- Premium reviews
- Express reviews
- Reviews rated
- Ratings received
Guillermo del Toro is one of the great modern day film makers. His stylish eye for design and amazing imagination have lead to him being behind the release of some of the most stand out films we've seen in recent years. From his debut, Cronos (1993), a vampiric thriller with an original twist to his most recent Hellboy II (2008), and all that has fallen in between; he has always provided us cinema fans with something different, something truly unique. There's a reason why he has been employed, trusted even, to direct the upcoming Hobbit films, it's that del Toro does horror and fantasy like no other.
Somewhere during del Toro's crammed schedule he has found the time to write his debut novel, co-authored with the American novelist Chuck Hogan, who I presume acted very much as his aid into unfamiliar territory. The Strain is the first of a trilogy of books, which will subsequently be released over the next two summers, so right from the start you know that things aren't going to be wrapped up come the end of the book, there will be cliff hangers and a sense that this is only just the introduction to a much greater story.
The Strain is a horror novel, a vampire story mainly set in the present day. Vampires have very much been the flavour of the month over the last few years, with them appearing in all aspects of media, I'm guessing largely triggered but the popularity of the Twilight books and then films, but there's more to it than that. Vampires have always been a popular favourite amongst horror writers, and as is the case with all works of fiction key ideas are basically recycled as the decades go by. What is Twilight for example but a modern day Dracula/Romeo & Juliet hybrid.
Where del Toro has been clever with The Strain though is in his representation of the vampire itself. As a whole vampires in fiction have been written as romantic, lonely, mysterious creatures of the night, taking advantage of busty maidens and the like. We've seen them romanticized, idolised and softened down quite a bit, there's also been that terrible cliché that all the 80's and 90's vampire fiction was actually a metaphor for the spread of HIV and AIDS. What we get with The Strain though is not any of this, vampires are not handsome European aristocrats, or troubled heart throbs from the other side of the tracks, they are brutal, mindless, killers. Guillermo del Toro himself stated that his vampires are "as romantic as colon cancer", a pretty strong endorsement for them.
The fact is these blood suckers would probably be more at home in a George A Romero zombie movie than anything many of us are used to seeing vampires as. Once killed, they rise up as the living dead, with an unrelenting thirst for blood. They probably reminded me most of the onscreen representation in the recent film I Am Legend, a plague which spreads and infects its victims in the most horrific way.
The novel reads like the screenplay to a Hollywood film, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact del Toro apparently pitched the plot to the Fox television channel with the view to making it into three mini seasons, but they declined, stating that maybe it would be better as a comedy...make of that as you will.
It starts with the arrival of Flight 753 at JFK International airport in New York, its short snappy chapters jumping around the different characters, giving us different perspectives like an episode of 24. It's this high concept fast paced action which makes you not help but think what a great movie it would make, and you never know maybe one day it will.
This mysterious airplane has gone dark moments previously but landed without a hitch, just failing to go any further than sit patiently on the run way. As the authorities are scrambled and the tension builds around what exactly is happening on board its true horrors are revealed bit by bit. In homage to Dracula arriving on the shores of Whitby bay, we find out that a vampire was on board, bringing with it its desire to spread its disease and trigger a war amongst the vampire elders who want to remain living in the shadows.
Our main character Dr. Ephraim is a scientist from the Center for Disease Control, called in to investigate what is originally presumed to be a virus spreading amongst people. But his investigations and alignment with the well travelled Abraham Setrakian, our Van Helsing figure, lead them to realise what they are now facing is much much worse.
This amalgamation of zombie and vampire fiction reminded me at times of an episode of CSI, it's like CSI: Bloodsuckers. The writers, and I'm sure Chuck Hogan has had a bigger role in this than I have credited him for, provide us the reader with great detail in regards to crime scenes and autopsies, everything they tell you seems legit, like a load of effort has gone into researching even the little things, like the tricks of the trade in catching New York city rats. It's this strong attention to detail which gives the book some depth, something which is often difficult to come by in horror fiction.
The Strain isn't a perfect piece of fiction but it's an extremely good read which has left me wanting more. Del Toro and Hogan have tried their hardest to give us something fresh, and on the most part have. No idea is truly original but they make it entertaining enough to keep us reading. I was really surprised how much horror can actually be induced purely through words, as I skipped through the pages I literally felt my heartbeat changing as the tension was built up, it was a great experience.
The book is violent, bloody and riddled with bad language so if you're the sort who is easily offended you might want to give it a pass. It is a tremendous story though and one which sets the scene nicely for hopefully even better things to come. One last point, the books design is a thing of beauty, the 400 page hardback has a lovely sense of style running throughout, its chapter headings set apart of bold black pages, with nice little sub headings. Effort and time have clearly been put into making it feel like something special, and it sure has the desired effect.
FIFA 10 is the latest installment in the popular FIFA football franchise and the 17th main FIFA title to be released by developers EA Sports. Dating way back to 1993 FIFA, mainly due to its officially licensed status, has become the leader in football games, appearing on all the top consoles and other platforms. This year's release is available on a massive range of computing platforms, including PS3, Xbox 360, PC, PS2, DS and PSP, but for the sake of this review I will focussing solely on the Nintendo Wii version, a version that as you will soon be told differs massively to the other top two consoles.
Despite me being a Wii owner and avid football fan this is this first football game I have played on the console. I've been playing FIFA games since about 1997 and have very fond memories of them. I can't think which year it was but I can remember playing indoor pitch 5-a-side games with my brother in real time 90 minute matches, swapping over at half time, usually playing Brazil against some little country like Vanuatu or somewhere.
With the Wii's unique control system it's always puzzled me how a FIFA game would play out on it. I just couldn't see how it would work to good without being able to do the trick combos and having the range of control you get with the Xbox and Playstation. EA Sports have solved this problem by starting from scratch, starting at the beginning and building a completely new game especially designed for the Wii. Instead of porting it from another system the controls have been tailor made for the Wii remote and nunchuk.
The first thing which hits you when you fire up the game is just how different it feels, everything has a much more fun arcade like feel to it. If you've ever played any of the FIFA Street games it's a bit like that, just not a bad! I was shocked and a little concerned at first; in fact if I'm being honest I hated it. This was not the FIFA title I was expecting, I wanted realistic game play and beautiful graphics like on the other consoles. But this isn't a game for the "other consoles", this is a Wii game and with that comes a certain style.
Nintendo is all about fun family game play which any one can have a go at; this is what I like so much about my Wii. You can switch it on teach your mum the controls in a couple of minutes and she'll be up to speed straight away. It's not about spending days and nights in a trance trying to beat the next level (although it does have that effect), it's short, sharp, snappy game play. A quick game before work, etc, this is what the Wii is all about.
That being said then I was totally wrong to think that FIFA 10 would be anything but what it turned out to be. The best way I can describe it is as an arcade game, it just has that feel, everything is pretty simple to do and the action is fast and furious. The game has two separate control systems, the All Play Controls and the more advanced version. This is fantastic news for all you Wii newbies and inexperienced gamers out there as it really does open the game up to everyone. The All Play controls use just the Wii remote, and by just shaking and using A and B you can do pretty much everything with your team, its simplicity at its finest. Your players are controlled by the computer and you are in charge of passing, shooting and tackling. For those of you with a need for more control however the Nunchuck can be attached to give you complete control over everything in the game, you can do pretty much everything you can do in the other console versions but with the Wii making it more fun, you feel much more involved with the game. FIFA 10 can also be played using the Nintendo Classic Controller is you prefer a more traditional method, but unfortunately there's no option for the old Gamecube controller this time around.
The game play is very much focussed around the "Momentum meter" which appears at the bottom of the screen. By playing attacking football and maintaining possession it builds up and up until it peaks, allowing you to perform better tricks and have more powerful accurate shots, with slow motion visuals when doing so. It's not realistic, but if that's what you're looking for this isn't the game for you, what it is however is a lot of fun, especially when playing online or against a friend.
