Tuesday, February 28, 2006

In Defense of Night Watch (sort of)

Over the last couple of decades, there's really been a lack of fantasy in movies. Now, we know it's a popular genre. They wouldn't be selling all of those books, video games and RPG rulebooks otherwise.
Sure, we had the Lord of the Rings movies. But we haven't had a glut like the 80s, where films like Excalibur and Conan the Barbarian (and its sequel) begat The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Beastmaster, Flesh and Blood, Clash of the Titans, Ladyhawke, Wizards and Warriors, Barbarians, Deathstalker, Hercules, Sword and the Sorceror, etc. The heroic fantasy trend of the 80s probably even surpassed the sword and sandal glut of the 60s.
Precious little fantasy deals with the modern world, so the geek world should rejoice at the release of Nochnoi Dozor (aka Night Watch), the new film from Fox Searchlight. Sadly, it's February, and that means it's dumping season for the movie studios.
Thusly, Night Watch isn't getting a push. Hell, New Line was nicer to the absolutely dreadful Dungeons and Dragons: The Movie. In spite of knowing what a steaming turd they had on their hands, New Line released (nay, squatted and pooped out) that festering pile of dung in the middle of the holiday movie season (in a slot occupied by their Tolkein adaptions in the subsequent three years).
Does it deserve that promotion? Hell yes it does. It it a great movie? Sorry, but no.
So, why can I be in favor of making a huge investment in a movie that I personally wouldn't use as bird cage liner?
Well, it's simple. Once the studio dumps a movie like this, they're much less likely to consider other movies in the same vein. What this means, in simplest terms, is that fantasy fans are much less likely to see their favorite tales adapted to the big big.
No Robert Jordan for you Wheel of Time addicts. No Piers Anthony tales coming down the pike. Less and less of a chance we'll ever see another Conan movie (with or without The Oak).
Without support from the studios, the casual fans aren't going to know it's out there, and no one's gonna see it. The poor business the movie does becomes a reason to make less movies of its ilk, and better stories pay the price.
Now, I wasn't a huge fan or Nochnoi Dozor. It's a watchable movie, but it's just trying too fucking hard. It throws way too much into the mix and ends up being the equivalent of what a junior high school student would come up with if given the money to make his own movie. It's immature and slapdash in its storytelling and the creation of its universe.
Basically, the forces of Light and the forces of Darkness agreed not to kill each other. They negotiated a Truce that is given some small lip service, but never adequately explained. Two police forces are formed to view the opposite side, the Night Watch to observe the Dark and the Day Watch to oversee the Light.
Blah blah blah blah. So, what we have here is a really simple good and evil thing. There's no real depth or history invested here.
Now, just because it's simplistic and not necessarily Shakespeare doesn't mean that the movie's a piece of crap. It's watchable, but it's style over substance. When the style is on, you'll enjoy the ride.
Something tells me that Kevin might chime in on this (if he has time at work).

Adam thinks Ultimate Avengers is anything but ultimate!

