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31 Days Of Horror 14: Monsters University (2013) by Jamie

Ok… I know I was stretching the definition of horror with Stoker. Yes, there is no way that Monsters University could truly be defined as a “horror” film but Monsters is right there in the title and I’ve been enveloped in gore, murder and all that kind of stuff lately and god damnit I need something light so I’m going ahead with this one… Did I mention that the word Monsters was in the title?

So, the original Monsters Inc. It’s a good movie I can’t deny that but I was never a massive fan of it.  It had some interesting ideas but it was kinda formulaic especially after Toy Story 1 and 2. It kinda falls above Bug’s Life for me but definitely near the bottom of the Pixar pile, a good pile though it may be. So how good could a prequel released twelve years after the original actually be especially given the fact that prequel is almost a curse word by this point?

Well, honestly I think I preferred it to the original. Scrap that. I definitely preferred it to the original. I’ll admit, I was sceptical as many were when I first heard of this film. It seemed as though lately Pixar had been falling into a sequel quagmire and their latest original film wasn’t exactly ground-breaking (Yes, I’m looking at you Brave). Monsters University was just another attempt at a soulless cash in by a company that was running out of good original ideas. I also wondered exactly why they were releasing a movie set at a university, a movie ostensibly aimed at kids.

Having watched it though, I can say that whilst this may not be Pixar’s most heart-warming movie, though it still has it’s moments, it is one of their funniest. I also realised that despite the colourful monster designs this isn’t a movie aimed squarely at kids like the Cars franchise is and it made sense to me when I considered that twelve year gap between films. The kids who saw the first movie are probably around University age themselves now. There’s no way kids are gonna get jokes about new age philosophy or subtly implied accidental incest jokes but the kids who watched that first movie twelve years ago are and this is a movie for them. There’s still plenty of jokes and stuff kids will enjoy, don’t get me wrong, but I firmly believe that kids today aren’t the primary audience for this film.

Pixar are really good at this ageing with their audience thing and getting a good balance between appealing to both kids and adults. Hell, just look at Toy Story 3 released ffteen years after the first film. It’s all about growing up and leaving behind your childhood, about parents saying goodbye to their kids. It’s a film that I absolutely believes resonates more with the generation who grew up watching that first film than it does with kids today.

Still, it does fall into a few traps that prequels inevitably do. The crammed in jokes that serve as a bridge between the two films. They aren’t anywhere egregious as the hoops Lucas jumped through to ensure that every little thing in the Star Wars prequels was connected to everything else (3PO was built by Vader! Obi-Wan was chased by Boba Fett and his dad! Yoda hung out with Chewbacca!) but there is a plot thread featuring Randall from the first film which seems like it just stops at one point, feeling like an excuse to have the character there because, you know, prequel.

Still overall this a damn enjoyable film and, to further justify this being included in my horror month, one of the final scenes is a pretty nice homage to horror movies in general. It even takes place at a summer camp. It’s a scene where a character finally realizes… Well, saying anymore would be entering spoiler territory but it’s a surprisingly different place than I thought the movie would go so good for it. Four pints out of five. Laterz.

 

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31 Days of Horror 13: Stoker (2013) by Jamie

It can be debated about whether or not Stoker counts as a true horror. It could be said that it is really more of a thriller but I find that the borders between the two genres are often blurred somewhat and so I feel good with my choice of including it here. I’ve even heard some critics describe it as a horror so that helps aid my decision to include it plus it’s heavily influenced by that ol’ master of horror himself, Alfred Hitchcock. What this all boils down to is screw it, I watched Stoker and now I’m reviewing it. Deal with it.

The first thing I should point out is that this is not a vampire movie. There seems to have been confusion when this film came out, I guess owing mostly to the name Stoker. The film does draw some inspiration from Stoker’s novel Dracula but nope, this is not a vampire film. This is a movie more in the mold of Hitchcock’s ‘Shadow of a Doubt’, a film which I’ll say right now that you haven’t seen, you should. It’s awesome.

Anyway, Stoker is about a young girl called India and how her life gets twist-turned upside down when her father is killed in a car accident on her birthday and her Uncle Charlie comes to stay with her and her emotionally fragile mother. Uncle Charlie seems like a very nice guy but is there something sinister lying behind his polite nature and his good looks like some kind of handsome shark?