From the main game menu you are presented with several different options of how you want to play the game, first up is the "Hit the Pitch" option which allows you to play a quick exhibition match against the computer or a friend. Teams, stadiums and game length can all be selected and modified so you can play with the side you want where you want.
Next up is the Game Modes menu where you can choose from Battle for Glory, Tournament or Online. Battle for Glory is FIFA 10's manager mode, think of it as Football Managers baby brother, just with the option to play the matches instead of just watching. The options are pretty basic with a transfer market and the ability to complete certain match tasks in order to collect "Game Boosters", things like extra speed and no fatigue, which can be added to your team for the next game. I'm not really sure I like this addition, there's just something about being able to upgrade your players like evolving Pokemon which doesn't play to well with me. The Tournament mode allows you to do as the name suggests and play in a range or tournaments from around the world and finally there is the online feature, which I will come to in a bit. FIFA 10 also has a training mode in order for you to practise your free kicks, penalties and skills on the pitch, quite handy for when learning the control set.
I've not counted them all but there are apparently 50 stadiums included in the game, ranging from the biggest European venues down to a whole host of generic small stadiums and practice arenas. With the team your playing as league status directly relating to the capacity style stadium they would play as.
As well as this there as more than 500 teams available to choose from, including 41 national teams and all the big leagues, except unfortunately the Russian Premier League which is included in the PC, PSP and PS2 versions but for whatever reason none of the others. This is a bit of a shame as on several occasions I've wanted to play as a Russian side, but there's enough choice to still give you enough alternatives.
The online option is where I think this game is at its strongest, you can compete in a 1 vs. 1 ranked or unranked game, as well as a 2 vs. 2 match which will feature you a three other players from somewhere in the world. If you've played a game online before you know that there are faults, sometimes the game is slow and laggy if my opponent has a poor connection, and you still get the bad losers who quit when you're giving them a hammering. It's a really fun experience though, playing against another human gives you the sort of real competition the CPU fails to produce, you're in a real match, every mistake you make will be pounced upon, the games are often really tight and there's nothing better than taunting your opponent with air horns when you've grabbed that last minute goal in extra time.
Something really annoying I've noticed though is about 90% off the people I've played against have always been Barcelona, it's so annoying! People think just because they are statistically the best team in the game you must always use them. Try something different for a change. You also get the idiots who purposely choose a kit colour identical to the one you've picked, meaning all the players look the same. This is something you'll always get though so don't let it put you off, it's just the nature of the beast with online gaming.
Mind blowing graphics are not the Wii's strong point, they can never compete with the likes of the Xbox and PS3 so it's not much off a surprise that visually FIFA 10 is pretty poor. The graphics are not much better than an old Gamecube or PS2 title, but this isn't what the game is about really. It's perfectly playable and not disgusting to look at or anything like that just a little on the disappointing side.
The style is very cartoony and caricatured, with square shoulders and chiselled jaw lines, but this all fits the arcade style of game play perfectly. This looks and feels like a Wii game, a game made especially for Nintendo and not copied for somewhere else. This is a lighter style of appearance which can only help in attracting new players, it doesn't feel intimidating for people who have not played FIFA before, not played on a Wii before. It's family, friendly and fun all wrapped up into a complete visual style.
The Wii version of FIFA 10 is completely lacking in any licensed music which had so much been a part of previous games. Instead we get bland background tunes to our menu screens which are non-distinct and forgettable. This is a real shame as the soundtracks to previous FIFA titles have been something which I have enjoyed.
The match commentary is as usual done by Sky Sports regulars Martin Tyler and Andy Gray, giving you play by play updates through your match. It all sounds pretty smooth and natural as a whole with a whole range of sound bites included, obviously though the more you play the more this commentary becomes predictable and a little irritation as you can predict exactly what they will say when you perform a certain thing on the pitch.
FIFA 10 is a really fun little game. When I first opened it I was really disappointed and felt I had wasted my money on buying it. But the more I got into it the more I learnt to appreciate its charm. It is a very different experience to other FIFA games, but it is not at all a lesser one. The game play is strong and I feel EA have achieved everything they wanted to do fairly well. The single player mode is one dimensional and I soon got bored with it, but for me its online strengths are what make it such a fun game to play. I've even managed to get my girlfriend to have a go, and the simple controls mean that even she could do well in it, and that's someone with no knowledge or interest in the sport.
If you're looking for a quirky easy to pick up and play game which is open for everyone give this a go. At around £30 to buy at the moment I'd say it's still a little on the pricey side, but when this no doubt drops in price I'd say go buy it if you're a sports fan, it's not faultless and nothing to challenging to really get your teeth into, but a very fun, entertaining game which knows what it's strengths are.
If you have even the slightest knowledge of cinema and cinema history you would have heard of the Terminator franchise. Since the release of James Cameron's first film back in 1984 it has gone on to become one of the most financially successful and popular series in film history, with two previous sequels released.
Terminator Salvation is the fourth instalment in the franchise and is the first of the films to be set in the future (2018) and fully tell the story of the war between man and the machines.
Of all the films released this summer Terminator Salvation was the one I was probably most excited for. Being a fan of the previous trilogy I couldn't help but want to watch more of the franchise, even though I was well aware that it could be too much of a good thing. 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines wasn't a terrible effort but it was a long way of Cameron's original two films, so for my sake and the sake of Terminator fans everywhere I was praying "McG" made the post apocalyptic film we had been waiting for since seeing glimpses of it more than 20 years ago.
I don't want to go any further without saying a little bit about the director, this McG character. Real name Jospeh McGinty Nichol, he apparently thinks it's to his credit to go solely by the name McG. Who am I to question what a nearly 40 year old man thinks is a good idea though... Originally a music video director he is probably best known for directing the 2000 Charlie's Angels film and its 2003 sequel, films I have not seen so can't really comment on (I'm sure they are dire affairs though!)
For those Terminator virgins out there this is probably not the best place to jump on board, I'd recommend that you go back and start at the beginning. But here's a very brief overview of the franchise plot; In the near future the world has been taken over by machines, lead by a rogue artificial intelligence system known as Skynet. They set out to wipe Earth of all human life, developing cyborg assassins known as Terminators which look just like humans. In the future the human resistance is lead by a man named John Connor, in an attempt to change the future a terminator is sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor, John's mother, before she can give birth to him. I won't say any more as I don't want to give away spoilers, that's basically where we are now though. The past has all happened, the machines have taken over and we are now with John Connor and the resistance as they attempt to take down Skynet.
Now in 2018, the future which John Connor was raised to believe would happen is altered in part by the appearance of Marcus Wright. A death row prisoner who after being given the lethal injection finds himself awake transported 15 years into the future. As Skynet prepares its final attack Connor must decide whether to trust this stranger, who has a hidden secret, whilst also rescuing a young Kyle Reese, a man who plays a vital role in Connor's own future.
The previous Terminator trilogy was one of those classic examples of Terminator 1, good, Terminator 2 better and Terminator 3 worse, with the age rating going down with every release. Basically as something becomes more popular and the production studios realise there's a market for something they will without fail try and target it at a younger audience in order to get a bigger viewership, that just how it works. What that means sadly though is everything just feels a little bit watered known.
Terminator Salvation existed purely because it will make money, that's the simple fact. There was no need for it to be made, the storyline had been rounded off nicely already (it should have finished after two actually) and this, what I can only presume as being the start of a second trilogy, is just a simple cash in. That being said though there's absolutely no reason why this couldn't have been a fun, enjoyable, critically successful cash in. Unfortunately it is none of those things, it's a big boring disappointment of a film.
I wanted to love this so much I really did, and when it started I actually thought for a moment I might. I was wrong. The novelty soon wears off after the good but not mind-blowing CGI and explosions merge into each other like some kind of clichéd action movie blur. It was like McG has just sat down with a scrap book cutting out and sticking in all his favourite action movie scenes and then used that as his shooting script.
