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Films I Forgot To Review: Vamps and Tramps
by Peter Sobczynski

Japanese vampires, Italian politicians, French weathergirls and American serial killers--these are some of the people you will meet in this round-up of current films that I didn't have time to write about in depth.

The best thing that one can say about “Blood: The Last Vampire,” the live-action version of the popular anime film about a half-human, half-vampire babe (Asian superstar Gianna) hacking and slashing her way through a U.S. military base circa 1970 in pursuit of an all-powerful demon and its countless minions, is that as utterly incoherent action extravaganzas go, it is at least an hour shorter than “Transformers 2.” Beyond that, this is another messy and pointless craptacular burdened with an incoherent script, abysmal acting, poor CGI effects (including rubbery-looking monsters and gouts of thoroughly unconvincing gore) and a grim determination not to offer viewers anything that could be described as fresh or inventive. Some action fans may go in with a little glimmer of hope based on the fact that it was directed by Chris Nahon, who did the impressive “Kiss of the Dragon,” and the fights were choreographed by Corey Yuen, who has worked on many of Luc Besson’s recent action productions such as the “Transporter” films. In those films, however, they were working with people like Jet Li and Jason Statham who could convincingly pull off all of the intricate choreography that made the fight scenes in those films shine. Unfortunately, it is pretty obvious from the get-go that Gianna lacks that particular ability (among many others, based on her work here) and so they have been forced to chop the fights up into visual gibberish in an attempt to cover up for her shortcomings. Granted, the original “Blood: The Last Vampire” wasn’t a masterpiece, but it at least had an interesting visual style and it was the kind of film that you could easily trance out to while watching it late at night. This one, on the other hand, is so bad that it almost, but not quite, made me want to go up to the nearest “Twilight” fan and apologize to them for calling that the stupidest vampire-related movie in recent memory. In short, it both bites and sucks--not the most original sentiment, I suppose, but one that definitely fits the circumstances.

To avoid any possible confusion, it should be noted right now that Paolo Sorrentino’s “Il Divo” has absolutely nothing to do with the freakishly popular opera quartet being sold throughout the world by Simon Cowell. No, this electrifying biopic is a complex and often darkly satirical exploration of the career of Giulio Andreotti, by far the most significant politician in the history of post-war Italy--a man named prime minister three separate times between 1972-1992 and who remains a powerful figure in his country even at the age of 90. Of course, when a politician becomes that powerful, there are always suspicions that there are darker forces at work and throughout his career, Andreotti has been accused of, among other things, having ties with organized crime, aiding the Red Brigades in the kidnapping and murder of Prime Minister Aldo Mora in 1978 and being involved with the murder of a journalist who dared to link him with both the Mafia and the Mora murder. And yet, despite these accusations (and many, many more), none of the various charges made against him over the years ever managed to stick. As a journalist puts it to him at one point, “You’re either the most cunning criminal in the country because you never got caught or you are the most persecuted man in the history of Italy.” Between Sorrentino’s use of a fractured time line that deliberately mixes up key events and their explanations and the incredible number of details--names, dates, events and the like--that he uses to immerse viewers in Andreotti’s life, it is a given that unless you walk into this movie with a through knowledge of the last 50 years of Italian politics, you are most likely going to be overwhelmed by the amount of information on display. That said, the film never gets bogged down in the minutiae for a couple of reasons. The first is the incredibly energetic approach that Sorrentino has taken towards the project that sweeps along viewers to such a degree with bravura set-pieces (especially the opening murder montage) and jolting bits of dark humor--if Quentin Tarantino had somehow been given the job of making “W.” instead of Oliver Stone, it might have turned out to be something like this. The second is the incredible performance by Toni Servillo in the lead role. With his creepy, borderline vampire looks, stiff posture and snooze-inducing voice, the Andreotti pictured here may not look like anyone’s idea of a strong politician in our era of smoothly polished. However, behind that questionable façade, Servillo (who recently appeared in that other great recent Italian film about the spread of corruption, “Gomorrah”) does such a good job of suggesting the drive and intelligence of the man, not to mention his ruthless desire to triumph at all costs and regardless of the consequences, that he automatically becomes one of the great recent cinematic symbols of absolute political power and the questionable means that some will unhesitatingly utilize in order to achieve it.

In “The Girl from Monaco,” the latest work from French director Anne Fontaine (whose previous films have included the international hits “Dry Cleaning” and “Nathalie”), Fabrice Luchini stars as a straight-laced lawyer whose work on a high-profile murder case involving a rich woman (Stephane Audran) on trial for murdering a much younger lover with possible ties to the Russian mob forces him to take on a bodyguard (Roschdy Zern) for his protection. Although the lawyer is never in any real danger that we can detect, things do become complicated when he begins a passionate affair with a sexy TV weathergirl (Louise Bourgoin), a woman with whom the bodyguard has also had a past history that he, for one, has not yet entirely gotten over. It starts off as an intriguing character study but as it goes on, the film becomes more interested in the machinations of the plot, which is its least-interesting aspect, and by the time it gets to its predictably ironic conclusion, most viewers will have pretty much lost interest. That said, Luchini and Zern develop a nice rapport in their scenes together that helps to keep the whole enterprise afloat and Bourgoin is enough of a looker to explain why both would become so infatuated with her. This isn’t a great film by any means but those looking for something a little different than the usual multiplex offerings may find themselves responding to its admittedly low-key charms.

Stepping behind the camera for the first time since her semi-controversial 1993 debut “Boxing Helena,” Jennifer Lynch (daughter of you-know-who) returns the equally twisted police procedural “Surveillance” Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond play a couple of FBI agents tracking a pair of serial killers who arrive in a small town to interview the three survivors of their latest bloodbath--a meth addict (Pell James), a weirdo cop (Jack Bennet) and a little girl (Ryan Simpkins), all of whom have wildly different accounts that need to be pieced together. As someone who actually maintains a bit of a soft spot for “Boxing Helena,” I was looking forward to another short of pure weirdness but was someone what disappointed by the rather pedestrian product Lynch has offered up this time. Whittled down to an hour, this might have made for a vaguely intriguing “CSI” episode but the half-hour or so of padding (including endless scenes of a pair of local cops waylaying motorists and torturing them in bizarre ways) makes it pretty excruciating to sit through, especially when the ending is pretty much a foregone conclusion. Still, there are a couple of admittedly arresting images on display here and there--not enough to make this film worth watching but enough to make you hope that it doesn‘t take Lynch another 16 years to make another one.

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originally posted: 07/10/09 14:20:29
last updated: 07/10/09 22:54:34
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