That’s where I’ll stick to on synopsis because this film has a number of twists and turns whilst still managing to keep a slow, steady pace. That’s not a criticism. This is a Park Chan-wook film and from this and Oldboy (the only films I’ve seen of his, a tragedy I seek to correct as soon as possible) I can say that he is a master of deliberate story-telling, choosing not to reveal anything until he is ready to but managing to keep you drawn in with his beautiful visual style and steady pacing.

Thankfully, this movie isn’t just well paced and well shot, it’s also terrifically acted. I can’t think of a bad performance in the whole thing… Well, maybe some of the bully characters who are kind of broadly drawn arsehole stereotypes but they’re a pretty minor part of the whole piece so I’ll let them slide. Oh and the way music is used is just another reminder that Chan-wook is a master of his craft.

Overall this is a pretty terrific film. Rent it, buy it, do whatever you have to do but see it. Can’t think of a bad thing to say about it really, or, sadly, too much good because to go into too great detail would inevitably reveal something about the plot. So yeah five pints out of five. Laterz.



31 Days of Horror 11: Dark Skies (2013) by Jamie

Haunted house movies! They’re a Halloween staple what with their ghostly object stacking, ghostly images appearing on CCTV footage and ghostly alien abductions. Yeah, you read that right. Alien abductions. Dark Skies is a haunted house movie where the force behind everything going on are aliens rather than ghosts. The main problem being that the aliens in this film do much the same bullshit that ghosts do in these movies.

In your average haunting movie you can explain away a ghost opening a fridge and throwing all the food on the floor or taking all the canned goods and stacking them as the typical actions of a mischievous spirit. It’s just a poltergeist fucking with people because that’s what poltergeists do. These silly pranks stretch credibility, however, when we are asked to believe that they are the work of beings who have travelled millions of light-years. Are they a race of highly advanced high-school pranksters? What’s going to happen next? Are they going to beam a bag of burning dog shit onto my front porch and ring the doorbell before flying away at the speed of light? Am I going to wake up with several hours of missing time and a wedgie?

And then, after doing these little pranks, the aliens begin to get nasty for no reason other than we’re later told by an expert that this is just how this shit always goes down. Yes, this movie has an expert. In normal haunted house movies it’s a priest, a demonologist or a paranormal investigator. In this movie, it’s another abductee in the form of J K Simmons and he’s here to do what every expert in these movies does. Show up near the end to explain what the force wants, what you might to to avoid your fate and just how small of a chance you have of avoiding it.

In all honesty, I know I’m making it seem as though I hated this movie but I didn’t really. It’s enjoyable enough, it’s just that I resent the film makers trying to make me think this isn’t just another stupid haunted house movie because aliens. It is. It follows the exact same structure as these movies do except where you’d normally have someone say poltergeist or demon, they say Grey. Still, the acting is a notch above your average haunted house movie and I have something of a soft spot for the Greys due to my years of watching the X-Files as a kid. It’s biggest problem is that it does seem to drag in places but if it happened to be on I’d say give it a watch or you could watch the superior ‘Alien Abduction: Incident at Lake County‘ but then I’d recommend that above many things. God I love that movie. Anyway, three pints out of five. Laterz.

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31 Days of Horror 9: Curse of Chucky by Jamie

Ah, Chucky. He never quite achieved the heights of the slasher gods such as Michael, Freddy or Jason but he carved (hehehe. Get it? Because knives!) out his own little niche and has quite the cult following. And rightfully so. The Child’s Play films are just a fun series based on a very simple concept. Dolls are creepy so what if one was inhabited by the soul of a serial killer. It would be able to kill indiscriminately and get away with it because if domeone tells you that a doll is killing people, are you going to believe them? No of course your not. You’d have to be crazy to even suggest such a thing.

Anyway, since this is a brand new film I’ve decided not to go into the plot that much since there are a few things that could be considered spoilers. I mean, not much, It’s a goddamn Chucky film. Doll kills people. But there are a few little twists and a few things that tie in to the earlier films which cement this as a sequel rather than the reboot I had been told it was. And it really does feel like a reboot at times.

