Resident Evil

*Originally written in 2004

What had the potential to be one of the greatest zombie movies ever is let down by poor studio choices – mainly distancing itself as far from the games as possible. However, it remains a solid action movie if not the terrifying, emotional, complex horror it could have been. Admittedly, truly bringing the game to life for a two hour movie would be an extremely difficult process, and those making it could easily have made a mess, mangling the characters and story. It has always been my opinion that the games should be made into feature length TV movies or a high budget series. This way everything would fit in, and the budget would not need to be great. Of course this is just a pipe dream, and what we have is not as bad as some make out, with many good points.

The film starts with an outbreak at the Umbrella facility. Chaos ensues, and everyone appears to die. We then meet Alice, a woman inside an eerily empty mansion at night. She does not know who she is, and only has flashbacks of her life. Soon a group of marines enter, assuming she is a civilian, and along with the other survivors they try to work out what happened to the facility. They quickly find out that everyone has been turned into zombies by an evil computer program and worry about how to escape. Alice is not what she first appears to be, and neither are some other survivors.

The main problem with the film is that there is little fear created, and it is insanely watered down, with little gore. Fans of the series are used to high tension, jumps, threat and bloodshed, but this is simply not present here. Most of the marines are wiped out in a room which shoots high powered, cutting lasers, while only one is killed by a zombie. The Licker effects are okay, but there are no Hunters, Spiders or Tyrants. As well as this, most of the marines get small roles, look similar, and we fail to feel anything for them. Now the good points; Jovovich is very good in the role and there are a few decent twists, like the game. The way her mysterious past is revealed is clever and well-balanced alongside the escape plot. The star though is Michelle Rodriguez, giving an excellent, physical performance akin to Vasquez in Aliens. The action scenes are dealt with well, especially those involving the dogs, sets and lighting feel authentic for the series and the direction is solid. The film makes a good attempt at creating an original story, and it is left open for a sequel. Of course, us fans would have loved to see Wesker’s antics and our favourite STARS members being picked off. Maybe one day the games will make truly great movies, but why complain when we still have the games. Obviously a let down for fans, but still a pretty good action film.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Resident Evil!

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The Visit

Okay, okay, Mr. Shyamalan – I enjoyed The Visit. Even the corny humour and the pre-requisite twist worked for me and while there is absolutely nothing ground-breaking or new here, it’s a perfectly entertaining horror movie that I still struggle to find a target audience for – is it form regular horror fans? Is it for kids? Does it matter? I have no idea.

Shyamalan jumps on the found footage band-wagon with The Visit – the conceit being that our two lead characters want to document meeting their grandparents for the first time. This is the 21st Century, and our two leads are tweens, so this is perfectly believable. Less believable is the fact that they are sent off on their own, across country, to meet their grandparents without having the faintest idea what they look like or without their mum dropping them off. The film wouldn’t work if those things happened of course, but it’s a silly setup nevertheless. The grandparents seem lovely, even if the generational gap means things are awkward, but they all seem to get on. There are house rules, such as going to bed early and not leaving your room after 9.30, and not going in the basement, but we accept those because old people are weird. Time passes, things get weirder, and twisty twist time comes.

The twist becomes more apparent as the movie progresses – it’s Shyamalan so you know shenanigans are afoot. Mercifully, the twist isn’t left to the final moments but revealed fairly early, setting up an interesting finale. There are some inspired moments which allow the faintest dread to creep in – playing under the house is jumpscare bait, but fun, and the cleaning the over sequences recall our childhood Hansel and Gretal fears. I won’t go so far as saying there’s supposed to be any deeper level of generational paranoia going on here – the fear of aging, of the mentally ill, or of dying for example – the set up seems too silly to allow such thoughts. You will be left with questions – spoiler alert – why is this couple living at the house after all this time and why do they consent to the kids coming? You can’t throw around ‘they’re crazy’ as an answer for everything.

