Archive for the ‘Movie reviews’ Category


Predators – a review

July 20, 2010

First off, let me point your attention to one thing. How many blockbuster, shoot’em up action movies star an Academy Award winner? I don’t think there are too many. Predators does. When they announced that Adrien Brody, known for his Oscar-winning performance as the eponymous pianist in The Pianist would star in the newest film of the Predator franchise, I doubt I was the only one who nearly choked on his coffee. How could the skinny, quiet, sad-looking man possibly play the lead role in a sequel to a movie starring a young Arnold Schwarzenegger – in his physical prime and speaking almost unintelligible English? He nails it.

Let’s get back to Brody and the rest of the cast a bit later, and start from the top. The concept of Predators is simple: a bunch of dangerous people are kidnapped and dropped on a strange planet for the Predators’ private safari. What follows is just what you would expect: big guns, explosions, jungle getting torn to shreds, gory deaths and Predators, Predators, Predators. Apart from the plural Predators, these are precisely the elements that made the original Predator film a scifi/horror/action classic. The big question here is whether Predators can bring anything new to the table.

Predators has been bashed for being unoriginal, of being nothing but a cheap remake of the 1987 film, of having no substance. I have to disagree. While there are a lot of references to the first film to satisfy fanboys – such as yours truly – the two films have different concepts, different settings, different plots, different characters and their dynamics and so on. Yes, they’re both set in a jungle. Yes, they both have Predators knocking off members of a heavily armed group of killers one by one.  That’s about it. Oh, there is one excellent similarity: Predators uses the original film’s theme in the soundtrack, and the rest of the soundtrack is also heavily influenced by the score in Predator.

The characters in Predators are pretty much standard fare, mostly one-trick ponies. They have, however, a few things going for them. There are little touches making the characters just a bit more likable/loathable. I like the idea, that the characters as a rule are not heroes. In the original Predator movie (and most action flicks, come to think of it) the main characters are heroes, regardless of the mayhem and death they cause. Not so in Predators, and the movie does make a good effort to make the viewer root for a bunch of monsters, and I’m not talking about the aliens here. The acting is solid and pretty much what you’d expect. As mentioned, Adrien Brody pulls of his mercenary anti-hero very nicely, while Walton Goggins (of Shield fame) manages to create a somewhat sympathetic sick rapist. Which is actually a tad disturbing, now that I think about it. Laurence Fishburn puts in a nice performance too, even if it borders on over-acting. Nimród Antal is a fair director, and gets a good show out of the cast.

I have to mention the storytelling elements in the movie as well. Unlike a lot of movies today, every single thread is not unraveled. There are blanks instead, left for the viewer’s imagination to fill. I’m not talking any big mysteries, just little touches that add colour to the movie. Kind of like that 18th century gun the Predators have at the end of Predator 2, suggesting a lot more than is shown. While on the subject of Predator 2, Predators only mentions the original Predator film, suggesting that Predator 2 and the AVP films aren’t part of the canon. While the AVP flicks are dreck hopefully quickly forgotten, I’ve always liked Predator 2, so it was a bit of a disappointment.

There’s one thing I love above all in Predators: the reliance on makeup and guys in suits over CGI. The Predators look fleshy, heavy and well…real. There’s none of the unnatural lightness and jerky movement that’s there in even the most advanced CGI – such as that in Avatar. The makeup is great, the Predators look absolutely lovely and all the iconic sights and sounds are present. Overall, the movie has a very nice, grimy and physical feel to it, which is essential to a good action movie.

So, any flaws? A few. 10-15 minutes could’ve been cut to keep the movie’s pace up. There are some scenes and plot twists that you can spot coming a mile away, as well as a few problems solved so easily that it reeks just a bit of deus ex machina. The lead female – the only female in the film – plays a very one-dimensional character with next to no development. Come to think of it, she’s pretty much the hero of the film, which is a bit boring, to be frank. Is it the action film makers’ fear of being labeled misogynistic that leads to female lead characters being all nicey-nice, and in general much more ethical, intelligent and caring than the men? See AVP for an awful example – both of a movie and of an über-heroine.

Overall verdict: Predators is a good film, even a great one at times. Do note, that when I talk of a good movie in this review, I mean entertaining. Predators is no Citizen Kane or Godfather, make no mistake. It is, however miles and miles beyond the terrible disappointment of the AVP films, and right up there with the original two films of the franchise. If you’re into scifi action, there’s nothing better available, and probably won’t be for a while. If you’re a fan of the Predator franchise, you can’t possibly miss this.

Here’s the official site.


La Horde – a review

June 28, 2010

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: when it comes to making entertaining zombie movies these days, Europe is soundly kicking the US around. The latest in a line of European zombie goodness is a film that I’ve frothed over before: La Horde, by Yannick Dahan & Benjamin Rocher.