I say this a lot when reviewing a film but it was just too long for what it was, it could have easily shaved off 20 minutes and been the exact same film. The plot is pretty much nothing and makes very little progress on what we already know and presumed from the previous films, with anything new which is thrown in seeming unnecessary. I reiterate this film didn't need to be and shouldn't have been made.
After all the fuss made and stories reported about actor Christian Bale (who I rate very highly), with his onset rants and that fact that he was reluctant to take the part as he didn't want to star in just another action movie, I thought this might have a bit of depth if he saw it as worthwhile. He must have seen something which I didn't then because this has no depth, it's another fine example of all style and no substance, I swear McG must be related to Michael Bay. Talking of Bay, this film IS better than Transformers 2 in case you were wondering, it never quite reached that low!
Bale is surprisingly pretty average to bad in his performance, he just shouts his way through every line, in a voice somewhere between his Batman one and a Futurama Richard Nixon spoof. I'm really disappointed, I expected him to at least provide me with a bit of a shining light.
Terminator Salvation is like a 2 hour action film tribute act. If that's your thing though, if you like gunfights, explosions, loads of CGI and a throwaway plot you'll probably think this is a great flick. It's not absolutely terrible or anything I just found it all to be a bit, well, boring really! For all the onscreen action the whole thing was very limp, lacking a backbone, and like the machines lacking a heart.
Writers: John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris
Runtime: 115 minutes
Christian Bale as John Connor
Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright
Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese
Bryce Dallas Howard as Kate Connor
Moon Bloodgood as Blair Williams
Common as Barnes
Helena Bonham Carter as Dr. Serena Kogan
Originally broadcast on American television station CBS earlier this year, Harper's Island is a murder mystery programme which has just finished airing on BBC3 here in the UK. Set over 13, 42 minute episodes it seems to have been made from the same mould as many slasher films, whether it is attractive women running through the woods or a mysterious killer out to get the whole cast, Harper's Island seems to include pretty much every genre convention.
Apparently only one member of the cast was told the length of his contract outright, and the rest where left very much in the dark, only finding out if they would be killed off in a certain episode on the day that shooting script was handed out. Not that this really matters to much to us, but it's interesting to think in the early episodes the actors wouldn't know themselves if their death was just round the corner or they might even turn out to be the killer themselves.
Every episode seems to have been directed by someone different, as well as being written by, but the season as a whole was executive produced by Jeffrey Bell and Jon Turteltaub, the first has worked on shows like the X-Files and Angel, and the latter directed the classic movie Cool Runnings.
Harper's Island is set on the fictional island of the same name, apparently located just off the coast of Seattle, but in real life was filmed on Bowen Island, in British Columbia Canada, a island which itself boasts an impressive list of films which have been shot there.
Storyline and Characters
Childhood sweethearts Henry Dunn and Trish Wellington are returning to Harper's Island, a place they grew up on, to get married. Bringing with them a large wedding party which increases the sleepy islands population dramatically. Seven years previously a serial killer named John Wakefield had arrived on the island and murdered a number of people including Henry's best friends (Abby Mills) mother, who was also wife to Harper's Islands Sheriff Charlie Mills. As the episodes progress at least one character is murdered per show, in fairly graphic ways. The wedding party finally twig that something fairly untoward is happening and realise all their lives are in danger. Has the presumed dead John Wakefield returned for another shot at the island? Or is there a new different killer within their midst? If you stick with Harper's Island long enough all will come clear.
The cast is fairly large as you would expect of a show based around a wedding, with no real lead characters. Some are more important than others though so I thought it would be a good idea to give you a feel of who makes up Harper's Island;
Henry Dunn played by Christopher Gorham is the Groom. His parents died when he was young. After working as a boat cleaner for the Wellington family he meets his wife to be.
Trish Wellington played by Katie Cassidy. The bride-to-be comes from a wealthy family, returning to Harper's Island for the perfect wedding.
Abby Mills played by Elaine Cassidy is Henry's best friend. She left the Island after the death of her mother and has not been in contact with her Sheriff Father. Returning to the Island for the first time in 7 years.
Jimmy Mance played by CJ Thomason is a local fisherman and Abby's former boyfriend until she left the Island out of the blue, still very much in love with her.
Sheriff Charlie Mills is played by Jim Beaver. Only authority figure on the island, shot dead John Wakefield after he murdered his wife and Abby's mother.
Chloe Carter played by Cameron Richardson. One of Trish's bridesmaids and girlfriend to Cal. Has an interest in serial killers including John Wakefield.
Cal Vandeusen played by Adam Campbell. Chloe's boyfriend, well spoken overly stereotypical English Doctor. Included mainly for comic effect playing off the other American actors.
If you don't take Harper's Island to seriously it's a lot of fun. It's a bit different to see a television like this these days, which like I said it basically a long slasher film spaced over 13 episodes. A whodunit style murder mystery, with much more emphasis on the murder part. I'm not saying it's overly obvious who the killer is, but I had it worked out by the midway point, just by using a process of elimination and horror genre logic.
Trying to guess who the killer is is one of Harper's Islands draws though, it's fun to play the Agatha Christie game and try and work out who did it and why. The acting isn't amazing by any stretch, but for (dare I say it) a "B list" American series it is perfectly acceptable, in fact I probably wouldn't have wanted it any better, due to the genre. There's something just really entertaining about this show, it's the kind of all style and not much substance thrill ride which somehow you can't help but love.
I thought it was great how each episode was given an onomatopoeic title, relating to the sound which is made when the victim is murdered. Now that's entertainment! We've got Gasp, Bang and Ka-Blam, as well as my personal favourites Snap, Crackle, but sadly no Pop, they sure missed out on a treat there.
When I first started watching it I was fairly amused by the concept but not really blown away, and by the mid season point my interest in the show had declined somewhat. I was glad I stuck with it though as the run up to the end was well worth it. For me it really picked up steam and improves massively toward the final episode, by this time I realised that the characters had genuinely grown on me and I really did want to see how it all played out. Even looking back now at the earlier episodes I have a greater appreciation for the programme as a whole. Please, if you're going to take the time to check this out make sure you aren't put off and stick with it to the end; you'll be doing yourself an injustice if you do.
I was surprised how much I enjoyed the final episode, it really was fantastic stuff. After the big reveal I was afraid it was just going to fizzle out, but somehow they managed to keep the plot progressing and the tension high. Me being the sort of person I am was hoping for a somewhat different ending, but for the most of you the happy ever after (ish!) finale will be more than enough to round things of nicely. I just love it when the bad guy gets away with it at the end and wish it happened more often in films and TV. I just love a nasty ending when evil wins for a change, but that may just be me....
Harper's Island is a whole load of fun. It's not amazing piece of drama in anyway, but there's more than enough to make it worth a watch if you like this kind of thing. The violence and gore levels are not off the chart but there is enough to put off the more squeamish of you out there. The more I look back at it though and the more I think about the little things which happened and the possible hints and clues which were included, I realise how fun a journey the show has taken me on. If you like horror films, murder mysteries, clichéd characters and genre conventions this may be the show of your dreams.
I've decided to try something a little different with my latest movie review, and divide it into more manageable sub headings, instead of just rambling through to the end. I don't know if this will be a permanent change, but I just wanted to see how successful it turns out.
Yesterday morning at the almost ungodly hour of 10am I ventured down to the local multiplex cinema to check out Disney/Pixar's latest offering, Up. I'd be very surprised if there was anyone out there who wasn't aware of who Pixar Animation Studios are and what they do. With a filmography which includes films such as Toy Story, Monsters, Inc, Finding Nemo and last year's smash WALL-E, there's little denying that they are the leaders in CGI animation and one of the most critically and commercially successful film studios in the whole industry.
Up is directed by Pixar key collaborator Pete Docter, and this is only his second full length feature directed after 2001's Monsters, Inc. After being given the massive honour of opening the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, something which traditionally is done by a French film, it premiered in North America on 29th May, but unfortunately we have had to wait the whole summer to get our hands on it. A wait which thankfully doesn't leave you disappointed one bit.
