Underworld: Awakening - Kate Beckinsale - Featured

This Week in DVD: 5/8/12

Underworld: Awakening - Kate Beckinsale

Underworld: Awakening (2012, Mans Marland and Bjorn Stein) – Despite the fact that I was never a huge fan of the original Underworld films, this shoddy, cheap looking, and slapdash sequel represents a new low for an already low, but inexplicably popular franchise. The war between vampires and lycans isn’t any more exciting this time around because the filmmakers this time around still haven’t figured out that vampires and werewolves are much cooler when they’re just being themselves and ripping each other limb from limb and not using guns to blow each other away in the least creative ways possible.

As the film opens several years after the conclusion of the second entry (the third, and arguably best was a prequel), the humans are trying to ethnically cleanse the world of vampires and lycans. Former vampire “death dealer” Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and her lycan/halfbreed lover Michael (A digital effect over a stunt double that looks not even slightly like Scott Speedman) are trying to escape when they are ambushed at a pier. Where they were hoping to escape to is never explored, but it raises an important question about the series I hadn’t thought of before. Is this the only city on Earth that has vampires and lycans? Is it just as simple to skip to Canada to get away from them? (Or in this case the States since it was so obviously done on one street and in the same two buildings in Vancouver)

Selene is captured by the evil head of Antogen labs, Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea, giving even less of a crap than usual in such a genre film). Lane has Selene on ice to try and extract a cure for vampirism, when someone mysteriously thaws her out and she escapes the facility with ease. She meets up with another vampire working undercover as a cop (Theo James) who explains to her that the remaining vampires are all living in secret and lycans are now reduced to being street rats scurrying through the night. They happen upon a small girl named Eve (India Eisley) who turns out to be the person who released Selene and just so happens to be, you guessed it, Selene and Michael’s daughter. The lycans want to get their hands on Eve for reasons that make absolutely no sense when the film attempts an explanation. I assume it has nothing to do with the fact that when she goes all vamp she looks like Boo Berry gone rabid.

Harping on the plot is as pointless as looking for entertainment value in this dire exercise with even less weight than a Transformers movie. It does look better on Blu-ray, though, probably because it looks like a straight-to-DVD production to begin with. The gunfights are boring and repetitive, the character and performances non-existant, and it’s too slickly directed with useless sound and fury by Marland and Stein to embrace how over the top and cheap it all is.

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The Blu-ray (which can also be purchased in its theatrically released and shot 3D format) comes with a slew of special features that should keep series fans happy. There’s about more than an hour of featurettes (including a genuinely neat look at the lycan effects and the use of RED 3D cameras), an unfunny 3 minute blooper reel, a music video, a pop-up in-picture trivia track that also braches out to the featurettes, and a commentary track with the directors (who are somewhat delusional to think they’re doing anything new here) and producers Richard Wright, Gary Lucchesi, and James McQuaide all reminiscing about the past films. (Andrew Parker)

Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie

Tim And Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie (2012, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim) – “I have a few cult followers who enjoy my reviews of bad movies. These have been collected in the books I Hated, Hated, Hated, HATED This Movie; Your Movie Sucks, and A Horrible Experience of Unendurable Length. This movie is so bad it couldn’t even inspire a review worthy of one of those books. I have my standards.” – Roger Ebert on Tim And Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie

As a Tim and Eric fan, it’s a damn-near impossible task to describe the appeal of the duo to the rest of the world. As with all great cult comedy figures like Monty Python, The Kids In The Hall, or Mr. Show, being a fan is like being part of a collective in-joke and outsiders aren’t welcome to play. Their wacko sense of humor fostered over 8 years at Adult Swim started in a mix of awkward interaction and dark surrealism on the cartoon Tom Goes To The Mayor before turning into a even more surreal in a public access twist on sketch comedy in Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and the cripplingly funny John C. Reilly vehicle Check It Out.

At this point, “Tim and Eric” is practically an adjective for a certain style of comedy and in theory their feature film debut Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie should be a scaled back introduction for non-fans to court a wider audience. However, accessible this ain’t. If anything, it should have been called Tim And Eric’s Awesome Movie to be an official continuation of a cult TV series. Aside from the fact that actual characters from the show don’t make cameos (unless you count their Craigslist cast of genuine eccentrics), the movie is practically tailored to fans of the series. That’s great for their comedic integrity, just not so great for the box office. A total gross of $201, 436 won’t exactly push The Avengers off screens.

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Describing the plot is almost a pointless exercise, but let’s give it a shot for fun. Tim and Eric play ridiculous versions of themselves who were given a billion dollars to make a movie from a gangster (Robert Loggia, obviously) and wasted it on less than five minutes of a Johnny Depp impersonator walking around in a non-refundable diamond suit. The gangster kindly offers them the choice of paying him back or a painful death, so Tim and Eric decide to turn themselves into a PR group to make the cash. After seeing a commercial in a bathroom, they take over a derelict mall run by a Top Gun-loving Will Ferrell and home to a diseased feral John C. Reilly. Somehow, I don’t see that plan working out.

