is now wreak­ing hav­oc in the Chicago sub­urbs. So, even though the demon is Jewish, it’s still all the fault of the Nazis.

The Unknown Woman posterDespite all The Unborn’s efforts to scare me, I was­n’t nearly as creeped-out as I was watch­ing Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Unknown Woman – a genu­inely scary and com­pletely non-supernatural thrill­er. Luminous Russian act­ress Xenia Rappoport stars as a mys­ter­i­ous woman liv­ing a lonely but pur­pose­ful life in the city of Trieste, the closest Italian city to the bad­lands of the newly-free Eastern Europe.

She works hard to become the nanny for the fam­ily of a wealthy jew­eller who, we think, she is going to rip off but in a series of flash­backs (with the emphas­is on the ‘flash’) we see she is motiv­ated by some­thing more than money and that she is tor­men­ted by a past that is deeply shocking.

Director Tornatore is a mas­ter crafts­man (Cinema Paradiso and A Pure Formality come to mind), and he’s expertly put togeth­er a grip­ping thrill­er with a tightly focused rage at the state of the ‘new Europe’ and the ‘unknown’ people who are dis­carded on the road to eco­nom­ic progress.

The Women posterI’ve nev­er sub­scribed to Christopher Hitchens’ view that women aren’t funny, but I should point out to poten­tial view­ers of The Women that hav­ing five women star­ring in a film does not neces­sar­ily make the even­tu­al film five times fun­ni­er. It’s the story of four middle-aged New York BFF’s (Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett Smith) and how they react when Ryan’s hus­band starts fool­ing around with the hot young thing from the Saks per­fume counter.

One of the prob­lems with this sort of movie nowadays is that the sup­posedly aspir­a­tion­al Wall St and 5th Avenue world these people inhab­it could­n’t be more doomed if Karl Marx had been the last President instead of GWB. There’s a value-system mis­match going on here that is going to prove hard for Hollywood to get its head around.

Notorious posterAs someone who was pre­vi­ously unfa­mil­i­ar with the can­on of the early 90s rap­per Biggie Smalls (aka Notorious B.I.G.) I was inter­ested in the biop­ic Notorious from an aca­dem­ic point of view. I can report that his music is actu­ally really good but the lyr­ics, while vir­tu­osic, are as shal­low and inane as the pop­u­la­tion of the film. There are only two char­ac­ters in Notorious that dis­play any intel­li­gence or decency and they are por­tray­als of the Producer and Executive Producer of the film (Angela Bassett as Biggie’s Mom Violetta and Derek Luke as Sean “Puffy” Combs). Take of that what you will.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 18th March, 2009.

Nature of Conflict: The Unknown Woman is dis­trib­uted in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who I do a little work for now and then.

By the way, this post is short a few links but the Aro Video site is down. I may go back and update if I remember.