30 June 2010

Ogre Done- SHREK FOREVER AFTER Review

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.
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You'll be surprised how easy it is to pretend Shrek the Third didn't happen while watching the new one. That works in the favour of Shrek Forever After. Without much of the invention that made the first one a hit, this latest trip to Far Far Away finds Shrek in the throes of a mid-life crisis. No, really. Enter Rumpelstiltskin, an odious little dickhead who has a grudge against Shrek, with a promise to make everything better, It's A Wonderful Life-style. As per usual, the world isn't so good when our hero was never born, and Shrek has 24 hours to put things right.

28 June 2010

The Zero Room #5- What's The Crack?


Matt Smith's first series drew to a close on Saturday night on BBC One, and the last thirteen weeks have been a hell of a ride. This penultimate Series 5 post reviews the romantic comedy episode The Lodger and the epic, balls-to-the-wall final two-fer, The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang (to be referred to henceforth by the former name to save time)

Reviews will contain spoilers, so if you haven't seen the episode yet, toddle over to the iPlayer, or watch BBC Three at some point in the next century's worth of repeats.

24 June 2010

A Rocker and a Hard Place

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.



Rock and roll is usually portrayed as difficult for the artists just so we can see past the revenue and the fame and the lifestyle of obscene lucre and actually empathise with such characters. Sometimes, they pull it off, as in Apatow-produced spin-off Get Him To The Greek and made-for-TV mini movie Lennon Naked.

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Lennon Naked covers a turning point in John Lennon's life, when his close friend and band manager Brian Epstein died suddenly. Feeling isolated by the excesses of his family lifestyle, living in an absurdly opulent property in the countryside, Lennon began a massive upheaval as he got in touch with his estranged father and grew closer to Yoko Ono. His childhood trauma looms large throughout this film, and it takes time for Lennon to accept it.

"The following drama is based on real events, although some scenes are the invention of the writer." So begins Lennon Naked, and writer Robert Jones has immediately distanced us from our central character. The ambiguity of such a declamatory title-card just makes the audience doubt the veracity of what's being told throughout. Which scenes? Why were they invented?

Neither does it help enormously that this covers much of the same ground as last year's rather well-made profile piece, Nowhere Boy. The disparity with the earlier film only makes it more confusing- did Lennon recall the trauma of That Day In Blackpool when he was in his teens or after the Beatles disbanded? You can see why this part of Lennon's life appeals to dramatists, but putting it into every adaptation feels like each writer is trying to capitalise on what's most interesting about him to them, rather than finding new perspectives.

It's particularly disappointing to see from Jones, who co-wrote Party Animals, the fresh and excellent drama series about political researchers and lobbyists. Nevertheless, the slack is largely created by director Edmund Coulthard, who mixes in news footage of the real John Lennon with the fictionalised version here. Whatever you think of Christopher Eccleston's performance here, he's no dead ringer for Lennon, and while Coulthard was wise to avoid vocal synchronicity by having the actors do their own versions of the music, the reliance on stock footage is jarring.


Eccleston does play the tortured musician and occasional balloon liberator well, with some nice creative aging and de-aging showing Lennon from 1964 to 1971. You know just by his presence that it's an interesting role- Eccleston doesn't seem to be in nearly as many things as some of his peers, but you know his modus operandi is to work hard on roles that appeal strongly to him. Well, maybe not in the case of Gone in 60 Seconds, but his presence is still a mark of quality.

The film is all about his personal dynamics- largely with his father, and how that reflects on his treatment of his own son Julian. If there's a drawback to this, it's that he dominates the screen to the extent of excluding supporting players like former Torchwood regular Naoko Mori as Yoko Ono and Adrian Bower as Pete Shotton. Mori is near unrecognisable as the accredited Beatles-ruiner, aided by the script's objectivity in showing how it was Lennon's decision that he was finished with his band.

