Saturday, 16 June 2012
Dead Snow is a 2009 Norwegian horror comedy. Directed by Tommy Wirkola starring Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henrikson and Charlotte Frogner. The film also incorporates elements of the zombie and nazisploitation sub-genres.
The film follows several young Norwegians as they take a vacation to a log cabin in the snowy countryside. Things soon take a turn for the worse as the obligatory crazy old local shows up and warns the group that back in World War II the area was subjected to prolonged torture and oppression of the locals by a Nazi brigade led by Standartenfuhrer Herzog. After the forces raided all of the locals gold and valuables, the townsfolk staged an uprising and chased the Nazis into the mountains where they (along with the gold) still remain. Unfortunately for our group the gold was buried under the log cabin and Nazi zombies begin to descend upon them with very gory results, this leads to a climactic battle between our heroes (armed with chainsaws) fending off droves of Nazi soldiers in attempt to escape the mountainous bloodbath.
Dead Snow is a rip-roaring homage to zom-com classics such as the Evil Dead trilogy and Peter Jackson's Braindead (one of the characters actually wears a Braindead t shirt) but also carves its own mark onto the zombie and Nazi sub genres. The desolate snowy setting freshens things up and makes a nice change from the typical cabin in the woods format and also ties in to the Norwegian culture and history. The zombies also tie in nicely with elements of Norse mythology, a Draugr is an undead creature who typically guards wealth or buried treasure and this incorporation of folklore is a really nice touch and something that I'm sure Norwegian audiences could appreciate a little bit more.
As with many of the horror comedy classics the balance here is spot on. The Norwegian black humour coupled with the really quite impressive gore is great fun and nothing is lost through the subtitles, an element I also really liked was the occasional political satire perfectly captured during the final battle sequence where one of the characters manages to acquire a hammer and sickle and briefly crosses the two before decapitating a Nazi. There's also no attempts to overexplain the plot, we don't know why the Nazis are still alive (or undead) all we know is that they want their gold and our heroes stand in their way allowing the maximum fun and mayhem to unfold without worrying about justifying it to the audience.
Dead Snow is really great fun and combines horror and gore with the Norwegian black humour (which was seen again recently in the excellent Troll Hunter). Some people might find it a bit too silly and if you're unfamiliar with the nazisploitation sub-genre then it may not be the movie for you but for my money it's the best zom-com since Shaun of the Dead (2004) and makes me want to know an awful lot more about Norwegian cinema.
4 Stars ****
Did you likeDead Snow? Would you like to see more Nazi zombie movies?
Wednesday, 13 June 2012
Iron Sky is a 2012 Finnish nazisploitation film. Directed by Timo Vuorensola starring Julia Dietze, Gotz Otto (Downfall, Schindler's List) and Udo Keir (anything requiring a maniacal German). Production on the film first began in 2006 however it took six years for the film makers to secure the necessary funds to complete the film.
The now rather infamous plot of Iron Sky is that in 1945 the Nazis fled to the moon and have been regrouping and developing WMDs ever since. This is discovered when an American shuttle is sent to the moon featuring black astronaut James Washington as part of a PR stunt by the US president (aka Sarah Palin). After the Nazis capture Washington they discover that his smartphone holds the necessary technology in order to program their rockets and airships and finally mount their invasion of earth, this is spearheaded by ambitious general Klaus Adler (Otto) who is looking to usurp current Fuhrer Wolfgang Kortzfleisch (Keir). After turning Washington into an albino, Adler returns to earth along with sympathetic love interest Renate (Dietze) to set up the invasion, however, his ambitions are soon discovered by Wolfgang who is killed and succeeded by Adler. Renate soon realises the error of her ways and along with Washington set about stopping Adler and saving the planet from the moon Nazi invasion.
In case you hadn't guessed Iron Sky is an exploitation movie through and through; over the top, tasteless and silly. However I often felt that the tone veered into goofy slapstick comedy instead of sticking with the more appropriate nazisploitation elements. The best scenes in the movie occur on the swastika shaped moon base where the Nazis have lived and plotted for decades, unfortunately the film does suffer during the scenes set on earth featuring the President and her henchwoman Vivian Wagner. The dialogue is cringe worthy, goofy and a parody of Sarah Palin at this point feels really overdone and passe. The film also walks a very fine line in terms of racial sensitivity with the Washington sub plot, if the movie had committed to an overall exploitation tone this would have worked however in the context of a more straight forward comedy film this type of sub-plot does feel offensive at times.
