Tag Archives: Theo James

Underworld: Blood Wars

Now I’ve come full circle.

I’ll gladly admit that I’m an Underworld fan. Since the first one arrived in 2003, I’ve loved them. I know they’re a bit shit, I know they’re not everybody’s cup of tea, but dammit they’re fun popcorn movies that I can happily watch over and over again. Even after 2012’s Awakenings essentially felt like a poor man’s Daybreakers, I was still somewhat interested in Blood Wars, the fifth film in the Underworld series.

After the events of Underworld: Awakenings, disgraced vampire soldier Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is on the run from the vampires that betrayed her, as well as the werewolves who know that her young daughter is the key to their evolution towards immortality.

Offered forgiveness from the coven (whose elders she ploughed through over the years) in exchange for her experience training the vampire “Death Dealers”, Selene is brought back in to the fold by her people, only to be quickly betrayed again by her power hungry kind.

Meanwhile, the growing Lycan horde, led by a powerful werewolf named Marius (Tobias Menzies), are simultaneously planning to wipe out the last remaining vampire coven in Europe and kidnap Selene. Their plan is to use her to find the daughter that she promised to never look for. Double crosses become triple crosses as everyone tries to one-up and kill everyone else. Chaos ensues.

Let’s get this out of the way, straight away: If you aren’t a fan of Underworld, if you’ve not seen any of the four that came before this one, then there is nothing here for you. This is a series that has sold us on more than a decade of sucking people in after one good film. It’s a franchise that, like any other that’s gotten to its fifth instalment, will have a fan base that this is specifically for. So, if me saying that hasn’t turned you off already, then read on.

Blood Wars has moved on from the semi-futuristic aesthetic of Awakenings and has instead gone back to the purely gothic feel of the earlier films. While this is an artistic style that suited the film more back in 2003, it makes this latest incarnation feel undeniably Underworld – and that’s not a bad thing. Assuming you’re a fan.

Theo James and Charles Dance return from the previous entry as vampire warrior David and his loyal-to-his-people-to-a-fault father Thomas. James plays the part of Beckinsale’s partner and together they get the meatiest bits of action in this out-of-date fantasy-thriller.

Beckinsale is on excellent form once again as the betrayed elite soldier. Her action scenes are well done; they look great and she fights very well on screen – as I would expect of someone making as many entries as she has into a franchise such as this. Beckinsale is always fun to watch in action roles and Blood Wars is no different. Her support is decent, but even someone with the pedigree of, say, Charles Dance, seem a little disinterested and not really up for the 90 minutes that we are asking of them.

Eastern European castles, and classic vampire and werewolf lore, are all mixed up with some modern stuff too. There’s a ton of action from start to finish; this is Underworld all the way through.

Overall, Blood Wars is a functional action movie that adds nothing to a fourteen year long franchise (bar a few extra dollars to its overall profit margins). It’s a film for people like me that saw and enjoyed the other films as they came out. There is nothing here for newcomers to the series, although there’s no barrier for entry if you’ve never seen one before. In what should be – what needs to be – the last in this series of fun junk food movies, even the most avid fan will find themselves questioning the point to what they just watched.


War on Everyone

“Whose money? Our money.”

I tell you what this year has been missing: a good black comedy. We’ve had a never ending conveyor belt of churned out shit when it comes to comedy in 2016 (and 2015, and 2014) but while some of those might have been worth a laugh or two, none have really done anything worth talking about. Until now.

And if the negative reaction of the majority is anything to go by, the latest from director John Michael McDonagh – the man responsible for excellent jet-black comedies The Guard and Calvary – is his most rude and most offensive yet. Whether or not this is a good thing, is completely up to you.

Holding the world by the balls, less-than-completely-honest cops Terry (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob (Michael Peña) have it made. Getting through life on a steady stream of bribery, blackmail and general crookedness, the guys live the life of Riley. Seemingly uncaring when it comes to their jobs and the list of complaints against them, the lads are happy to dance down a very fine line between good guys and bad as they fleece every criminal that they trip across.

But things take a nasty turn when the pair come across someone worse than than them: James Mangen (Theo James). A phoney looking “lord” who has all ten of his filthy fingers jammed deep into some even filthier pies. When the dirty cops try to man handle the career criminal into his latest big bag of stolen cash, the Brit takes it upon himself to makes the policemen’s lives hell!

Now, you might think that me telling you this is a comedy means that you’re in for some light hearted buddy cop bullshit that desperately imitates classics like Lethal Weapon hoping to garner a laugh or two and create themselves an audience with silly pop culture references and self referential crap. Much like we’ve had for a scary portion of this year – and last. But you’d be mistaken.

In fact, I’m not entirely sure this film, or its creators, cares if it has an audience such is its brazen attempt to offend pretty much everybody in its short 98 minutes.