The film works because the four leads are all believable and watchable. Even the son (Ed Oxenbould), with his annoying raps somehow comes off as funny to me when there’s no good reason he should. Olivia DeJonge gives a nice twist on the final girl trope, while both Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie are effective pre and post twist. How the kids aren’t destroyed mentally after this is a wonder – maybe they’ll crop up again as Shyamalan experiments with his own Extended Universe. So yes, I enjoyed it in spite of myself – it’s silly but feels like a good popcorn flick – light scares, some laughs, and a twist which most likely won’t catch anyone off guard, and a return to commercial success for someone once hailed as the next big thing.

Red Heat and Red Sonja double review

*Originally written in 2003

Another of Arnie’s minor 80’s hits which sees him play a KGB agent who must team up with the wise-cracking Art, played by James Belushi, to find an escaped Russian drug dealer. There is plenty of comedy between the two, Arnie maintains his most stern face, and the action is okay. It just lacks the real spark or something special which made his classics…special classics…

The cast is pretty good, with Fishburne and Gina Gershon giving decent minimal support while O’Ross is an average bad guy. The plot is basic, the script is fine, but there is not enough action to keep the film moving at a fast pace. While there are some good one-liners and it is all light-hearted, this was the peak period of buddy movies, and there are better -Arnie himself has made a few. Up against those more obvious buddy action movies, this seems stale and by the numbers. It is true that Arnie was beginning to show his comic side – he is a funny guy, and would go on to make both better action movies and comedies. Arnie fans will enjoy it, others will find some entertainment from it, but it has few memorable moments to keep us coming back for more.

Red Sonja (also written in 2003)

Rather than make another Conan film, someone decided to make this unofficial spin-off fantasy yarn staring Brigitte Nielson as Sonja and Arnie as Kalidor. The Evil Queen Gedren steals a mystical talisman from a group of virginal priestess warriors, and butchers them all in the process. She plans to unleash a great evil on the world, but one of her victims was the sister of Sonja, a fearless warrior. Sonja decides to find Gedren, stop her plans, and get revenge. On her way she meets an impudent young Prince and his servant, and Kalidor – a great swordsman. Together they try to save the world, but Kalidor and Sonja still wish to prove to each other who is the superior fighter.

Unfortunately the whole film looks cheap, and most of the effects aren’t great. Even the sweeping camera-work used to great effect in Conan the Barbarian is nowhere near as good here, and the plot is basic. Arnie is good in the role, but his part is not very big. Nielson is okay, credit must go to both for their training and stunt-work, but she fails to show any worthwhile emotion. The character is not given much depth, focused on revenge rather than going through any grieving process. The young Prince is constantly annoying, but he and his master do provide a few laughs. Sandahl Bergman is good as Gedren, but she has begun to be typecast which is unfortunate as she is a fine actress. The action is good, but without proper involvement in the story it seems hollow. Arnie fans should enjoy it, but it is vastly inferior to his later and prior classics.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of either of these two movies – low ranked in the Arnie canon, or a personal favourite?

Raw Deal

*Originally written in 2003

In the eighties Arnie was the action movie King, but Raw Deal is not one of his best. The plot is simple and though there is a lot of action, it is average stuff and there are few memorable moments.

Arnie stars as Mark, an ex FBI agent, now a small town sheriff. When a mob boss murders a group of people including the son of Harry Shannon, an old friend of Mark’s, Harry enlists Mark to infiltrate the mob guy Patrovina’s business, and ultimately get revenge. Mark fakes his own death, changes his identity, and goes undercover. Soon follows much mayhem and explosions as Arnie tries to prove his loyalty to Patrovina while avoiding suspicion by the henchmen. Ninety minutes later, Arnie and the bad guys have a final showdown. You may forget that somewhere his wife is waiting.

This is simply an excuse for Arnie to show his muscles, his deadpan delivery, and crunch a few bones. The action and stunts are okay, there are a few good one-liners (such as the one involving drinking and cake making), and the film is pretty relaxed in spite of all the violence. The cast is pretty good, Robert Davi and Arnie have good chemistry, and everyone seems to ham it up and enjoy themselves. Oh yeah, why is it every Arnie film has a character, or a reference to someone called Harry? Or Huuaarrry, as Arnie says. It just adds to his legend I suppose…

Let us know in the comments what you think of Raw Deal!

