Sunday, 30 March 2014

Under the Skin (2014) - Sci-fi Film Review

I almost missed this film, and until earlier today I had never even heard of it. As it sounded like a film that would fit on this blog I decided to take a chance and see it. Despite being a low key art house style film it stars super star Scarlett Johansson. Minor unavoidable spoilers ahead

While the plot is never implicitly explained Johansson stars as an alien being wearing a human skin. She travels around in a white transit van where she entices men with her looks and lures them back to her house where they become imprisoned. At first utterly devoid of emotion as time goes on she starts to show glimpses of humanity and to question just what she is doing.

For an art house film the cinema had quite a lot of people in it, I firmly believe nearly all of these were there just because Johansson was in the film. Around a third of the way through a couple in front of me left the room never to return, walking out at the films end people seemed baffled by what they had just seen. Now I for some reason take quite a shine to arty films (such as Coyote, and Lord of Tears), I knew what to expect as minimum so was not thrown by full female and male nudity, long, long shots of peoples faces and scenery, discordant music, and minimal dialogue.

Now while I usually disprove of nudity in films, here it is not used for titillation, instead it is tasteful and used only when it needs to be. This includes plenty of shots of Johansson herself naked, I do happen to find her quite attractive but my enjoyment of this film came down to her acting ability. Devoid of emotion it is fascinating to see this being exist in the world. You get the impression she sees humans as ants, this view reinforced by many camera shots observing random people as she drives past them. A scene in a busy nightclub sees her in almost a panic as she desperately searches for an exit from the writhing mass of humans. Under the Skin is almost devoid of any dialogue, mostly occurring when she tempts men into her van where her mimicking of human small talk and fake smiling really give a strong impression of just how out of touch she is, especially one bit in which she gets an extremely deformed man into her van and seems for a moment confused as to why he is not reacting as all the other men she has captured do, apparently oblivious to the fact that he does not look like everyone else.

A lot of the film includes street scenes and sequences that feature normal members of the public, they even went as far as to have some of Johansson's awkward conversations with random pedestrians feature non actors, people who at the time were unaware they were being filmed by hidden cameras. With full black hair she is not immediately identifiable as the person she really is so these scenes are quite fascinating and blend so well with actual actors that I found this to be a great idea.

A real slow burner with not much at all happening and lots left up to interpretation, the first five minutes is almost a way to weed off any casual viewers with a long intro sequence consisting of an eyeball. The capture parts of the film are very dreamlike with a pitch black room and a weird alien lake that people become trapped under that is slowly revealed over many visitations to the abject terror that awaits those entrapped; a fate worse than death. Throughout the camera work is great, and is of very high quality.

I did find my attention dissipating slightly in the second half, where the first has the being in a crowded Scottish city the second half takes place out in the countryside where I started to get quite confused (something my friend says I get a lot during even the most simple of films). Johansson looks fantastic throughout and the camera compliments this by often focusing on close ups of her face for long lengths of time. Scenery shots are also wonderfully done, with the discordant droning score, and unearthly ticking noises mixed in with forests and seas a wonderful combination is reached. A lot of this discord reminded of the style of David Lynch's surreal films.

Now I fully realise Under the Skin is not something that everyone would enjoy, especially if you have a short attention span, but it is such a haunting, melancholic, disturbing, and yet at the same time strangely peaceful work of art that I could see myself watching time and time again. A balanced portrayal of humans that for a change does not judge but just observes.


Saturday, 29 March 2014

Attack on Titan (2013) - Anime TV Series Review

Last year the Attack on Titan anime exploded becoming seemingly a global phenomenon over night. I was late to the party, but with my best friend raving about it, as well as most the podcasts I listen to shouting about it I just had to give it a go. There will be spoilers ahead, I can't avoid them but will try and keep them to a minimum.

The show takes place in a world where in the past humanity was nearly driven to extinction with the arrival of 'Titans'; giant humanoid creatures who seem to exist solely to eat people. Now what is left of the human race live behind three gigantic circular walls that stop the Titans from being able to get in. Eren Yeager lives just within the first wall with his parents and intensely loyal friend Mikasa, one day a sixty foot Titan named the 'Colossus Titan' appears and breaches the wall, allowing Titan hordes to enter and ravage the town. In the chaos Eren's mother is killed, but him and his sister manage to escape with Eren vowing to destroy all the monsters.

Over twenty five episodes (twenty six including the recap one. I really don't know why anime shows seem to adore doing these completely pointless recap episodes) a hell of a lot happens. The first half charts Eren's life as he trains to be in the military, the second half (complete with new intro and outro credits) has Eren and friends now part of the 'Recon Corps'. A lot of the episodes are action based and one battle, or mission can last multiple shows, and at around twenty four minutes each that leads to some epic fights.