2D vs. 3D
Like so many films this year Up has been released in 3D as well as the more traditional 2D, or in this case "Disney Digital 3-D". I opted for the much more expensive option of seeing it in 3D mainly due to it being the only showing I could fit into my day. Previously I had only seen one 3D movie before (Coraline) and I was left feeling fairly impressed and slightly enriched, but not in any way blown away. Up was no different. For sure it does give the whole presentation a bit of an edge, everything is so much more vivid and vibrant, and as a whole they had avoided cheesy effects of pointy things coming out of the screen, instead just making every shot seem more detailed. As good as it looks though I can't help but think that I would have been no worse of watching it in 2D. All Pixar films are visually delightful without this 3D gimmickry, so I would say if you're torn between the two stick with the 2D, you save some money and you'll love the film just as much.
This whole 3D craze going on at the moment seems to be just that to me, a craze, and hopefully one which will die out. Clearly it's an attempt from the Hollywood big shots to tackle piracy in the cinema, making it hard to record a 3D film. But what they don't understand is that the majority of piracy these days comes not from fuzzy handheld recordings from the back on the cinema, but from leaks in their own DVD production houses. 3D adds a little bit of novelty, but nothing really to the viewing experience. Ticket prices are expensive enough in most cinema, we don't need to be paying for a gimmick on top of that.
If you've seen a Pixar film at the cinema before you'll know that they always open their full length features with a short film shown before it, and after the trailers. Up's short is entitled "Partly Cloudy" and is directed by Peter Sohn (his debut). The film with a running time of less than 6 minutes is the kind of imaginative delight which only Pixar can do, it really is fantastic and got the whole cinema giggling and chuckling away to themselves.
I won't go into all the details but it involved cloud people way up in the sky making babies, whether it be humans or animals, for the storks to give to expectant parents. It's a bonkers concept but I accepted it and loved to the end, it's one of the best short films I've seen from Pixar and the perfect introduction to what followed.
Now to the main film itself. After suffering the loss of his wife, and having to deal with the city changing around him, an elderly Carl Fredrickson decides to set out on the adventure he and his wife Ellie had always dreamed off, and go to the lost land of Paradise Falls in South America. This being a Pixar film though his mode of transportation is a little on the unusual side, the retired balloon seller attaches thousands of helium balloons to his house and sets of sailing into the sky.
There's a problem though, a young Wilderness Explorer named Russell, trying to earn his assisting the elderly badge, is on the houses front porch as it departs and he is unexpectedly taken along on Carl's little adventure. As the duo arrive in Paradise Falls they find themselves going to the rescue of a legendary bird, which Russell names Kevin, as famed explorer Charles F. Muntz tries to catch it, along with his pack of talking dogs.
The opening sequences in Up are just about as good as any cinema gets, I really was blown away. In the same way people raved about the brave decision to have so much of WALL-E without speaking, people will rave about Up's opening. Pete Docter, after introducing the two characters, chooses to show the life and death of Carl and Ellie through a montage of clips in the most beautiful of ways. It's happy, it's sad, it's life and it's death. It's great to see Pixar tackling such an adult theme, it probably goes right over the head of many children who watch this film but for me it really hit a nerve, truly film making at its finest.
The problem we are left with then though it you know Up will never be as good as its opening from then on. Not saying it's bad, it's not even average, it's brilliant, but just peaks at the start. Docter raises the bar so high for himself that it's difficult from then on not to expect more of what you've just seen. That's pretty much the only criticism I can find in the whole film, and even that's being picky on my half.
This is a film about bereavement and how we deal with life after death, and it just so happens to feature a lot of balloons!
There's nothing I can say here which will come as any surprise, Pixar are the world leaders in CGI for a reason and Up is no different. The Animation is faultless; the colour schemes are painstakingly chosen and give the impression of rich inhabited worlds. Everything is so easy on the eye, even whilst wearing the somewhat clumsy 3D glasses I was sucked into the animated world and didn't want to blink in case I missed something.
Pixar just has this fantastic style and eye for design which is present in all their films. The character design and choice of which characters to include for that matter are great. They have the confidence and conviction to make a film which stars a sad and lonely old man in the lead role, giving him the perfect amount of comic support from the other characters in order for us to believe in him. You feel for Carl Fredrickson, you feel his pain and suffering and just want him to succeed.
Unlike other animation studios which have the adopted the bad habit of filling their movies with as many celebrity voices as possible, Pixar don't feel they need to do this. Everything they make is going to be a financial success in reality regardless of whether Hollywood's next big thing is voicing it or not. What they do instead is actually take the time to match the actors to the characters, without the need to include big names you end up with believable voiced characters which actually seem real to you.
For example veteran television actor Edward Asner voices Carl Fredricksen, 9 year old amateur Jordan Nagai plays Russell and animator Bob Peterson voices the character of Dug, who as it is has some of the funniest lines in the whole film.
Up is a fantastic film, I don't see how anyone could not love it to bits. It's the sort of film which will stick with you for a long time, its beginning is poetic, beautiful and emotional and after that it never fails to disappoint. Up is the perfect film which really has something for everyone, the kids will laugh their heads off at the jokes and funny characters and the adults will be moved by the surprisingly deep plot. This is probably the best film I've seen all year and one I can't wait to see again. I've given you my take on the whole 3D thing, but again for the record I don't see how 2D could be much different. It's the strength of the storytelling, the humour and the wonderfully believable characters which give Up its strength, not a here today gone tomorrow visual gimmick. A fantastic film of the absolute highest order, everyone should go and see Up! You won't be disappointed.
Director: Pete Docter
Producer: Jonas Rivera
Screenplay: Bob Peterson and Pete Docter
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Release Date: 9th October 2009 (UK)
Runtime: 96 minutes
Main Voice cast:
Edward Asner as Carl Fredricksen
Jordan Nagai as Russell
Bob Peterson as Dug
Christopher Plummer as Charles F. Muntz
Thank you for reading
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is DC Comics/Warner Home Video's sixth original DC Universe animated movie. The film which has been released direct to DVD is based on a six issue story arc from the ongoing comic book series Superman/Batman, written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Ed McGuinness.
The plot follows Loeb's original writings pretty carefully and gives a faithful reimagining of the six issue arc. The main story focuses on the DC superheroes Superman and Batman as they are announced "public enemies" by newly appointed President of the United States, Lex Luthor (long time Superman villain). The characters have a bounty placed over their heads and we basically get 67 minutes of a pretty much never ending list of DC comic supervillains trying to defeat the duo on behalf of Luthor. It's basically a fan boy action movie, just rolling from fight scene to fight scene and showing as many different characters as they can ram in. But if you're a comic book fan that's pretty much all you want from a film like this.
The animation style is very similar to that of the original comic book and that along with the quality voice acting from Tim Daly as Superman and Kevin Conroy as Batman, make it very technically sound. Superman/Batman is a hell of a lot of fun, yes the plot is a little weak at times and there is an awful lot of fight scenes but that's just the nature of the source material. All the scenes seem to flow really well into another and the pace is relentless, the hour and a bit really fly by. If you have even the smallest interest in comics or the characters of Superman or Batman this is definitely worth a watch. It's not going to provide you with a perfect introduction to the DC Universe, as it presumes you know a little already but all in all it's an extremely fun film, highly recommended.
Voice cast includes:
Tim Daly as Superman
Kevin Conroy as Batman
Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor
C. C. H. Pounder as Amanda Waller
Allison Mack as Power Girl
John C. McGinley as John Corben/Metallo
Xander Berkeley as Captain Atom
Ricardo Chavira as Major Force
LeVar Burton as Black Lightning
Directed by: Sam Liu
Produced by: Bruce Timm
Written by: Stan Berkowitz
Usually when you hear a film has been released "direct to DVD" you instantly think the worse. In almost all cases of this happening it has been done for a reason, the movie is a stinker and was never going to make any money if given a cinema release. There's always an exception to the rule though, and Trick 'r Treat is one of these exceptions, and a brilliant one at that.