And that is this film’s beauty. While it’s busy pissing off absolutely everyone – the reactions I saw online after the screening was done were nothing short of hilarious – I was sat, red faced, struggling to catch my breath as I laughed constantly from the opening vehicular assault on a mime (“I wonder if you hit a mime, if it makes a noise”) to the closing credits hinting at previous laugh out loud jizz jokes. While others were grimacing at possibly the most non-politically correct jokes to be put on screen in a couple of years, I was in absolute bits, with tears rolling down my face.

Story-wise, I can’t say the quality is as good as the comedy. The flimsy, paper-thin plot revolves more around Terry’s stereotypical loner drunk trying to force himself a family to imitate his equally stereotypical partner Bob – a family man who treats the drunk like his brother – than it does the actual bad guy and the partners’ attempt to extort him. While it’s not difficult to follow what passes for a story here, to try would be a waste of time. It makes absolutely no sense and seems almost scattershot in its execution.

It’s nowhere near as nonsensical as Killer Bitch, but it is all over the shop. The cool part is, that it doesn’t really matter, you’re too busy laughing at the latest bit of hell-worthy racism that’s gonna keep you feeling guilty for laughing at it for ages.

Peña and Skarsgård have amazing chemistry together, and their buddy-buddy routine is a real thing of beauty. Not since Riggs and Murtaugh have an unlikely looking pair of friends had such a great onscreen presence. Having seen his previous work, I’m sure that director John Michael McDonagh got exactly what he wanted out of his American debut, whether or not everyone was happy with the result.

To try and see this as anything but a blacker than black comedy in the spirit of films like In Bruges would be futile. But for me to try and recommend it to anyone, considering the overwhelmingly negative reaction it’s gotten would possibly be just as silly an idea. So I’ll leave it at this: War on Everyone is one of the most grossly offensive comedies I’ve seen in a while. I loved every single racist, sexist, and whatever other “ist” you can think of minute of it, but it definitely won’t be for everyone.


A step-up from Divergent, if nothing else, Insurgent still isn’t compelling or really any good.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

51587.cr2I can remember nothing about Divergent.  I remember that it was terrible and boring, and that a character in it voluntarily calls himself “Four” which makes any scene in which somebody calls out to him resemble that of an overly emotional balloted deli counter, but I don’t remember any specifics about the film.  I couldn’t tell you any character names besides Tris and Four – and, look, I’m sorry, I really did try taking his name seriously this time, but I just can’t, I can’t – I couldn’t tell you any plot points, I couldn’t tell you any personality traits of any of the characters, I couldn’t tell you anything that happened in the finale that, direct quote from my review, “is practically the film ticking off the last free spots on its [genre] bingo card in quick succession”.  Nothing.

That, I think, might be the biggest problem with Divergent.  It’s a bad boring movie, but it is so utterly blandly forgettable that I cannot remember a single damn thing about it besides its bizarrely strong cast and the feeling of having had my time wasted.  It didn’t even have the decency to be interestingly or entertainingly bad, with the exception of the ridiculous and mostly inexplicable nature of the Faction system that its world is based around, because it was too busy blandly cribbing from every single successful, and even some of the non-successful, Young Adult franchise ever in the hopes that money will magically fall from the sky and into the studio and filmmakers’ laps.  Unfortunately for all, it did (sorta) and so now here’s Insurgent, soon to be followed by Allegiant, Parts 1 & 2 because, hey, why not also steal the “unnecessarily split your last book into two separate films for twice the cash money” part too, eh?

Actually, I’m being unnecessarily mean.  If nothing else, Insurgent is a far better movie than Divergent ever was.  Where that movie plodded and dragged onwards with no end in sight, Insurgent moves with some semblance of a pace and clearly builds to a logical end game that doesn’t feel like it takes multiple goddamn days to reach.  The scope expands – which stretches the already thin narrative credibility to beyond breaking point – which managed to keep me somewhat engaged, even whilst the film mostly just loops back on itself constantly, and with the exceptions of Kate Winslet – who was already checked out in the first film and who is acted off the screen by Ansel Elgort in a sentence I never thought I would ever type – and Shailene Woodley – whose patience for this series visibly drains the further into the film we get – the cast is still trying their damndest to make the crap they’re given work.

I mean, it’s still not a good film, I cannot make that more abundantly clear, but it’s not offensively boring, this time.  You know when you’re watching something on TV and you’re not bored but you’re also not completely engaged?  Like, you don’t connect emotionally in the slightest with what’s going on and you’re really not bothered about what happens, but you also have absolutely no urge to change the channel or check your phone excessively or what have you?  That’s the level that Insurgent is operating on, which is at least a step up from Divergent’s mind-numbing boringness, even though it’s got so little going on and is spread so narratively thin that it’s basically the final third of Divergent that was withheld because DOLLA DOLLA BILLS, Y’ALL!!

