31 October 2012

COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES- Review

As with last Halloween, I've caught up on a recent horror comedy release for this most spooktacular of occasions. Nobody's called me on this, but I did find myself wondering if it might have been better to dig out a really, properly scary horror flick and chat about it, but then great horror, like great comedy, doesn't lend itself to recommendations that explain all that's good about it. However, good horror comedies are hard to find, and I reckon Halloween viewing should be more fun.

Cockneys vs. Zombies fits the bill, and shortly after a shamefully limited release in cinemas at the end of August, it's arrived on DVD and Blu-ray in time for Halloween. Co-written by James Moran, who gave us some gritty thrills in the recent Tower Block, it's a cheeky and clever romp through the East End of London, which has a nasty infestation of zombies. The rise of the living dead actually helps brothers Andy and Terry to make a clean getaway, after robbing a bank for the funds to save the care home where their beloved granddad, Ray, is living. But while these aren't sprinting zombies, not everyone can outrun them, and the brothers set about trying to rescue Ray and his elderly mates.

26 October 2012

SKYFALL- Review

This review isn't going to contain any spoilers- that comes next week, when I write up my BlogalongaBond entry, and I've had a little more time to let Skyfall settle. I wouldn't dream of spoiling any of its myriad surprises anyway, but as I'm writing this shortly after my first viewing, the thing that strikes me about the film, which is released in the film series' 50th anniversary year, is that it's a film about the old world versus the new, that seamlessly and joyfully integrates both.

In a typically vigorous opening sequence, M makes a judgement call that sees Bond become a victim of friendly fire. He's missing, presumed dead, and M is in deep shit over the information that was lost in this incident- a hard drive packed with details that could endanger undercover operatives all over the world. Three months later, with M and MI6 under scrutiny from the government, and under attack from their enemies, Bond re-surfaces. Unaccustomed to action, he struggles to find the knack again, as he's pitched against the fearsome Raoul Silva.

24 October 2012

MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED- Review

Nobody could reproach you if Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted didn't place strongly on your must-see list. With a whole bunch of interesting family-friendly animated movies still showing, and Skyfall imminent, you needn't have anticipated this third instalment even half as much as the army of young fans who've been watching the first two films on repeat for the last six years or so. Still, what I had failed to anticipate myself is that it would be so surreal.

Up to this point, the series has followed four escaped zoo animals- Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo- on their misadventures around the world, and this new sequel finds them still trying to get home to New York, from Africa. Chasing down the penguins at a casino in Monte Carlo, they come to the attention of DuBois, a fearsome and unnaturally resilient animal control officer who gives chase across the whole of Europe. The gang try to hide out amongst circus animals, and find themselves trying to turn the circus' ill fortunes around by coming up with a new show.

22 October 2012

FRANKENWEENIE- Review

It took a couple of years, but we finally found a reason for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland to exist. When you make a hit that big, the studio who benefits from it the most will likely reward you with a passion project, just as Warner Bros did with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Corpse Bride in 2005. As Alice was a much bigger hit than Charlie, Frankenweenie is proportionately even stranger, as a black-and-white stop-motion movie about resurrecting the dead.

Young Victor Frankenstein lives in the small town of New Holland, more interested in science than making friends. His only real friend is his trusty dog, Sparky, but during a disastrous attempt to appease his dad by playing baseball, Sparky is ran over and killed. Initially devastated, Victor is inspired by the lessons of his eccentric science teacher, and sets about trying to revive his beloved dog with electricity. When the experiment succeeds, it's harder to keep his experiment secret, especially with his jealous classmates sniffing around.

19 October 2012

BlogalongaBond- QUANTUM OF SOLACE Review

It seems that this is one of the least-regarded films of the whole BlogalongaBond marathon, which seems absurd when compared to Die Another Day, Thunderball or A View To A Kill. Then again, Quantum of Solace just goes to show that you can only get so far on having one of the few Bond portrayals in which the character is allowed to develop, and that the rest of it needs to make some kind of sense too. It should at least be more memorable than this turned out, anyway.

