Monday, April 11, 2011

Film: Jarhead

Jar Head does, in my opinion, present a good enough and gritty enough military drama to take a spot near Platoon and Apocalypse Now. While not quite up to the standards of Apocalypse Now, I rate it about on a par with Platoon.
Starring the brilliant Jake Gyllenhaal, it follows his journey through boot camp, and then into Saudi Arabia as the Gulf War breaks out, until the war ends. There isn't as much gore as you might expect, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Jake plays Anthony Swofford, who enlists in the Marines in the late '80s, and makes it through training, to be flown into Saudi Arabia just after the Gulf War breaks out. There follows a story of boredom, preparation, waiting and more boredom, before Anthony's unit finally gets to move out toward the enemy. I won't spoil the biggest surprise for you.
It's somehow a more personal story than Platoon - probably helped by the fact that it's based on a true story - and not quite as crazy as the latter part of Apocalypse Now. However, given what's gone before film-wise, I feel I can't quite justify giving this 5/5 (which is what I rate Apocalypse Now at) so it's going to have to be 4/5.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Film: Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid

Before I start this review, I must point out that I am very much a fan of Steve Martin, hence will be more positively biased towards his films than non-fans.
The premise of Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid is quite original - much of the film is actually clips from 18 different classic black-and-white "film noir" and "pulp" films from the '40s (except for In A Lonely Place, which is from 1950).
Being a film starring Steve Martin, and directed by Carl Reiner, this is of course a comedy. Steve Martin plays a typical (of this film genre) private eye, with a habit of talking up his famous "java" (apparently ground coffee mixed with a couple of eggs and a small amount of water). He gets roped into investigating the apparent death of a famous scientist, thanks to the feminine wiles of the scientist's daughter. Then what follows for muhc of the film, is Steve's character trying to unravel the mystery. There is a great twist right near the end - I recommend you do not look up the film online before watching, unless you don't mind spoiling the surprise.
I found this film enjoyable and funny. The stitching-in of all the old movie clips actually works quite well, and now I also have a load of black-and-white films I'd like to see...
5/5

Film: Pom Poko

All of the films I've watched from Studio Ghibli have a certain level of the fantastical about them, but Pom Poko must be right up there at the top (or very nearly the top) as far as the level of the fantastical is concerned.
Without giving too much away, the basic premise is that a large group of raccoons living somewhere in Japan have their homes threatened by the property development being carried out in the area by humans. Not far into the film, we find that these raccoons (like all raccoons, apparently) have the ability to shape-shift, some more so than others.
The story is brilliant, and at times rather weird. It starts off innocuously enough, two groups of raccooons fighing over land that they need for food and homes. It gets a bit weird when we discover the secret that raccoons can shape-shift, and then somewhat further into the film, it gets really weird as the raccoons try to drive the humans away from their land.
The animation is top-notch, as you'd expect from a Studio Ghibli film, and I didn't find the ending predictable.
I would rate this as my favourite Studio Ghibli film so far, and I've seen most of them. 5/5

Friday, December 16, 2005

CD Review: A Bigger Bang by The Rolling Stones

It's reassuring to know that, despite being around for so long, the Rolling Stones can still rock out rather well. What's more, the liner notes (to the standard edition at least) have the words for each song - a feature that seems to be increasingly rare these days, in fact an important feature for those of us who like to attempt to sing along.
Anyway, weighing in at 16 tracks, this album is a hefty 64 minutes or so long, value for money in this age of increasing numbers of half-hour "lite" albums.
But how does it play? It's reassuringly "Stones" in style - none of the tracks jump out at you for their original sound, but that doesn't stop it being good. I'm somewhat torn on the scoring of this - It's good enough for 4/5, easily, but...somehow, not quite peaking high enough for the full 5/5. If you're not a fan of the Stones, you probably won't be swayed in any way by this offering. But for those of us that like the classic sound that is the epitome of rock 'n' roll, it's a great album. 4/5