The one duff performance I'd pick out is Andrew Scott's as Paul McCartney. OK, so the band is largely ancillary to Lennon's story anyway, but he's distractingly off, in some way. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I was never convinced in the way I was by Eccleston. Beatles fans should also be prepared to once again see Ringo given short shrift. Come on, someone ask him what's happened in his life! There has to be something of interest there.

Lennon Naked adds to the growing pile of worthy Beatles biopics with a strong central performance by Eccleston, but in the end I just didn't think it was as good as last year's Nowhere Boy. With only a little more distance in the souce material and a little less mistrust in the film from the very beginning, this could have been something a little more memorable. It's not indispensable for Beatles fans, but it's worth a watch.

Lennon Naked was broadcast on BBC Four on June 23rd 2010. It's available to UK viewers here on BBC iPlayer until July 5th 2010.

21 June 2010

Summertime is here again...


You can tell it's summer because this is Rotten Tomatoes' UK box office top ten widget thing. There's one Fresh rated film in there and it's flipping Streetdance 3D.

In all fairness, at least two of those are pretty good- Brooklyn's Finest and Prince of Persia, and Wild Target certainly doesn't deserve the 0% Fresh rating it's currently got from 5 official reviews.

As for the rest- this is the length and breadth of what's in cinemas at the moment. And this is why my general indifference to the  World Cup blossoms into rage, especially when the England team's current in-fighting with their manager resembles nothing so much as Mike Bassett- England Manager, an excellent comedy about the tournament that spun off into a considerable less excellent TV series.

The World Cup leads into counter-programming, and that's why the top two are pap that the otherwise more reasonable of the two sexes was somehow brainwashed into seeing.

A sorry state of affairs, particularly when we should really have Toy Story 3 in cinemas like the Americans do. Tut.

20 June 2010

Wide of the Mark

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.


I'm back from Edinburgh and will be putting together my Toy Story 3 video diary and the like later in the week- if you really can't wait, my review went up on Den of Geek this morning. For today though, we have the two other films I saw over the weekend, Wild Target and MacGruber, in exchange for the EIFF picks I missed, The People vs. George Lucas and Jackboots on Whitehall.

17 June 2010

Old and Noir

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

It's a sign of the times when a romantic comedy set in the present day actually looks old compared to a noir thriller based on a pulp novel from the 1950s. Alas, that's the case with Michael Winterbottom's intense and uncomfortable new film, The Killer Inside Me and the latest from romcom arch-bastard Robert Luketic, snappily and misleadingly titled Killers. Hell, both involve killing, so it's all good right? Right?

14 June 2010

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

Far be it from me to say that our two films for today are predictable. The first, Death at a Funeral, centres around a man trying to maintain order at his father's funeral while his entire family pack into one house for this solemn occasion. The second, Brooklyn's Finest, centres upon a cop with just one week until retirement.


Read my reviews after the jump!

13 June 2010

General Update 13/06/2010

Not that I think a lot of you are very intensely interested in my comings and goings, but seeing as how I've kind of given the blog a massive upheaval, gonna give a general update.


Read more after the jump!

7 June 2010

Countdown Conundrum

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

Women are good. Hang on... women are usually good. And as Hollywood thinks the World Cup means the rest of the world just stops, and duly aren't releasing many of their big action features in June, the month ahead in cinema looks to be very lady-friendly with the likes of Killers and Letters to Juliet coming in the next few weeks. To kick it off though, we have two films that prominently feature women that also seem to be targeted at men, 4.3.2.1 and She's Out Of My League. As we shall see, one of these things is not like the other.
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4.3.2.1 marks a sensible progression by Noel Clarke, a director who has the serenity to accept that Hollywood blockbusters will always be more widely shown while at the same time driving for British cinema to be a bit more ambitious. And so here we have a film centring around four women over three days in two different cities, with one big crime affecting all of them. The story is told in vignettes that interconnect over the weekend the film covers, as our heroines respectively deal with parents getting divorced, a resentful adoptive brother, an audition for a prestigious musical education and most pressingly, a diamond heist gone wrong...

