Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse - review

2015 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

With Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, co-writer and director Christopher B. Landon has fashioned a zom-rom-com that not only ticks all the boxes, but is fresh enough to stand out in what has, if we're honest, become quite the overcrowded and tired field. It's fresh, lively and struts it's stuff with a competent swagger; and it's well balanced providing just the right amounts of laughs, jumps and squeals of disgust, and at the right times. It's film to sit back and enjoy; for popcorn and beer; a low-brow throwaway indulgence and, hey why not? So what more to add? Not a lot if I'm honest, other than it's actually very good, and I could probably end the review here. I mean c'mon, it's a zombie rom-com with all that that trope comes with, and if you're honest you already really know, not just what to expect but whether you'll want to watch it. Ok, just in case you do want more, and also so as not to break my review format I'll continue.

Secretive Biotech companies, nefarious experimentation and highly avoidable incompetence is always a good old way to start an apocalypse. Here, there's Biotine Corp., a janitor, a zombie, NO safeguards and a few goofy visual jokes; and if I'm honest not the best of intros, but it's brief and to the point. It also establishes the template to come and that blood and puerile jokes will be flowing both in quantity, and equal measure. And whilst this is true and much hilarity is to ensue it should also be taken more of as a short discrete throwaway addition, as there's actually a full, well conceived narrative once the intro has rolled, of friendship, of growing up, of getting laid.

Ben (Tye Sheridan) and Carter (Logan Miller) are two boys on the precipice of adulthood with all the conflict that brings. There's friends, family, and expectation and doing the 'right' thing represented here, by the boy scout movement and their responsibility to the third member of the gang, Augie (Tye Sheridan), and then there's all the angst and wanting to throw away the badges, to party, and rebel. The film is in part that heart-warming journey through the labyrinth; a moral lesson that perhaps there's a way forward that doesn't mean you have give up all of where you are, of have been.

It's also a very daft and dirty zombie splatter fest. and any moralising can stop there; as Landon is certainly no boy-scout, but quite the puerile and juvenile director, with a penchant for some quite tasteless and risque set ups and humour. Which I should add, he gets away with. In Scouts Guide, the uniform and badges, their ever desperate scout leader Rogers (David Koechner) epitomise all that is socially awkward, dorky and uncool. It's a parody sure, and an easy one to exaggerate, but it's played to perfection bringing together all aspects of the narrative, the humour and characters. It's played so well one actually regresses back in time, you feel their distress and unease and this allows the boobs and objectification stuff to pass over; as you're in with the joke; in the young lads heads when shirt pops open and the shorts are tight.

As with all zombie comedies there's a trick to play the main characters pretty straight and to get the humour and energy from the surreal, daft, and when done well, imaginative and well-conceived, coherent situations that surround them. All three leads, though relatively unknown, throw themselves at each increasingly preposterous situation and solution with zeal, and their on screen chemistry is believable and at times endearing because of it. Sure, some scenes and sequences could be accused of being overly simple or derivative; but such is the vibrancy and youthful energy, both in script and production, they end up feeling alive and fresh.

Despite the work that was purported to have been done, choreographing the zombies, for uniform movement and behaviour I personally found it a bit of mixed bag; though I didn't actually find it detracted. It's some kind of transferable virus that can also rather terrifyingly jump species, in this case we have a zombie deer and cat. It kills, reanimates and as per the template turns those infected into monstrous flesh eaters. They seem to neither shuffle or run; it's more a canter, but up close the zombies are quite the fast moving, fast acting, violent little buggers and pretty dangerous. They're actually utilised pretty well throughout, both as vehicles to drive to story and tension, and also as figures of fun with some quite brilliantly daft, if incoherent from a critical point of view, set pieces too.

Right, what to add? Not a lot if I'm honest. Gore? There's plenty of it and surprisingly gratuitous and excessive at times. Romance? It's more coming of age story, but there's a quite the cute teen romance nerd-gets-cute girl subplot that that I actually managed to stomach. Comedy? It's a riot. A rare light in a rather crowded genre, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is a well-crafted, fun-packed utterly brilliant zom-rom-com that I challenge anyone not to enjoy; even if it is, and maybe unavoidably so, at times just a bit by the numbers, 7/10.