Thursday, November 17, 2005

CD Review: Silent Alarm by Bloc Party

Underwhelming. That's the best way to describe this offering. In a similar way to Kasabian, it begins promisingly enough, but it never quite manages to really grab you and make you listen. You really have to make an effort to actually listen to the whole album through, and even then it's pretty forgettable.
The first track, Like Eating Glass, raises hopes of this being a Foo Fighters-alike sound, only to dash them when the singing starts.
It's a less clubby sound than Kasabian, and more poppy instead. This is more down-to-earth rock, but it seems to be somewhat hookless. They do sound similar to the Kaiser Chiefs, unfortunately I don't have Employment to compare the two albums fully. It doesn't matter a great deal, though. It's worth a listen if you're a fan of this style - slightly-frayed-around-the-edges-pop-rock - but otherwise, stay away, unless you don't mind being disappointed.
2/5

Friday, November 11, 2005

CD Review: Kasabian by Kasabian

Weighing in at 13 tracks (at over 53 minutes) this is a more-hefty-than-average album. It's not without its share of catchy tune, either - from the raw sound of Club Foot, through the more tuneful Processed Beats and Reason Is Treason, to the clublike sound of L.S.F (Lost Souls Forever)
Each of the tracks feature at least a few electronic synth sounds mixed in with the more standard rock sound. It's an interesting mix, giving the album a kind of club sound - which I guess would make this "club rock" music. Though for select clubs only. The tracks certainly don't all have thumping bass lines or fast paces. The vocals on all of the tracks are kind of radio-raw, but not as raw enough to make it sound like punk. I find it overall vaguely reminiscent of Ocean Colour Scene, with synth sounds thrown in on top, that doesn't really do it justice though. Maybe more like a lighter version of Pitchshifter - in fact the main riff on Running Battle made me think of Pitchshifter's Hidden Agenda straight away. Certainly, check it out if you like light rock.
It won't set the world on fire, but it is pretty catchy nevertheless. 3/5

Thursday, November 03, 2005

CD Review: In Your Honor by the Foo Fighters

"20 songs on 2 CDs
One loud.
One not so loud."
so says the sticker on the front of the CD case. What it amounts to is one CD (CD1) of standard Foo Fighters fayre, and one (CD2) of acoustic, somewhat quieter fayre. CD1 follows the style of their previous outing One By One. It features Dave Grohl's kinda gravelly, and definitely loud, vocals. The tracks on this CD are all reasonably heavy, my favourite probably being the title In Your Honor (yeah I know, American spelling cos the Foos are American), with Best Of You a close second. Much like One By One, the tracks all bounce along at quite a pace - and they all make you want to sing along.
The second CD is a bit of a departure from their standard style. The acoustic guitar in place of electric gives the second CD a more subdued sound, and Dave Grohl sings more than he shouts. The pace of the second CD is also somewhat slower than the first. Overall, it makes for a more refined feel, and it's none the worse for it. The opening track, Still, is a good introduction to this side of the Foos - my favourite track from CD2, though, is What If I Do?. It will certainly be interesting to see how far they take this refined sound - perhaps a fully acoustic album next? At the least, it shows they aren't content with just sticking with the same sound all the time. One By One was a difficult album to follow, but the Foo Fighters have managed pretty well. 4/5

Sunday, October 30, 2005

CD Review: Forget Yourself by The Church

Different. Well, different to my normal listening material. The truth is, there might be alot of music out there that sounds like this. However, I suspect there aren't many groups around making this kind of music, compared to during the eighties. Vaguely similar to Echo And The Bunnymen, it sounds...kind of poppy, though generally heavier than Echo & The Bunnymen. And yet, in all honesty I've not heard all that many top-40 songs sounding like this. This is better, thankfully.
That's it - I've decided on the best way to to describe this style - it's music to paint to. Quite slow in general, but not usually actually depressing, the irony is this stuff is probably more "emo" than emo. At any rate, it's probably more musical.
If it came to a show down between these guys and Echo & The Bunnymen, on the strength of what I've heard so far, I'd go for Echo & The Bunnymen - in my opinion, they are the better band. But if you want something similar-to-yet-not-the-same-as Echo & The Bunnymen, this would be a good start. Just don't expect it to be quite as good as them. This is actually a double-sided CD/DVD (CD on one side, DVD on the other). It includes the video for the track Song In Space (pics of the band interspersed with some footage from a rocket launching), the entire album in surround sound and stereo, and portable music files. I haven't checked out the portable music files yet, but having the album available in surround is an interesting extra - unfortunately, I can't make use of it at present. 3/5