Ambition, as I've said, is good, and it certainly pays off in 4.3.2.1, and it looks more stylish and well constructed than many other British films of the last year or so. The price it pays is around a million studio logos at the beginning to appease all of its financiers, just so you're appreciating the effort this kind of film takes in the UK from frame one. The trouble is that it's a little disjointed. When we first meet our protagonists, played by Ophelia Lovibond, Tamsin Egerton, Shanika Warren-Markland and Emma Roberts, they're close friends with big plans for the weekend. As they diverge, the waters are muddied somewhat.

The vignette format makes a two hour film feel a lot longer than it really is. That's not a bad thing if it's consistently good, but the countdown to the ending is so overt that by the time we get to the third segment, you'll looking at your watch and wondering how many more stylised flashbacks to the beginning we'll get. It's this that prevents a good film from being great, in my estimation, and I still enjoyed
4.3.2.1 a lot.

What's good about the film is very good. There's a strong sense of humour running throughout and there's some fine acting too. All four of the leads are fantastic, with Lovibond and Warren-Markland in particular showing off what they can do in their first major roles. Likewise, Roberts and Egerton are very likable. As each of the four parts of the story centres on one of them, it'd be easy to overlook the rest of the cast, but they were excellent too. Any film that casts Nick Briggs, voice of the Daleks, as the face of a supermarket chain has to be good in my book. Clarke himself has a role that appears at first to massage his ego, but is nicely and quickly subverted in the course of the plot's escalation.

Gender politics is an interesting topic in this film, really. If the women are put down, they always go down swinging and they're all very capable of getting even, but you wonder if they had to dispense with their clothes in the process. Clarke wrote the script after someone told him he didn't write women well, and he mostly proves them wrong, but he's at cross-purposes when still trying to avoid alienating the audiences who made him successful, i.e. young men. This is most apparent in a lesbian sex scene midway through, with dynamic camera angles on the naked women, set to blaring house music. Compare this to a relatively chaste hetero scene earlier, which is more important to a character's story than the latter scene and unfolds fairly routinely.

4.3.2.1 may be Clarke's most vigorous film to date, and it just barely overshoots the desired effect. The narrative is somewhat entangled in its structure and the gender politics don't quite balance out. To compensate for empowered women, the men are all of the type you see in adverts- incompetent pillocks. Nevertheless, it's a film about four women who are capable, independent and sexualised without being objectified, well-acted by all concerned. Insert joke about not going to see Sex and the City 2 here. This is the more stylish and entertaining alternative, and it's worth supporting in cinemas if you want to see more ambitious British films.
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I exited the cinema after seeing She's Out Of My League with an immediate need to review it. Not because I have anything hugely important to say about how good or bad it is, but simply for posterity. If I don't review it now, I'll have forgotten all about it by tomorrow. It's about Kirk, an airport security guard who has a chance encounter with Molly, an enterprising events planner and all-around "hot chick". On account of an antiquated system, self-esteem issues abound as the two start dating. We're asked to follow little more than why a "10" would date a "5".

And therein lies the problem. This is a film that is entirely superficial and vacuous. All of the conflict comes from the idea that everyone has a ranking out of 10 in terms of attractiveness. Hottest of the hot would be a 10 and The Elephant Man would be a 1, I guess. What absolute bollocks, especially as a topic for a romcom. I say this not only because I'm probably about a 4 myself, which by this film's logic places me in the rafters wearing half a face mask and lusting after a piano player, but because it sucks any potential romance right out of the film. This is a romantic comedy without the romance!

More than that, because Alice Eve's buxom Molly is "a hard 10", it requires every other character to act like a complete moron around her. If they're not slack-jawed from awe at her cleavage or smile or whatever pixel-perfect bit of anatomy is showcased at any given point, they're being ridiculously misogynistic and sexually harassing her in some way or another. The consequence of all this is that when the film reaches its woobie stages and has morals like "If somebody loves you, then you're a 10 too", it completely dismisses everything that comes before and after.