This series had never seen such a direct sequel, and is unlikely to ever join up separate instalments in such a manner again, as we begin the film about ten minutes after Casino Royale. Bond is still wounded by Vesper's betrayal, and a disastrous early encounter with Mr. White reveals MI6's ignorance of Quantum, a criminal organisation who operate on a global scale, both within governments and outside of their knowledge. As he investigates, he encounters Camille, a Bolivian secret service agent, who is involved with Dominic Greene, a member of Quantum who is aiding in a coup.

18 October 2012

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4- Review

This review will contain SPOILERS for the first three Paranormal Activity films. Obviously.

The marketing for Paranormal Activity 4 promises that "All the activity has led to this." Since the original film, which took place in 2006, we've had a film that took place simultaneously, and a prequel set in the 1980s, so the setting of the fourth instalment in 2011 would seem to move things forward. Now, having seen the film, it turns out to be a truism as obvious and anti-climactic as "Today will lead to tomorrow", or "Slamming your dick in a car door is not ideal."

2011 marks five years since Katie Featherston murdered her boyfriend and her sister's family, and abducted her baby nephew, Hunter, as seen at the end of the second film and recapped at the start of this one. This time around, teenage Alex and her boyfriend Ben start filming, when her parents agree to look after a young boy who lives across the street, while his mother is in the hospital. There is something off about little Robbie, and Alex is disturbed, both by his relationship with her younger brother, Wyatt, and his tendency to creep around the house at night.

17 October 2012

RUBY SPARKS- Review

Six years after their Oscar-winning success with Little Miss Sunshine, directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have made a follow-up that is somewhat darker than their first film, and yet several shades lighter than it should be, at times. Ruby Sparks is a film conceived by the actress who plays the title character and provided the screenplay, Zoe Kazan, and the project was developed with Dayton and Faris after their collaboration with Paul Dano, who stars in the lead role, on Little Miss Sunshine.

He plays Calvin Weir-Fields, an author who penned a future American classic at the age of 19, and although this has set him up for life, financially speaking, he has since grappled with writer's block and other psychological issues, as he feels the pressure to validate himself with a follow-up. As a homework exercise from his therapist, he writes a story about a girl who likes his dog, with the dog essentially serving as an avatar for Calvin's own anxieties, and suddenly can't stop writing. He even begins to fall in love with the character, which doesn't seem so crazy, once a very real Ruby suddenly manifests in his life.

15 October 2012

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA- Review

Hotel Transylvania doesn't have the Happy Madison banner above the title, but it's more bearable than anything else that Adam Sandler and his troupe of mates have churned out in live-action in the last decade or so. It's a project that's been around since 2006, but perhaps what makes it so endearing is not that it's actually an Adam Sandler film at all, but that it's wound up being the debut feature of Genndy Tartakovsky, who brought us such strange and brilliant stuff as Dexter's Laboratory.

The premise is pretty simple, arriving just after ParaNorman and just before this week's Frankenweenie. Its horror genre literacy is largely based on the iconic monsters that starred in the classic Universal monster movies, and a resort setting in which they can hide from their dreaded human persecutors. So, as he prepares to celebrate his daughter Mavis' impending 118th birthday, Count Dracula welcomes his old buddies, (Frankenstein, the Wolfman et al) and their families to his hotel. But the unexpected arrival of a backpacker called Jonathan sends him into a tizzy, especially when Mavis hits it off with the young human.

10 October 2012

The Zero Room #13- Bye Bye Ponds!

I haven't been doing these episode by episode, as is usual, even though Steven Moffat's approach to the most recent run of Doctor Who has been along the lines of a "mini-blockbuster" each week. Given how completely separate they are, I realised that it would be more interesting to review the first half of the seventh series in terms of themes, and looking into what unifies these five episodes.

Most obviously, these episodes- Asylum of the Daleks, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, A Town Called Mercy, The Power Of Three and The Angels Take Manhattan- are about bidding farewell to the outgoing companions, Amy and Rory, but hey, there's more to this recap than that. Reviews will obviously 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.

8 October 2012

SINISTER- Review

In the past couple of years, I've enjoyed the ghost train brand of horror that comes from cinema experiences like Insidious, The Woman In Black, and the superior Paranormal Activity 3. At the same time, none of those films really put story first, except maybe PA3, as a mythology-building prequel to the first two films. Sinister, co-written by director Scott Derrickson and film critic-turned-screenwriter C. Robert Cargill, succeeds by putting the "story" part of "horror story" first and foremost.