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

CD Review: Schmack! by Steriogram

Even if you haven't heard of the band, the chances are you've heard some of one of their songs - Apple used the rather catchy Walkie Talkie Man on their iPod ads not long ago.
I rather liked that track, so (again) I decide to risk the full album (also going on the strength of the user reviews on Amazon). What you get is 12 tracks of suprisingly punky tunes, plus the video for Walkie Talkie Man (more about this later) and a second video of similar length on the making of the Walkie Talkie Man video.
And right now, Amazon seem to have gone crazy, pricing the album at 2.96 (shurely shome mistake?). Anyway, the Walkie Talkie Man video is satisfyingly different - set in a world of yarn. It won't set the world alight, but at least it shows some creativity (and I like it). The "making of" just shows how they did some of the bits, like the yarn drum kit. It's a nice little diversion from the album proper.
The Steriogram sound is "suprisingly" punky because it's not as poppy as the likes of Blink 182 et al, but considering that Apple used one of their tunes in an ad, I'd hesitate to call them "true" punk. Their sound isn't quite that raw, either.
At the standard Amazon album price of ~£9, I could only really recommend it for fans of rock, and I'd give it 3.5/5. But at the insanely low price of £2.96, you'd be a fool not to snap it up, if only to get the video to go with the full track used in the Apple ad.

CD Review: Porcupine (remastered) by Echo And The Bunnymen

I got onto these guys thanks to just one track - the majestic Under The Killing Moon, as played on the opening scene of the original cut of Donnie Darko.
That masterpiece of - what to call this style? I suppose "pop-folk" covers it best, but mere pidgeon-holing is inadequate here - doesn't actually make an appearance on this album. But, 17 other tunes do appear here. Well, strictly speaking, there are 12 tracks, plus alternate versions of five of them. That's no excuse not to buy it though, at the measly price of £6.97 at Amazon. For a piece of pop history, that's peanuts (and while you're at it, get the remastered version of Ocean Rain, too).
Somehow, the tracks manage to be quite upbeat, yet still feel somewhat sedate. It's not so much music to dance to - it's more music to listen to. I find the music of Echo And The Bunnymen tends to encourage self reflection, and this can certainly be said of this album. There is a kind of '80s feel to it all, but it doesn't detract from it at all - and it's certainly more individual than alot of stuff that came out of that era.
I don't think it's easy to sum up this album - the best way to do it justice is to listen to it. I took a risk when I got this but, for me, it's paid off. Perhaps you should too.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Film: The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

First off, let's get one thing out the way: I am a fan of the books, most definitely. I've read the first four, and also the Dirk Gently Omnibus. Douglas Adams was a genius, God rest his soul.
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from this film though. I've skim-read reviews, but I've tried to resist the lure of spoilers, even though I wasn't sure if I'd go see it or not. Well, now I did.
The major problem with this film is that, even though the book is nowhere near as thick as, say, any of the Lord Of The Rings books, Douglas managed to fit in a hell of a lot of detail. A proper film version would be nearer LOTR-length, but I'm aware that whilst a trilogy of fantasy films of epic length may not be too difficult to sell especially given the success of the LOTR books, if you were to say "I'm gonna make a trilogy of epic comedy films" I'm pretty sure you'd get laughed all the way back to whatever bar you'd just stumbled out of.
Given the restriction in length, they have managed to pack in the vital-to-the-storyline parts. I think - it's been a little while since I read the books, I'll have to read them again at some point - and whilst there are plenty of "incidental" little bits of humour that have been dropped, one or two have also been added.
The dialogue is somewhat cut down. I think the Vogons and the bit with the custom planets are probably the most well-done parts of this film, they have the best "feel", they're most reminiscent of the book. I was somewhat disappointed with the rendition of the Heart Of Gold, I think they were trying to be a little too clever there and...it doesn't quite work. I have to admit, one reason I like the film's vision of the Vogons is because they're a little reminiscent of the aliens from Peter Jackson's masterpiece of comedy-horror-gorefest, Bad Taste.
I was surprised at how often much of the audience actually laughed out loud, but I quickly realised most of them have probably not read the books, in which case, you're likely to enjoy this film rather more.
I just hope the next one is better. I can see that the potential is there, it just seems almost as if...they were aiming lower than the books to begin with. As if it went something like "We won't make it as good as the books so let's not even try to, just take the easiest and most important bits and work on them"