Thursday, 23 June 2016

Resident Evil: Damnation - review

2012 (Japan)

Contains mild spoilers.
Right. Resident Evil: Damnation, the CGI follow up to 2008's animated snooze-fest Resident Evil: Degeneration, and not to be confused with the increasingly contrived and style over substance live action nonsense fused together by Paul W.S. Anderson and wife Milla Jovovich. And I wasn't optimistic. I'll be honest, I really struggled with Degeneration. I found it hard to digest, so utterly lacking in joy and life that it took me three sittings and a lot of caffeine to actually get through it at all. It's wasn't bad per se, with better than average animation and a competent, if utterly derivative story; it was just that the experience was akin to watching a long scripted and rather tedious video game being played out by someone else. Now, while that feeling hasn't been completely shaken off with this second outing, I'm pleased to report that things have significantly improved in all other areas.

It's another elaborate and overly complicated Resident Evil story with big corporations, corrupt politicians and nefarious overlords with questionable motives and methods; where everyday Joe's are quashed in the millions and the fate of mankind rests on the shoulders of the few or the one. This time we're in Eastern Europe, in the made up country of Eastern Slav Republic, the questionable baddy is President Svetlana Belikova (voiced by Wendee Lee), her motive is to seize the oil rich parts of the country controlled by the rebels, and her means is by playing with BOW's, Bio-Organic Weapons, of course. This is also where Leon S. Kennedy (Matthew Mercer), a t-virus specialist and  hard as f investigator and our hero, comes in.

What differentiates director Makoto Kamiya's second directorial Resident Evil offering is simply put, the quality of the story and the writing. There's no derivative zombie tale, no cobbled together series of scenes to show-case increasingly lavish effects, but a real desire to present something both coherent and cohesive, and to treat both viewer and source material with some respect. At the outset there's no clear good or bad; things aren't so binary and simplistic and Kamiya confidently captures the full ambiguity and confusion of a country caught up in civil war with both sides resorting to increasingly desperate and morally-dubious tactics to win. Thing's are also kept fresh and interesting because we're not subjected to half an hour of slow contrived suspense driven build up, but thrown straight in, and expected, after some six films and six plus video games to have half an idea of about zombies, the Plaga mutations, and everything else this crazy world is able to throw at us. 

Resident Evil: Damnation is as expected, full of action with lavish and outlandish CG fights, but also has perfectly spaced interludes. Kamiya truly has the pacing down, and he even manages to make the many heavily scripted and choreographed combat scenes, which in the past have so easily becomes chores to watch, feel inventive and on point. Even the long and excessive final boss encounter was broken up in such a way as to not out stay its welcome; in fact, that it was the last big fight was lost on me until it was actually over, and to say that's a departure from Degeneration is quite the under-statement. It's also worth mentioning that the CG is at times breathtaking realistic, and dare I say beautiful, with detailed textures and ridiculous attention to detail. There are times though that the illusion is lost; perhaps things are too perfect or contrived or there was less rendering or something technical, but over-all it's never a distraction.

Damnation is Capcom's Resident Evil and true to the video-games, not the live action films, and as such it always will have, and probably should have, a 'gamey' feel. Unlike Degeneration though, here it subtly guides aesthetic and narrative rather than consuming and dictating, and thus avoids that long laboured cut-scene feel. Also taking its cues from the games the zombies are really just the opening fodder to get you used to the game mechanics with the Lickers, Majini, and increasingly outlandish bio-engineered monstrosities, in this instance, several leather clad Tyrants, the real danger once things really kick off. For a good hour though these snarling, gnarly, fast-moving gut-munchers still pose quite the threat, and there's plenty of good old fashioned gratuitous zombie head popping on offer.

Easily the best Resident Evil film, for what, some eight or nine years since Russell Mulcahy's Extinction, Resident Evil: Damnation excels in all the areas the franchise has struggled with ever since. An interesting, complex and complete story, with multi-faceted motives and authentic characters and relationships, there's also an attempt at reigning things in a little, and dare I whisper, an attempt for substance over style. Ok it's still Resident Evil, and one crazy fight to the next, incrementally turning the excessive dial up a notch each time; but for the first time in a while,  the story never feels it's being pushed aside in favour of forcing in an extra tentacle or larger horde. Easily the best video game zombie film, probably the best non-children's zombie animated film it comes highly recommended - 7/10.