Marvel Comics took a big risk a couple years back and put some of their best creators on a set of books that rebooted their famous characters. The Ultimate line started off with versions of their most famous characters, Spider-Man and the X-Men. But, sooner or later, they had to bring the Avengers into the fray.
Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch made The Ultimates one of the most distinctive and memorable of the Ultimate line. Millar's incisive, hard-nosed writing defined Earth's Mightiest Heroes for a new generation. And Hitch's artwork... Well, to say it was beautiful beyond words was an understatement. His redesigns of the characters made the book more than just a mean-spirited reimagining. He made The Ultimates cinematic and truly epic in its scope.
So, Marvel decided that their first direct-to-video movie in collaboration with Lion's Gate was going to be an adaptation of this revolutionary book. The posters, aping Hitch's designs, weren't bad at all.
The final result, however, is just a giant leap backwards. If the last 20 years had never happened...if The Ultimates had never been published...if we weren't introduced to other styles of animation other than the shoddy, cheap Saturday morning cartoon...Ultimate Avengers: The Movie MIGHT have been passable. Maybe.
The movie is allegedly based on Millar's work. Aside from the character names and the Triskellion, nothing at all came from the pages of The Ultimates. Nothing.
The laziness of Ultimate Avengers is almost immediately apparent, since it starts off sort of like the comic, with a battle in the North Atlantic between a group of American commandos and a battalion of Nazis with a super weapon. The problem: you never feel any of the adrenalin rush of reading the comic. You don't feel ANY of the soldiers, let alone Cap, is ever in danger from the Nazis or their alien compatriots, and you're bored to tears with the execution.
From there, the movie veers wildly from the original storyline, from little details like Cap riding the transport plane into the fortress (he ditches early and just sort of floats to the ground) to Thor no longer having a hippie beard (though they try to back up his claims of being an environmentalist by having him attack a whaling ship). None of the changes work.
The whole thing is a mess. The animation isn't up to the par of a good TV program. Instead, it feels like a pilot for a quickie Saturday morning cartoon -- and it's not even as well-animated as some of Marvel's previous efforts (the original pilot for an X-Men cartoon series, Pryde of the X-Men, kicks the ever-loving shit out of Ultimate Avengers). Hell, Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends was better -- and more accurate to the source material.
If this is any indication at how Marvel's self-produced efforts are going to turn out, let me be the first to say that I look forward to seeing how DC comics fares with the Marvel characters in their stable. Ultimate Avengers is a failure from the get-go and only gets worse. If this is Marvel's future, then they might not have any future at all.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Just check this site out.
Jesus freaks are really, REALLY scary.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Fun with Dick Cheney