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Film: The Big Lebowski
A quintessential cult film, whilst it has its share of strange moments, The Big Lebowski is grounded in reality. We have a pretty random selection of eccentric characters that, by dint of sheer coincidence, become slightly involved in the same story. Throughout the film, the focus is most definitely on The Dude (real name: Jeffrey Lebowski), whose real name just happens to be shared with (what appears to be) a successful millionaire wheelchair-bound old guy, complete with trophy blonde slutty wife.
The gist of the story revolves around this trophy wife, and her sudden (apparent) kidnap. By sheer chance, the millionaire has just met The Dude, and decides to ask him for help in getting his wife back. Of course, The Dude being the Dude, you can easily guess things aren't going to go smoothly for him, and you'd be spot on. It's hard to explain exactly what makes The Big Lebowski such a cool film. It's pretty funny in most places, though it's generally more of a "smile and quiet laugh" type funny than out-and-out "laugh out loud" funny. It doesn't rely on toilet humour or stoner gags, although The Dude does enjoy the odd puff of the "herb". I suppose what really makes this film is the characters of The Dude himself, and his best mate Walter. Steve Buscemi appears for a few brief scenes too, ably playing the two buddies' other bowling team mate, often ignored by these two in their heated discussions on politics and rugs.
Together, Walter with his borderline obsession for bowling, and The Dude with his love of wearing slippers, dressing gown, and drinking throughout the day, make the great slacker atmosphere so important to this film. Because, when you get right down to it, this is a slacker film - it's a film about stuff that happens to a guy who basically does nothing, and much prefers to let stuff happen to him, than to go out and make stuff happen. And he thoroughly enjoys himself, most of the time.
This isn't a stoner movie though, it's a slacker movie. So you can enjoy this without being a stoner, for sure.
5/5