Monday, 20 June 2016

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night - review

2010 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

I really wanted to really like director Kevin Munroe's comic-book inspired crime-noir b-movie horror-comedy-thriller. A vast and complex web of vampires, werewolves and zombies all hidden in plain sight, ancient tensions and a fragile peace held in a precarious and perpetual balance, and a broken, disillusioned private investigator the only person with both the knowledge and will to redeem himself and hold it all together. It's all there. Underworld, Blade, Buffy, True Blood; even Twilight (ok maybe stretching it) found a way, and with the rich and abundant source material (Tiziano Sclavi's 80 odd Italian comics), and the budget to make it happen, it should be have been easy. Now I'm not going to make the case that Dead of Night is a bad film; far from, it; but as a woefully missed opportunity, I'll call it now. And what makes it worse and me genuinely quite angry is its problems are all its own making.

Cheesy crime-noir atmosphere with narration, a recognisable actor in Bradon Routh (Superman Returns and Ray Palmer / Atom in the DC comic reboots) as Dylan Dark and a fairly dark jumpy death discovery and werewolf encounter. Things actually start pretty well; the characters are interesting and the drip fed unveiling of the underworld engaging. We learn about New Orleans, as the undead Mecca, of werewolves that can control their transformation and of the vampire hierarchy and their subtle control of the vulnerable with the misuse of their blood as a narcotic. It's a world within the world with a rich history and complex dynamics; and the death of a local importer by an undead, and the bringing in of Dylan as lead investigator by his daughter Elizabeth (Anita Briem) has all the clans and tribes on edge.

As said, it all sounds good? So what went wrong? Two things. I first started having doubts when the zombies were introduced. While the set-up wasn't the most dark and macabre cinema I've yet watched it was still edgy, sombre and believable. With the death of Dylan's best friend Marcus (Sam Huntington) and his subsequent reintroduction I was soon to learn that in Dead of Night zombies were to directly equate to goofy light-relief, and nothing more. Now I understand that the film was also a bit of a comedy, and some of the gags were successful, but whether it's zombie cleaning regiments, zombie support groups, zombie cuisine or chop shops, it's as if the writers were given a bumper book of zombie jokes for Christmas and no one at any point told them they shouldn't try and include all of them. The humour becomes ultimately distracting and the sheer quantity of farce threatens to overwhelm all the other elements that were teased.

Which brings us on to the second main reason I think it unravelled the longer it went on. Last year I finished Tell Tales' The Wolf Among Us. It's another crime-noir with witches, vampires and werewolves and a less than perfect lone man trying to keep the peace. It's story was intricate and engaging and most importantly full of twists, surprises and nuance; and quite the opposite of what Dead of Night eventually becomes. Dead of Night has a cookie-cutter approach to story with every plot and sub-narrative playing out exactly as you think it will. An intriguing story is set-up then it's as if the writers and director hadn't planned in any detail what they'd do, so drop the mystery from the murder, resort to cliché vampire / zombie / werewolf scenes as if working from a tick sheet hoping the zombie gag show will save them. It's all rather a hodgepodge of albeit sometimes good, extraneous ideas that culminates in a grand finale that fails in to deliver either a surprise or any real satisfaction.

As stated and not quite as intended maybe Dylan Dog: Dead of Night inadvertently becomes more of a zombie comedy sketch show, than a vampire,  werewolf or undead hard-boiled movie. The zombies are dead but they're still exactly as they were though now rotting and rather more foul smelling. They can only eat human flesh and maggots though as cognisant and still with conscience they generally tend for the latter and as there's quite the active secret and lively social scene with jobs and help available being a zombie is more an inconvenience than a state of being. That is of course as long as you don't let it slide. One of the more intriguing ideas is that without due care and attention it can all slide Walking Dead, gnarly, and mindless flesh eating even with the additional predilection for zombie flesh. It's only briefly played with but from a zombie perspective an interesting one; again though as part of a whole film it was fun but was it really necessary or integral?

