Archive for the ‘Movie reviews’ Category

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Toxic Lullaby – a review

May 27, 2011

Toxic Lullaby (directed by Ralf Kemper) is a German indie zombie TV-flick with an interesting premise: a girl goes on a massive drug trip, and when she wakes up, she has no idea who or where she is. Oh, and the world is in shambles. Hooking up with a bunch of mysterious survivors, the girl needs to find out what exactly has happened and what is going on. A nice premise, no? Unfortunately, the execution is lacking.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve said it, but the focal point of a zombie movie are its characters. Toxic Lullaby has lots and lots of those. Sadly, they’re all left at the “cardboard cut-out” level, basically just names and faces. That is TL’s biggest failing. Throughout the film not one of the characters is even a bit likeable, mainly because there’s nothing to like. Actually, there’s not even much to dislike.  In a zombie/survival movie this is a huge miss, since you usually want your viewers to bond with the survivors. Instead, what we have here is just a bunch of people running around. This is strike one for Toxic Lullaby.

The film goes for a very trippy feel, kind of like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas without the humour and in German. This is actually done quite well, as there is a genuine feeling of disorientation and trippyness. The downside is that it’s very hard to connect with the movie, as it seems to lack coherence. There are the unknown people mentioned above, and they’re doing things in unkown places for unknown reasons and motives. Sure, this is what it would feel like for the main character. For the viewer, however, it gets very frustrating after a while: “Who are these guys? Who are those guys? They came here because…? Now why did he just do that?” This lack of coherence makes Toxic Lullaby somewhat taxing to watch, and accounts for strike two for the film.

Of course in any zombie movie review, attention must be given to the zombies themselves. In Toxic Lullaby they’re called sleepers, as they’re mostly inactive during daytime. The zombies are pretty basic, just people in quick makeup akin to Romero’s first two films. The sleepers pop up every now and then, when they attack and usually kill someone. This is sadly done in fairly lazy action scenes with not much intensity. And of course, the characters killed are the non-characters mentioned above, so their killing isn’t much cause for drama. Also, the zombies seem to be almost like an afterthought. The movie mainly focuses on a broken-down society, with the sleepers simply adding a bit of a random element to it. As with the characters and the plot, the zombies lack focus. Why are they there? How big of a threat are they, actually? Because of this lack of focus, even the sleepers’ shining moment of mass destruction doesn’t convey the feelings it should. Zombies – strike three for Toxic Lullaby.

After all this honest and somewhat brutal critique, I must point out that the film isn’t without its merits. I actually liked the whole post-apocalyptic imagery and the locations that went with it such as abandoned buildings. The ending actually makes the movie make a lot more sense. The trippyness works, if you’re into style like that. It was pretty nice for me. The cinematography was nice, with a good contrast between the post- and pre-apocalyptic worlds. The acting wasn’t too bad, even if it wasn’t anything special either. Certainly decent for a low-budget feature!

Overall verdict: Toxic Lullaby is an ambitious project sadly let down by a lack of focus. With no real characters to relate to and no places or situations to recognize, the viewer is left feeling detached – something you don’t want to happen if you’re making a zombie film. Even with low production values, the film looks nice enough. With a better script Toxic Lullaby could’ve been very good. As it stands, however, I can  suggest seeing it only for its curiosity value.

Toxic Lullaby is available on dvd from Amazon.de as well as other sites.

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I Love Sarah Jane – a review

March 5, 2011

To this day I’ve seen two zombie short films. The first one was Plague, which was awesome. When I ran into another one, I figured that it would inevitably suck. Laws of probability and all that. Imagine my surprise then, when I found out that I Love Sarah Jane – referred to as ILSJ from now on – was actually a nice little packet of zombie cinema.

This Australian 2008 movie, directed by Spencer Susser who is also one of the two writers (David Michôd being the other), tells the story of Jimbo. Jimbo is in love with Sarah Jane, who couldn’t care less. Also, there’s a zombie apocalypse going on and most adults seem to be gone. That’s not really focused on, the most important thing here is young love. I’m not going to give you a scene by scene run-down of the movie. It’s 12 minutes and well worth your time. To sum it up, it’s a bunch of kids making do in a post-zombie-apocalypse world. The fact that the movie is so compact makes it frustrating to review. Saying pretty much anything about the movie would feel like saying too much.