Monday, March 21, 2005

Film - Brazil
Or Terry Gilliam's Brazil, to be exact. Yeah, it's a film by that most imaginative of the (Monty) Pythons, the one who came up with those funny doodled cartoons, and had (has?) an obsession with large feet squashing stuff.
There're no cartoons here, although there are numerous moments of similarly dark humour.
The future world Brazil is set in is about as dystopian as they come. Almost every aspect of life is ruled over by a humungous system of beauracracy, but there's at least one group of rather successful terrorists determined to fight back. At the time the film is set, these guys have been setting off bombs for more than 10 years, although the minister being interviewed on TV just replies that this means the government is closer than ever to stopping them for good(!), shortly before a shop explodes - yet more handiwork of the terrorists.
The story itself follows one of the beauracrats, Sam Lowry, himself a bit of a daydreamer (but nevertheless good at his job) as he gets dragged into a series of events mostly beyond his control. What starts out as a job to correct a simple administrative error (in itself an ironic consequence of one worker's carelessness whilst trying to swat a fly) soon becomes a chase as Sam tries to catch up with a mysterious, good-looking woman he first spotted whilst at work. In an unrelated series of events, he gets to meet up with an underground repair man, something of a legend in this world full of steam pipes, where you usually have to wait weeks for an offically-sanctioned repair man. Ably played by Robert De Niro (before he was reduced to advertising credit cards), Archibald "Harry" Tuttle arrives to fix Sam's pipes after he makes a desparate call for a repairman, only to be told there won't be one available for weeks. They need fixing so badly because this dystopian future is also somewhat "steampunk" in that almost all the features of a flat rely on steam, somehow or other. At this point, if you've been paying attention to the film, you'll notice another of the great ironies in the story, but I won't spoil it here; suffice to say, it'll likely have you laughing out loud.
While this is going on, Sam gets it into his head that the woman is involved with the terrorists, and decides he'd like to join the cause. He also has to deal with his interfering mother, who keeps trying to get him to hook up with the rather plain-looking, and almost-never-speaking, daughter of a good friend of hers, who he really doesn't like. A good laugh comes from the moment we finally hear her speak properly.
Sam eventually cracks good and proper shortly after landing a new, better job in the beauracracy (thanks to his mum, who knows some powerful men).
Not forgetting the slightly nasty, very petty, pair of official heating engineers sent to fix Sam's flat (after Harry Tuttle has done his business). These guys really have it in for Harry, and as a consequence, pretty soon they have it in for Sam too. Although they get their comeuppance - in one of the funniest and most disgusting moments of the film - eventually.
Once he's got the girl safely in hiding (at his mother's flat), he thinks of a way to save her. The only problem is, it turns out it's rather more difficult to escape the suspecting eyes of the beauracracy than Sam thought. In the end, of course, it all works out...in a way. But you can (and should) find that out for yourselves, because Brazil is a top-notch film, and a damn good companion to George Orwell's 1984. A full 5/5
Ah, 1984. There are obvious similarities between 1984 and Brazil, indeed, imdb.com has it that Brazil's working title was 1984 1/2. However, there are also some rather large differences:
1)The beauracractic system in Brazil is woefully inefficient at getting stuff done.
2)Technology in the world of Brazil has, largely, not advanced far beyond that of the 1970s, we assume as a result of the beauracracy (technological advances still happen in 1984, where they benefit Big Brother)
3)Finally, in Brazil, the system appears to be in place more just to keep people in check, rather than to out-and-out control every aspect of their lives. It is meant to restrict them, just not control them entirely.

We also don't see evidence in Brazil of the government actually trying to control basic human instinct - you could say that in Brazil, the system wants control of peoples' minds, whereas in 1984, it wants control of peoples' minds AND hearts.
There are, of course, other differences, aside from the downright obvious difference in focus and characters of each, but I think those cited above demonstrate the general difference in tone between 1984 and Brazil.

Book - 1984
I actually finished reading this a good few weeks ago, but I've been putting off reviewing it because...well, it's kinda intimidating. OK, so it's "just another classic novel" like several I've already reviewed, without much difficulty. BUT, somehow, 1984 just seems to overshadow all those others. I suppose it's not just the book itself, but the reputation of it.
OK, let's start with the obvious. It's about communism! well, yeah, but there's a but...and here it is: taking onboard how clever 1984 is, I can't help but think that rather than just being clever, Mr. Orwell was a genius, and the idea of 1984 is not just to target communism*, but any kind of totalitarian regime. The book is general enough, that much of it could be applied, in theory, to any totalitarian government you could think of. 1984 makes the point, rather well, though without having to actually signpost it, that when we lose enough of our freedoms, we stop really living. We just "exist", as empty husks. Throughout the book, it manages to crystalise a number of thoughts I know i've had in the past, but never quite managed to put shape to them. This in itself, to me, is a good indication of Orwell's talent. Some of the ideas presented in 1984 are radical yet simple (and will probably have you thinking "of course! that's so bloody obvious!"). Then there's Room 101. On its own, this is a pretty nasty method of breaking someone's spirit. But there's a little more to it
*SPOILER ALERT*


