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Leofwine_draca

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Something new in an overloaded genre, 30 August 2014
8/10

Yeah, since they hit the mainstream zombie movies have died an (un)death many times over, and I can't help but hark back to the old days where only horror fans knew of the genius of George Romero and Lucio Fulci. Nowadays zombie movies are ten-a-penny and zombies are in the public consciousness alongside vampires and werewolves.

But WORLD WAR Z offers something new: the first, straight, big-budget zombie blockbuster. Sure, PLANET TERROR skirted with the premise but with a sci-fi twist, while this is straightforward zombie stuff. It's based on the terrible Max Brooks book of the same title, but don't let that put you off; unlike the book, it actually has a structured narrative, and characters.

And I loved it. I'm not normally a fan of CGI unless it's done right, but it's done right here. Scenes of the zombies attacking en masse are brilliantly conceived, and the set-piece that takes place in Israel in the middle of the movie is simply phenomenal. It's a film that also manages to be vicious and frightening without being gory, which is a fine achievement. If you thought the infected in 28 DAYS LATER moved fast then you haven't seen anything yet!

Sure, the characters are thinly-sketched, but that matters little as WORLD WAR Z follows an action-thriller template. Brad Pitt's lead is both the luckiest and unluckiest guy on the planet at the same time, and the film never deviates from getting up close and personal with its undead menace. The worst thing about it is Marc Forster's fuddled direction, something that also spoiled QUANTUM OF SOLACE, but it's not a big enough to detraction to stop this from being anything other than a solid film.

The Raid 2 (2014)
Instant classic and one of the best films I've ever seen, 30 August 2014
10/10

Okay, I'm 50 films off having reviewed 4,000, so I've seen a fair few flicks in my time. Many of them have been good, some bad, a lot of them middling. But very few of them blow me away, and the ones that do so tend to be the really intense thrillers that are packed with suspense and absolutely great action scenes. THE RAID was a great movie which I really enjoyed, and I heard the hype about the sequel but was afraid to believe it. I needn't have been; THE RAID 2 is an absolutely brilliant movie and one of the best films I've ever seen.

This sequel doesn't slavishly copy the original, which is a good thing. Instead, it's a sprawling gangster movie, an Indonesian variant of the ones popular in Hong Kong and South Korea, enlivened with some incredibly violent and extremely well choreographed action sequences which usually take the "one vs. many" formula to the extreme. This stuff is great in itself, enlivened with larger than life characters and more depth than you'd expect from a typical thriller.

Stuff continues in this vein up until the last forty five minutes, at which point you realise that everything preceding this point was just the build up to the denouement, which is an action spectacular unlike anything ever put on film. There's a stupendous car chase, a great three-way between top fighters, and the final kitchen one on one, which I think might well be the best fight ever put on film (and I've seen most of the Bruce Lee/Donnie Yen/Jackie Chan/Tony Jaa fights). Everything is perfect: the choreography, the music, the violence. Iko Uwais and Gareth Evans both go from strength to strength and everything just gels together perfectly. Go buy this now, you won't be disappointed!

More Asylum nonsense and not one of their better titles, 30 August 2014
3/10

MEGA PYTHON VS. GATOROID is another anything-goes giant monster movie from The Asylum, a production company notable for populating their films with half-naked actresses, washed-up stars and former celebs, and horrendous CGI. This is a film that ticks all of those boxes without ever offering up a single surprise for genre fans.

The plot in this one is particularly stupid, given that the origin of the creatures is down to mankind (essentially, normal critters being fed steroids by some moronic characters). Former pop idols Tiffany and Debbie Gibson play ageing wildlife experts/rivals and seem to fight and trade insults at regular intervals. They're inevitably involved in a cat fight, which is ridiculous - and ridiculously cheesy - as it sounds.