It's taken a very long time indeed for Trick 'r Treat to finally see the light of day, only this month being released on DVD, after first being publicly shown way back in 2007. It's a remarkable story of a film becoming such a cult classic and so highly regarded amongst horror fans, even though so little people had seen it. Director Michael Dougherty's film has been popping up at horror film festivals and comic conventions for almost two years now, drawing sell out crowds where ever it is played. For reasons which are not known Warner Bros. would not grant this film a full theatrical release, but thankfully now mainly after the positive word of mouth exposure it has been given, it has been released for all to see.
The film is set over the course of one Halloween night in a small America town, giving an anthology tale of four intertwining stories of terror, all held together by one ever present character, Sam. Named after the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain, the little child like character of Sam, dressed in his pumpkin like Halloween costume, makes increasingly menacing appearances throughout the film, acting as a "friendly reminder" to those who stray from the laws of Halloween. He is a truly wonderful little character, the sort which will go down as one of the most memorable in horror cinema. At first he seems somewhat cute and subtle, but as the film goes on his true nature is revealed, along with his true face. Sam is Halloween; he represents all that it good, all that it scary about it.
There are basically four different stories going on during the film, cutting between them all and telling them in a non linear fashion. It's really cleverly done, as everything ties together seamlessly, just goes to show the true strength of the shooting script. Trick 'r Treat is only 82 minutes long, which is the absolute perfect length, and its jam packed full of content to keep you interested. I really hate it when films are really long for no reason at all; in my eyes a film should not run much over 90 minutes unless it has a good reason and is strong enough to. Anyway, this short run time makes it a perfect watch, it's not going to take up much of your time, everything is punchy and feels like you're watching only the best scenes.
As far as the ensemble cast goes they all do an excellent job, there's no acting master classes on display or anything like that (this is a horror film after all) but Anna Paquin's (True Blood, X-Men) character of Laurie is probably one of the highlights, along with Brian Cox. Everyone's pretty consistent and no one is a disappointment in any of the scenes.
Michael Dougherty has taken all the best influences from classic horror films such as Halloween and Creepshow, along with great slapstick moments from gruesome films like Evil Dead, there's even quite a strong comic book connection in there, especially during the absolutely fantastic opening credits, something which really set the high tone for the film. Trick 'r Treat is one of the most fun and originally brilliant horror films I have seen in a very long time, it's not overly violent and gory, but obviously it has its moments, it's just a really fun rollercoaster ride of a film. For me it embodies Halloween and everything it's about, I can easily see this becoming a cult favourite for years to come, something shown on TV come the end of October. Trick 'r Treat is like a good ghost story round a camp fire, please go and check it out, it's been such a long time in the making and it truly deserves all the praise it gets.
Main cast includes;
Quinn Lord as Sam/Samhain
Brian Cox as Mr. Kreeg
Dylan Baker as Steven
Dyllan Christopher as Billy Wilkins
Anna Paquin as Laurie
Leslie Bibb as Emma
Rochelle Aytes as Maria
Director: Michael Dougherty
Producer: Bryan Singer
Writer: Michael Dougherty
Run time: 82 minutes
Looking for Eric is the latest movie from long time English director Ken Loach and written by Paul Laverty.
The film revolves around two characters called Eric (Bishop and Cantona), almost like some kind of little and large double act. Manchester Postman Eric Bishop is on the rebound from two failed marriages, his head is all over the place and he's on the verge of a mental breakdown. Now living with his two step sons from marriage number two, who are getting more and more involved with criminal behaviour. His daughter from his first marriage now has a daughter of her own (his granddaughter) and due to babysitting arrangements his life is forced to cross over into that of his first wife's, a woman he realises he is still desperately in love with.
During one of Eric's dark moments he suddenly finds himself standing in front of the Manchester United legendary footballer Eric Cantona. Only little Eric can see him and he acts as his spiritual guide almost, offering up advice and philosophical thoughts as to how he can improve his life.
Just because Looking for Eric stars Cantona in a lead role don't get tricked into thinking that this is a film about football, it's not. Sure football is featured, as it is a passion for the character of Eric Bishop and most of the supporting cast, but it's mostly a story about a man turning it round from the brink of despair.
Eric Cantona is fantastic, and I don't think he can be anything but. He just oozes charisma and basically plays himself, but that's exactly what you want him to do. He is graceful and dignified, and puts in a real theatrical performance. The real star for me though was actor Steve Evets playing Eric Bishop, it is his brilliant performance which glues the whole film together and by the end you really want him to succeed.
If there is a fault with the film it is that the plot arc revolving around gun crime seems a little silly in retrospect and not as good as the other stuff. It's not bad or anything like that, but just seems lesser when compared to the other parts. It does offer some more light hearted moments though, so maybe it is needed because of that. This is a fantastic feel good film; it's not quite perfect but the good far far out ways the bad. The acting is great and Evets and Cantona really shine, working well together. Looking for Eric is a fine British film, a proper film, and one you should definitely check out.
Main cast includes:
Steve Evets as Eric Bishop
Eric Cantona as Himself
Stephanie Bishop as Lily
Gerard Kearns as Ryan
Stefan Gumbs as Jess
Lucy-Jo Hudson as Sam
Director: Ken Loach
Release Date: 12th June 2009 (UK)
Genre: Comedy Drama
Runtime: 116 minutes
Looking for Eric is available on DVD and Blu Ray from 12th October 2009
Anvil! The Story of Anvil is without a doubt one of my favourite films to come out this year! From debuting director Sacha Gervasi it's a documentary about the Canadian thrash metal band Anvil, who at one point in the 1980's where at the brink of superstardom but for whatever reason it never quite happened. They faded away, got old and are now working low paid jobs as labourers and meals on wheels delivery men. The documentary is about them trying to get the band back out into the spotlight, trying to return to their former glories.
You can't watch this fly on the wall style documentary and not instantly see the similarities to the great spoof film This Is Spinal Tap. With Anvil we seem to have an example of a documentary inspired by a mockumentary, there are so many nods, winks and outright in your face references that you start to wonder if you're watching another parody? Where Anvil a real band? If this all for the laughs? The wonderful thing is though this is all legit, these fiftysomething guys are still trying to live the dream, rekindle their highlights. I don't know why the decision was made to pay homage to Spinal Tap in such a way, but it has definitely only added to this film. Something's like the ending gig in Japan, visits to Stone Henge, and blatant shots of a dial being turned up to 11 are obvious additions, but the drummers name is Robb Reiner, the same as Spinal Taps director, now that has to be just a bizarre coincidence.
Gervasi's film is bleak and downtrodden in feel at times but builds brilliantly to a passionate and inspiring finish. He knows how to structure a movie, that's for sure and he relies on the strength of the band member's personalities to make a connection with you the viewer. Lead singer Steve "Lips" Kudlow is one of the nicest men you could meet and you can't help but want him to succeed, and succeed he does.
The basic structure without filling in all the blanks introduces you to the band and the situation they are in now, documenting their past success and their hopes and dreams for the future. The narrative is broken up with talking head pieces from famous musicians such as Lemmy (Motorhead), Lars Ulrich (Metallica), Tom Araya (slayer) and Slash (Guns & Roses, Velvet Revolver) talking about Anvils influence on their style and praising the band, each unable to explain why they never quite made the big time. After a largely unsuccessful European tour which see's them playing to about 10 people in some countries, they finally get booked to play at a massive rock festival in Japan, a very fitting finale and the least that they deserve.
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Release Date: 20th February 2009
Runtime: 90 minutes
After seeing the trailer and hearing news of director John Hillcoat's upcoming film adaptation, The Road, I searched a little deeper and purchased author Cormac McCarthy's book of which it is based. I'm not a massive reader by any extent, so it was all news to me that The Road has been praised as a modern day classic by fans and critics alike. The only other time I have stumbled upon McCarthy's work is in the Coen Brothers adaptation of his book No Country for Old Men, an absolutely fantastic film, which now after finishing The Road I might go back and check out the original novel of.