Q – The Winged Serpent

*Originally written in 2003

When I was younger, because of my interest in dinosaurs I would always watch any film with a dinosaur in it. I saw a few of the Godzillas, and watched all the Sinbad and Harryhausen movies. This is one I was always fond of, mainly because it had what I thought was a cool name, and there were always a few scenes that stayed with me. I have still only seen it a few times, it’s rarely shown, and I haven’t seen it on DVD anywhere. I did catch it again recently though and can say now that the effects have aged badly, and it is obviously dated. It has a typical storyline, if a little madcap, but it’s still interesting and good to watch if you get the chance. Some good acting, some cheesy stuff, some laughs, and a good one to show the kids if they have an interest in such things as it is not as scary as Jurassic Park, but still has its moments.

In New York, Police have been receiving reports of a giant flying dinosaur which they of course think is a hoax. Soon however a number of civilians are eaten, snatched off rooftops while sunbathing. This moment I am always reminded of when I watch ‘Marge in Chains’ – the Simpsons episode where Marge is arrested for shoplifting. There is a scene in which Otto is on a rooftop, and the camera swoops down on him from directly above, very similar to what happens in Q. Anyway, Michael Moriarty plays a thief who has just robbed a jewelry store and is hiding in the Chrysler building. There he finds what appears to be a nest, with eggs and parts of human corpses. David Carradine plays the lead cop who soon realises the Aztec God Quetzalcoatl is the beast attacking. Soon Moriarty and Carradine are squaring off, Moriarty the only one who knows where the creature is, and wants to make sure if he makes a deal he will get something in return.

A seemingly silly idea for a film, but no less silly than Godzilla, King Kong, and many other monster movies. It is the same idea, updated for the eighties. Cohen allows some ominous camera-work over the city, meaning we never know when Q is going to attack, or from where, and the relationship between Carradine and Moriarty is interesting. Cohen always seems to choose strange and innovative topics for his film-making, ensuring he has gained a small cult status in the horror community. He has done better films, but this is still good. A strange mix of genres which does not always work, but is worth seeing anyway.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Q The Winged Serpent!

Train To Busan

By now if you haven’t seen Train To Busan you’ve probably at least heard of it – breaking box office records and hearts at a furious pace. If indeed you haven’t seen it, you need to set aside a couple of hours, right now, and watch it – Train To Busan is the horror movie of the year and shows that there is still plenty of life left in the shambling undead genre providing you have the right people behind and in front of the camera.

Train To Busan gets right what many horror films get wrong – character. Too often character is sacrificed for plot, or worse, for kills. I love a good beheading or stabbing as much as the next horror fan, but sometimes we want more – more substance, more feeling and care. Cannon Fodder is all well and good, but the impact when someone we actually like, or actively dislike bites the dust is more powerful and the memory of their death and the associated emotional weight stays with us longer. There’s an old belief/saying/remark that I generally accept as containing a lot of truth – that the best horror films are often made by people who don’t make horror movies. While that’s not true across the board, it does sometimes take a person outside of the genre to bring something truly unique or horrifying to the butcher’s table. While Yeon Sang Ho was no stranger to dark material, it would be difficult to classify his previous work as strictly horror – his debut animated feature The King Of Pigs an unsettling look at violence, class, bullying, masculinity, and the follow up The Fake is an equally divisive, unflinching depiction of religion and abuse of power. Train To Busan was the director’s first Live Action movie, and although he filmed it alongside the animated prequel Seoul Station, it depicts a level of character building and command of genre usually reserved for the greatest directors.

At just under 2 hours, Train To Busan covers a lot of ground and gets off the ground within moments – we meet the ‘bit of a dick’ protagonist – a divorcee who apparently cares more for his job than his young daughter. As her Birthday present, she wants to visit her mother in Busan and her dad reluctantly agrees to take her. As they get on the train we pass by several other characters – a working class tough guy with his pregnant wife, a superior wealthy business men, estranged elderly sisters, and a school baseball team with their own interconnected dramas. Just as the train is setting off, a young, sick, injured woman collapses into one of the carriages and the fun begins as she decides to take a chomp out of one of the train workers. The way the ‘virus’ spreads here is more akin to 28 Days Later where a serious bite will result in death and ‘turning’ in a matter of seconds. Within minutes the train is in chaos, with factions being formed, people being slaughtered, some hiding, some fighting, some locking others away to their doom, all while the train scurries along to its final destination.