See, part way through the book, we are treated to the realisation that the government's power in 1984 comes from their controlling of the "sexual instinct" of the members of the Party. That's what the book calls it, but you could call it the instinct to reproduce, one of the two most basic of human instincts. Even for all animals. Well, there's survival of the species, being a kinda mixture of these two, but anyway. The other is never actually mentioned, but plays at least as big a role - that of self-survival. It is this second basic instinct that the Party controls again through their entire setup, but ultimately, through Room 101. The idea of Room 101 is to show dissenters that their instinct for self-survival is their strongest instinct. To show them that their loyalties are not unbreakable.
So, the Party controls these two most basic of human instincts, and through this, their control extends logically to all aspects of party members' lives. Of course, it's not a simple matter; every home has a two-way viewscreen, which will be watched at the other end at some point. There's the constant re-writingof past and present news, books, and so on. There's the Thought Police. There's almost no freedom, and there's very little tolerance of individuality, as individuality is dangerous to The Party.
Then there are the "proles" - the non-Party members, making about 75% of the population, these people seem to have it worse off than Party members when we first read about them. But it doesn't take long to realise, they have somewhat more freedom than Party members. It's also somewhat ironic, that Party members are, by and large, prisoners of their own making.

1984 is certainly the most thought-provoking book I've read so far. There are some disconcerting similarities with the Party and...situatinos around the world right now. On the bright side, I think individuality is a good measure of how much freedom you have. As in, the level of diversity of people within a country is a pretty good indication of how totalitarian (or not) its government is. Here, I can only with any degree of certainty speak of this country, England. At the minute, we have a good level of diversity amongst the people living here (despite Charles Clarke's seeming determination to curb our freedoms). And i'm not too stupid to see that without any laws at all, we'd have total freedom - but with it, total chaos. I wouldn't mind watching that from a distance, but I doubt i could handle living it.
Doubtless, there'll be plenty of people out there who read/have read 1984 and have a completely different take on it...



*I'm well aware that ideal communism may not be totalitarian in nature, but the fact is the real-world occurrences have all attempted to be totalitarian

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Film: Napolean Dynamite
Something of a cult hit, Napolean Dynamite is a comedy that follows a short period of the life of teenager Napolean Dynamite. Napolean is something of a loser. He is portrayed in such a way that you'd expect him to be the typical "loser with 195 IQ" of films about kids, but the sad fact is, he just ain't too bright. Most of the film comes across as something like "The Office, but about high school kids" although it's not pretending to be a fly-on-the-wall documentary. However, the plentiful deadpan and well-acted awkward moments, as well as the somewhat peevish and petty main character, are reminiscent of (the UK version of) The Office.
Very much a character comedy (as seems to be the "in" thing at the minute), Napolean Dynamite just wouldn't work if the characters were crap. Luckily, the parts are well-played - from Napolean's even weirder older brother, their stuck-in-the-past uncle, to the just-as-awkward-girl-who-likes-Napolean, and not forgetting the pumped-up Rex ("Rex Kwon-Do!).
The film doesn't really come across as any typical kind of comedy, I guess broadly you could call it a "loser comedy", but it doesn't follow the same formula as most loser comedies do. That's probably a big contributor to its success - OK, so it's another character comedy, but yet again it's donig things its own way. or at least, differently to the average comedy (well, maybe soon we'll have to redefine what the "average" comedy is, eh?).
What I appreciated the most about Napolean Dynamite is the number of seemingly random, unconnected scenes that occur throughout the film, only to be woven together in the last 20 minutes or so. It's like what films such as Pulp Fiction did, but without having to resort to timeline-bending to do it. There's no jumping backwards and forwards here, it's forwards all the way.
Great stuff. 4/5

