Saturday, 27 February 2010

[Rec.] 2 - Zombie Buggaboo

REC 2 Pictures, Images and Photos
Three years ago the Spanish gave us a brilliant little horror mockumentary about a TV crew who are making a documentary about fire fighters on the night shift but who end up documenting something all together more terrifying than the usual emergency call outs. No cat stuck up a tree or house fire this. No, this was a viral outbreak in a city apartment block, which rendered its infected victims as homicidal red eyed loons. Very 28 Days Later ala Blair Witch for the Big Brother /reality TV generation. It was in the films closing minutes that the real source of the outbreak was hinted at in a night-vision shot scene as tense and scary as anything ever could be.

[Rec.] 2 picks up directly after the first film ends. We follow a SWAT team, each with their own helmet-mounted cameras, as they enter the quarantined building along with a mysterious new boss on a secret mission to document what happened and find the one remaining blood sample from the original infected person – a young child locked away in darkness. What follows is a claustrophobic, chaotic, intense and bloody flight around the wonderfully dark and labyrinthine corridors, rooms and staircases of the apartment block. Needless to say the ordered plan of the team soon falls apart leading to a desperate fight to survive and to find an answer to the infection before either the building is destroyed or it spreads outside.

[Rec.] 2 is awesome! I loved it just as much as the first one…maybe even more.

It is short, scary and violent and built around one central and brilliant concept, which I won’t reveal here. Just to say it is an original take on several separate horror genres blended together. The film’s main set up is basically the same as Aliens. But then it takes a cool narrative leap halfway through by switching pov to a second group of people who have stumbled in to this apartment block from hell. We first see this second group (kind of) from the pov of the SWAT team earlier, but then the movie switches on us and replays some of the action from the second groups pov before then joining up in to one combined narrative to get to the end.

This film is rushed and panicky and grim and nasty. Which is all to its credit. The pacing is at high speed from the off. Characterisation and thematic depth is non-existent. This is a film about the situation and the concept and scaring you pee-less. Nothing more. It’s a rollercoaster and you ride it through the dark with hissing, screaming monsters clawing at your flesh from all sides. There is some great camera work and direction here. It is all shot from either soldier’s helmet-cams or hand held video cameras or from a TV camera with night-vision. But cameras are dropped or damaged or muted or accidentally switch focus etc. which lends to some wonderfully creative moments and some nightmarish images. We even get a spot of video game first person shooter action, which looks like we’ve entered a Resident Evil game, and it blows the shit out of that awful Doom movie that did the same thing a few years back. Then there is the films location, the apartment block. I just love it. It’s simply one of the scariest places in modern horror cinema. I don’t know if it is real or a set (probably a set) but it is fabulous. The high central staircase is a great feature (great for bodies plummeting down) as are all the many rooms and narrow corridors that seem to lead people in circles. And then there is the penthouse, the centre of hell itself. A dark and filthy place with hidden rooms and ceiling crawlspaces and narrow shafts, which can only be crawled down on your belly. Finally there is the films ending. It’s not as pant wettingly scary as the original but is still a creepy and grim ending in the best traditions of John Carpenter and George A. Romero. It leaves us ready (hopefully) for a third journey in to Spanish hell.

The US remake of [Rec.] called Quarantine was actually pretty good and mostly identical to its original except for a few things – one of which being the key that leads to this wicked sequel. If Hollywood does do Quarantine 2 then it will be interesting to see if they follow this films path or if they do something different. Personally I don’t really care. I just want [Rec.] 3…like now!


Monday, 15 February 2010

Wolfman's got nards!

I saw The Wolfman last night.

Now, being the major werewolf geek that I am I was really looking forward to this and hoping that, despite the delays and reshoots and dodgy reviews, it wasn’t going to suck.

Guess what? It doesn’t suck.

Despite what some sniffy reviewers will tell you The Wolfman is a fine slice of gothic monster movie mayhem. I enjoyed it a fair bit. Okay, so it's far from a perfect film - you can see the joins where scripts have been cut and pasted together and chunks sliced out - but I did have a howling good time with its camp, gory goofiness. I loved the look of the film with the design and photography being wonderfully gothic and moody and the Rick Baker make-up as excellent as expected. The acting ranged from okay with Del Toro a bit dull when human but great when hairy, to very entertaining in Hugo Weaving to the 'I don't care cuz she's lovely' Emily Blunt. Hopkins is okay as daddy Talbot but seems to be a teensy bit bored by it all. But at least he isn’t overacting. A special shout out to Hugo Weaving as Inspector Abberline who once again reminds us just why he’s such a cool actor. His scene in the pub where he orders a beer and patiently explains to the landlady why he isn’t out hunting the killer is hilarious. Definitely channelling Agent Smith there. Apart from Agent Smith and its overall look, the best stuff in the film are the wolfman rampages - especially the first one in the gypsy camp. That was a truly great sequence where the beast is so fast and mostly in shadow and yet causes so much bloody mayhem.

So what about the actual story?

The Wolfman (2010) bares minimal resemblance to the original 1941 Universal classic with only character names and the basic set-up of estranged son returning home being the same. The new story is fine and adds a bit more depth than the original even if the resulting plot twists are fairly predictable. The pacing is good and nicely swift. Following a very obvious three-act structure, the film whips along at quite a pace with dialogue and character building being sparse so as to quickly get to the…er…guts of the story. Tonally The Wolfman takes itself seriously while also enjoying piling on the lurid bloodletting, flesh rending and limb lopping - all of which is very cool and just how a proper monster movie should be.