Maybe I'm being too harsh and maybe what Dead of Night suffers from was simply trying too hard; showing us too many things, playing with too many ideas with the consequence of seeing the narrative forced to accommodate, and dumbed down as a result. What we do have is a story of murder, betrayal and grand if twisted motives, which if extracted and looked at with a critical eye would unfortunately be found lacking in coherence, imagination and intelligence. Of course all this of course wasn't helped by, if I'm honest, quite the wooden one dimensional performance from a lead I thought at first would be ideally suited, and whilst it takes quite a lot for me to actually call out an actor, such is his and disinterested demeanour and forced chemistry with both Elizabeth and Brandon, he actually makes the film worse just by being in it.  A real missed opportunity, but not a wholly bad film; Mr Dog certainly deserved more though - 5/10.


Friday, 17 June 2016

Plaga Zombie: Zona Mutante (Mutant Zone) - review

2001 (Argentina)

Contains mild spoilers.

I was rather smitten with director, writer and co-star Pablo Parés and Hernán Sáez's 1997 extremely low budget zombie original. Energetic, vibrant, imaginative Plaga Zombie, transl. Zombie Plague, overflowed with everything you'd want in in an excessive bad taste non-serious zombie spectacular, and I felt Parés and Sáez should be damned proud of their first full film. With double the budget ($3000), and with all the issues they had (it took them 4 years from starting the project to get it out with all involved saying it took its toll), could they have done it again, retaining the same frenetic pace, obvious enthusiasm and authentic delight that spilled out and into those lucky enough to watch something, shall we say, less mainstream first time round? I'll cut to the chase; yes they bloody could and it was worth the pain.

Mutant Zone not only picks the story, what there was of it, up right where things were left, but also the excessive riotous tour-de-force and non stop barrage of the most putrid, gory, juvenile, imaginative and silly zombie killing ever put on screen. Nothing has changed; nothing has calmed down. It's still prosthetic madness with models and masks, buckets of fake blood; guts and spines, limbs and heads all audaciously ripped, pulled and hewn apart at every turn. As with all good Dead Alive (BrainDead) splatter comedies it's disgusting, it's dark, but it's also so excessive, so over the top it, it all becomes a spectacle; a hyper-real parody you feel your allowed to join in with. Each more and more audaciously silly kill is the joke that keeps on giving; and this is something I feel outsiders to the genre often overlook, but one Parés and Sáez have perfected; and I don't think at any point in the film I actually stopped smiling.

What of the story? Mutant Zone doesn't take itself too, or I should say, at all seriously. There's a small daft opening bit of narrative where we learn aliens are actually behind the whole thing. That they've done a deal to experiment in one small area so as to not take over the entire world,.and our heroes from the previous film, Bill (Parés), the giant cowboy ex-wrestler John West (Berta Muñiz) and Max (Sáez) find themselves unfortunate loose threads in the conspiracy. What it means is they've been summarily thrown back into to the now quarantined town without weapons or any idea as to what's really going on, there's a lot of zombies out to get them and before the hour and half are through there will be a lot running, a lot of killing and a lot of fun, if little deep or contemplative narrative.

What stops Mutant Zone from being the one trick pony, and what ultimately keeps it from outstaying it's welcome, despite, if being critical, that it is and on paper it shouldn't, is the constant imagination. For a film that is fundamentally one long chase broken up now and again with the odd skirmish, that there isn't a single trite or obvious story decision, line of dialogue, or angle  of shot is breath-taking. Each and every extravagant, and ridiculous fight, or each moment between, is out to trick and surprise you and it's a delightful ride to sit back and enjoy being on. For Parés and Sáez nothing too is off the table, too off-the wall, or even subtle or surreal; and yet it all fits, the film is cohesive with a singular identity.

It's the same trick with the zombies. Black, white, green and blue, Plaga zombies can be any hue, any level of decay, any level of mutation and any level one of many observable behavioural patterns or any combination between. Yet they're all brought together by the same undeniable level of zany fun and comic-book look and feel where perhaps having a budget where one couldn't dictate all and every minutia actually helped. It's like the traditional zombie idiom of distinct and unique individuals becoming a homogenised one is non-applicable. Here the undead each have clear and discrete character and dare I say personality which even lends itself to how they're ultimately and individually dispatched. Later we also discover they're not perhaps as one-sidedly cannibalistic as we thought, as social aspects are offered and explored. It all makes for quite the rich tapestry and quite the out the box thinking perhaps allowed when youth and inexperience take nothing off the table.