The film's saving grace is it's special effects, which presumably was the reason why it was in production for so long. The CGI effects are blended seamlessly into the film in a way rarely seen in an independent b-movie and the film works best when it's aiming for big scale sci-fi action. The climactic space battle is a deliberate and very effective aping of the Star Wars films and is hugely enjoyable as you watch the giant metal zeppelins release droves of fighter spaceships and the Nazis launch their giant mechanical weapon to destroy the Earth. Another really nice touch was the school lessons taking place on the moon in which young Nazis would be shown Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator, but only the first 5 mins to avoid them noticing that it was in fact a satire on Hitler.
Iron Sky is an enjoyable movie and for the most part is a funny comedy action piece, however, far too many of the jokes fall flat and the action lags for long periods. Worth checking out if you're a fan of exploitation revival however there are much better films out there and Iron Sky ultimately fails to live up to it's festival buzz.
3 Stars ***
What did you think of the film? Was it too silly or not silly enough?
Monday, 11 June 2012
Prometheus is a 2012 science fiction film. Directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) starring Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Michael Fassbender (Shame, Inglorious Bastards) and Charlize Theron (Monster, The Devil's Advocate). The film is set in the same universe as the Alien franchise and is arguably a prequel to 1979's Alien.
The film follows the spaceship Prometheus carrying a crew tasked with discovering the origins of mankind and the universe based on extensive research by Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace). This expedition has been financed and set up by the Weyland corporation and Peter Weyland himself (played by Guy Pierce), as such Weyland representative Meredith Vickers (Theron) and Weyland's personal android David (Fassbender) are along for the ride to ensure the companies wishes are carried out by the scientific team. Upon arriving on LV-223 (not LV-426 as in the other movies) the team discover massive ancient temple structures and set about investigating the origins of mankind, however, they find the "engineers" all dead and only their abandoned biological experiments to greet them. It is soon revealed that certain crew members have ulterior motives and that not all the engineers are dead, this leads to an epic climax where the remaining crew members are thrust into a race against time to not only save themselves but all of planet Earth.
In the short time since it's release much debate has raged about Prometheus and whether it lives up to the hype, and like many I was slightly disappointed with the results, however, satisfying the hype and expectations surrounding the film was always going to be an impossible task. That being said the film is still a triumphant sci-fi epic for two main reasons, Scott's visionary direction and a couple of standout central performances. Visually, the film is jaw dropping in so many ways; the extensive location shooting in Iceland and Scotland and the fantastic creature designs leave an impression that lingers long after the credits roll and satisfy much of the horror/action criteria. Personally I was left underwhelmed by Rapace's central performance and was drawn more to the always superb Michael Fassbender in his portrayal of ship android David. Fassbender evokes the spirit of Ian Holme and Lance Henrikson but also channels the replicants of Blade Runner and is mesmerising throughout. There is also an outstanding supporting performance by excellent English character actor Sean Harris as belligerent geologist Fifield.
These strong elements help to propel the film through most of it's runtime as an exciting and gripping thriller however, like many, I felt the film crumbled somewhat in the third act. This can be typified through one key scene that many have described as difficult to watch, which I agree with but for different reasons, in which suspense and tension are built to an excruciating climax and then something faintly silly happens. Sadly this continues as Guy Pierce stinks up the film with his portrayal of the geriatric (and mechanically enhanced) Peter Weyland and the already sub par script descends into farce as minor characters start explaining the plot to the supposedly highly intelligent scientists. Then the ending, without wishing to give too much away the closing moments of the film are practically a trailer for Prometheus 2: coming soon, leaving many issues unresolved and many viewers underwhelmed.
Prometheus overcomes it's flaws due to the sheer talent involved with the film and will still be counted amongst the finest films of the year however your enjoyment of the film will depend largely on your expectations. Those expecting answers and resolutions to the questions posed by the mysterious "space jockey" in the seminal Alien and explanations to the origins of the Xenomorph will be sorely disappointed. Prometheus answers it's own questions and is only as concerned with the rest of the franchise as it needs to be to attract Alien fanboys. The film's tremendous trailer (one of the finest in years) is ultimately the best indication of the film itself; half existential sci-fi pondering, half slimy action-packed horror leave the viewer exhilarated but left wanting more.
4 Stars ****
What did you think of Prometheus? Did it live up to your expectations?