Quality-wise the short is very nice. The cinematography works and the young actors carry their roles nicely. A special mention must be made of the lovely Mia Wasikowska who you might recognize as Alice from the new Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland. The soundtrack is minimal, but effective when it’s present. There is one special effect at the end of the movie which doesn’t quite fit the style of the rest of the film, but it’s a minor quibble. The zombie make-up is top notch, and is clearly a case of quality over quantity.

Zombie movies are all too rarely shown from a child’s point of view. Kids are usually relegated to one of two roles, those two being the annoying cute kid to protect or the vicious, shocking demon child. In ILSJ, the kids are real characters, and in fact the only characters in the film. They’re mostly none too bright either, so they come across as  a realistic rendition of their subject matter.

Overall verdict: If you’re in for a 12 minute dose of well-made zombie cinema, you could do a whole lot worse than see ILSJ. It’s a compact, even minimalist story which nevertheless manages to convey a lot. The movie blends the bleak atmosphere of the zombie apocalypse with a small dose of genuine warmth, and the result works. Lovely!

Thanks to the wonders of a series of tubes, you can view the movie below. Now would be a great time to watch it.

More wonderful short films (sadly lacking zombies) can be found on the site of Blue-Tongue Films.

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Rammbock / Siege of the Dead – a review

February 4, 2011

First of all: Siege of the Dead is yet another boring, unoriginal name given to a zombie movie. Or any …of the Dead for that matter, not including Shaun. So in this review I will be talking about a movie named Rammbock, which you might see sold under the title Siege of the Dead. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get on with the review, shall we?

Rammbock is a German short movie (albeit with a 59 minute running time) by Marvin Kren and Benjamin Hessler about, yes, a zombie catastrophe. It’s a story about a man named Michael who comes to Berlin to find his girlfriend and then things go wrong. Sounds simple? It is.

Rammbock’s a very well put together film. The scenes are intense, the pacing is nice, the cinematography solid and the soundtrack fine too. Come to think of it, this is one of the nicest looking, feeling and sounding zombie movies I’ve seen in a while.

How often have you found yourself watching a zombie movie, and thinking what you would do in a situation like that? I do it a lot, and so one of my most important criteria when reviewing zombie flicks is how believable the actions of the characters are. Rammbock excels here. The main character is what you might call an average Joe. Maybe even a bit below average. He’s under the heel of his significant other, balding, a bit neurotic…come to think of it, he’s pretty much one of the supporting characters that gets bumped off early on in zombie cinema, except that now it’s his time to shine. None of the other characters are action heroes either. There are no cops or military types. They have no guns or fire axes, nothing like that. There’s a slingshot, a digital camera and a cell phone, though.

I mentioned the movies pacing before. Rammbock’s well crafted, and the story flows along pretty nicely. There is enough peace and quiet to make the action interesting, and enough action to keep the movie from getting dull. The 59 minute running time is right about perfect, and I think a lot of zombie movie makers could learn from this. If you don’t have a story for a 90 minute movie, don’t stretch 60 minutes worth of story into 90. There’s an hour’s worth of story in Rammbock, and that hour is well spent. I salute the movie’s creators for managing to make a 59 minute movie and still leave room for character development and quiet, beautiful scenes. The movie even feels a bit artsy at times, in a good way. It’s more about the feelings of despair and loneliness in a terrible situation than about howling bloodthirsty undead cannibals, even if they’re present.

So, anything wrong with the movie? Not much in my opinion. It might be a bit too slow a peaceful for some people, and some might not like the whole artsy feel. While I’ve commended the movie’s pacing, it did feel just a bit rushed towards the end.

Overall verdict: Rammbock is a great little movie, and I think it’s one of the most realistic (for want of a better word) portrayals of a zombie catastrophe scenario, with believable characters, an everyday setting and not too much heroism. Since it’s not brimming with over the top violence and action, it’s also one of those movies that might be worth showing to people who usually aren’t too partial to zombie flicks.

There’s one thing I need to point out here. I find it atrocious that a film like Rammbock is quickly slapped on dvd, renamed Siege of the Dead and described like this:

With astonishing special effects and a riveting storyline, Siege Of The Dead is a thrilling gorefest laced with pitch-black humour, high tension and shocking scares.

Instead of saying what I said, above. The movie is simply not a gorefest, nor does it have a lot of scares or almost any special effects to talk of.

For crying out loud, the Siege of the Dead cover art (unlike the movie itself) has a helicopter firing missiles. No, really, it has. Compare that to the poster shown at the start of this post, and there are two entirely different films here. Except that Siege as pictured does not exist.

If you can live with the cover, you can get Rammbock (clad in its awful, false skin) for cheap at Play.com or Amazon.

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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.

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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.

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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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