I could wax-lyrically about Mutant Zone all day. Perhaps one the best comedy splatter zombie films ever made there is so much honesty, verve and passion on play one can't help but be swept up in it all. Parés, Muñiz and Sáez also almost make the film a buddy one with on screen relationships that feel authentic and tangible, with a depth and warmth that permeates even the coldest of hearts. So could they deliver a sequel? Could they. Plaga Zone: Mutant Zone is Plaga Zombie unleashed oozing increased confidence, greater ambition and given the means to demonstrate with a larger sandbox, more time and more resources to play with. An absolute delight from start to finish you owe it to yourself to get on-board especially with a third instalment, Plaga Zombie: Zona Mutante: Revolución Tóxica, and even fourth American Invasion, sitting in the wings - 9/10.


Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Maggie - review

2015 (USA / Switzerland)

Contains mild spoilers.

Ok. Review 200 and what better way to celebrate than to take a look at a triple-A Hollywood giant strut his stuff. On paper Zombies and Arnold Schwarzenegger have always seemed a match made in heaven, and my first question coming in to this was really why hadn't it happened sooner. Ok, I'm being a little disingenuous if I'm honest as I did know a little about the film before watching, and I could see the cover, but the point about lots of guns, lots of shooting, lots of zombies and the rootin' tootin' former governor that we think we know still stands. Which leads on to my second question, given, as we've said, the cover and what we've been lead to believe we might be getting into; how could, said somewhat wooden one dimensional action hero conceivably pull this off.

Zombies are rarely the focus of a zombie film. Hold on. What I mean by that, is the zombie is almost always the driver for the action, the horror, the comedy or, in the case of writer John Scott 3 and director Henry Hobson's Maggie, the drama and the character relationships; and not necessarily the focus itself. In Maggie, the zombies are still real; I was actually taken aback at just how gnarly and well, zombie, they were, and the world is still reeling from an actual apocalypse; but this isn't really about them and there really aren't that many in it. One however, has bitten Sixteen year old Maggie, played by the extremely talented Abigail Breslin (who people may recall was also in Zombieland) and that's what's important.

Maggie is a poignant and often beautiful father daughter tragedy exploring themes of love and death, and the moral complexities of euthanasia. Yeah, it's not a pop-corn and beer thrill ride; more the quite sad and heart-wrenching have a hanky at the ready sort of experience. It opens with Wade (Arnie) finding Maggie in a hospital quarantine area, having confirmation that she's infected and then him taking her back home where she'll see out her final few weeks. It's rare to set a zombie story after control has all but been restored, but what Hobson's bleak broken vision of rural small town middle America might lack in inherent danger, it more than makes up for in complimenting Maggie's personal story in atmosphere and aesthetic. People may have law and order but they're a people broken and still in shock. Cities and fields burn, power and water are intermittent and trying to bring humanity and control to the remaining zombie threat is proving hard for all involved.

As said, the actual zombies are dark, demonic, savage and everything you'd want in a modern post Walking Dead world. What's good though is the only real threat any more is from the poor unfortunate souls that were bitten before order was restored, and who have been allowed to return to their loved ones before their final transformation. Necroambulists is what the world calls them. So dead (necro) that walk (ambulists) and quite the nice phrasing that I may well pinch in the future. Transmission is virus and transition from bitten to full on snarling flesh eating monster quite a few weeks. Things to look forward to on the journey are a worsening wound with the putrid infection clearly spreading out, cloudy opaque eyes, and then as one gets close, a hunger for meat, mistaking human flesh for meat, and a loss of will and cognisance stopping one from tucking in.

Schwarzenegger's portrayal of a Dad coming to terms with the fact he can no longer protect his little girl is both poignant and moving and honest and commanding. I could be cynical and argue the lack of lines plays to his strengths; Maggie is a slow, expansive feature, full of long wistful shots; but that I feel would be doing him a great disservice as at times his mere presence and silence fills the screen more than maybe a barrage from an AK-47 ever could. There's also an assuredness to his performance; a grandeur and earnestness, demonstrating a far greater versatility than his portfolio perhaps suggests and suggesting that he just may have picked a thing or two about this acting lark along his near forty year career. Also having daughters of his own helped, as he's quite happy to admit.