Tuesday, 5 June 2012
The sequel to the smash hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes (my favourite film of 2011) is official! The film will be titled Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and even has a release date of 23rd May 2014, this is a little while to wait yet but the film itself is likely to be set several years after the events of the first film and the viral outbreak at it's climax.
Are you looking forward to this? What are you looking for in the sequel?
Tuesday, 29 May 2012
Chronicle is a 2012 found-footage sci-fi film. Directed by Josh Trank starring Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell (Wasted on the Youth, Almost Kings) and Michael B. Jordan (Red Tails). Although the film is set entirely in Seattle, Washington it was actually filmed in Cape Town, South Africa to reduce the budget.
Chronicle follows high schoolers Andrew (DeHaan), Matt (Russell) and Steve (Jordan). Andrew is an angst-ridden anti-social teenager who decides to chronicle his life with a video camera and his cousin Matt is trying to help him fit in, Along with Matt's friend Steve the trio discover a mysterious crater in the earth, after they become bored with a local rave they venture inside to discover something not of this world. After the encounter the trio discover they have acquired the power of telekinesis and set about documenting their powers and the impact they can have on their surroundings, this is soon followed by the ability to fly and they soon find their powers are increasing rapidly. Andrew's troubles at home soon begin to affect his mindset as his father is a drunk and his mother is terminally ill, and he starts to abuse his powers and turn into a megalomaniac. As Andrew's rage manifests he attempts tears the city apart and it 's down to Matt to confront his cousin in a spectacular climactic fight sequence.
Chronicle is a fine example of pushing the found-footage sub genre in a new direction and overcoming the restrictions and cliches associated with the format. This is achieved rather cleverly by allowing Andrew to control the handheld camera through his telekinesis allowing for a much wider selection of camera angles than is usually available in a found-footage film. It also helps to appeal to those turned off by the "shaky-cam" style as for the majority of the film Andrew is in firm control of the camera and is in fact acting as the director to his own chronicle. In addition to this there is also the added element of other cameramen's perspective such as Matt's girlfriend and towards the end a variety of alternate recording devices such as camera phones, CCTV and even helicopter footage. Again this frees the film from the restraints of found footage and allows it to create extraordinary action sequences that film makers wouldn't usually be able to create within the sub-genre.
The special effects are also very well done in the film and are blended in a very realistic way essential to the format. Cheap and fake CGI would've stick out like a sore thumb in a found footage film but the excellent and very subtle effects used in Chronicle allow you to suspend your disbelief and become immersed in the character's adventures, even when you're watching them play football at aeroplane cruising height. The application of superpowers to ordinary kids creates a real escapism for the viewer as you imagine where you would go if you could fly and what you would do if you had the power of telekinesis, bringing us back to our own school days but also reminding us that when teenagers are given immense power, no good can come of it.
Chronicle is a hugely enjoyable found footage film that reminds us what can be achieved within the format and that there's still life in the old dog yet. It also works extremely well as a superhero (but not comic book) film grounded in reality and shows there's more that can be done outside of traditional found footage horror genre. The film sometimes veers into far-fetched territory with it's outlandish camera angles but if you can suspend your disbelief and go with it you'll have a really fun viewing experience.
4 Stars ****
What did you think of Chronicle? Did you like the application of found-footage to a superhero film?
Saturday, 26 May 2012
The Ring is a 2002 psychological horror film. Directed by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy) starring Naomi Watts (King Kong, 21 Grams) and Martin Henderson. The film is a remake of the seminal Japanese horror film Ringu (1998) but adapts the back story and setting for a western audience.
The film opens with two teenage girls discussing an urban legend involving a mysterious videotape, the legend goes that after viewing the videotape you receive a phone call telling you that you will die in 7 days. It is revealed that one of the girls did indeed watch the tape exactly a week ago and consequently suffers inexplicable heart failure, it also just so happens that the victim's Aunt is top journalist Rachel (Watts) and after a plea from her sister she sets about investigating the mysterious circumstances surrounding her Niece's death. Rachel manages to retrieve and watch the tape prompting her to receive her own phone call to indicate her days are numbered. After showing the tape to her ex partner Noah (Henderson) and accidentally to their son Aiden, Rachel becomes trapped in a race against time to save her family and find a way to break the curse of the tortured Samara.