This is mainly due to the fact that there is a lot of build up in this thing. You go a good forty five minutes before you even hear Brad Douriff’s awesome voice. Still, all of this build up is kinda pointless because you see Chucky moving. You seem him setting things up so it’s not like they’re trying to build up any kind of mystery as to whether or not it is actually Chucky doing evil things. He clearly is alive and doing shit. And why would they try and build up any kind of intrigue. I highly doubt that this straight to DVD film is going to be anyone’s introduction to the series and even if this is the first Chucky film you watch, I’m sure you have heard about Chucky before and know what you’re in for.

So the early part of this film is a little slow going but once Chucky is in full Chucky mode, things definitely pick up and it’s nice to see that, for the most part, the effects are mostly animatronics. There is one truly shoddy CGI effect of the doll walking down some stairs but thankfully that seems to be it. So yeah, this film would definitely rate around a three out of five for a slow build, some excellent stuff near the end and some things that tie this to the first film in particular that I could take or leave. But, much like even the worst Nightmare on Elm Street films are saved by Robert Englund, this film is brought up a notch by Brad Douriff’s portrayal of Chucky (though there are some flashbacks with Douriff looking disturbingly like Tommy Wiseau). The man truly seems to enjoy playing the part and his enjoyment is truly what makes the Child’s Play series such a fun watch and this one is no exception once he’s finally set free to do what he does best. Four pints out of five. Laterz.

 



31 Days of Horror 8: V/H/S 2 (2013) by Jamie

Yesterday I poked a little fun at the format known as VHS, in particular it’s tendency to have a serious decline in quality with repeated viewings. Having watched today’s movie, however, I wish to take that criticism back. I was wrong and I can admit that. Ok, I wasn’t wrong. This was indeed a genuine problem that VHS suffered from but in the movie ‘V/H/S’, these artefacts that resulted from multiple viewings managed to add to the film’s charms somewhat, though I’ll admit that at times they did seem a little like the lens flare in Abrams ‘Star Trek’ films being perhaps a little overdone. Still, they leant something of an air of authenticity, grittiness and even nostalgia on my part. Sadly, those artefacts are all but gone in the sequel ‘V/H/S 2’ and that’s one of my problems with the film.

This sequel just feels polished compared to the original, every things seems neater, tighter and cleaner and strangely enough that can be a bad thing, especially for a horror film. It’s no coincidence that one of the best segments in this film is ‘Safe Haven’ about an Indonesian cult which seems to capture some of he grunginess of the first film.

This film also managed to capture my attention at lot less than it’s predecessor. I know I complained about V/H/S’s length a little yesterday and this film was about half an hour shorter. On reflection, perhaps that extra time was necessary for building the tension and general creepy feeling that managed to keep me so interested in the first film. Let’s just say I knew that this one was gonna be less interesting when Zombies showed up. Yes, I love Zombies but the first V/H/S seemed to have some pretty interesting and original ideas. Throwing Zombies in just seemed, well, a little too simple to be honest.

Still, it’s not a terrible film and there were moments that felt like watching the first one just not as many. Overall I’d say watch the first one and if you find yourself wanting more of the same kinda stuff then you could probably get something out of the sequel. 2.5 pints out of 5.



Review: Pacific Rim by Jamie

So Pacific Rim hit theatres like Godzilla hitting Tokyo. It’s the film I’ve been looking forward to all summer, the film that I’d laid my hopes on when it came to saving what has been a dreary and disappointing blockbuster season. It made sense. I love Kaiju movies. I’m down with giant robots. This should be a no-brainer, right? This should be a film that was made for me. A modern, big-budget Kaiju vs. Mecha movie. This is what I want right?

Well, it turns out that it wasn’t or at least not this version of it. Honestly I hated this movie. This movie that had so much potential, this movie that I put so much faith into. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I have become overly critical lately. I look at Twitter and see all the people who love this movie and it makes me sad. I’m happy that they got something out of it that I didn’t and I wish I had gotten that out of it too. Still I’m not going to lie and say that I enjoyed it when I didn’t. Overly critical or not, my opinion is still my opinion and I can’t see it changing anytime soon.