The plot of The Road is that sometime in the past, in an undisclosed year an unexplained world event has happened, something which triggers the destruction of almost all life and civilisation on Earth. Nothing is explained about what has happened, all we know is that something massive has occurred and created this new post-apocalyptic world, perhaps it was a nuclear war, or the effects of global warming? This is left up to you as the reader to ponder over.
The story follows the journey of a father and son, known by no other names but that, as they travel the road in search of warmer climates and an almost mythical safe haven. Earth is now an extremely bleak place to live, ash fills the sky, with earthquakes and fires breaking out at every turn in the road, and as well of this it appears that of what human beings have been left alive the majority have resulted to cannibalism and the hunting and killing of their fellow man.
The Road is a dangerous place for anyone to travel on these days but it has to be done as the duo desperately searches for shelter and food amongst the plundered ruins they come across.
McCarthy's writing is almost poetic in style, at first it took me a while to get into (much like the story itself did) but it really gains momentum once you get used to and learn to accept his short snappy sentence structure and minimal dialogue. For me it represented the post-apocalyptic world perfectly, I love it when things aren't fully explained and it leaves it up to you to fill in the blanks. There's no need to dwell over what has happened to make the world like it is now, that's just a distant memory to the characters, like what a can of coke tastes like or how people used to live, it's all being forgotten with every day which passes.
For me The Road wasn't the out and out masterpiece it is hyped as being, it's a really great book and I did enjoy reading it, but there was just something missing, something which I still can't put my finger on. You can't deny that this is an important marker in literature though; the post-apocalyptic world which McCarthy portrays evokes feelings, at least for me, of a world which could easily be if global warming spirals out of control. I don't know if this was intentional but with all the things going with today's society it's a very real and scary future which could very well become ours.
My knowledge of Lars von Trier as a film director is pretty basic. I have only previously seen one of his films, 1998's The Idiots, a highly controversial piece dealing with disability and sexuality, which whilst had its moments, wasn't actually that good a film. I think it's fair to say that von Trier is a director who thrives of controversy; he seems to do things with the attention of provoking and causing a reaction. He's not a sensationalist one-trick pony though; he is without question a talented director who truly understands cinematography. It's just that his films content and subject matter often get him pigeon holed as something that he is not.
It's difficult to put Antichrist into one genre, its content is certainly horrific, buts it's not in any way little a traditional horror film. At times it is very "Art House" with its shooting style, but all in all it does best just too just call it a drama! And there's definitely lots of that. The film is set out in six parts, a Prologue, an Epilogue, and four chapters in the middle which relate specifically to the journey the characters are going through, entitled Grief, Pain (Chaos Reigns), Despair (Gynocide) and The Three Beggars.
Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg play characters known throughout only as "He" and "She", which have to come to terms with the death of their son. Simply put that's the outline of the plot, it's a story about Grief, Pain and Despair just like the chapter titles suggest. Dafoe is a therapist and Gainsbourg's character is a non-specific academic who is currently writing a thesis on the subject of gynocide, the systematic killing of females through history. He takes her on as his patient and they decide that what they must do is return to Eden, a wooden shack in the middle of the woods, where she spent time with the child before his death. During their time in Eden Gainsbourg's emotions spiral out of control and she becomes convinced that everything in this world is evil, including to some extent womankind.
Von Trier has not so much made a film about violence, but a film made to inflict violence upon us. Yes it is pretty horrific to watch, but I'll come to that more later. Antichrist is a great film which is so much more that just mindless violence there to gage a reaction. He takes all the best things from horror films, the genre conventions from films like Evil Dead and Cabin Fever, the torture aspects from the so called torture-porn films, but he makes them actually mean something. He plays with these conventions and does it rather well, managing successfully to build an uncanny eerie atmosphere which you're actually convinced by.
Antichrist is a very deep film, it's riddled with subtitle messages and not so subtitle visuals which work together to give depth and meaning to the film. There's strong symbolism throughout, in particularly the Three Beggars, a star constellation which come alive and act as guides to the characters. Each of the three animals He encounters is symbolic of the chapter it's in. The deer is Grief, the fox is Pain, and the crow is Despair. They come together to represent the whole mourning process, the emotions the characters are experiencing after the loss of their son.
There's no right or wrong answer with Antichrist, it's a film which leaves a lot of interpretation up to you and is quite reluctant at times to give you clues as to what certain scenes mean. After one watch I don't really understand the Epilogue section, but hopefully like all great films Antichrist will be one which gets better and reveals a little more with every viewing.
What exactly is Antichrist about is a question which you will be left asking yourself, but not in a bad way, and will ultimately lead to more questions. Antichrist is a thinking person's movie, a rich visual experience which expects you to put a bit of effort in yourself. Is von Trier saying that all men are born evil, guilty instead of innocent? Or the complete opposite! It is women that are of sin. Is it a film symbolising men's fear of women's sexuality? Are human beings dependant and thus scared of nature? These are all questions which might cross your mind, and the correct answer is all of these are correct yet all are also incorrect, there's not a correct answer, it's all down to your interpretation.
The acting is superb, Defoe and Gainsbourg really give it their all and nail their performances, seeing as the whole film is just those two (except a few scenes with their toddler son) they do extremely well. The sound design was very effective and the visuals are entrancing and complement it perfectly. I loved the opening prologue in particular; von Trier's black and white sequence of passion and embrace was brilliantly done and really lays down a great foundation for the characters and following story.
So far in my review I have pretty much glanced over the more horrific scenes in Antichrist, but it's probably best that I point out that this is a difficult watch at times and not one for the squeamish. The film has split opinions where ever it has been shown, it seems you either see it as the great interesting piece of work that it is, or get to hung up on the graphic violence and sexuality, which you can't deny are a massive part of it. Just search for Antichrist on the Daily Mail website if you want to see what a certain section of society thinks of it, or at least thinks we should think of it. It's such a shame that this is being given the same knee jerk reaction as so many slightly controversial things in recent years; it frustrates me so much when I see articles telling you how terrible and evil something is when the truth is they probably haven't even seen it themselves! We're all individuals and thus should be able to watch something and form our own opinions without being told a film should be banned.
I'm not going to argue that the films content isn't extremely graphic, but for me personally I found it a bit tame after all the ridiculous hype it had been getting. If the words and phrases genital mutilation and masturbation make you come over all a quiver though it's probably best you don't watch Antichrist.
Antichrist is a film which will split audiences, but I personally thought it was fantastic. Not an out and out masterpiece but an interesting and thought provoking piece of work which will stick with you. Despite what people may tell you the violence and sex whilst graphic is definitely necessary, it's so key to the story. If you can handle a bit of blood go and see Antichrist I'm sure it won't disappoint you, even if at times it's a little strange it's never dull. Don't go into it thinking it will be a straight up horror film though; it's so much more than that.
Willem Dafoe as He
Charlotte Gainsbourg as She
Director: Lars von Trier
Producer: Meta Louise Foldager
Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle
Release Date: 24th July 2009 (UK)
Running time: 109 minutes
Antichrist is being shown at select cinemas and will be available on Blu Ray and DVD on 23rd November 2009.
Living Dead in Dallas is the second book in The Southern Vampire Mysteries series, by author Charlaine Harris. I read the first book in the series after watching the True Blood TV programme, of which it is based, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. So the next step was to carry on reading Harris's books.
The second series of True Blood is based on this second book, but it's much more loosely done than season one and the Dead Until Dark book. The story is roughly the same but there are some quite major differences, things have been added to the TV programme and some quite key plot points have been left out of the book. This is a review of the book though and not season two of True Blood, I just thought it would be useful to note that the two are very different in places and thus worthy of checking both out.