Although this sounds mildly entertaining, it really isn't. The giant snakes and alligators are as dull as you could imagine, and the gore is half-baked. The CGI effects are truly terrible, and the jarring narrative makes little sense as the story progresses. There are the usual set-pieces - a party/gathering attacked en masse, a city destroyed - but none of them are even remotely fun. I think the highlight for me has to be Micky Dolenz's bizarre cameo, with the former Monkey playing himself...

First in the wonderful series, 28 August 2014
7/10

While its international title is ROYAL WARRIORS, originally this film was IN THE LINE OF DUTY, the first of a long-running series about hard-hitting kung-fu-fighting female cops in Hong Kong (I've seen a few in the series, including POLICE ASSASSINS and number 4, with Donnie Yen). Inevitably these are excellent action movies for their era which mix car chases and martial arts fights, along with detective stuff and a little comedy. They feel a lot like Jackie Chan's POLICE STORY films, albeit with a little less humour.

ROYAL WARRIORS is a must for kung fu fans thanks to the presence of not one but two genre luminaries in the title roles. First up we get a young, agile and athletic Michelle Yeoh as the heroine; while her acting isn't as assured here as later on in her career, she certainly livens up the screen in her many fight scenes. She's given excellent support by imported Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada (ROARING FIRE) in one of his detours into Chinese cinema.

A lot of people give Michael Wong (IN THE LINE OF DUTY 4) a hard time, but I don't have a problem with the actor and he does well with his annoying-but-likable character in this movie. And the action is very good indeed, as is the suspenseful plot which forever moves forward with very few slow moments; a massacre in a nightclub is the dramatic highlight. While I would have liked a few more villains for our heroes to go up against - that's where the later sequels have the edge - this is still above average for the genre and a thoroughly entertaining movie.

D.O.A. (1950)
Suspense and the perfect 'ticking clock' plot, 28 August 2014
7/10

The film noir genre threw out plenty of gems during its peak in the 1940s and early 1950s and this is one of them, a solid detective story with a great premise. In it, a man must discover the person responsible for his own murder, a plot point realised thanks to the presence of a slow-acting poison that gives him only a day or two to live.

D.O.A. presents a bleak and icy narrative that has a strong degree of pessimism to it, thanks to that excellent premise. But there's more to it than that, as the actual detective story is compelling in itself. The protagonist finds himself drawn into a murky world of smuggling and corporate corruption, while at the same time coming into contact with some decidedly shady characters.

The best thing about the film, for me, (aside from that premise) is the presence of Neville Brand's Chester, a character who could have been portrayed as an ordinary henchman but who, thanks to his psychotic nature, becomes the real highlight; Brand effortlessly exudes an air of pure evil in what was his first role. The rest is good too, of course, particularly Edmond O'Brien's tough-but-sympathetic lead, leaving this one of the highlights in a crowded genre thanks to that perfect 'ticking clock' premise.

Scattershot sequel, 20 August 2014
6/10

MR. VAMPIRE was a comedy horror classic that very nearly equalled the heights of Sammo Hung's ENCOUNTERS OF THE SPOOKY KIND, so this sequel has its work cut out from the outset. And it's fair to say that it doesn't come close to equalling the power, atmosphere or feel of the original movie. That doesn't mean it's a bad film - in fact, it's a pretty good example of its type - just don't go in expecting more of the same.

This time around, a family of vampires (mother, father, and son) are excavated by an archaeologist (ENCOUNTERS star Fat Chung) and before long the usual hijinks ensue. This time, the film is divided into sub-plots between three groups of characters; one of them involves the archaeologists trying to make amends for their mess, another involves the antics of the vampire kid trying to integrate into family life, and a third sees the return of the one-eyebrowed priest, played by Lam Ching-Ying.

It's disappointing that Lam Ching-Ying gets a lot less screen-time this time around, although the producers do make up for that by casting Yuen Biao in a central role; a disappointment then that Biao doesn't get to take part in much martial arts. Too much of the narrative is taken up by the vampire kid, although things do hit a high note at the climax which offers more of the traditional vampire action that you'd expect. Sadly, the film's centre-point gag, which sees the action taking place in slow motion, goes on for way too long and just isn't very funny.