So what was it about this movie that irked me so? Ugh, where to begin? It was just so… ugh. Ok, so the basic plot is giant alien monsters have been invading the Earth through a dimensional rift at the bottom of the ocean and mankind has responding by building giant robots to fight them. Will mankind prevail or be wiped out? That’s a question that I literally ended up not caring about by the end of this film. Why? Well I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I can’t care about the stakes if I don’t care about the characters and if there’s one thing that this movie is lacking, it’s characters. Every one is a cliché or a stereotype. Take our main character Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunman). He’s a Mecha pilot who quits after his brother is killed in action. He drifts from job to job, trying to forget the ghosts of his past. Suddenly his former commanding officer Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), a gruff military man who’s hard exterior masks a softer side, shows up in order to recruit him for one last mission. Becket finally agrees and at the base he meets two wacky scientists. One is tattooed and doesn’t mind leaving his lab in a messy state and the other is an uptight Englishman who likes a tidy working area. They’re the original odd couple! He also meets Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), a somewhat meek Japanese girl who, get this, turns out to be really good at martial arts! But wait, I hear you say. Is there a cocky pilot who is great at his job but also an abrasive asshole? You bet your ass there is (Robert Kazinsky)! And let me tell you, he and Raleigh just can’t seem to get along with each other at all. Will they come to respect each other? Who can say? Ok, let’s just say that by the time that the bleached-blonde, sour-faced, statuesque Russian pilots who literally might as well both be Ivan Drago showed up, I was done. Done, done, done.

Look, I get it. This is a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters. Should I really care so much about how fleshed out the characters are? And you know what, I agree. I wouldn’t have minded a few clichés but EVERY SINGLE FUCKING CHARACTER? No. Now I’m afraid you’ve asked too much of me. And then there’s the story. Oh the story. There are threads which are picked up and then resolved far too quickly to make sense. For example, Pentecost originally refuses Mori’s request to become a pilot only to change his mind moments later with no explanation as to why. The movie also bends and breaks it’s own rules, something which should be a fucking cardinal sin in a Sci-Fi movie. For example, it is explained in the beginning of the film that the robots, which I probably should have mentioned by now are called Jaegers, have to be operated by more than one person because a neural connection with one person outs too much strain on that persons brain. This is broken moments later when a guy pilots his Jaeger solo after a battle. There’s also a far more egregious example of rule-breaking at the end of the film but I can’t say it because it’s a spoiler. Damn.

Speaking of spoilers, the ending is literally lifted almost wholesale from another film. I won’t tell you which one because it would be spoileriffic but if you’ve seen any big blockbusters within the past 100 years, you should be able to tell.

Ok, I still get it. It’s a movie about giant robots punching giant monsters. Isn’t the story just a means to an end to bring us those awesome action scenes? One, think about that the next time you criticise a Transformers movie and two, fair enough and that’d be acceptable if the fights were great to watch. Don’t get me wrong, they were some of the best parts of the film but the fights feature too many close-ups, too many quick cuts, too much of what’s going on being obscured by sea spray, rain or just the fact that all the fights take place at night. When you can tell what’s going on, it is indeed very cool but half the time it’s all just too… too meh. Sometimes there’s something to be said for guys in rubber suits.

Can I think of something I enjoyed before I wrap this up? Uh… The Kaiju looked cool, I guess and Ron Perlman was pretty entertaining…

I really wanted to love this movie. I really did. I wanted it to save my summer. I wanted to be able to smile as I walked out of the cinema and say to myself “You know what self? 2013 wasn’t a complete waste of time.” But I didn’t. I just didn’t. I’m honestly not sure what to rate this. So I guess I just won’t. I mean, I seem to be in the pretty big minority on this one and you’re probably going to go and see it anyway. Enjoy it. I hope you get out of it what I could not. I dunno. Maybe this would’ve been better if all the Kaiju were in a tornado of some kind. Laterz…. Oh, and if your robot has a sword that can cut through Kaiju like butter, why are you not always using it?

Sigh



Review: World War Z by Jamie

The best Zombie fiction is, at heart, about humanity. The zombies themselves are a containment system, a way to keep people trapped together and come into conflict with each other. Of course if a storyteller is really good, the zombies can represent much more than a barrier. They are a force that look ostensibly human but they cannot be fought in ways that you would fight people. They cannot be reasoned with and they know no fear. They will keep coming, wave after wave. Some of them may even have once been people you know. People you loved. The psychological horror of having to smash in a loved ones head before they start munching on your intestines is quite intense. Zombies are death, zombies are disease. Zombies are the hopelessness that humanity feels at the hands of both these things, the unstoppable force that will claim us all.

