Saturday, 27 April 2013

Zombieland (2009)

Many now respected directors started their careers in the zombie splatter genre.  Peter Jackson made his bones with Bad Taste (1987) and Braindead (1992), Sam Raimi first made Within the Woods (1978) and more famously The Evil Dead (1981).  More recently Zack Snyder’s first feature film was a visceral remake of the George A Romero classic Dawn of the Dead (2004), and Edgar Wright’s first feature was Zom-Rom-Com Shaun of the Dead (2004) (though I’m intrigued as to what his video short “Fun Dead” starring Keith Chegwin is like!).  So given that Zombieland is director Ruben Fleischer’s first feature length film, perhaps we can expect interesting things from him in future (though I didn’t hear amazing things about Gangster Squad (2013)).

Zombieland is definitely more in the vein of Shaun of the Dead than Bad Taste, less of the over the top gore (though there is plenty of that too).  Narrated by the main character Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) we are quickly introduced to the 5 rules for surviving a Zombie attack (cardio, double-tap, beware of bathrooms, buckle up and travel light), and after that the film is full of dark, gory humour.  Jesse Eisenberg is a likeable main character; a quiet conscientious kind of guy who seems to have applied logic to the zombie apocalypse, and so far his brain has kept him alive.  Tallahassee (Woody Harrleson) is a maniac in search of a Twinkie, whose unbridled joy at battering zombies has kept him alive; and though he seems an unlikely friend for Columbus, they get on together and form an unlikely alliance.  Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin complete the human cast, and they are both fine, but don’t really have as substantial a role as Eisenberg or Harrelson.

From the opening steady-cam tracking shot, and the subtle background CG effects to the way that the text for “The Rules” is integrated into the film, it is apparent that thought has gone into the making of Zombieland.  Ruben Fleischer is suitably inventive with his shots and camera work, so that the movie clips along nicely and keeps us down amongst the characters for much of the time; all helped by Cloverfield DP Michael Bonvillian.  The zombie effects are a mixture of practical and visual effects, but despite all of the blood being computer generated everything looks suitably gooey and convincing.

Everything amounts to a great little film with a wicked sense of humour, Eisenberg and Harrelson play off each other really well and enough is done differently to keep the zombie genre fresh and exciting. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Blade II (2002)

Before Guillermo del Toro found mainstream recognition with his two Hellboy films, he directed the second of the Blades.  This second installment is far more entertaining than the first, probably because it's simply a better film.  The first 5 minutes are more creative and dynamic than the entire first film; the cast are a lot better, and at no point do vampires try to be day-walkers by wearing sun block!

Wesley Snipes seems to have settled into his role a little, and doesn't seem as stilted as he did in the first film.  Surprised as I was that Luke Goss was great as Prince Nuada in Hellboy 2, I wasn't aware that del Toro had used him before; he was very convincing as the mutant vampire Nomak.  And he's not the only surprise; Cat from Red Dwarf (Danny John Jules) features as a vampire in the first half of the film!  I was a bit disappointed that Tony Curran wasn't used more though; he's great as Marcus in Underworld Evolution and wonderful as Vincent van Gogh in Doctor Who.  Ron Perlman is Ron Perlman playing a vampire, and is therefore quite cool. So the standard of acting is a significant improvement from the first film.

The plot was one of the (highlights is too strong a word given the inconsistencies I didn't like) lights of the first film, and there is no disappointment here either.  A more consistent and engaging story, and even a little twist; David S Goyer showing that he is continuing as an inventive writer worthy of his plaudits.  I have quite a soft spot for Vampire mythology movies (Underworld and Evolution are real guilty pleasures), so I was rather disappointed by the first Blade; happily Blade 2 belongs to the guilty pleasure pile, helped by creative direction a smart story and a pretty decent cast.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Scanners (1981)

Probably most famous for THAT scene, Scanners has more to offer than exploding heads.  Ok, so it is an iconic scene and rightly deserves that status, but there is actually a great story in there too.  Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) has a powerful telekinetic power but without guidance can't control it; because of this he is living as a bum.  When Dr Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) who works for ConSec (a company which OCP from Robocop is surely based on) takes him under his wing, Cameron learns to control this "scanning" power and is sent on a mission to find a very powerful and dangerous scanner called Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside).

I really like this film; it is a well written story and David Cronenberg is creative in his direction.  There are several instances of mundane scenes that are made noticeable by the movements the camera makes.  I love the 70s vibe and the almost animalistic noises when someone is being scanned.  Add to this Howard Shore's rather weird but perfectly placed score and the result is a slightly unsettling film whose atmosphere really sticks with you.

Scanners is not without its faults; probably most obvious is the acting, which is average at best.  That is of course except for Michael Ironside who is brilliant as the unhinged Darryl Revok.  Though the only substantial piece of dialogue he really has is during his final confrontation with Cameron, Michael's Revok has a presence that casts a shadow over the whole film.  This can't be said of Stephen Lack though; I can't quite decide whether he just can't act; or if that is how Cronenberg wanted the character played, and Stephen's William Hague-esque voice just doesn't do him any favours.

The special effects are suitably gooey, very much in the style of The Thing.  Of course the highlight is the exploding head, achieved with a shotgun behind a prosthetic head full of offal.  Almost because of the early spectacular scene, it's easy to overlook the final confrontation which is also fairly spectacular, Cameron clawing at his own face is pretty gruesome.  Though the final reveal is a bit perplexing.

Scanners does look very dated, a fact that I think would distance an audience looking for slick special effects and not much else; but look beyond this and you realise that the film is so much more.  After all, no one ever accuses The Italian Job of being rubbish just because it looks old.  Scanners deals with themes of social misfits (rather like the mutants in X-men) and corporate/scientific conspiracy; everyone loves a good conspiracy.  Cronenberg would revisit the scientific meddling perhaps more famously in The Fly.  Maybe not the most original ideas, but Scanners manages to squeeze a hell of a lot into 90 minutes, and does it with style. That maybe a 70s style, but with such a strong script and a great Michael Ironside, that style works really well.