Jay Baruchel is more or less overshadowed by the superficial goings-on, but he's a much better actor than most of the others who feature here. He can't excavate any memorable moments from the script though, instead reduced to bantering inanely with his three buddies. You know, that dynamic of four friends that hasn't been done a million times since The Hangover alone, never mind The 40-Year-Old Virgin or even Sex and the City. The comedy falls flat more than it soars. At best it manages to hover limply every now and then, mostly courtesy of supporting roles by Krysten Ritter and TJ Miller.

What depressed me most about it was not the systematic approach to romance that prevails for most of the running time- and boy, does that running time feel a lot longer than it's supposed to be- was the credits. It was specifically the writing credit, for Sean Anders and John Morris. They wrote last year's Sex Drive, which had a piss-poor pun for a title but was much better and much funnier than you'd think. The very worst you could say about it is that it's a guilty pleasure, and I can remember that better than a film I saw today. More recently, Anders and Morris penned Hot Tub Time Machine, which I didn't realise until reading around this one. And now here they steal no less than two bawdy setpieces from the first American Pie films and utterly forget to write any jokes that raise anything louder than a small titter.

This film is balls. Trevor Eve, the elder Eve, is well-renowned on British television for taking the lion's share of close-up shots and he appears here with his daughter playing her dad in the film as well. It looks like Alice Eve has inherited his thirst for the limelight, because She's Out Of My League is cinematic onanism for her. More disappointingly than anything else, it is a romantic comedy without romance and without any real laughs. I can feel myself forgetting it even as I type. It's not awful, but it's not sweet, original or likable either, and from the writers of a film I previously enjoyed, it's especially unforgivable.
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If you've seen 4.3.2.1 or She's Out Of My League and want to share your thoughts on the film or on my reviews, please comment below. If you want to rest assured that I'll stop mentioning Sex and the City as a frame of reference from here on out, have no fear- we're done with that.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.


6 June 2010

The Zero Room #4- Silurians and Sunflowers

Back to back, the fifth series of Doctor Who has given us its most reflective story and its most progressive. This post covers the Silurian two-parter The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood (to be referred to henceforth by the latter name to save time) and poignant "celebrity historical" Vincent and the Doctor.

Reviews will contain spoilers, so if you haven't seen the episode yet, toddle over to the iPlayer, or watch BBC Three at some point in the next century's worth of repeats.
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Aiming for Rio, the TARDIS rocks up in a tiny Welsh mining village in the near future at the beginning of Cold Blood. There, an enterprising team of scientists have dug further down into the Earth than anyone has before, but the Earth seems to be fighting back. From beneath the surface, the Silurian race emerges, disturbed by the drilling and annoyed that humanity has evolved all over their former home. The Doctor knows the homo reptilia of old and attempts to broker a peace between the two races.

So that's a leisurely-paced multi-episode story about a drilling project and the Silurians? Classic fans will around about now have noticed that this story's straight out of Jon Pertwee's first season, and it's certainly the best reflection of the classic series since the show returned in 2005. As to the Silurians themselves (whose origins and history I documented over on Den of Geek), they were pretty comprehensively redesigned. The use of prosthetics allowed for expression and some great acting from Neve McIntosh and Stephen Moore, but ultimately, most Silurian stories pan out the same.

What's always been interesting about the Silurians is that they're not really monsters, and that was nicely internalised to their race by Chris Chibnall's scripts, when we see the Silurian military at odds with its high command and its scientists. Arguably a lot more monstrous was doting mother Ambrose, played with equal measures of weakness and malice by Nia Roberts. The dichotomy between humanity and the Silurians remains interesting even when the ultimate outcome of a stalemate is predictable.


Ambrose aside, Chibnall is eager to write humanity at its best as a counterpoint to all the parochialism between races. To that end, we get Meera Syal on top form as Nasreen Chaudry, who now stands firmly amongst the ranks of Companions Who Never Were. Her excursion to the Silurian city with the Doctor is well acted and Nasreen is a very likable character whose return shouldn't be totally out of the question for Moffat and the crew at BBC Wales. Elsewhere of course, we have Arthur Darvill's Rory sacrificing his life at the end of the episode.

