Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Review: UltraViolet (2006)

Milla Jovovich is in something of a rut. She's starred as a genetically enhanced asskicker in two Resident Evil movies (with filming on a third installment slated to begin soon), and now she's starring as a genetically enhanced asskicker in UltraViolet--only this time she's beating the stuffing out of hordes of stormtroopers instead of legions of the living dead.

Jovovich plays Violet who, she tells us via voiceover, was "born into a world you might not understand." No shit. It's a future city that looks like Tokyo and Dallas had architectural offspring where the neoreligious government, led by Vice Cardinal Daxus (Nick Chinlund), oppresses the masses while working to eradicate "hemophages," people infected with a blood disease that makes them vampires, even though we see many of them running around in daylight and don't see them sucking blood. When the hemophages hear that Daxus has a weapon that would wipe them all out, the send Violet to steal it, warning her not to look in the case supposedly holding said weapon--which, of course, she does anyway at the first opportunity.

Guess what? It's not a weapon in the case, but a child (Cameron Bright). A child who may hold the sercret to destroying all hemophages. Or all humans. Or something. Rather than kill the kid, Violet's maternal instincts kick in and she goes on the run, spending the rest of the movie in elaborate fight scenes with either Daxus's well-armed but remarkably incompetent troops or her hemopage "friends."

Writer/director Kurt Wimmer lifts pieces from other cinematic puzzles like The Matrix, Underworld, Elektra and Aeon Flux. And what happens when you jam pieces of different puzzles together? You get nonsense. It's never clear why things are happening the way they do. The visuals are often video-game level, though whether this is due to budgetary restriction or stylistic choice is unclear. And whatever serious issues are buried in UltraViolet, like the public attitude toward contageous diseases or the role of religion in government (if there's a Vice Cardinal, there must be a Cardinal, so where is he/she while all this is going on?), are further obscured by all the kicking, punching, slicing and shooting.

Maybe we're not supposed to notice what a mess UltraViolet is. Maybe we're just supposed to pay attention to Milla Jovovich's tight ass and alabaster abs and ignore the plot entirely. Yes, Milla does look great kicking ass, as she usually does, and she's in damn near every scene (with her hair and clothing colors changing regularly and for no apparent reason). But the constant thwacking of faceless groups of fighters, no matter what side they're fighting for, gets repetitive fast. Even Wimmer seems to get bored with it all--toward the end, we don't even see Violet beating the stuffing out of Daxus's troops, but hear gunfire in the distance instead. And even though this is all so very silly, most of the actors, Jovovich included, don't seem to be having any fun. Only Nick Chinlund seems to know his tongue is supposed to be in his cheek, playing Daxus as a man who grins a lot and really enjoys being evil. He gets the best scene, too, knocking off hemophage assassins while calmly sipping a cup of coffee.

Unfortunately, he and Jovovich are not enough to save UltraViolet from being derivative and dull.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Baby Steps

I had planned to write a lengthy, elaborate essay about my new job working in the Land of the Dead, also known as 2nd Shift, which is a lot like George Romero's Land of the Dead, only not nearly as entertaining. And maybe someday soon, I'll write such an essay.

But circumstances have changed, as circumstances are wont to do. This time, though? They're changing for the better. Much better.

You see, even though I'd found a job (with the considerable assistance of a former co-worker who'd kept her ear to the ground on my behalf, as so many friends have over the past six months), I kept looking, working connections and following leads wherever they went. Sometimes they lead straight into brick walls or dead ends. Sometimes they burned with promise, only to flame out before my eyes. Sometimes they popped up suddenly, only to vanish just as suddenly. In other words, it was just like my job hunt had been all along, only condensed into a shorter timeframe--a more concentrated dose of frustration and disappointment, which would have bothered me much more if not for the presence of the 2nd shift job, which at least paid me more than unemployment did (although not much more, and with no benefits) and gave me somewhere specific to go every day, rather than lying at home in a ball on the futon, watching All My Children and wondering how the hell my life had come to this.

Then, a lead came up suddenly that held great promise--a company I'd interviewed with in October had an immediate opening and, much to my surprise and delight, it was 1st shift. And downtown. And a lot more money than I was making operating a large, noisy printing machine in a dusty, isolated warehouse.

So an interview was set up, and I asked all my friends to pray for me. And pray they did. Hard. But as they old saying goes, "Pray for the things you want, but work for the things you need." So if I wanted this job, I needed to go in and interview my ass off.

I gave it my best shot. I answered the questions, took the tests, did what I thought I needed to do, hoped I'd done it right and fretted afterward that I hadn't done enough or said enough or been enough of what they wanted me to be. But it was over, and I needed to wait, no matter how painful the waiting would be.

I didn't have to wait long. The following Monday, the company representative called. To make an offer. For a position higher than the one I'd interviewed for. And for more money than I'd made at my last daylight job.

It would be easy to, in the words of J.B.'s late father, "pin a bouquet on my ass" for having done so well. But I won't. I will, instead, thank everyone who hoped and prayed before the interview and who squealed and stammered and screamed for joy after the offer was accepted. You were all there for me in my time of need, and I am there for you should you ever need the same.

However, amid the celebration and clinking of glasses, one thing must be clearly understood: This is job is not the destination, nor the end of the journey. Don't get me wrong. I'm ecstatic to have found a full-time gig that will pay me what I'm worth, that will challenge me, that will allow me to stop by favorite bar after work for a round or three served by the greatest waitress in the whole wide world. But my goal is not merely to be paid for work. It's to be paid for doing what I love to do. And that is writing. Movie reviews, essays about Chicago's vanishing landscape, even brief updates like this...these are the things I'm more passionate about than I ever could be for any 9-to-5 job.

This is a great step in the right direction. But it's only a step. A baby step at that. But with enough such steps, even a baby can travel great distances. And this baby has miles to go before he sleeps. But at least he's headed in the right direction--up.