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Rock Steady Row

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In the not so distant future, college campuses become survival of the fittest. Two warring fraternities have taken over Rock Steady University campus leaving the rest of the student body to fend for themselves. On his first day of college, Leroy’s bike is stolen by one of the fraternities. Leroy attempts to get his bike back leading to fights, conspiracies, and a very strange freshman year.

This film is very difficult to fit into a specific genre. There are both dramatic and comedic elements, and at times there is action. An argument could be made that it is post-apocalyptic, and the film even feels like watching a video game in certain scenes. The film is definitely a hodge-podge of many different genres all rolled into one, and that is part of its charm. This is the first feature film directed by Trevor Stevens and written by Bomani Story. The pair took a simple concept, a freshman’s bike being stolen on campus, and turned it into an epic tale. While the universe created in the film is an extreme caricature of the real world, it is still something relatable and accessible to any viewer who spent time going to college. The plot simultaneously makes fun of fraternities, points out the capitalist habits of many universities, and shows that it often takes more than just intelligence to get a higher education.

The cast features many caricatures of people you likely encountered in college. Heston Horwin (Run, Speechless) plays freshman Leroy. In a way he is a typical college freshman, completely self absorbed and only concerned with himself and his bike. As his arc progresses, Horwin brings more heart to the character. Leroy goes through some fairly elaborate schemes to get his bike back, and watching Horwin portray this character through all his trials and tribulations is quite entertaining. Two of the most fun characters to watch throughout the film are the two fraternity leaders, Andrew Palmer and Augustus Washington III. Andrew is played by Logan Huffman (Final Girl, Lymelife). Huffman plays the caricature of the ultimate bro frat boy who thinks he can get whatever, and whoever he wants.  He is everything a person could hate in a frat boy, and Huffman plays Andrew so well he will make you laugh while your skin is crawling. Augustus is played by Isaac Alisma (Ready Set Blahe, The Arabian Warrior). Augustus is a different type of frat boy. He is the leader of the intelligent, borderline geeky, but still hip and cool frat. Alisma does a great job of making it unclear who Augustus is loyal too, although it is no secret that his own fraternity is always number one. Diamond White (Boo! A Madea Halloween, F*&% the Prom) plays Piper. We all know that person on college campus who is the perpetual activist, trying to expose the truth and make the campus a better place. Piper is that person in Rock Steady Row. White portrays Piper in a way that makes her straddle the edge of being too perfect, but she is still the most grounded and heart-filled character of the bunch. All of these actors and characters work well together on camera, making for scenes that run the gambit of emotions for the audience.

Of all the films I saw at the International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival, this was probably the one with the most unique visuals. The film start with a fun animated back story, allowing the audience to get to know this somewhat futuristic world they are about to witness. From there the film focuses on a lot of really fascinating uses of color and light. Most of the color pallet is desolate beiges, greys, and other muted colors. Only the frat brothers wear bright colors; red for Andrew and his frat brothers, blue for Augustus and his frat brothers. When Leroy is traveling back and forth, trying to find a way to get his beloved bike back, the “travel” is shown by backlighting Leroy on a sound stage so all you see is his silhouette and whatever color is being projected in the lights. These scenes are where audiences will really get a sense of the video game and comic book style of the film. The film is really stunning to watch and  feels somewhat reminiscent of films like Turbo Kid and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but with its own unique flare.

Rock Steady Row is a film that defies definition, as well as expectations. Its a genre bending tale that will surely become a cult classic, especially with the unique imagery and storytelling style. The fact that there are so many different genres thrown into this melting pot can be a bit overwhelming, especially since there are so many different styles going on throughout the film. This means the film won’t be for everyone, but it is hard to deny how much fun this film is. It is sure to win the hearts of many cinephiles because of its unique content and style.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

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Underworld: Blood Wars

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The vampire death dealer, Selene, is at it again. After the vampire coven that was her home betrayed her she is out on her own. Her only solace is knowing that her daughter is somewhere safe and hidden away from the vampires that would use her blood for their own gain. When a new Lycan leader arises who is determined to find Selene’s daughter she is forced to go back to those who sought to destroy her.

This is the fifth Underworld film of the franchise, including the prequel. I loved the first film, the second film was entertaining as well as the prequel. Once we got to the fourth film things drastically went downhill. It was so dreadful that I completely blocked it from my memory and didn’t remember most of the events when I went into the fifth film. Because of how much I disliked the fourth film, I entered Blood Wars with low expectations.

For the most part the plot of this film held my interest. The Underworld films tend to have a lot of political intrigue, especially within the vampire covens, and this installment was no different. We are introduced to a new leader in the vampire covens, Semira, who is bloodthirsty for power. The twists and turns surrounding her and her desire to become invincible were quite intriguing. There was also a new Lycan leader known as Marius. We are told early on that he is different than previous Lycan leaders, but we do not immediately learn why. It adds a layer of mystery to the plot. The biggest down side to the plot is there are far too many flashbacks in the film. It felt like a third of the film consisted of scenes from the previous movies. Despite this, the filmmakers still added some fun new material. While I wouldn’t say this is an Oscar worthy story, it was enough to make me pay attention.

As with any Underworld film there were a lot of amazing action scenes in Blood Wars. This film was released in 2D and 3D, and I would recommend seeing it in 3D specifically for the fight scenes. I’m not sure if it was just that it had been a while since I watched this franchise, but I felt that this film was much more graphically violent than its predecessors. There is a possibility the filmmakers chose to have more gore to make the 3D more interesting, as they utilized it to emphasize some of the more interesting kills in the film.

Unfortunately, while the 3D made some scenes more interesting, it did not help with the unfortunate CGI. The earlier Underworld films were known for their practical effects and unique creature design. Blood Wars not only over used CGI, but the design they chose for the werewolf, Marius, is downright laughable. They gave him a different look than the other werewolves and it was so ridiculous that it ruined any fight scene his character was in. Overall the effects felt poorly done and ruined a movie heavily laden with CGI. The only effects in the film that were somewhat well done were for the wounds during the more graphic kills.

Underworld: Blood Wars consisted of a number of talented actors. Kate Beckinsale reprised her role as the beautiful and lethal Selene. It blows my mind that she has been playing this role for 14 years and can still kick some ass while wearing a vinyl body suit. Theo James (Divergent) also returned as the vampire, David. David will do anything to help Selene after she saved his life. I’ve never thought of James as an exceptional actor, but I did enjoy his performance in this film. The two main newcomers to this installment were Lara Pulver (True Blood) and Tobias Menzies (Outlander). Pulver plays the cunning Semira. Her performance was one of the more entertaining ones simply because she made her character look like she truly enjoyed being evil and devious. Menzies portrayed the werewolf leader, Marius. In general I am a fan of Menzies, and I know he can play truly vile villains. Sadly his performance in this film made his character seem more like a petulant child than a menacing leader.

If you see Underworld: Blood Wars in theaters, be sure to see it in 3D. It makes what would otherwise be a CGI action film nightmare into something at least somewhat more entertaining. Although I will say you aren’t missing too much if you decide to wait until the film hits Redbox. The action is fun, the plot has a lot of twists and turns, but in reality this installment is only marginally better than the fourth film. The filmmakers are clearly going to make a sixth film. After the last two films I wish they wouldn’t, but I will likely still see the next one when it is released in theaters.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10