No person got this balance between the humanity of the zombie narrative and the psychological horror of fighting what is essentially death itself better than Max Brooks in his 2006 novel ‘World War Z’. By writing the book as a series of interviews performed around twenty years after the initial outbreak and ten years after the end of World War Z, Brooks was able to explore the politics of a global zombie apocalypse as well as the smaller, more human stories. From Israel’s closed borders to starving survivors turning on each other in the frozen North, he managed to give us glimpses of what would occur on each level of human society. He also gave us an insight into the impact of fighting a horde of zombies and how ineffective modern military tactics would be against them such as in the disastrous battle of Yonkers.

It was a book that lifted zombie fiction as a whole so, of course, they decided to turn it into a movie which, after many problems during it’s development was finally released yesterday. Holy fuck, is it awful. I must say that congratulations are in order. It takes some massive balls to strip both humanity and zombies from World War Z and these filmmakers clearly have them. Huge swinging brass balls.

Ok, first to the zombies. These aren’t zombies. The creatures in this film are velociraptors in zombie form. They run, the scream, they jump. They also don’t eat people so I guess maybe they are vegetarian velociraptors. They still bite though. They bite and run off and the people who are bitten turn instantly. Instantly. So you have a creature that can run without getting tired, leap like a grasshopper and only thinks about biting other people so that they can turn them into creatures like themselves, essentially giving them an unlimited and insanely fast reproduction rate. Do you know whtat that is called? It’s not a zombie or an epidemic, that is an extinction. Pure and simple. After the initial outbreak in all major US cities, we see the family stop to raid a supermarket which has been stormed by a good hundred or so others. No. Just no. There is literally no way that, given the type of enemy humanity is facing, any unarmed person should be able to step outside, let alone large groups of noisy, panicky people. It’s just so fucking stupid.

This insanely fast breed of whatever the hell these are also manages to eliminate one of the more interesting aspects of the book. Without the traditional slow-moving zombies, we don’t get a build up to World War Z. We don’t get to see the political ramifications as countries either take the threat seriously, ignore it or try to calm their population with placebos. Israel still walls itself off but the explanation as to why and how they did it so quickly is pretty fucking stupid. The only other time that we get a glimpse of any kind of political strategy that any country has for dealing with the outbreak is being told that North Korea organised a program where it pulled the teeth of it’s entire population because no bite means no infection. Other than that, there is no political strategy, no military strategy. Nothing going on globally except for Brad Pitt trying to find a cure, going all around the world to do it and finding everyone largely receptive to his visits. You’d think that people would be more suspicious of anyone travelling anywhere given the state of the world but seeing as people turn instantly I guess there’d be no need to worry that someone might have been bitten and snuck on to a plane. Thank fuck they completely closed off that possible avenue of dramatic tension. We wouldn’t want things to become interesting in any way, would we?

So that’s the zombies, what about the humanity? Well Brad Pitt really cares about his family. It’s a good thing that after the first half hour they are literally never in any danger again. Then Brad Pitt is off travelling around the world, meeting folks. Some of them get killed but we never get to know them well enough for anyone to care. There is a female character he befriends, Segen an Israeli soldier but she is as characterless as the CGI hordes chasing them. We don’t ever get a moment where someone has to feel conflicted about killing a zombie who, moments ago, was a loving member of their family. We never even really get to see anyone conflicted by the fact that the monsters hunting them were ever humans at all. Like I said, there is no military strategy here. There’s no moment where they realise that the creatures can’t be fought like you would fight people. There is just soldiers firing into waves of velocizombies as they hurtle towards them. There is nothing deep here. There’s barely even anything shallow.

In essence, World War Z is a Roland Emmerich disaster movie. It’s ‘2012’ except that the tidal waves are made out of people instead of water. It’s a CGI-fest with dull action scenes plastered between dull scenes of exposition. It is dull. Still I can understand why they decided to make this so different from the book. I mean, framing the film around something like interviews in order to tell a story about undead creatures through flashbacks would be impossible and certainly nothing in Brad Pitt’s past would suggest otherwise…

Still, this was completely the wrong way to go about adapting this book. Not that they did adapt the book, they just bought the rights to the title and slapped it on this. The only way that World War Z could ever really be brought to life is with something akin to a miniseries and hopefully one day we’ll see it. Until then, avoid this piece of shit like the plague. Zero pints out of five. Laterz.

World War Z? More like World War GO FUCK YOURSELF!




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