Ringu was a tremendously groundbreaking film and helped to not only revive south east Asian horror but also had an enormous influence on western horror. The Ring is a direct result of that influence and as good as the original is, the American remake is just that little bit better. There are 2 main reasons for this, the striking direction by auteur Gore Verbinski and the incredibly strong central performance by Naomi Watts. The original had it's own style and atmosphere but The Ring goes way beyond that with it's blue-grey palette and iconic imagery creating a fresh and engaging style all of it's own. The repeated use of imagery from the tape such as the tree, the horses eye and of course the iconic well ring create an immersive sense of empathy as you experience a little taste of the hallucinations that the characters are experiencing.
Watts is tremendous as the rather unsympathetic Rachel character, her first appearance is when she arrives late to pick up her son from school and the parenting skills just get worse from there on. This is a really refreshing change from the virtuous hero/heroine and of course draws a parallel with the fraught relationship between Samara and her mother making for a really interesting characterisation of the lead. The use of advanced CGI effects in the film has been a point of contention for fans of the original, and whilst I will agree that the iconic ending of Ringu has been given an unsatisfactory gloss here, there is one use of CGI that I feel greatly improves upon the originals effects. The fleeting shots of the victim's faces after their encounter with Samara are some of the most disturbing images I've seen in a horror film, and the grotesque lifeless expressions left much more of an impact than the originals use of a negative freeze frame.
Most successful Japanese horrors have been remade for the western market purely for people who can't be bothered to read subtitles and some have been disastrous (Pulse, I'm looking at you!). However, the way in which The Ring has been remade has allowed for the brilliant premise to be retained whilst adapting the mythos for a completely different culture, and combine this with it being arguably one of the most visually impressive horror films (alongside The Shining) and you have a truly terrifying film with enough depth to creep under your skin and stay with you for a long time.
5 Stars *****
What did you think of The Ring? Do you prefer Ringu?
Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Nazis at the centre of the Earth is a 2012 straight-to-dvd nazisploitation film. Directed by Joseph J. Lawson starring Dominique Swain (Lolita, Face Off) and Jake Busey (Starship Troopers, Identity). The film is an Asylum "mockbuster" and is intended to capitalise on the more widely released nazisploitation film Iron Sky (2012).
The film follows an Antarctic scientific expedition helmed by Dr Lucas Moss, his partner Dr Paige Morgan (Swain) and Dr Adrian Reistad (Busey). After Paige and her colleague are abducted by gas masked Nazis during a field test the rest of the crew mobilise and set out to investigate their disappearance. This leads them to a crevasse in the ice which in turn leads them to discover an entire world within the centre of the earth populated exclusively by Nazis, meanwhile the captives are being interrogated by Dr Mengele so that the Nazis can learn more about modern science and rebuild their rotting army. The rest of the crew soon join the captives and the Nazis manage to extract enough knowledge (and stem cells) to achieve their master plan and give birth to a fully resurrected robo-Hitler.
Nazis at the Centre of the Earth is, above all, a crushingly boring film. If you've seen any of the other Asylum projects (Titanic 2, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus et al) you'll definitely know what to expect; terrible acting, idiotic script and atrocious (and entirely unnecessary) CGI effects. For example there are exterior shots of a snowmobile that has been digitally rendered which begs the question, is it really cheaper to digitally render your props and sets? And judging by the quality of the CGI on display I think that question is resolutely answered. The dreadful looking robo Hitler is another eyesore, looking like it could've been featured in a computer game from around ten years ago (which is ironic considering the nod to Castle Wolfenstein) and really takes the film in an even more outrageous, but still not funny, direction.
Swain and Busey are both wooden and awful, although to be fair they have been saddled with a terrible script to work with, and in fact the only character in the film that comes across as even remotely engaging is the Josef Mengele character, as he plays it straight and sinister with minimal Nazi (love) camp. The story has enormous plot holes, taking it's initial setup from John Carpenter's The Thing and antagonists from the excellent (and much funnier) Dead Snow but obviously not coming anywhere those films in terms of quality. The fact that the centre of the earth looks like some kind of wooded nature reserve is absurd and was clearly due to budget constraints, and why is it so clear and sunny? It's supposed to be the molten core of our planet for god's sake!
Nazis at the Centre of the Earth is a pitiful attempt to piggyback on the buzz surrounding Iron Sky, which will hopefully be a far more enjoyable film, and has absolutely no redeeming features or entertainment quality whatsoever. Poorly made, poorly acted and nowhere near bad enough to be good, there has been a clear waste of a ludicrous concept which could have been exploited for comic effect but which ends up being about as funny and entertaining as Nazi Germany itself.
1 Star *
What did you think of Nazis? Are you looking forward to Iron Sky more?