The big problem, the thing that continues to kill this series the further along it goes because it becomes more and more apparent, with its refusal to even attempt fixing it feeling even more like a deliberate act of pure laziness, is that Insurgent still has no characters.  None of its cast have any definable personalities, nobody goes on any real arc, and most beings (which is the best way that I can describe these lumps of mould) have no consistency at all.  Characters hot-foot between allegiances as the plot demands with no adequate explanation, many characters are excessively angsty for no particular reason, and the finale of the film occurs as if Tris is being told off-camera in-universe that she needs to do something real stupid because otherwise the film won’t have an ending.

It’s all best encompassed by Tris herself, our nominal protagonist, who is less a character and more a blank slate who has a whole bunch of emotional problems that the story’s target audience might have thrown onto her.  Unlike, say, Katniss Everdeen, Tris’ near-total lack of agency, with the exception of maybe two instances late on in the film, has no narrative or thematic reason other than lazy-ass storytelling, that only serves to call attention to the fact that I have no idea what she wants or who she is as a person outside of the plot pushing her forward.  I have spent two films and nearly 4 and a half hours in her company and I still have absolutely no idea what makes her tick or what makes her so special – the film’s constant repetition of “She is the one!  The special one!” feels more and more like attempted indoctrination the further and further on it goes.

She is a cipher, nothing more.  This is especially problematic as the final third of the film, which is where Insurgent’s big and incredibly cheap-looking CG action sequences reside, is all about her working through her emotional baggage, her insecurities and fears.  Not one moment of it resonates, though, because it’s all artificial, conflict thrown onto a character without any true grounding through prior character work or actions.  Tris has survivor’s guilt from the last film but it only manifests when the specific sequence of film calls for it, compared to Katniss’ survivor’s guilt which informs her entire character, ditto her desire to not be Divergent and “special” which literally only comes up in one extremely ham-fisted sequence during the film’s first climax before being unceremoniously punted off-screen.

When a character does manage to make an impression, it’s either down to themselves being the equivalent of Saturday morning cartoon villains – Miles Teller, who is better than Hollywood, has a noticeable blast indulging his inner-Draco Malfoy, whilst Sam Worthington Jai Courtney is well-cast as an entertainingly smug prick that the film shuffles off Stage Left way too early – or the actors and actresses just happening to be actors and actresses who have inexplicably decided that this is where they want to pick up their paycheques for a year or two – notable newcomers this time are Daniel Dae Kim as the leader of Candour, Naomi Watts as the leader of the Factionless and also Four’s long-thought dead mother (because OF COURSE), and Octavia Spencer who is the leader of Amity and is third-billed despite being on-screen for about 428 seconds max.  Otherwise, it’s just people-shaped husks doing stuff that’s apparently important but that I never once truly cared about.

Incidentally, if you’re coming to Insurgent in search of more of that sweet insipid stupidity that powered Divergent, then you will get more than your money’s worth by the finale.  It’s the kind of finale that purports to explain things, specifically why The City is ran in the idiotic faction system and why the Divergents are such a big deal, but doesn’t actually explain anything, instead offering the illusion that answers and explanations are being given whilst actually skirting around everything in favour of a separate reveal that is unbelievably stupid.

It also poses the exact opposite problem of Divergent’s ending: where that left more loose ends than a police corruption investigation headed by a corrupt cop, this one leaves no loose ends.  This is An Ending, in the most definite sense one can manage, where everything is tied up and there is really nothing else to do.  The final shot of the film even does what should have been done in the finale of the first film, for crying out loud!  Like, I do not know where Allegiant could go for barely 2 minutes, let alone two 2 hour films!  I also can’t really say I’m excited by this prospect either cos, well, I really don’t care about any of these non-entities masquerading as characters that I’m supposedly supposed to give a crap about.  So, all we’re really going to be doing is coming back to line Summit Entertainment’s pockets with even more cashola.

Again, I don’t strongly dislike Insurgent.  It’s OK.  In its best moments, I could sit and pretend like I was watching a better Young Adult adaptation or sci-fi film – Teller’s Malfoy impression calling to mind Harry Potter, Tris’ occasional extremely unconvincing (can we launch a Kickstarter to rescue a genuinely miserable-looking Shailene Woodley from this franchise, please) rage against the machine reminding me that Mockingjay, Part 2 is out in just 8 too-long months, the simulations being a bargain-basement Matrix – than this Frankenstein’s Monster of a series, and shaving off 20 minutes and having a clear end goal does wonders for the film’s pacing.  However, the plotting is still a mess, the world is still stupid, and there are still no characters, which makes being emotionally invested in anything that goes on a completely fruitless endeavour.

It’s a baby step forward and nothing more, is what I’m getting at.  Making the presentation less drearily dull without actually fixing the underlying problems that caused that symptom.  The equivalent of putting a child’s Band-Aid over a gaping shotgun wound.  The Divergent Series still has given no adequate reason as to why it should exist, other than to give some studio execs, a seemingly creatively-bankrupt novelist, and otherwise talented actors a nice large steady paycheque for four-or-so years, and Insurgent gives no evidence of that changing any time soon.

But, hey, I wasn’t bored stiff this time.  That’s progress, I guess?

Callum Petch will kiss the ground where you kneel.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!