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'Underworld' films more than just horror

'Underworld' films more than just horror dvd.jpg
By G. Michael Dobbs Managing Editor A double feature to help publicize a new theatrical release and an example of a new movement in filmmaking are in this week's DVD column. Underworld & Underworld: Evolution Sony Home Video has released this double feature of the first two film in its popular "Underworld" franchise in time for the theatrical release on Jan. 23 of the newest film in the series, "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans." I've often wanted to see these films, but hadn't up until this set arrived on my desk and I can easily understand why they've been a success. The two movies weave their own complicated mythology that is part horror film convention, part soap opera and part political intrigue wrapped up in an action film package. For a "horror" film, there are precious few shocks and that is clearly the intent. Other than some werewolf transformations and some nasty biting sound effects, the gore quotient is minimal. And oh, yes, star Kate Beckinsale looks pretty amazing in that leather and latex outfit as the werewolf hunter Selene. The films detail a centuries-old conflict between vampires and werewolves and we humans figure in very, very marginally. The vampires have largely won the conflict, but the tide might be turning as the long thought dead werewolf leader Lucian has devised a way to combine werewolf and vampire blood in order to become immortal. A human, a doctor named Michael, figures prominently into Lucian's plans. Complicating matters is the political intrigue among the vampires and Selene's desire to find out the truth. The first film, presented here in an extended director's cut, is a little top heavy with plot and with scenes in which people wearing long leather coats are trying to kill one another. The second film, which continues the story from the moment the narrative in the film ended, moves much quicker as all of the necessary back-story has been introduced in the first installment. I liked both films, although sometimes the overly dark photography design affected my understanding of just what the heck was going on in the first film. Like many epics -- horror films -- the villains have all of the best lines and scenes. Bill Nighy as the vampire leader and Michael Sheen as Lucian steal the move. Beckinsale has relative little to do in the first movie other than handle the gun-slinging action. In the second film, her role has more depth. Interestingly enough, the new movie doesn't extend the story of Selene and Michael as one might have expected, but instead is a prequel that explains more on how the conflict between the two groups arose, which, by the way, was already covered in the first two films. Baghead I'm 54 years old and the average life expectancy for an American male is 75. Since I have diabetes I'm sure I have less than that. Therefore I'm politely asking the makers of "Baghead" for my hour and a half back. I need that time. Seldom have I squandered my time in a less satisfying way than watching what was billed as "the funniest spoof horror film of the year," much less a selection of both the 2008 Sundance and Tribeca films festivals. Now, I've wasted plenty of time watching bad movies, sometimes in the line of duty of reviewing them and sometimes because I'm damn curious. Could I pass up watching a Filipino horror film like "Mad Doctor of Blood Island?" No, and I'm not ashamed. There is no inherent pretension about such a film. Is it well done? Maybe. A little goofy? Definitely. Entertaining? Yes. I can't say that about "Baghead," a new example of "mumblecore," a brand of filmmaking in which the goal to is to produce a feature film with a minimal script, maximum improvisation on a budget that is within even my price range. The aesthetic seems to emphasize medium shots and close-ups of actors talking and talking and talking, trying to make something out of nothing and in this case failing pretty miserably. The plot revolves around four sad sack would-be actors who decide to write their own movie so they could finally get a decent role. They go to a cabin in the woods to do so and wind up confronting a guy with a bag over his head with a knife. There is a marginal effort to poke fun at slasher films and low budget films in general, but it is not enough to be of any great interest to me. In the extras, the film's two writers, directors and producers, Jay and Mark Duplass, say they made the film for $1,000 and seemed pretty pleased with themselves. Congratulations, boys. You got your film into festivals and on DVD. How about actually making a new one with a plot and with characters who don't seem to be stumbling for something to say? Yeech!

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