The trouble is, what should be Rory's finest hour is undercut by its relation to the series arc. Is the big twist that Rory is erased from history? Or that his death came from one of those pesky cracks in time? The bit of TARDIS signage the Doctor retrieved from said crack also served to distract from what should have been a much more emotional twist. It was upsetting, yes, but you can't shake the feeling that it was done so quickly that it can't possibly be permanent. I suppose we'll find out in a few weeks' time when the series finale rolls around.

All in all, Cold Blood makes for a sumptuously designed two-parter that gets better as it goes along. So on average, it's fine, and is restrained by the lack of anything particularly fresh for the Silurians to do. A cosmetic makeover does not translate into strong character development. Still, it's the best use of the characters since their inception back in 1970, so that's good to watch. The cast are as capable as ever, but you can't help but wonder if this might have been a much better single episode rather than the leisurely paced two-parter it ended up as.


The events of the previous episode have only vestigial consequences in Vincent and the Doctor. The fairly staid title belies a strong story about Vincent Van Gogh in the final year of his life. When the Doctor and Amy go to an art exhibition and spot a monster in the window of "The Church at Auvers", they have to go back in time and ask the artist about it. They find a man utterly depressed by his lack of success and by his status as a pariah in the community. More importantly, he's distressed by visions of a savage beast that only he can see.

Richard Curtis wrote this episode. You might let that colour your expectations, but I very much went into this one expecting either a really fun romp or a bit of a misfire, in correlation with his Blackadder scripts or his romantic comedies respectively. I'm pleased to say that this is neither, and Curtis has instead created a story that is almost unique in the show's history. It maturely addresses depression and mental illness without ever forsaking the adventure element of the series format. While previous "celebrity historicals" have been of a more romp-y disposition- see this series' Victory of the Daleks, for instance- Curtis is altogether more probing.

The excellent writing is informed by a tour-de-force turn by Tony Curran as Van Gogh. He gives a perfect portrait of an utterly desperate and isolated man, whose life has only gotten worse with the arrival of the Krafayis, a great big parrot-polar bear hybrid who's largely invisible. Even with the necessity for those elements in a show like this, Curran is powerful and emotional. There are few things on television in recent memory more affecting than the out-of-the-leftfield breakdown Van Gogh has at one stage. It's brilliantly compounded by Matt Smith gadding about as Vincent sobs into his pillow, wracked with an intangible misery.


Smith and Karen Gillan rise to the occasion magnificently as well, with Amy Pond suffering from grief over Rory even though she can no longer remember why. Her chemistry with Curran is part of what makes the episode so compelling. Well, that and the cameo appearances by national treasure Bill Nighy. Nighy facilitates the episode's most moving scene as he describes Van Gogh's legacy with the overwhelmed artist himself within earshot. It's a shame that director Jonny Campbell doesn't trust us to be touched by this scene alone, laying "Chances" by Athlete all over it in a soundtrack choice that verges on being cloying and mawkish.

There are other problems with the episode. Like Amy's Choice, an episode this isn't quite as good as, it's better as a piece of drama than as an episode of Doctor Who. But while the Dream Lord and the pensioners could keep kids engaged, I have to wonder if the younger audience were confused and upset by the goings-on. Here we had the Krafayis, which was nicely designed but not particularly well-rendered, as special effects go. It wasn't embarrassingly bad, but it was more effective as an invisible monster than in the moments where we actually see it.

Vincent and the Doctor is something unexpected and fresh for the celebrity historical type that saw so much use through the Russell T. Davies era. We're still expected to take as read that Van Gogh is a genius as with Shakespeare and Agatha Christie before him, but Curtis actually goes to considerable lengths to show us why. In many ways that makes it the best since The Girl in the Fireplace. It's not the kind of episode you want to see every week, but you never want this standard of writing to go away. With luck, Richard Curtis will return to the series in the future, but if another episode never materialises, there's still a lot to admire in this.
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I'll be back in three weeks' time with reviews of the final stories of the current series. Until then, why not share your comments below?

