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Underworld

 

Gen X review UnderworldThey travel mainly at night, running in packs like dogs. Sharing a common lineage, they have waged a secret war dating back as far as anyone can remember, but it was only a matter of time before the sci-fi geeks and the Goth weirdos gave birth to some sort of monster.


Enter: Underworld, one of the most vapid, silly films of the year.


Taking its cue from the Matrix, Blade and the Laura Croft series, Underworld combines the nervous energy of science fiction with the plodding operatic sentiment of the Gothic subculture. More a fashion show than a film, Underworld is fetish worship of the lowest order, catering to folks who abuse themselves to the Cure en route to real-life vampire role-playing games where they adopt fake Brit accents and stupid-ass names like Sebastian.


(If you’re this person stop reading this review and back away slowly.)


Obsessively talky, Underworld paradoxically has extraordinarily little to say. Preferring style to substance, the film relies on its dark, brooding cinematography to denote its emotional and psychological depth while simultaneously boring its audience with long, convoluted flashbacks that tell much more than they evoke despite their use of loaded images and symbols. When this magic combination doesn’t work the filmmakers put the thing on high speed, blend it for an hour, sprinkle it with useless details and wooden characters, and serve it as an unsmiling kitsch quiche.


The story follows the budding romance between Michael (Scott Speedman), a shallow, one-dimensional human, and Selene (Kate Beckinsale), a quarter-dimensional vampire Barbie doll built to full size. Their attempts at intimacy are thwarted by an untimely war between vampires and Lycans (werewolves), which interrupts their little bondage games and threatens to pull them into some half-baked plot concerning ancient retribution and cursed love…


The overall impression I get from the film is that its plot is merely an excuse for its neurotic fascination with affectation. The storyline feels exterior to the film, as though it were just laid over a series of special effects and gymnastic fighting scenes. Consequently it reads like a music video directed by a pretentious art snob with a penchant for leather.


With so much attention paid to the film’s style, you might be asking yourself what it looks like?
The movie’s uninspiring visual effects stem from the fact that Underworld doesn’t try to do anything new. Its major mood-setting device is constant rain and darkness, which sort of runs dry after 20 minutes. Most of the remaining effects are the clinging-to-the-wall or hissing variety, which feels stale and dated. The werewolf transformation scenes are laughably bad and the vamps are distinguishable only because they all have sissy names and wear blouses.


When the movie exhausts its limited special effects pallet, the filmmakers toss more characters into the mess. The pace quickens just as the plot begins to flounder under its own weight, resulting in a meltdown that would be pretty funny if the thing didn’t take itself so seriously. You just can’t set an opera to a Mountain Dew commercial.


In the end Underworld suffers from being too derivative and style-conscious, sort of like a Fox remake of Dark Shadows.

 
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Dirty Pretty Things

 

dirty pretty thingsYou are surrounded by bodies. They pass you on the street on your way to the corner store. You catch a glimpse of one as it wipes out an ashtray or sprays down a window. These are the people in your neighborhood; the people that you look away from each day.


Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is one of those bodies. He works two menial jobs in London, sleeps on couches and park benches, and struggles to forget a past that seems like it must’ve been someone else’s life. He is the kind of person who usually disappears out of the corner of your eye, falling off the edge of the screen: A discarded penny, a dirty pretty thing.


Director Stephen Frears’ new film Dirty Pretty Things is about life on the peripherals. It’s about the secret lives of nobodies, the beauty, terror and compassion that exists at the end of the road. It’s about a world that’s cannibalistic, mercenary, full of unseen dangers – the world most of us ignore.


Okwe works days as a taxi driver and nights as a hotel desk receptionist. He discovers a human organ in a plugged toilet at the hotel one night, but he cannot go to the police because he is an illegal alien. He is led into a conspiracy as he tries to understand the meaning of the organ and tries to make sense of a world where such vital parts can be tossed away.


His Nigerian body is marked as criminal, its otherness serving as a sign to the police that he does not belong to this world, but he’s not alone in the crowd. Senay (Audrey Tautou), a Turkish woman who has sought asylum in England and allows Okwe to sleep on her couch, is also very much a stranger to the city. She is permitted to live there but not to work and when immigration officials suspect her of having a job, she’s hunted like an animal.


People push their bodies in the film until they give out, break apart, crumble to the ground empty. Okwe must take herbs to stay awake while others sell their bodies as sex objects or work in sweatshops as imperfect but inexpensive machines. The empty quality of their work mirrors their social position: They are ghosts, transparent, disposable.


They are castaways who perform the lowest duties possible. Unable to work legally and living one day to the next, they are singled out because they are different. But this difference is only skin deep. Their bodies have value after all. You just need to dig deeply into them and you will discover, as hotel manager Sneaky (Sergi Lopez) has, that we’re all the same inside.


Sneaky sells human organs. He takes the ‘dirty’ parts embedded in illegal immigrants and sells them to clean national-born citizens. In exchange for donating their bodies, these immigrants are given clean passports. For if thy wetback offends you, I say, cut it up, for it is better to be free with one eye, than to remain a slave with thy filthy body intact.


This gruesome bargain is contrasted in the film by a love affair that develops between Okwe and Senay. The body is a fascinating object, capable of infinite dissection, but only a person can love. The film’s tenderness is so subtle and real that it’s impossible to resist its draw.


You can pull the heart from the body, but you cannot prevent it from falling in love.

 
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