I was genuinely moved by Maggie and whilst I can recognise much of the criticism the film received I have to say I'm fully on board with what Hobson et al were trying to achieve. It's moody, deliberately sentimental and a tad indulgent but also honest, authentic and coherent with a story impossible to tell any other way without losing its heart and identity. Ok the zombie angle is perhaps a headline grabber; zombies sell right? And the father daughter story could just as easy be cancer or some other horrendous condition without the fundamental narrative altering, but by making it zombies, and making the parallels it did, it certainly made for an altogether more thought provoking endeavour with a unique stark and startling vision. Visually sumptuous, confidently crafted and masterfully performed by all, this desolate post-apocalyptic love story is a tough but deeply enriching watch if one can be willing to indulge oneself - 8/10.


Saturday, 11 June 2016

Flesh of my Flesh - review

2015 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

High concept and low budget intersect in Flesh of my Flesh, they say, and boy they weren't kidding. Five minutes in, after adjusting to the 'classic' 4:3 resolution I was under no illusion that to survive the next hour and a half, heck, to survive the opening credits, I would need to come to terms with, and this is being polite, raw film making and stilted performances very quickly. Make no mistake, writer and director Edward Martin III's Flesh of my Flesh requires the viewer to be in an calm, receptive and very forgiving place, and it's not a film for the faint of heart either in composition or content. This all being said, if one can stick with it through to the end, can transcend above the obvious faults and failings, and discern the wheat from the chaff, there's actually a lot on offer and one might even limp away from the tussle all the better for it.

The first small glimmer of hope, in quite the laboured and pedestrian set of opening scenes is that of a young girl's parents, their guts spewed out across ravaged bodies, and it's the jolt we needed to remind us this is at heart old school horror and we should be able to put up a certain amount of schlock. It's eighteen months after z-day one, and the story starts with a rescue helicopter searching for survivors They get attacked (ground to air missile), they land, it explodes and they get rescued, of a sort, by a group of lab rats that caught the whole thing on CCTV camera. What we learn from these opening scenes is whilst the acting isn't going to get much better, it's going to be tolerable, the film is always going to look like it's from the late 70s / early 80s and possibly Italy, the narrative is going to be odd and meandering, and there wasn't much of a budget for zombie deaths with extras throwing themselves down sufficient cover for lack of splatter. One other thing is that it's the zombies and the direction Martin has taken them, both conceptually and aesthetically that will ultimately save proceedings.

Crazy psychedelic swirly whirly time with broken and merged images, random slowdowns and hue and saturation dials under the control of man dealing with a severe epileptic seizure can only mean one thing. Zombie time. The first scene where we realise we'll have to throw away our preconceptions as to what zombies do when they're on their own, I'll admit left me confused and concerned, but also intrigued and interested. Up till now Martin's zombies behaved like good little western post Romero zombies should albeit with Boyle speed and gusto. The drive was human flesh at all any cost with little concern over self-preservation, and dispatchment was the usual shot to the noggin. Here though, away from the hunt rather than standing and shuffling about they were active in social ritual and expression. You see in Flesh of my Flesh zombies are still, as they describe themselves, human. They can talk, plan, utilise memories and skills and socialise but on a higher level freed from the tyranny that human flesh isn't for consumption.

They can also regenerate. Everything. Lose an arm, watch it grow back in real time. Lose everything below the chin and everything will start to replenish, that is as long as you stay fed, as Dr. Herbert West (yes) played by Ron Richardson uncovers with Fred the Head (credited on IMDb as Mad Martian). You see, it's also not all about survivors vs. the zombies. These zombies are special, not only in ability but also in number, as there's also factions with clear hierarchies, or at least clear leaders; those being the biggest, meanest and most likely to rip your head off should you question the status-quo;. All of which is lucky for the survivors as the first big siege on the survivors now uncovered hidden lab brings the two biggest tribes together and they end up being so occupied with each other the guys and girls can make an escape.

There's some stuff about this dormant zombie switch being in all of us back through to Neanderthals who on occasion came back from the dead only to see their family as a hungry snack, and there's stuff about consuming another's brains and transference of memories and skills (all quite Cronenburg), and there's even social-political discussion about the merits of city levelling and the morality of friendly fire. It all makes for quite the dark and gritty set-up, and one which Martin et al. fully exploits. Flesh of my Flesh is not a a film for the faint of heart and chock full of blood and guts; though maybe not as much as I believe they would have liked to include, if armed with a larger budget. The skull and brain eating scene, some one hour in, is possibly one of the striking, gruesome and aesthetically disturbing I've seen and almost beautiful in its composition and production.