The next episode of Doctor Who, The Lodger, airs on BBC One and BBC HD on Saturday 12th June at 6.45pm.

3 June 2010

The Most I'll Ever Pay To See One Film...

Frequent readers of this blog (the appeal to improve your quality of life is ongoing) will know that I'm fairly buzzed about one film this summer. It continues the legacy of characters very near and dear to me. This third instalment is sure to be the film that everyone of all ages wants to see this summer.


NOT THAT! This!

Yep, Toy Story 3 is coming. In the UK, it's coming a month later than America and several other territories get it. It's funny how Disney then use this film in the summer's anti-piracy ads in cinemas, as it seems likely to be the most pirated film of the year. The platform releasing will see to that. But hey, Disney usually screws the UK over a bit on these things.

The main thing is, I'm getting around that in the way only an obsessive fan can- I'm going to see the film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival's 3D gala screening on June 19th. It's still one day after America gets it, but better that than one month.

On the down side, with accomodation and travel in addition to the ticket cost, this is going to set me back about £100. As a student who hasn't been able to find a proper job for the summer, that's only cheap if you say it quickly. Onehundredquid.

So you'd better believe that for that amount of money, I'm going to be covering Toy Story 3 for all it's worth on this blog and wherever else will allow me to ramble on about it.

Just so you know.

1 June 2010

Alternative Vote

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

Did anyone else get a nasty surprise at their local cinema this past weekend? It seems the film where women sink to men's level rather than prove themselves strong and independent is on four screens in Cineworld Middlesbrough. Troubling, but as the great Dr. Kermode says, it's not specific to anyone, and stupid people of all genders, ages and sexual persuasions can enjoy Sex and the City. For sensible people everywhere, there are alternatives- The Losers and [REC] 2.
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Based on the Vertigo comic series, The Losers are a crack force of commandos framed for a crime they didn't commit. Yes, it goes there- the comics actually satirise The A-Team to some extent, which would be less conspicuous if there weren't a film version of that series due out in July, being advertised before this one in cinemas. Anyhoo, at the top of the plot, our heroes survive an assassination attempt by their handler, Max, and go into hiding. They're galvanised to get revenge by the appearance of Aisha, who knows Max's whereabouts.

Yes, comparisons to The A-Team loom large, but it needs to be said, this is what Joe Carnahan should have done with the upcoming blockbuster. Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper and Sharlto Copley are all promising, and if Carnahan's film is half as fun as The Losers, we'll have no problems whatsoever. What so few action directors seem able to carry off these days is a film that's cheesy without being stupid, silly without patronising the audience, and for most of this film, you'll have a whale of a time.

Are there problems with it? Bucketloads. For one thing, it feels like someone at some stage decided to scale the film right back, looping a lead around its neck and letting it bark at the audience without any real bite. The 12A certificate neuters the film somewhat, and after a really dark and unsettling twist around five minutes in, the script reclines into juxtaposing a cock-fighting scene with the bloodless violence of the rest of the film. It can't keep a straight face long enough to be taken seriously, but neither is it parodic enough to be an outright satire.


On balance, this is a modestly budgeted run at blockbuster success too. It cost $25 million to make, but that makes the obvious if implacable presence of the studio leash only more disappointing. It doesn't try to innovate all that much. Oh, and it's not a spoiler to say so, but leaving things open for a sequel sometimes works. In the case of The Losers, it means leaving the story largely incomplete, departing with an ominous note that's instantly undercut by a nice post-script and a slapstick post-post-script before the credits. I don't think it's quite made enough at the box office to deliver on that promised sequel either.

What sets it apart from louder and worse directed fare is its performances. As Max, Jason Patric is more or less a Bond villain of the 1990s variety, played for laughs, and somehow he still fits perfectly into a tonally uneven film. He shares most of the film's laughs with Chris Evans. Somewhere along the line, the strapping and charismatic Evans actually pulls off the loveless dork role, giving a great comic performance that makes you wonder why he's not a bigger star yet. To tell you about any of his funny scenes would be to divulge the best punchlines in the whole film. A far cry from leads Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Zoe Saldana, who are both playing characters viciously wronged by Max, but they largely trot through the script with only the merest modicum of passion and interest.

