This was a pretty big weekend for fall movies. I suppose you could consider it the first big weekend of the Fall/Christmas movie season; when the Oscar contenders start showing their true colors. Released this weekend were Second Hand Lions, Thirteen, Cold Creek Manor, and Underworld. Of course, Nicholas Cage's critical darling Matchstick Men is still sitting atop the heap, but any one of these films could rise to the challenge. As is my weakness, when deciding what films to see this weekend, I succumbed once again to the cheap thrills of the potential Hollywood blockbuster set rather than going with a film of substance, which is my assumption about Thirteen (which didn't play anywhere near here anyway), and Secondhand Lions. The movies I chose tended toward safer, though somewhat darker territory and, though both were adequate, each had its own disappointments.
Cold Creek Manor is another of those family-in-peril thrillers that always seem to attract A-list stars and do so well at the box office, without actually employing much in the way of skill or acumen. Dennis Quaid and his wife Sharon Stone are Coop and Lea Tilson, frazzled Manhattenites who trade in the rat race for a little bit of down-home sanity when they move from the city to a small town in the backwoods of New York State. There they find, amazingly, a palatial estate; 1200 acres and and grand house all for a mere $200,000. The city dwellers snap up the property and set about making it their own, when they receive a decidedly unpleasant visitor. It's every homeowner's nightmare: you get everything just the way you like it, and all of a sudden there's a freaky neighbor to worry about. The freak in question is Dale Massey, former owner of the home and epitome of the closet psychopath that these movies love so much. Dale comes to work for the Tilsons, and though it works out for a while, we all know it's destined to go bad.
The problem with Cold Creek Manor is not what it is, but what it is not. No can deny that it is an intense thriller; the perfect date movie with a minimum of gore and just the right number of jumps. It's just that that's all it is. With solid acting, writing and directing throughout, Manor falls victim to that most typical of plot problems, predictability. There is something comfortable in watching a movie like this - you know the hero is going to come out on top, and the bad guy is going to fall a long distance through a stained glass window. They're all like this, so the guesswork is gone. However, when, ten minutes in, you know who the killer is, it's a little hard to drum up enthusiasm. My wife and I kept whispering back and forth, "it can't be him, he's too obvious, maybe it's the cop! No such luck." Cold Creek Manor is just like every one of these movies you've seen. It's safe, it's scary, and it takes absolutely no chances. grade: B-
Underworld, as a typical Hollywood action thriller, is less predictable and more bloody, but falls prey to a sense of over-importance that is difficult to break free of. Still, you can't deny the coolness factor. The story of a thousand-year war between Vampires and Lychans (werewolves), Underworld taps into that inner geek with a vengeance. And, with a style cribbed heavily from The Matrix and the Blade films, this is one movie that will not want for rabid fans.
Kate Beckinsale in Columbia's Underworld - 2003
Photo Copyright Screen Gems (Sony)
Pearl Harbor's Kate Beckinsale plays Celene, a vampire warrior charged with wiping out the few remaining Lychans. Scott is a human with a particular strain of blood important to both species, and is naturally on the run. But when Scott is bitten and becomes one of the dreaded Lychans, the feelings that he and Celene share put both their lives in danger. Now it's a race against time to find out the true history of each of their houses and discover the love that could heal the millennial rift between them.
Grand themes aside, Underworld is exactly what you might expect after watching the preview. The look is very snazzy, and the love story, though it stretches the boundaries of plausibility, doesn't get in the way. But there are no surprises here, though; lots of shooting, lots of experiments on blood and the nature of the "virus" each species carries, lots of soul searching on the true nature of immortality; that kind of thing. It makes one wonder, if a vampire/werewolf movie can't have a few twists and turns, what can? The film tries, granted, and it succeeds, for the most part, as an exciting gothic shoot-em-up. But as far as real depth goes, this film is only skin deep. Grade: B-
Cold Creek Manor and Underworld are each rated R for violence, language, and brief nudity.
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