The pace with which the virus spreads is matched by the plot pacing and direction. There is rarely a moment to breath or relax without some new twist or threat emerging. The characters from different backgrounds all react to the carnage differently, yet all want to survive. The arguments here are of course reminiscent of NOTLD and Day Of The Dead with each voice and ego demanding to be heard and refusing to accept any other opinion as valid. There are a number of terrific set pieces, from scrolling beat-em up fight scenes through zombie filled carriages, to white knuckle tension filled moments as one group tries to lock out another, to the seeming safety of arriving at another station only to find it completely overrun too. Indeed, most of the excitement and scares of the film come from the pacing and the character driven plot, rather than jump-scares or gore.

While the film has its bloody moments, it isn’t overly gory or off-putting for newcomers. Seasoned horror fans will enjoy the action and invention, while new fans will likely be sucked in by the story which is frequently heartbreaking. The performances from top to bottom are great, something vital when you are relying so heavily on character, and most of the writing is on point too. You’ll have fun guessing who, if anyone, will make it to Busan, and the energetic nature of the film will have you thirsting for a rewatch. This is a highly entertaining, game-changing zombie film which reinvigorates a genre bloated by the procession of Walking Dead episodes and clones and frequently equals the heights that the best of the genre has to offer while encouraging those unfamiliar with these types of movies to get on board.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Train To Busan!

Problem Child

*Originally written in 2003

In 1990 we were blessed with one of the greatest comedies of all time. Problem Child came along just before the more sophisticated Home Alone blew all competition out of the way. Problem Child is nevertheless a film filled with great gags, brilliant acting from everyone, and a witty dark side which few directors can effectively balance. Unfortunately most people see it as nothing more than juvenile and it has become a fairly despised movie. While critics hated it and it seems that it hasn’t found a subsequent audience, it still generated an inferior sequel and spin-off TV series. For me, it will always be an all-time favourite, and even though I first saw it when I was seven or so and can see why it is so hated, I still find it hilarious.

Junior is an orphan. Abandoned by his parents, he did the rounds at various homes, never staying at one place for too long because he didn’t fit in or rather because he was as one character says – ‘wicked’. Junior finds himself at a Convent school where he soon starts trouble. The Administrator, Peabody (Gilbert Gottfried) knows that the Nuns want to get rid of him, and when he hears that a husband and wife who can’t have kids are looking for a child to adopt, he cons them into taking Junior – everyone’s happy. However, the family soon realise that Junior is no angel and want to get rid of him, but adopted father Ben sees that he is just a lonely kid who keeps getting shoved around. When Junior’s hero – a murderer named the Bow Tie Killer – murders his way out of prison, he pays Junior a visit, kidnapping Junior and his adoptive mother and sending Ben on a rescue mission.

The film has too many funny moments to mention – the opening montage with Junior growing up, the scenes with the nuns, the camping trip, the baseball game, and even small things like – ‘Look a giraffe!’… ‘Look a fist!’ make this film a comedy which deserves so much more respect than it will ever get. The dark side, the violence, these are neatly balanced by the fact that Junior just wants to be loved, and the film can be seen as an effective satire on the whole adoption process where children can often become numbers or forgotten in a system. John Ritter is perfectly cast as the father, Jack Warden is brilliant as old fashioned Big Ben, Amy Yasbek is good as the annoying Flo, and Michael Oliver puts in a stunning performance, stealing every scene he is in. Unfortunately he seems to have disappeared from the spotlight and never did much beyond the sequel. For all round laughs they do not come much better, and every kid should see this. When you grow up though, don’t hate it just because it seems childish and amateurish, love it as it should be loved.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Problem Child!