Archive for November, 2009

Zombieland Review

Horror-comedies are the hardest films to get right. You can either rely on the comedy to get you through the first two acts (Shaun of the Dead) or you can go too far down the horror route and just have the occasional gag (Severance). Well, take heed, because this is one film that manages to achieve that golden statue and have horror and comedy taking place in the same scene at the same time.

A few weeks have passed since the first zombie bit his first victim and now the entire world has turned in a nightmare hellscape – lucky for survivor Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg on top form). Columbus was a loner before the zombie outbreak, and now he’s just as happy as always – only now he’s got a fantastic set of survival rules to which he’s planning on keeping. Heading out to find his parents, Columbus meets up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson with the dial set to eleven), a man with an almost insane hatred of zombies and a love of carnage. On the long, deserted road towards home, the two encounter devious and likeable female con artists Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin), both of whom are on their own journey to Pacific Playground in Los Angeles. Along the way, they murder zombies, hang out with the superb Bill Murray and attempt to enjoy the little things that remain open to them in the new world.

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It’s a rare film indeed that can bring out deep, hearty belly laughs as you watch the world being destroyed. Normally something only achieved by Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay, the names of director Ruben Fleischer and writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese can now be added to this prestigious list. Within the opening ten minutes the number of inventive ways to show an apocalypse has hit an all-time high, while the huge array of loud, hard laughs on offer may see you struggling to breathe amid all the genuinely horrific violence.

The film’s real strength is the completely believable and totally loveable characters. The smart decision to focus on only four survivors leaves the writers with an incredible amount of depth to play with – hard man Tallahassee hides a disarming secret while the possibly virginal Columbus manages the impossible task of never once being an irritating Warcraft-playing nerd. Wichita and Little Rock even come across as likeable, despite every opportunity for the characters to be annoying – almost a miracle considering that Little Rock is a young girl in a horror movie. Massive props, too, to Bill Murray, whose short time on screen easily counts towards being one of the best roles of the year, if not the greatest cameo in horror history.

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In short, this manages the impossible. Horror fans, zombie fans, comedy fans and even romance fans will all find something to like here. Absolutely, hands down, the funniest, most gruesome and jaw-dropping film of the year so far. Nut up or shut up – this must be seen.

5 stars

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Funny People Review

And so the Seth Rogan-Judd Apatow comedy machine rolls on, resulting in this – Apatow’s third writer-director feature.

The likes of overly-shmaltzy-but-just-about-amusing-enough-to-get-away-with-it The 40 Year-Old Virgin and the downright hilarious and loveable Knocked Up really should have prepared us more for this. While Apatow may know some of the hottest names in comedy, he’s actually a very poor comedy writer, leaving it entirely up to the talents of his actors and their improv as to whether or not a film is funny. With his previous two films, the cast had a great variety of material to work with. This time, not so much.

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When world famous actor George Simmons (Adam Sandler playing something eerily like himself) is told he might only have months to live, he sets out determined to enjoy what time he has, recruiting promising young stand up artist Ira Wright (Seth Rogan) to write him new material and work for him. As the two travel the country together, Ira comes to believe himself as more than just an employee to Simmons, while George himself is trying to patch up the broken heart of the only woman he ever loved, Laura (Leslie Mann), who is now married.

It’s not a promising situation for any comedy, much less one that proclaims itself to be hilarious in its own title, when one of the opening scenes is a man being told he’s going to die. Make no mistake about it – this film is a tragedy starring comedians.

Halfway through the film, the gear shifts with an audible clunk as Simmons is cured of his disease, changing the tone of the film completely and losing what little comedy there was in it in the first place. More annoyingly, several scenes are laced into the film for the sole purpose of showing off Judd Apatow’s family. Wife Leslie Mann wears tight jeans for Adam Sandler to comment on how hot she looks and one of his daughters sings a song in a home movie – it’s like he’s sitting next to you asking you what you think.

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Most criminally of all, the always wonderful Jonah Hill barely features at all and when he is on screen it’s so pointless and unnecessary you might find yourself wondering why he was even put in there in the first place. Also, most of the genuinely funny lines from the trailer have been replaced with less amusing ones in the final film, making this the most blatant case of false advertising since Alone in the Dark was billed as a horror.

Granted, it is a sweet story told by great actors and Adam Sandler has never been on better form. But when your hot comedic talents are outshined by Ray Romano and Eminem bickering at each other across a crowded bar, you know you have problems. Amusing in places, but don’t expect anything worthy of the hype. Maybe next time the Rogan-Apatow comedy machine rolls into town, they could remember to pack some laughs along with the emotion.

Two stars

GUMO #124 - The Rat Race Claims Another

We’ve moved in now. Still lacking a working shower. Experimenting with making things digitally, so I was in two minds about whether or not I should post this. In the interest of showing progress, I did. I’m intending to update every day until things are caught up.

ARCHIVES

406 – Strange Attractors

You know an episode is going to dip in quality when it features any of the following characters: Tracey, Claire or Parkman. This episode features all three.

The episode see-saws between reasonably interesting and claw-your-eyes-out tedious as Claire and Gretchen get kidnapped for a Sorority day out, but it turns out to be a ploy by invisible girl Becky (the murderer of Claire’s former roommate) to try and off Gretchen for Samuel’s Master Plan, in the manner of the movie Saw.