Living Dead in Dallas carries on directly from where Dead Until Dark leaves off. The main character of Sookie Stackhouse has just found a dead body in the car park of Merlotte's, the bar she works in, the body of her colleague Lafayette Reynolds (here's the first major difference to True Blood). Local detective Andy Bellefleur is wrongly accused of the murder and it is left up to Sookie and her mind reading abilities to track down the real killer, delving into Bon Temps seedy underworld. The plot is essentially split into two very separate story arcs, this being one of them, which overlap and come together at the end. The second arc involves Sookie and her vampire boyfriend Bill Compton being summoned to see their vampire area leader, Eric Northman. On their way to his bar, Fangtasia, Sookie is attacked by a maenad, a mythical creature which feeds of sexuality and chaos. This maenad, named Callisto demands tribute from Eric and the vampires in his area, using Sookie as her messenger. It is later revealed that Eric wanted to see Sookie to request the use of her mind reading abilities. A prominent vampire has gone missing in Dallas, presumably kidnapped by the anti-vampire religious fanatics; The Fellowship of the Sun. Sookie and Bill must go undercover within the church and come to the bottom of the missing vampire.
Where in the first book Charlaine Harris introduces us to the world of vampires, and touches on shape shifters. In Living Dead in Dallas this is expanded on even more, Werewolves are introduced to us for the first time. Similar to the shape shifters in many ways, but much more dangerous. I loved how Harris just drops in little hints, such as the strong dislike between vampires and werewolves, things which you can just tell are going to be explored much more in future books.
The world is even more vivid in this book, many more vampires and strange creatures are introduced to us, with even the lesser characters given a surprising amount of depth and personality. This is a book which reads like it's part of a series, like I said, not everything is explained and certain things are just touched on, surely to be answered in future books. Living Dead in Dallas is part mystery, part romance, but a really fun read. The relationship between Sookie and Bill is obviously one of the main plot points, and it is a little bit girly at times, but you can totally let that slide. For every soppy moment there's someone getting bitten in the neck or some crazy new character being introduced.
As for the storyline I loved everything which happened in Dallas, dealing with the Fellowship of the Sun, but I found the mystery stuff about Lafayettes death a little weak (and done much better in True Blood). It's no big deal, and the book as a whole is still an excellent read, but it's a little up and down at times. Not quite on the same level as the first book. There's enough here though to make me want to read the next one (and the one after that...), Harris's world is just a really fun place to read about, her books are funny, mysterious, romantic and violent, there's something for everyone, what more could you want.
Author: Charlaine Harris
Publication Date: March 2002
Pages: 291 Paperback and 304 Hardcover
ISBN: ISBN 0-441-01673-1
Sookie Stackhouse - Mind reading waitress
Bill Compton - Sookie's vampire boyfriend
Eric Northman - Bill's vampire superior, rival for Sookies love
Sam Merlotte - Bar own and shapeshifter
Stan Davis - Dallas vampire sheriff
Barry - Another telepath
Steve and Sarah Newlin - Pastor and Wife of The Fellowship of the Sun
Andy Bellefleur - Bon Temps detective
Tara Thornton - Sookies friend
Dead Snow or Død snø as it's known in its native tongue is a Norwegian horror comedy film, directed Tommy Wirkola whose previous work included a film called Kill Buljo, a satire of Tarantino's Kill Bill.
As I've mentioned before in previous reviews the horror and comedy genres are very similar to each other, and with a little bit a tweaking (or bad directing) a scary scene can become funny and vice-versa. Wirkola's film is full of predictable horror film clichés, but he's intended this to be the case. It's what you may call a smart horror film; the characters reminded me of those in the Scream trilogy of films, they know their horror, often referencing particular movies and scenes in relation to what is happening to them.
The plot is pretty much that of a B-Movie, some straight to DVD slasher which is overlooked by everyone, but that's what makes the film even funnier. Basically it's the story of seven medical students going on vacation to a remote log cabin in the snowy mountains, 45 minute walk from the nearest road. A mysterious hiker shows up at their door and tells them the story of Nazi's terrorising the area during World War II, but they were chased off into the mountains were they are presumed to have frozen.....This is where the fun begins! As soon as the man is gone the group is attacked by this army of Nazis, but they soon realise they aren't just any old Nazis, oh no, they're zombie Nazis! You can pretty much guess what happens from here, just a whole load of cheesy horror moments and silly slapstick scenes, as the zombie Nazis try to recover some mysterious war gold which the group had discovered in the cabin.
All pretty silly stuff as you can see, the great thing about it though is its all acted 100% seriously by the cast. They really are fighting for their lives against zombie Nazis. This doesn't descend into Scary Movie or anything like this. The comedy comes from the graphic violence and gore, like I said with just the slightest tweak a man getting his arm cut off with a chainsaw can be funny! And the little tweak in this film is the fact the zombies are Nazis, something so bizarre that you can't help but grin.
Dead Snow evokes memories of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy, as well as the original generation of slasher films. Their influence on the director is clear for all to see. More recently however it is the film Shaun of the Dead which I noted most similarities to. Obviously the tone, being a horror comedy is the same but the fast paced editing style seemed to have been copied as well. Especially in the "tooling up" sequences, where the characters equip themselves with weaponry, shown through fast paced close ups, whip panning between shots.
If you watch a lot of horror films you'll be pleased to know that the death scenes are rather refreshing to watch. Everything seemed pretty original and well thought out, the scene involving people hanging of a cliff using zombie intestine as a rope was a particular favourite of mine.
Dead Snow is a really fun film, it's not mindblowingly funny, and the fact that it's subtitled always makes it a harder for the jokes to translate, but it will definitely make you smile. More to the point though it's a quality peace of horror, it's full of all the predictable key concepts of a horror movie, but they've become them for a recent, it's what people as a whole find scary. If you get a chance to see Dead Snow go and check it out it's a really entertaining watch.
Main cast includes;
Charlotte Frogner as Hanna
Ørjan Gamst as Standartenführer Herzog
Stig Frode Henriksen as Roy
Vegar Hoel as Martin
Jeppe Laursen as Erlend
Evy Kasseth Røsten as Liv
Jenny Skavlan as Chris
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Runtime: 90 minutes
What a delightfully strange little film this is. I'd seen Boogie Nights, loved it. I'd seen Magnolia, loved it. I'd seen There Will Be Blood, loved it. The only Paul Thomas Anderson film (apart from Hard Eight) I hadn't seen was this one, Punch-Drunk Love, and guess what... I loved it.
Released in 2002, it's essentially a love story, but probably nothing like one you've seen before. Anderson bravely casts Adam Sandler as his lead actor, a strange decision, but one which works perfectly. If you know anything about Anderson's other films you have probably noticed that he has a tendency to cast and use different types of actors in roles which are somewhat unfamiliar to them. We've had Tom Cruise in Magnolia, and Burt Reynolds and Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights for example. Casting which on paper has colossal flop written all over it, but in reality they work perfectly. Paul Thomas Anderson seems to see things in actors which we have yet to, see some hidden depths and potential, and this is what he's seen in Adam Sandler.
Sandler has spent a lifetime starring in bland, overly structured comedies, doing the same stupid mannerisms and playing pretty much the same character time and time again. Anderson has liberated him in Punch-Drunk Love though, his formulaic constraints have been removed and he's actually given a license to explore his ability. Sandler is fantastic (now that's a phrase you don't hear very often); he really is a joy to watch. His character is unpredictable and almost psychotic at times, emotions which Sandler pulls off with ease.
The plot is stupid and nothing special when written down, but it's the little things which make Punch-Drunk Love a great film. Barry Egan (Sandler) is a man who purchases thousands of tinned puddings in order to collect the free air miles on the packets, but is at the same time being blackmailed by a phone sex company being run out of a Utah bed shop. Barry meets Lena Leonard, a friend of his sisters (of which he has 7 of) and the two fall in love. That is essentially the whole plot, it's a love story, a psychotic surrealist love story.
Anderson uses sounds to such great effect in this film, some of the noises which accompanied the images where almost unworldly. The noises represent Sandler's characters moods, getting erratic and out of control when he does. The films score features heavy use of the harmonium instrument, an instrument which is also somewhat bizarrely included in the film. It produces such strange sounds, often out of tune and ranging in volume, it's such a strange experience to listen to. It's almost at times like Anderson has started with a particular piece of music and fitted the visuals to it, instead of being the other way round.