Ellison Oswalt is a true crime novelist who's spent a decade trying to replicate the success of his breakout hit, and has dragged his family through move after move in pursuit of grisly crime scenes. Without telling his wife, their latest move puts them in the house where the previous residents were hung from a tree in the backyard. In the course of his research, Ellison finds a box of old super-8 reels, which show not only the hanging, but the murders of several other families, all connected by the presence of a mysterious figure.

5 October 2012

TAKEN 2- Review

Taken was one of the biggest surprises of its year, delivering a tour-de-force PR campaign that completely reversed the film's fortunes, after an early online leak ensured that even Liam Neeson's nephews had seen the film illegally, ahead of its allotted release date. It's a grimy little B-movie, elevated by a world-class actor whose deadpan performance fired him into the action movie A-list, and it reaped the rewards of the good word of mouth at the box office.

Inevitably, Fox set a thousand monkeys to work on a thousand typewriters, in the hope of recreating a similar thrill. While Taken 2 is certainly more anticipated, it's not necessarily a better film than the original. A year after going to Europe to rescue his daughter Kim, and killing or torturing everyone he encountered along the way, Bryan Mills is now faced with the reality of his little girl growing up, learning to drive and even getting a boyfriend. But it seems that he didn't kill enough people in the first one, because a family holiday in Istanbul is derailed by the vengeance of Murad and his men- how can the same shit happen to the same guy on a different continent?

4 October 2012

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER- Review

When I'm out and about, as my mild-mannered, non-blogging alter-ego, I'm occasionally picked up on being "that film guy" by folks who are out on the town at the same time as me. The two most common discussion points of the last fortnight have been "What did you think of the new film with Gandolfini in it?" (I've seen it, but haven't reviewed because I haven't had the opportunity to see it a second time) and "Why have they ruined Perks by changing Sam into Hermione?"

The Perks of Being A Wallflower, the novel, was apparently a big hit with teens and adults, and it should hopefully come as some solace for readers that the film is written and directed by the author, Stephen Chbosky. Despite having not read the book myself, I'd still imagine that means it's faithfully adapted. In the early 1990s, Charlie is a deeply troubled teen who's just starting his freshman year at high school. He looks set to bury his head in classic literature, and remain alienated from his schoolmates, until his imagination is captured by step-siblings Patrick, a flamboyant performer who, in another, less kind world, might have taken up archery, and Sam, who is, mercifully, not the kind of Manic Pixie Dream Girl that populates lesser films than this.

3 October 2012

SAVAGES- Review

Just because I'm talking about this film now, it doesn't mean I'm going to like it at the end of the review. It's that kind of review. This one has taken a while to write, considering that I finally saw Savages on Monday, and it's been out for a good week or so before that. The question of whether or not it's any good is based on whether or not you go to the cinema to enjoy yourself, or to react to whatever it is you watch.

Oliver Stone's directorial career has been built upon provocative films, and here's another one to add to the list. It's narrated and book-ended by Ophelia, (she prefers "O") who's in a blissful menage a trois with Ben and Chon, California's most successful independent distributors of marijuana. Their idyllic lives are threatened by a Mexican drug cartel that is moving up north. They want to work with Ben and Chon's business, but when they refuse to co-operate, a violent stand-off begins, with O caught right in the middle.

1 October 2012

THE CAMPAIGN- Review

I've been interested in politics on both sides of the Atlantic since my college days, and the time seems ripe for a political satire that centres on the dick-measuring and oneupmanship that surrounds elections in the United States. There's a presidential election coming up in November, and from the 49% of Americans who apparently don't pay taxes, to the debacle that saw Clint Eastwood arguing with an imaginary Barack Obama, there's plenty for a smart, funny film to pick over.

Regrettably, The Campaign isn't that film, but can we hold that against it? The premise would seem to be well-constructed. Congressman Cam Brady has reigned in the 14th district of North Carolina for eight years, unopposed, until a series of scandals leaves him on shaky ground. Unfortunately, at the very same time, a corrupt pair of sibling industrialists bring in a local stooge, Marty Huggins, to challenge Brady, leading to an absurd contest to try and win over the electorate.