The Losers comes out as the boisterous guilty pleasure that it is on account of its sense of humour and the acting from Patric and Evans. There's next to nothing new about it and it's generic in some of the worst ways imaginable. It deals in MacGuffins and stock characters, but bloody hell, it was lively. So many other straight-to-DVD actioners or rushed out studio tentpole features are more feeble than this, and it kept me amused throughout. If Carnahan can flesh out the bare bones on show here in time for The A-Team proper, it'll be one of the best films of the year. If not, there's always The Losers. Or The Expendables, maybe.

The Losers is now playing in cinemas nationwide.
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You've seen The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity. If not all of them, at least one, I'll bet. The "found footage" sub-genre of horror has been getting a thorough workout lately, and now directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza return with a sequel to one of the most well-received examples, [REC] 2. You may take it as read that there will be spoilers for [REC] from here on out. Starting just fifteen minutes after the chilling conclusion to the first film, Plaza and Balagueró pick up with a four man SWAT team being sent into the quarantined apartment building full of possessed "zombies". They're led by a gung-ho priest who insists that their mission, above all else, is to secure a sample of possessed blood in order to create an antidote to er... the Devil.

It's a comparison I made about the Weeping Angels episodes of Doctor Who a few weeks back, but [REC] 2 is to [REC] what Aliens is to Alien. It broadens the scope of the original, and thus your enjoyment will very much depend on whether you liked the religious twist at the end of the first film. It's back in a big way here, accumulating nods to James Cameron's film with its team of grunts, as well as both The Exorcist and John Carpenter's The Thing. It's not the most original film ever, but it is expertly and ruthlessly executed.

One thing that seems to have been dispensed with since the first film is the character development, and we're instead given four pretty indistinct SWAT guys under the command of Jonathan Mellor's excellent Dr. Owen. The man behind the camera this time around, Rosso, inherits a problem from his predecessor in [REC], Pablo. He's never really a character, often remaining mute to document what the on-screen characters are doing instead. I think the only film that's got around this problem is Cloverfield, in which Hud is likeable and always present even though he rarely turns the camera on himself.

These are merely minor problems with [REC] 2 in the grand scheme of things, and I found it to be a blast. If character development falls by the wayside, it's because the writers and directors are driving forward with the muscular mythology that bulks up the threat of the first film to something much more frightening without explaining it away entirely. To detractors, I'd say that I'm an atheist too, but I still enjoyed the religious terror at work here. There is the aforementioned debt to The Exorcist, but where the filmmakers excel, as they did with [REC], is in innovatively treating material you've seen before.

To come back to Aliens again, it should be said to avoid disappointing anyone that [REC] 2 simply isn't as outright terrifying as the first film, but it's just as exhilarating. Minute for minute, it probably held my interest better than [REC], as well as most other films I saw this year. Erring more on the side of action, it is brutal and pared down to the bone in a way that keeps the thrills consistent throughout its running time. Its biggest achievement is not merely surpassing the original, but in also standing as a perfect companion to it- both are fairly short and crying out to be watched as a double bill by avid fans. If the sequel hook embedded in this one's killer ending is followed up, let's hope it makes for an excellent trilogy.

It won't please everyone, but [REC] 2 is that rarest of beasts- a horror sequel that at the very least matches its predecessor for quality. It seems churlish to complain about characters being given less attention in a film that kept me on the edge of my seat while still caring about what happened to our protagonists. World cinema continues to dominate the field in the horror genre with a smart and exhilarating sequel. Roll on [REC] 3.

[REC] 2 is now playing in selected cinemas nationwide.
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If you've seen The Losers or [REC] 2 and want to share your thoughts on the films and/or my reviews, why not comment below. If you want to accuse me of being sexist for dismissing that other film, I refer you to Mark Kermode and Lindy West- don't waste my time with a comment.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.