That’s kind of the story, but the movie doesn’t really have one. If anything Tim and Eric set out to fuck with the idea of even making a film, giving themselves ludicrous montages with wild horses to set themselves on a heroic path or setting up love stories and father/son relationships just to push the material to almost sadistically harsh comedy extremes. As always, they pull out relics of dated trash culture (whether it be forgotten performers or a VHS aesthetic) and create deliberately terrible art. In the age of YouTube humiliation, it’s not difficult to see why this semi-campy faux crap aesthetic has caught on. But what separates them from their imitators is the dark streak that undercuts all their comedy. It’s not satire, but a fascination with disturbing images and ideas that often takes precedence over laughs not unlike Chris Morris sick British comedy classic Jam. Once they grow out of their viral video, vintage pop culture gags, this element of their work could take them to another level of popularity. They’ll never be a mainstream success, but they could extend the Tim And Eric cult to another crowd.

Tim And Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie comes to Blu-ray packed with special features suggesting the pricey package was produced before the box office tallies came in. The deliberately low-fi flick doesn’t benefit much from HD, but the disc is overflowing with special features. T&E give their usual sarcastic commentary track filled with spicy info-nuggets and appear in several other interviews on the disc as surreal parodies of themselves. Also on deck are a hefty collection of deleted and extended scenes along with an epic 18 minute cut of a scene between T&E and Will Ferrell that could be a bladder-emptying short film on it’s own. Throw in a few promos that are essentially just extra sketches, some photo galleries, and one of the most absurd menus in DVD history and you’ve got a must own for Tim and Eric fans. It’s probably a bit too much Tim And Eric at once as an introduction, but if you’re part of the club the disc will pay for itself with hours of laughs and mild psychological distress. (Phil Brown)

Mother's Day

Mother’s Day (2011, Darren Lynn Bousman) – Next to Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star, my most hated movie of all time would probably be the 1980 Charles Kaufman directed and Lloyd Kaufman produced Mother’s Day, a sick geek show of depravity that’s too sleazy and idiotic to ever be fun or even all that interesting. To say that the vastly different, almost in-name-only remake of that shit sandwich (courtesy of Saw II and Repo: The Genetic Opera director Bousman and producer Brett Rattner) is mediocre by its own standards means it’s an exponential improvement in every possible way. Not everything works, but it’s sure as hell an improvement over the original.

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Following a botched bank robbery a trio of thieving brothers (Patrick John Flueger, Warren Kole, Matt O’ Leary) hole up in a house they thought belonged to their demented mother (Rebecca De Mornay), but instead houses a married couple in the midst of having a birthday party with friends. With the youngest shot and a great deal of money missing, they boys call their mother and sister (Deborah Ann Woll) to help keep control of the escalating hostage situation and plan their escape.

Where the original was just an excuse for sleazy, nonsensical and amateurish grotesquerie and terrible acting, the tone here definitely skews to the more realistic and serious. The sleaze definitely comes through in short bursts here instead of the original film’s carpet bombing of the audience. The lengthy cast of characters lead to plot that’s far too top heavy, leading to a needlessly bloated 114 minute running time, and Bousman unintentionally camps things up. Either that or he just doesn’t know the difference or he’s trying to honor the original. Whatever it is, it feels a little off, but the movie at least looks good and it manages some really unforeseeable twists in the final forty minutes.

What really helps the film are some great performances from the crew of pros playing the villains. The ill defined dwellers of the house never get a chance to be anything other than potential bodies (save for a pretty decent Shawn Ashmore as a sympathetic doctor), but at least the villains give the film some spice, particularly Flueger and De Mornay, who hasn’t had a role this great in over a decade.

The Blu-ray has no special features, but it boasts a good sound mix and 1080p image. It doesn’t even have a menu. Rather it has a screen that simply tells you the movie’s going to start. It’s as cheekily bare bones as possible. (Andrew Parker)

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The Vow (2012, Michael Sucsy) – While nothing more than a factory designed weepy that’s perfectly adequate for the less discerning filmgoer, The Vow still managed to become one of the year’s highest grossing films even before leading man Channing Tatum became somewhat of a hot commodity. It starts off sweet enough before eventually trotting out every cliché in the romantic drama handbook. It’s not awful, just something you’ve all seen a billion times before and better.

Happily married couple Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Tatum) suffer a tragedy following a horrific car accident that leaves Paige with a severe case of amnesia. The only memories Paige has are of her life from five years prior when she was engaged to someone totally different (Scott Speedman), still talked to her wealthy, estranged parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange), and she was still in law school. Leo tries his best to help Paige remember the good times they had, but he is constantly stymied by her overbearing parents wanting her to come home with them and by Paige herself. Most of the time Paige can faintly see what she once saw in Leo, but she would prefer the life she remembers over the one she would have to recreate.

Sucsy starts the film off with an all too brief and sweet look into the past of these characters before throwing the audience headlong into a world where Paige is suddenly an unsympathetic “woo girl” that no man in his right mind would ever associate with. It’s not McAdam’s fault that she’s unlikable because that’s just how the character is written. Tatum, again like he did in 21 Jump Street, steals the show by balancing Leo’s rage and confusion with a genuine good heart. Sure, like most characters Tatum plays, he’s a lunkhead, but he’s a well intentioned one. Still, the tone here is way off with Leo acting as the only voice of sanity in a world full of assholes, especially when pitted against Neill and Lange who seem handlebar moustaches away from tying their own daughter to a set of railroad tracks.

The picture and audio quality of the Blu-ray (packaged with a DVD copy) are definitely in line with Sony’s usually high standards as pioneers of the format, and it enhances and admittedly good looking film. In terms of special features, there’s a ho-hum commentary track from Sucsy, four deleted scenes, a blooper reel, and about thirty minutes of featurettes focusing on the cast, crew, and the real life story the film was based on. (Andrew Parker)

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