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Film - Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
A soppy film about love...that somehow manages to not actually be soppy (it's just the final "message" that's kinda soppy, even if you agree with it)
Essentially, this is a film about how "love triumphs over all", but this only becomes certain in your mind right at the end. It manages to make the course of most of it uncertain enough for those of us who watch films more just for pure entertainment than for trying to deeply analyse as we watch them. It also, take note, shows that both Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett are more than capable of playing characters beyond the somewhat limited ranges they're known for (whether unfairly or not), but more to the point, playing them well. There's not alot of Carrey's famous Gurning-on-speed, and Winslett's fiery, near-ADD scary scatterbrain is...disturbingly attractive. Maybe I just have a strange taste in women, eh?
The storyline begins normally enough, and in fact almost makes you wonder what's so great about it. It looks like it's gonna be a textbook romantic comedy, with little to distinguish it above the rest of such pap. It feels like most of the film has already been shown after about the first 15 minutes. But just as it begins to slow, things get a little more interesting - Kate's character, Clementine ("no jokes about my name!") appears to have suffered some kind of large-scale memory loss. This throws Carrey's character, Joel, into a pit of despair. He visits a couple of good friends of his, and happens to catch sight of something he shouldn't - a mysterious card that says Clementine has undergione a procedure to erase him from her memory. Here's where the real fun begins, and a good two-thirds, or there abouts, of the film involve Joel going on a journey through his own memories of Clementine, with us along for the ride. It gets a little crazy, then not far from the end of the film, you realise that rather than the timeline having jumped around a little erratically, what actually appears to have happened is a trick is played, yes the timeline jumps around in a couple of places, but only just enough to ensure the film's ending isn't immediately obvious.
Overall, Eternal Sunshine... is a film about love. The message is a bit soppy, but most of the story isn't. And it's both funnier, and better overall, than Love, Actually.
5/5

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Film: Dawn Of The Dead 2004
I was a little apprehensive about watching this, the recent remake of Romero's all-time classic '70s gore-filled, zombified swipe at consumerism. From what I'd heard and read in reviews, it did a good job of taking the original and modernising it in a satisfying way. But that didn't mean it'd necessarily be all that good as a film, and i'm rather fond of the original...
The first 10 or 15 minutes is perhaps where the genius of this remake shines through the most. The slow build-up, giving a nice air of tension - you know there's gonna be zombies, and probably LOTS of 'em, but when, and how? - explodes into a frantic escape sequence, as nurse Ana speeds off in her car, through suburbia gone literally crazy - screaming and gunshots and explosions and fires and car crashes and sirens everywhere - trying to find a little sanity in a world suddenly turned upside-down. She ends up crashing, but is found by a policeman, and together they come across a handful of other survivors, and head to a mall for shelter. Like the original, they hole up, and make the most of the stuff in the shops, but unlike the original, this is still the first days of the zombie plague. Information is scarce at best, and panic is everywhere, but like the original, some people do work out that the plague spreads via bites from those already zombified, and the way to neutralise them is destory their brain, and burn the body.
There is a little less action than in the original, but there's still plenty of gore, and plenty of tension. One of the guys is an alocoholic, a nice touch in this day and age, and given the number of survivors, you'd expect there to be more, on average. The chief security guard (three of the mall's security staff are amongst the group) is a character many will be somewhat familiar with - a guy in a position of minor power, a little dumb, quite petty, and a bit of a wuss.
In fact, all the characters in this are well-written. That's also why there's less action in this remake; there's a little more emphasis on the characters and their interactions. And the...no, I won't give that plot bit away. You'll likely see it coming a mile off, but that still doesn't prepare you for it when it actually happens.
The end sequence is very good too. As their situation becomes more desparate, and their numbers begin to dwindle, the survivors decide they need to try and get out, and find somewhere safer. They form a plan (a pretty basic one at that) and head out into the zombieness. One of the vehicles they use has got a slit in either side, for one of the passengers to stick a chainsaw's blade out of, for to make zombie sushi with. This is one of those good little touches, something that at the time you first see it, appears to have little importance, but does play an important role...
(SPOILER ALERT)
(SPOILER ALERT)
(SPOILER ALERT)
(SPOILER ALERT)
(SPOILER ALERT)

...when the vehicle crashes and the guy holding the chainsaw is thrown about with the others in there, and as you'd guess, he loses control of the chainsaw with rather messy consequences.
(SPOILER OVER)
(SPOILER OVER)
(SPOILER OVER)
(SPOILER OVER)
(SPOILER OVER)


A worthy remake, this. It does the original justice, and does manage to actually update the story quite well.5/5