I'm not gonna say a thing about this one. Nope. Not. A. Thing.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Adam gets all gothic on Underworld: Evolution
You know, I wasn't the biggest fan of the movie Underworld. I didn't dislike it actively. I just didn't really appreciate it with the verve that I tend to with movies I enjoy. Kate Beckinsale is rarely anything but amazing to look at, and putting her in black vinyl and leather was a special effect unto itself.
Storywise, whatever weaknesses the original had are mostly taken care of. You get quite a lot of explanation of who the characters in the first movie really were and what was truly going on. There's now a logical reason why Viktor (Bill Nighy, who stole Love, Actually from pretty much everyone in the cast and who was yet another bright spot in the greatness that was Shaun of the Dead) kept Beckinsale's Selene around. There's a reason why the House of Corvinus was so important, and why the allegiance of Michael Corvin, the last human descendent of the bloodline, was so crucial.
After a short prologue that shows the true beginning of the vampire/lycan feud (before the incident with Lucian) and gives more background on the three vampire Elders from the first movie (Nighy's Viktor, Zita Gorog's Amelia and Tony Curran's Marcus), the story picks up almost right where the original left off. Selene and Michael (XXX2's Scott Speedman) trying to figure out their next move after the death of Viktor. Kraven (Shane Brolly) isn't as dead as you thought he was in the first movie (he IS a vampire after all), and is marshalling his forces to destroy Michael and Selene before they can reveal the truth about him.
Selene wants to appeal to the last of the Elders to explain Viktor's betrayal and Kraven's coup, and to hopefully spare the life of Michael. Kraven thinks to destroy the final Elder and cement his position as the king of the vampires.
Marcus has other ideas. If you remember the end of the first movie, Marcus was awakened by the death of one of Kraven's henchmen above him. As in the first movie, the vampires absorb the memories and life experience of their victims through their blood. So, Marcus already knows about Kraven's plans.
Marcus was never really aligned with Viktor or Amelia. Being the first vampire, the other two elders kept him around because he'd deceived them into thinking that his entire bloodline would be destroyed if he were slain. He remained docile, though since the other two had imprisoned his twin brother William (Brian Steele, who seems to do a lot of suit-work -- he's played creatures in over a dozen movies and TV series, including Hellboy, Doom and the original Underworld), the first of the lycans.
William was something both more and less than the lycans from the original movie. He's stronger and faster, of course, being the first of his species. However, he's given to mindless savagery and he's unable to transform himself into a human appearance unlike his descendents. William was captured and imprisoned by Viktor and Amelia 300 years ago and Marcus will do anything to learn where his brother is held.
To say that Kraven doesn't last long in the movie is an understatement. Marcus whups his keister good and does the drinkie-drinkie bit on him to get some more memories before he sets off on his quest to set his brother free.
There's another new player in the game, too. A group of commandos led by a mystery man (Derek Jacobi) who travels via a private ship. The commandos retrieve the bodies of Viktor, Amelia and Lucian and neutralize the witnesses to the combat between the lycans and the vampires without killing them (How? They don't say, but the one group you see that gets similar treatment looks drugged when they wake back up). The commandos, and their leader, have a key part in the mythology of the series.
All three antagonists converge on each other, since each has pieces of each others' puzzles. Asses are kicked, alliances are made, agendas are pursued and everyone gets craft services.
I was absolutely sure the movie was a PG-13 going in (it's not -- it's an R), so color me surprised at the amount of brutality to the violence in the movie. The first Underworld was much more balletic in its combat (riding the wire fu wave at the time of its release). This one relies on speed and brute force. Marcus is a force of nature, using his hybrid bat-form as a weapon. Selene has to go hand-to-hand more than she gets to shoot guns. And Michael tears loose a little bit, fulfilling the merest bit of the potential they keep paying lip service to. Watching him rip into the "guard dogs" at Tanis' prison ain't pretty. And it convinces me that director Len Weisman might have the stones to do a Wolverine solo movie, should said project actually come to pass.
Speaking of Weisman, it plays to Kate Beckinsale's favor that her husband shot this movie. The camera plays over her lovingly, like Weisman's own eyes. She gets all the glamor shots, of course. But, who really wants to look at Scott Speedman (And all you womenfolk can just shut the heck up -- I mean it. Don't make me get the whompin' stick.)?
Beckinsale's nice to look at, and holds her own in the fights better this time around. I wasn't really looking for high dramatics from her (Let's face it...it's not that type of movie), but she's not bad. And, as said before...mmmmm, she's nice to look at.
Speedman puts in a slightly better performance this time around, less frightened and more confident (which Michael needs to be). Also, not gonna win any awards, but more than passable.
Derek Jacobi? Well, he's not at his Shakespearean best, but he's a much-appreciated touch of class. With so many of his colleagues from the Royal Shakespeare company getting work in fantasy and sci-fi (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Kenneth Brannagh, etc), it's always nice to have great stage actors to prop up a movie just a bit more.
Tony Curran? Well, he's got a bit more vampirin' to do than he did in Blade 2 (He was Priest, the first member of the Blood Pack to fall in battle). He was one of the few tolerable things about The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (though you couldn't see him -- he was the Invisible Man), and he was even pretty decent as Rodney in 2004's Flight of the Phoenix. Most movies pass or fail based on their villains, and the ever-so-slightly beefed up Curran pulls off Marcus with equal parts sadistic glee and genuine concern for his twin. Looking at IMDB, I see he's in Miami Vice, and I'm wondering what Michael Mann has made of him.
There's some weaknesses in Underworld: Evolution. It's by no means a perfect movie. If you hated the whole pseudo-goth culture of the first movie, you're not gonna appreciate the sequel. But, that's a given. And, the CGI isn't much improved over the first movie, aside from the lycans now having CG hair. I mean, who heard of bald werewolves? But, that's even sorta explained in the sequel (the modern lycans can "control their rage" and retain human characteristics -- like not needing a case of Nair a day). The transformations are deliberately jerky to make the special effects more palateable, and maybe even to make them seem slightly old school. However, whenever the camera lingers on an animated figure (like the flying Bat-Marcus), the deficiencies in the effects become glaringly apparent. You can accept it and move on, or you can nitpick and hate on it. Makes no difference to me.
As far as the conclusion of the movie, they can either end the story here or go on and make more movies. There's a solid ending to the series, if they so choose. There's also the opportunity for continuation. Oddly, I'm now a little more eager to see if this franchise has legs.
Fact is, Underworld: Evolution made me appreciate the original more. I still can't say that the movie rocked my little world, but dammit, I enjoy it more now because of the sequel. I was pleasantly surprised that a sequel made me like the original a bit more. If they can do that again with another, then by all means, let's make this a trilogy. Or a quadrilogy. Heck, they might actually get the CG down somewhere along the line.