Punch-Drunk Love is riddled with bizarre happenings and goings on, strange car crashes, sudden outbursts of violence, crazy moments of dialogue, they're all in there. It's such a strange little film, but totally captivating. I knew it was essentially a love story, so the plot would inevitably go a certain way, but I couldn't help but not trust it. It defies conventions and formula in every way, always confronting you with something strange or unexpected at every turn. The plot whilst to some is a little flimsy is actually perfectly thought out and implemented. Sandler is a character who thinks he's spotted a scam in the air miles, but is in fact having a scam being worked on him. He seems to finally meet his match amongst the chaos, someone equally as "quirky" as he is. Everything comes along in pairs, well balanced.
Go check out Punch-Drunk Love, it's a really great film. Totally not what I was expecting from it but in many ways it was even better than I could have hoped for. Adam Sandler is surprisingly a massive breath of fresh air, and Emily Watson holds her own as his co-star. This is an incredibly brave movie from Paul Thomas Anderson, and a risk which has paid off for him.
Main Cast Includes;
Adam Sandler as Barry Egan
Emily Watson as Lena Leonard
Luis Guzman as Lance
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Dean Trumbell
Mary Lynn Rajzkub as Elizabeth
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Release date: 7th February 2003 (UK)
Runtime: 95 minutes
District 9 is a film I've been really excited about and looking forward to seeing for quite some time now, so when I got round to checking it out at the cinema last night I was hoping that I wouldn't be left disappointed. District 9 is a science fiction film directed by newcomer Neill Blomkamp, and produced by Peter Jackson. It is similar to films such as Cloverfield in that you instantly recognise the producers name but are unaware of the directors. By having a 'big name' attached to the feature though it generates more hype and often leaves you expecting more than just a debuting director might offer.
Blomkamp has previously worked as a 3D animator on shows such as Stargate SG-1, Dark Angel and Smallville, but it wasn't really until the release of his short film Alive in Joburg that he started to get noticed as a fresh talented director. District 9 is an expansion of the world set out in his 6 minute short Alive in Joburg, a world in which aliens have landed and been absorbed into society, but I'll explain the plot more in a bit. Before District 9 was given the green light Blomkamp was offered the position of director on a film based on the Halo video game franchise. It was this news of a possible Halo movie which first drew my attention to Blomkamp, unfortunately the film adaptation never materialised due to lack of financing, but District 9 was produced instead, a film from a similar mould as the Halo games.
The story is as follows; 20 years ago an alien spaceship appeared out of nowhere over the skies of Johannesburg, South Africa, hovering in mid air, and staying there to this day. The ships alien crew who have apparently landed on Earth by mistake are discovered on board by an exploratory team and taken back down to the mainland and put into a government camp called District 9. This camp so starts to resemble a slum and is rife with crime and violence, with Nigerian gangs supplying the aliens with foods and other items in exchange for weapons, which unfortunately they cannot fire due to having human DNA. Our hero is a character called Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), who works for the private military contractors, Multinational United (MNU), who is in charge of policing and relocating the 2 millions aliens to a new camp away from the human population, named District 10.
It doesn't take too much imagination to see that District 9 very much mirrors the apartheid events which have taken place within South Africa. This is even given a nod to in the title, a clear reference to District Six, a former government declared whites only area of Cape Town, in which people were forcibly removed from, much like within the film. It's easy to see that this is a film about racism and xenophobia. The aliens, whilst on the surface are treated well and respectfully, are called derogatory names and tricked into moving into smaller, more controlled almost concentration like camps. It's not just the apartheid era events of South Africa this is mirroring though, there's definite references to immigration, refugees and asylum seekers in here as well.
Films within the science fiction genre are always best when what you see is allegorical and not meant to be taken literally, and District 9 is exactly this. The aliens could just as easily be any race of people, and the core values and theme of the film would be the same. This is a political film which has quite a deep and layered message to say. District 9 is more than just aliens and big guns, although that part is key and equally as brilliant.
The interesting thing about this film is the aliens aren't invading, they don't even particularly "come in peace", their spaceship arrives on Earth by mistake. They don't mean to be here and they don't want to be here, and we never quite know why they got here. I liked how the very first establishing shot in the film is of the ship over Johannesburg, no one questioning it, everyone just excepting it as being there, part of the landscape. This is not a big alien invasion blockbuster, where a big space ship appears a third of the way in and blows up some big buildings, District 9 is better than that. You arrive right in the middle of the story, aliens have been here, living amongst (at least at first) the people of Johannesburg, and that's just the way things are in Blomkamps world.
The film was shot on location in and around Johannesburg, aptly during a time of violent clashes between different nationalities within the city. I really liked the little geeky touches in the film, with a lot of the weaponry closely resembling the guns in Halo and games like Half Life 2, as well as the Mecha style robotic suit at the end, all nice little touches if you're a bit of a nerd at heart. You can obviously compare District 9 to Cloverfield, mainly due to its hand-held feel throughout, but also Starship Troopers, another film which has the appearence of a big flashy action film but has a plot which is a bit deeper and mimics other events in history.
Sharlto Copley is absolutely fantastic as Wikus van de Merwe, in his biggest cinema role to date he absolutely nails his performance. Wikus is just such a wonderful character, his transformation from a fairly uncomfortable to watch office worker into a deadly warrior is great, just a really flawless character arc. Copley also injects quite a bit of black humour into District 9, there are quite a few scenes which really made me (and the rest of the cinema) chuckle, I especially liked the pig firing gun towards the end. Blomkamp, and Weta Workshop and Image Engine for their alien visual designs, have worked wonders in making the alien creatures something you can relate to and actually feel sorry for. Its impressive work, each of the aliens seems to have individual personalities and mannerisms, making you after a short while accept them fully as part of the scenery. You actually believe what's going on, getting absorbed into Blomkamp's world. The appearance of the token cute baby alien seemed a little cheesy at first but in the long run it was probably this which factors into you as the viewer changing sides and getting behind the aliens, feeling for them as victims.
District 9 is shot part as mockumentary and part as a shaky-cam action film, jumping between the two. Thinking back they even start the film talking about what has happened after the final events, although you are not aware it is this they are referring to at the beginning. I'm really surprised I didn't dislike how it was shot and edited together, it's messy and bit all over the place, but it works perfectly! The mock-interviews give a bit of character background and set the scene, and all in all probably make it seem all that more real.
District 9 is an absolutely fantastic film; it's a fun, violent action film which has a very serious undertone. The end part is cranked up to maximum Hollywood action levels but it's still great stuff and its strong plot holds it all together. Sharlto Copley puts in such a great performance, after I learnt to stop giggling at his accent, remembering an old Alan Partridge character. Neill Blomkamp has made something special here, a film which is going to appeal to the summer blockbuster popcorn eaters and people who want something a little bit deeper, it's a multi-layered piece of work which will stick with you for a while. Go and see District 9 you definitely won't be disappointed, without a doubt one of the best films this year, great acting and superb special effects which don't disappoint. Bring on District 10.
Main cast includes;
Sharlto Copley as Wikus van de Merwe
Jason Cope as Grey Bradnam
Eugene Khumbanyiwa as Obesandjo
William Allen Young as Dirk Michaels
Robert Hobbs as Ross Pienaar
Kenneth Nkosi as Thomas
Nathalie Boltt as Sarah Livingstone
Sylvaine Strike as Katrina McKenzie
Vanessa Haywood as Tania van de Merwe
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Producer: Peter Jackson
Writters: Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
Mustic by: Clinton Shorter
Cinematography: Trent Opaloch
Editor: Julian Clarke
Distributors: TriStar Pictures
Runtime: 112 minutes
Release date: 4th September 2009 (UK)
District 9 is currently showing pretty much everywhere in the UK.