I loved La Horde, and it now holds a place in my mind as one of the top (something) zombie movies ever. And why is that? It’s better than the sum of its parts. Let’s take a look.

The premise of the movie is very simple. Gangsters kill a cop, cops go for revenge, zombie apocalypse happens and cops and gangsters have to work together to survive. Nothing massively original here.

The main characters are pretty much what you would expect. The intelligent but ruthless gangster boss and his murderous, brutal little brother. The tough but mostly honest cops. The crazed French Vietnam veteran…as said, pretty much what you would expect. There is a lot of wasted potential here, with unanswered questions and characters that could’ve easily been given more depth and explored in detail.

The acting is fine. Nothing special, the word “solid” springs to mind.

The dialogue has its moments, but yet again, nothing really memorable. Like the characters, there could’ve been much more here.

The zombies? They’re of the nowadays typical, running variety.

The gore? Existent, but not excessive. Nothing special.

The visuals? Dark and grimy. Lots of quick cuts and even some camera shake. Industry standard.

…and suprisingly out of all these unremarkable elements emerges one of the most entertaining zombie flicks in a while.

Actually, I think that entertaining is the operative word here. While La Horde may lack the social commentary of Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead, the lovable characters of Bio Zombie or Shaun of the Dead or the sheer gripping horror of REC, it is a very enjoyable piece of zombie cinema. It’s both the movie’s strongest and its weakest point: it doesn’t try anything new or fancy, but what it does, it does very well.

La Horde is a poster boy for contemporary zombie movies, and that’s why a review of it turns into a review of today’s zombie movies in general. It looks good, it’s packed with action and consequently paints the zombies as a very immediate, shocking threat, instead of creating the sense of despair prevalent in Romero’s original trilogy. It’s very much a win some-lose some scenario, as some – but not all – character building in the form of dialogue and actor performance must be sacrificed to make room for action. On the other hand it makes for a movie in which action is plentiful and which never really gets boring or creeps along at a snail’s pace.

Overall verdict: Whether you’ll like La Horde depends very much on what you’re looking for in a zombie flick. If it’s character development, a look at contemporary society and moral content, you’ll probably be better off elsewhere. I’m not saying that those things are nonexistent in La Horde, there are simply other movies that focus more on such genre aspects. If, however, you’re in the mood for a grim and gritty French cop flick with zombies, you’re in paradise.

La Horde is coming to DVD on July 7, and should be available in VOD services this summer.

Here’s the official site, and there’s a trailer below if you want to see what the movie is all about.


Plague – a review

March 27, 2010

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m really not into low budget films. While the occasional gem does appear, most zombie flicks on shoestring budget aren’t worth the time spent watching them. Therefore I’m very happy to say that the indie short film Plague blew me away.

Directed by Matt Simpson and produced by Frances Moylan, the 2009 Australian short film Plague tells the story of Vilhelms, a Latvian gun-runner that travels to the UK to escape in search of a new life. As is often the case in this genre, a zombie plague sweeps the nation and Vilhelms is swept along.

Zombie movies are all about characters. Zombies as such aren’t really interesting, but the survivors’ reactions are. This is what I liked most about Plague. It’s simply a low-key story of one man’s survival in an apocalyptic scenario with a voiceover narration from the character. The film manages to capture that “what would I do?” feeling so crucial in zombie stories. What you have here is an ordinary guy. Sure, he’s done some gun trafficking, but that doesn’t make him an action hero even if he uses a gun a few times in the film. Whether he’s hammering zombies, cooking beans or shaving, you can relate to Vilhelms.

While I’m not into low budget stuff in general, I love good short films. They’re usually made by young indie film makers who aren’t forced to conform to larger studio standards nor to cater to the needs of the general public. Also they’re not burdened by the need to create a full-length feature, so what we’re left with is a very concentrated, intensive piece of cinema. Plague has a running time of approx. 16 minutes, which is just about perfect. The story is told in full, not dragged out or cut short.

The crew on this film is obviously very, very talented. Makeup is easily on the level of big budget zombie films in terms of quality, and there are enough zombie extras (19, to be exact) to create a convincing scenario. The cinematography is excellent, and this is probably the artsiest zombie flick I’ve seen, definitely in a good way. I hope that Mr. Simpson has a chance and the drive to work on more zombie projects, as I’d love to see a full-length film of this quality.

Overall verdict: Plague is one of the nicest pieces of zombie cinema I’ve seen in a while. It’s inspired, clearly a labour of love and definitely makes the most of – and surpasses – its meagre production values. There’s absolutely no reason not to see it.

You can watch Plague for free at the official website. And when I say can, I mean should definitely now go.

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