Now I gotta say that watching The Wolfman I wasn’t so much reminded of an old Universal horror as I was of a Hammer horror. For despite its serious tone there is also a rather camp feel to the film with its hirsute beasty climbing walls and buildings, leaping around and menacing English yokels who hang out in old taverns and race carriages through dark woods. That combined with the gleeful goofy bloodiness and Del Toro’s admitted homage to the late great Oliver Reed by sporting his haircut from Curse of the Werewolf, The Wolfman, to me, works better as a modern ode to the best of British Hammer. If only there was some heaving lady cleavage then the effect would be complete. Another good point to note is Danny Elfman’s score. It’s probably the best thing he’s done in ages. It is big and dramatic with some nice themes, the main one sounding a lot like the great main theme from Coppola’s Dracula, which helps sell the films grand gothic feel.

Anything I didn’t like? Yep, the use of CGI. The CGI transformation looks exactly how you’d expect a CGI one to look – it looks fake and cartoony. Some people will defend this. I won’t. I just don’t like it. Period. It looks exactly like what it is – computer graphics. However it could have been worse, it could have been Van Helsing. Ugh! And once Del Toro is in full on wolf mode then the CGI (mostly) goes and you get great Baker make-up and some nicely savage gore.

So, in summary, I enjoyed The Wolfman a great deal. It’s a fun ride with a few nice jump scares and a great gloomy gothic look. It zips along while revelling in its gory monster mayhem. It’s not perfect and is not the classic that the original is or comes anywhere near challenging the best werewolf movies for genre supremacy. But for a fun, bloody, gothic romp you could do a whole lot worse.

"Wolfman's got nards" quote courtesy The Monster Squad (1987) AROOOOOOOOO!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Some tales never grow old...

Dorian Gray stars Colin Firth (A Single Man) with Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian) in the title role and is based upon the 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

The film tells the tale of a young man, Dorian Gray, who comes to London after inheriting his family estate. He is naive and innocent and also exceptionally attractive and charismatic yet unaware of the effect he can have on people. Dorian is taken under the wing of Lord Henry Wotton who imbues the impressionable young man with his own hedonistic worldview: the unfettered guilt free pursuit of pleasure. At the same time Dorian has his portrait painted by Basil Hallward, a talented artist who has become besotted with his young model. Dorian succumbs to Lord Henry’s temptations of unadulterated pleasure seeking and enjoys himself so much he makes an unwitting Faustian pact to always keep what according to Sir Henry are “the only two things in life that mean anything…youth and beauty.” And so begins a story of corruption, vanity, morality and murder that ultimately leads to Sir Henry having to confront the monster that he has made to protect his grown up daughter who, now twenty years later, has fallen for the still youthful Dorian just returned from years spent travelling.

I’ve never read Wilde’s novel nor seen any of the previous adaptations (except for Stuart Townsend in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) but I was familiar with the story as I expect many are. It is a classic fable of corrupted youth, of unhinged vanity and absent morality. I’m told by people who know that this film version directed by Oliver Parker remains pretty faithful to Wilde’s original novel and its themes. It certainly shows the overt and quite graphic sexuality that Wilde had to tone down in his revised 1891 edition. The film is handsomely mounted with convincing art direction and very fine cinematography by the great Roger Pratt (Brazil, Batman, The Fisher King, Chocolat, Harry Potter.) The use of subtle digital effects to recreate Victorian London also works well as they do in creating Dorian’s monstrous true self. In the title role Ben Barnes looks the part and does a reasonable job in showing the transformation of a young innocent who gradually strips away all conscience and morality to begin enjoying the wild times, before, many years later, realising he is living a hollow, haunted, pointless life. Barnes is okay, but to me he doesn’t have the charisma to make you believe that all these men and women would be so easily in awe of him. On the other hand, Colin Firth, an actor I’ve never really cared for, is excellent as the corrupting older man/monster maker who ultimately comes to realise what he has created when his own daughter falls under Dorian’s spell. They are well supported by a strong cast including Rachel Hurd-Wood, Ben Chaplin and one time Bond girl Maryam D’Abo. Parker directs in an unflashy manner just telling the story through the actors and the solid script using no great flourishes of style, which is a smart move. Wilde’s brilliant story simply doesn’t need any flash, as such things would only detract from its power.

Watching Dorian Gray I was reminded a great deal of Interview with the Vampire, one of my fave books and films. I wouldn’t be surprised if Anne Rice is a fan as they share many of the same themes. The attraction of eternal youth and beauty and its almost hypnotic power over others, the deliberate moral corruption of another, the idea of freedom being achieved when released from conscience, guilt and consequence. The eventual hollowness, loneliness, stagnation of never changing or growing. And the ultimate realisation of the price that has to be paid for ones actions and decisions. For there is always a price to be paid sooner or later. And then of course there is the strong homoerotic subtext in both works with Dorian Gray’s being rather more overt – at least in this version.

A solid, good looking, entertaining fable with strong production values and a simply brilliant story to tell, Dorian Gray is worth seeking out even though you won’t be quite as entranced by his power as you should be.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

The Na'vi finally conquer the UK


On Sunday 7 February 2010 Avatar became the highest grossing film release of all time in the UK as this weekend's $5.2m boosted the cume to $114.7m (£71.6m) overtaking previous record holder Mamma Mia’s £69.2m final gross.

Yay! Thank Christ for that. Mamma Mia gets squished by the mighty Na'vi. Take that Abba!

The international weekend gross for Avatar was $76m boosting cume to $1.58bn. Including the US, Avatar's total worldwide gross now stands at $2.21bn and counting. Can it get to $3bn worldwide? Maybe.