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Speaking of Samuel, the carnival one crops up in a wooing plot with Tracey. While Bennett tries to get healing hands boy Jeremy out of prison with the former governor’s secretary’s help, Samuel attempts to show her that Bennett’s plans for the boy to disappear won’t work and that the specials need each other to survive in this world. It all goes wrong when she refuses, however, and Jeremy winds up dead at the hands of ignorant cops.

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Elsewhere in the episode, the excellent Zachary Quinto struggles to make sense of the gone-on-for-far-too-long saga of Sylar in Parkman’s brain. This time sees the arc finally take a step forwards as Sylar lures Parkman into getting drunk and lowering his defences, allowing the evil one to come forward and take over his body.

Basically, it’s a pretty middling episode livened up only by the episode’s climactic sequence where Samuel takes vengeance on the cops who murdered Jeremy by levelling their station, more than making up for the missing sequence where he did the same thing in episode two.

It’s telling that things are starting to drag – perhaps the writers didn’t plan this set of storylines through properly? The Claire/Gretchen romance is so bland it’s funny, with the bizarre change of atmosphere in this episode coming off as sadistic. The Parkman/Sylar battle has taken six episodes to get to the point where it has changed pace and did the story of Jeremy really need to cover two episodes? With a bit of trimming and tight plotting, this could all have been covered in three episodes, four max.

Thank god for Samuel.

Two stars

Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars Review

After the soul-crushing disappointment of ‘Planet of the Dead’, Russell T Davis has his work cut out for him. Can he deliver just a few more hours of on-form Doctor Who before David Tennant steps out of the Time Lord’s shoes?

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Well, actually, yes. There’s a hell of a lot to like in this latest one-off episode and, for once, it’s an episode built on ideas instead of stupid one-note weird images (see also: London bus in a desert.)

After being warned last time by a psychic that his death was approaching and will be heralded with ‘four knocks’, the Doctor heads off to Mars for a think. Unfortunately, he arrives at the first Mars human colony on November 21st 2059 – the exact date the base was destroyed with no survivors. This sees the Doctor facing his most agonising decision yet: will he interfere with history even knowing that the colonist’s deaths are the reason the human race made its push out into the wider universe?

From the off, there’s very little slack in what could have been an incredibly dreary and tedious episode. Within five minutes the Monsters of the Week (this time it’s water that infects people, causing their eyes and mouths to go all weird and water to start leaking from their mouths) have been introduced and the body count begins to rise. The quick pace is kept up throughout, with Tennant’s Doctor coming across, for once, as genuinely defeated for the first 45 minutes, while the CGI is both impressive and kept to a minimum. Even the episode’s superbly dark ending is well handled and believable – possibly a first since the third series ended.

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It’s not perfect and there are a few problems. Firstly, there is – as always – far too much running up and down blank corridors and the music is unnecessarily overly dramatic in the early parts of the episode. While the enemies are suitably creepy, the idea that they can squirt water from their wrists and mouths does more to lessen them than anything else and the shuddering as the virus takes over its victims is just plain silly. The Doctor’s final decision seems to come in far too late to be of any good and when it does he instantly reverts back to that oh-so-annoying insane gurning buffoon, which, after the preceding ten minutes, is a very strange change of pace indeed. Moreover, the episode rips off wholesale Aliens, Event Horizon and 28 Days Later without really adding much of its own and the less said about the ‘comedy’ sidekick robot the better. One for the kids there, perhaps.

That said, the Doctor’s turn to the dark side is both wonderful and believable – if only they didn’t spend the last minute of screen time undoing that, this would be truly excellent. As it stands, it’s a welcome return to form and a huge sigh of relief as we head into Tennant’s final farewell. Just don’t bring Catherine Tate back to – oh. Jesus, no.

3 stars

405 – Tabula Rasa

Tabula Rasa means blank slate, which describes both Sylar’s mental condition and the attitude the writers have approached this episode with. Put simply, this is the best Heroes has been for a very long time.

The main bulk is spent with the always watchable Sylar being toyed with by his new masters at the circus, leading to several excellent confrontations – Sylar trapped in a house of mirrors that replay all his old murders while he screams for mercy, a brilliant – though far too short – first clash between Sylar and Edgar, a spectacularly cataclysmic showdown with the pursuing police officer in the hall of mirrors and the final baptism washing Sylar free of all his guilt.

The other parts of the episode are just as good and entertaining – Claire once again has no classes to attend and shows up at Bennett’s house, but before you can say plot drag, Hiro is pulled to Peter, who absorbs his power and takes Bennett on a quest to find a healer. Slight annoyance – Claire’s healing will not stop Hiro’s tumour, yet a healing touch will? This raises more questions than it answers, but it sets up an absolutely jaw-dropping freeze-time sequence where Peter stops time at the exact moment a bullet passes through his body. The trigger-happy healer who can give and take life is a great character on his own and gives Bennett a chance to play the good guy and make up for his past mistakes, which is always nice.

Elsewhere, Emma tries to talk to Hiro about her desire to turn her potentially dangerous power off, but the delighted geek wants instead to prove to her what a good thing it can be, setting up another outstanding CGI freeze-time sequence, this one involving a room of clapping people and those beautiful sound wave colours.

All in all, a fantastic step forward for the show. It loses a star for only teasing a Sylar/Edgar smackdown and for dismissing Claire’s healing power, but the cliffhanger suggests that the next episode is about the go off the rails in terms of quality. More, please.

4 stars