It's at this point I'd normally either wax lyrically over the production qualities or strength of narrative or make sardonic quips at the films expense tearing it a new one as friends would say. Here I'm simply going to say Flesh of my Flesh does suffer from its budgetary constraints; in all areas, and of that I think we're all in agreement. But did it stop them from putting together a genuinely unique and disturbing zombie story? Not one bit. And there have been many a zombie film over the years that a day later I have trouble recalling much about; with Flesh of my Flesh I'm still going to be mulling things over for quite some time to come. The deliberate ambiguity, the big ideas not fully fleshed out, the haunting and disturbing score put together by Cyoakha Grace O'Manion, the jarring juxtaposition from a deliberately eighties looking lab to suddenly a modern clean conference room; maybe I'm even being played and the general rubbishness was a perhaps ruse and all played up and part of the plan? I don't know, and I don't know how to sum it all up or score it. Some films are works of art, some films are picture perfect, some films are visual show pieces, and some films have kitsch and resonance, 6/10.


Thursday, 9 June 2016

Black Sheep - review

2006 (New Zealand)

Contains mild spoilers.

What do you get when you cross a large sheep farm, a crazed genetic engineer and a collection of exaggerated characters all converging right when things kick off? You get director / writer Jonathon King's barmy little b-movie rom-com Black Sheep. And to cut to the chase it's good. It's well written with strong acting and production and does everything you'd expect for a silly horror story played straight. Yet, and here's the rub, for a film about crazed mutant killer sheep it also perhaps plays it a little on the safe side.

There's Angus Oldfield (Peter Feeney), owner of the largest sheep farm in New Zealand. There's his younger brother Henry (Nathan Meister) who's returned home to settle accounts and sell his share of the farm. There's a pair of animal rights activists, a sheep handler, a housekeeper and, that's right, a genetic lab run by Dr. Rush (Tandi Wright) who's been playing god with both sheep and Angus' DNA. It's b-movie territory, so the characters are given plenty of licence to ham it up. Yet despite plenty of ammo to really joke around with, such as Henry's Ovinaphobia (the best term for the irrational fear of sheep I could find) there were times I felt the dialogue and story was holding back; that there was a fear to really let go. It's not all the time, and kudos should really be given to the accomplished script, the great performances and successful dry humour, but, and I never really thought I'd ever say this, perhaps it could have benefited from been a bit more Troma.

In time honoured b-movie tradition, quite how and for that matter why Dr. Rush was given the time, resources and authority to conduct her experiments is neither hide nor hair. What does matter is when combined with the incompetence of the animal rights brigade some toxic waste is spilled and before you can recite Mary Had A Little Lamb the whole flock has turned from fluffy white clouds to ferocious homicidal little shits hell bent on turning the green and pleasant countryside a distinct shade of red. So are they zombies and is this a zombie film? A difficult one to answer and depends entirely on which side of the zombie debate you stand. If one can handle animals as zombies then there's an argument that the insatiable hunger for human flesh they're newly consumed with would count them in. There's also a small scene in the lab with a sheep clearly deceased but still moving which is a tick for the reanimated side of things. If anything though, and especially what with all the, if rather stupid, sheep-human mutating, that this is perhaps more of a were- film albeit were-sheep than wolf. Anyway, there's sheep, they've turned into ravenous killing machines via a toxic spill and there's blood, gore, carnage, and plenty of death; and a certain ambiguity, so I'll let it sit. Also I did let Zombeavers and Poultrygeist on, and I am going for the whole zombie zoo.

I've read King stood up at the Belgian Horror Festival, he said he didn't want too much CGI to ruin his film and Black Sheep is all the better for it. Animatronics were handled by Weta Workshop, who had previously taken care of BrainDead (Dead Alive) and went on to handle Lord of The Rings, are as you'd expect top notch, if still, and delightfully so, a little hokey. And the oodles of splatter and gore, which King certainly doesn't shy away from are gruesome and handled with all the bad taste one would want.

Perhaps a little cliché, perhaps a little restrained and simple, Black Sheep is still the riotous ride, full of charm, character and dark, bloody fun. It's also exactly what you'd expect from a film about zombie sheep, which is both a good thing, and yet perhaps bad thing. Still; Excessive gore? Check. Bad sheep jokes? Check. An audaciously implausible story full of laughably b-movie ideas and black humour? Check. A perfect friends and beer film? Check. 6/10? Check.


Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Zombie Fight Club - review

2014 (Taiwan)

Contains mild spoilers.

Just as in his previous zombie outing, Zombie 108, Taiwanese director Joe Chien's Zombie Fight Club revels in sex and violence in the most negative and exploitative of ways. Women are clad without exception in as little as possible and always presented as 'the fairer' sex, with all that implies, and all tense situations are resolved with as much detached cum homicidal inhumanity and lashings of blood and gore as possible. It's dark, it's intense, it's The Horde with less of a sense of moral consequence, and while it doesn't quite reach the tumultuous and questionable edge of decency and good judgement, of its predecessor, what with the torture porn and whatnot, it's not far off. And we've not even got onto the zombies.

Like its predecessor, whilst there's a huge part of me that really wanted to take a firm stance of dislike towards it, I actually quite enjoyed myself; though again more for the parts than the sum. There's a rapper and celebratory entourage replete with party girls and dodgy pills, there's an amateur kidnapping with body parts ready to be posted, there's a deadly gangland heist with hoodlums pretending to be cops or maybe bent cops playing hoodlums, and a high school teacher playing doting father to his birthday girl all the while making advances towards her friend. There's lots of stories, lots of characters, lots going on and it's all interesting and satisfyingly dark and deviant, especially as the mayhem and carnage of a full on zombie apocalypse descends on (or should that be ascends) their claustrophobic run-down apartment block. The thing is when all done and dusted some hour later, their location and the fact most of them are dead or undead is still mostly the only thing that connects them. As said, it's the constituent parts of the film, more than the composition as a whole that entertains; in fact thinking too hard at all about the film as a complete piece with maybe a central thread will do no one any good, which is especially important what with all that happens at said hour mark.

Chien is either brave or foolish, though probably a bit of both. One hour in, there's a conclusion of a sort and even though it would make the film short I started thinking the words that started appearing against a burnt ruined city were some kind of narrative sign off. 'Epidemic, all over the world, cannibalistic numbers malformed; The city, society, government, all fucked'. Ok. 'The remaining humans underground, above the walking dead.' Then in even more confusing bad Engrish; confusing in that half the actual dialogue is in English. 'Meanwhile to save daughter, a harmless father lost daughter into a zombie. Many forced into slavery, yet a descent turned into dark side to become ruler.' Then, '1 year later'…There was more.

The first rule of Fight Club, is you don't talk about Fight Club… I shouldn't like it, I mean I certainly don't agree with it, but Chien's one year later thirty minute Land of the Dead dystopian post-apocalypse nonsense is certainly entertaining. There's also an attempt of sorts at a larger, deeper story which I guess kind of works, albeit in a kind of ridiculous manner, and if you can continue to shrug off the casual exploitation, and don't really think too hard, or, as said talk about it.

Chien has done a good job imbuing his zero day vision with all the confusion, disbelief, impatience and unnecessary and needless death and destruction, I don't doubt would follow a short fused and short-incubation zombie tidal wave. There's a certain ambiguity to how or what actually set the whole thing off, how things spread and what the rules actually are, but we're left under no illusions that the zombies themselves are gnarly, deadly and out to get, eat a bit of, and ultimately turn you into one of their own. Effects are generally very good and visceral, albeit a tad gimmicky at times with the Steve Jackson gorometer being dialled up to stoopidly excessive and a little too much CGI blood. There's certainly a lot on offer though for one wanting oodles of realistic carnage, destruction and no holds barred zombie action.

Zombie Fight Club is a well scripted, well acted and competently put together piece of cinema, and Chien hasn't lost his knack of producing quite the show piece; action scenes especially full of energy, anxiety and verve. It is also a dark place to go chock full of gore and death with quite the sadistic streak. It would also be really easy to tear it to shreds should I over think things, but as said without critiquing too hard, I actually found much to admire and I did thoroughly enjoy all the wanton negative destruction, and even the scantily dressed girls, despite me not really feeling like I should. A pretty shitty film about shitty people being as shitty to each as possible, Chien with Zombie Fight Club has somehow again put together something one feels deserves to score much lower than it does, 6/10.