Deliriously insane, 19 August 2014
6/10

One in a wave of Nazi zombie films to come out in the past decade, FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY is a deliriously insane slice of B-movie film-making. The plot is as simple as anything, but what this Czech film lacks in intricacy and subtlety it more than makes up for with its sheer visual inventiveness.

This is another 'found footage' movie which follows a squad of Russian soldiers trekking through east Germany in the dying days of WW2. They soon come across a seemingly abandoned complex which turns out to house a mad scientist and some decidedly odd creations. The zombies in this film are some of the most creative ever put on film, and the camera-work and music make them into fearsome creations.

The acting is nothing to write home about, aside from another solid turn from stock bad guy Karel Roden (HELLBOY), but the technical values are very good. The creations are the best part of it, of course, but this is also an extremely gory film in which the blood and body parts flow freely. It sure as hell isn't high art, but it is viciously entertaining and thoroughly engrossing for what it is.

Nice idea, shame about the execution, 18 August 2014
5/10

TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL is a comic horror film with a twist: the villains are actually the good guys, and vice versa. What starts out as a standard 'hillbilly' horror flick, in which a bunch of vacationing teenagers find themselves at the mercy of a couple of murderous rednecks out in the backwoods, soon turns into a broad spoof of the horror genre as a whole.

The twist is that the rednecks are the good guys and the inevitably gory slayings that occur are a result of accidents and plain bad luck. This premise gives the film some novelty value, but unfortunately it aims at the lowest common denominator for the most part and the humour is obvious and predictable.

It's fair to say that the writing is better than the direction here, because there are some subtle character bits written in amid all the mayhem and destruction. The performances of Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk are both decent, as the guys form a good double act which carries them through the rest of the movie. The deaths are very cheesy and the low budget is always more than apparent, but if you're looking for something different then you might just enjoy this.

Psycho II (1983)
Surprisingly decent follow-up, 17 August 2014
8/10

Of course, PSYCHO II can't hold a candle to Hitch's original masterwork, but then what film can? The surprise is that it turns out to be a decent little film in itself, purely because it isn't a slavish copy but instead a stand-alone psychological thriller that takes its plot in a different direction to most.

Instead of emulating the then-popular slasher craze of the 1980s, PSYCHO II plays out as a whodunit for the most part. Norman's back on the streets and back in his motel, and the grisly slayings start up once more. But who's the killer? Is it Norman himself, or the young, seemingly innocent girl (Meg Tilly) living with him? Could it be the returning Vera Miles as Lila Loomis, seeking vengeance for her sister's slaying in the original by setting Norman up? Or somebody else with an axe to grind?

While there is the expected bloodshed in this film, for the most part it's deeper than that, working hard to build up a creepy atmosphere. Anthony Perkins is on top form as his most famous creation, and he succeeds in making Norman a sympathetic protagonist; watching this guy losing his mind for the second time is truly a tragic occurrence. The presence of supporting players like the reliably sleazy Dennis Franz and the solid Robert Loggia help to make this an effective horror film all in itself.

Dirty Work (1933)
Great old-fashioned comedy, 16 August 2014
8/10

Stan and Ollie are employed as chimney sweeps, with predictable (but entirely hilarious) consequences. This is slapstick comedy at its best: short, straightforward and with an emphasis on hilarious pratfalls and physical comedy throughout. There's a twist ending of sorts thrown into the mix as well: a sub-plot that sees an eccentric scientist making an elixir of eternal youth results in some unforeseen consequences for the boys.

The comedic duo are at their best in DIRTY WORK, and the gags come thick and fast. I believe that the pair were at their best when employed in physical labour, and the calibre of this effort helps to highlight that.


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