Now the Titans may be fearsome opponents but there look is one of grotesque appearance than intelligent. They are sexless, have a wrong look about them and can only be destroyed via the back of their neck being slashed open. The human army are armed with something called 3D manoeuvre gear which is kind of like a jet pack complete with wires that lets the user zoom around in the air like a fly. Even with these devices the military is a high risk occupation with everyone terrified of the giant beings.

Truth be told I am in the depths of a cold/flu thing and am not liking how this has led me to neglect my blog, one post a week is not what I want! So I am hammering this review out knowing full well I just am no good at reviewing certain things. I really enjoyed Attack on Titan but some things did irk on me. Midway though the show things become quite stale for a few episodes with not much at all happening. The plot is great and there are lots of cool twists and turns but it ends with there being more questions than answers, I would have preferred that at least some of the mystery was explained, any of it at all in fact.

If you even have just a passing interest in anime then you must check out Attack on Titan, a hell of a show and one that feels so fresh and looks and sounds so good.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Armageddon of the Dead (2008) - Zombie Horror Film Review

Armageddon of the Dead is the third in the trilogy of zombie films my best friend lent me. Now I am utterly sick of zombie films dramatically lying on their covers to try and sell a film. For whatever reason most zombie films feature a cover that has a burning city along with thousands upon thousands of zombies. This one has perhaps the most ridiculous one yet, I am more than half convinced it isn't even the right cover for the film, I mean look at it! The tag line is 'Hell has destroyed the Hell has to pay" Really? Really?! Nothing relating to that damn cover, or that utterly unrelated tag line has anything to do with what happens in this film!

Jenny and Sam Mills drop off their young child at Jenny's parents house one seemingly normal evening. Returning home they go to bed, while Sam's troublesome younger brother sleeps on the couch. The next day Jenny heads out to do some shopping when she realises zombie Armageddon has begun (due to a train carrying dangerous chemicals derailing near the town). Racing home to warn her husband she finds out him and Nick have already encountered the dead. Together they head to her parents house to get the daughter, but the house is empty. A radio station informs them to head to their nearest community centre to be evacuated, so there they go hoping to find the kid.

Wow, this film is a true stinker, a real chore to watch. Now zombie films can be bad and still have redeeming features, but this is just plain bad and really falls on the boring side of badness. For whatever reason every single scene feels really, really long. Early on for example Sam has barricaded a zombie in his bathroom and is desperately calling for Nick to wake up and come help him, this whole scene should have been over in moments yet I could swear it was at least five tedious minutes it went on for. This happens again and again, what should be brief and poignant scenes drag into tearfully agonising eternities as the convoluted and stodgy script calls for characters to just drone and drone on at each other in the most soul sucking ways. The script is awful, no amount of acting can make what the characters say seem at all natural.

No one seems to be into their roles, the couple searching for their daughter acts as if it is a set of keys they have lost, or that they have mislaid their phone, no sense of urgency, pretty much no emotion is summoned by either actors. Hard to root for people who come across as sociopaths! The character of Nick (played by Jason Harper) is designated as comedy character which fits very badly into this realistic world director Damon Crump is attempting to create. Issues such as racial tensions, and the power of the military is extremely ham fistedly jammed into the film, terribly and unsubtly done.

Zombies are really not well treated here, some look great, some have really cool prosthetics on them to make them look really messed up. It is so patchy though, most the zombies just seem to have had some fake blood flicked on them, or blue veins painted on to the sides of their faces. It is so inconsistent that I wonder if the people playing the zombies were asked to provide their own make up. Scenes that involve a crowd of zombies really demonstrate this lack of clarity. Some have no pupils, some look wild eyed, others look and act normal as if they were not aware they were meant to be zombies. The one good thing about these undead is that there are a lot of them, or seems to be in places.

What if anything does Armageddon do right? They have ruined streets down with plenty of smashed and empty vehicles. I also get the sad impression that it is kind of a realistic impersonation of what a real outbreak would be like. Everyone is panicked and useless, arguing, or sitting in mute silence, and unprepared to be able to fight the dead. Old tropes rear their ugly heads. People who refuse to believe their loved ones now visibly transformed into drooling flesh hungry ghouls are actually infected at all, zombies who walk around with their arms out straight in front of them, and cars that conveniently run out of petrol. No one knows to aim for the head, and no one knows a bite will result in being turned, so unlikely!

Armageddon of the Dead was a somehow boring film whose low budget destroys any of the set pieces it tries to create. This has been done a million times better in a million different films. Avoid like the plague! To end; apologies for the terrible images, I really need to start taking my own pictures for my reviews.


Thursday, 13 March 2014

Zombie Apocalypse (2010) - Zombie Horror Film Review

Of the trilogy of films that I borrowed off my dear friend this is the second. To be honest I started watching this a few months back but didn't make it past the first scene, a day or so back I tried again. Zombie Apocalypse is a no budget horror, but the good thing with zombie films in particular is that sometimes money constraints can lead to great things happening.

Dwight Miller (Kenny James) is an ex Illuminati enforcer who went rogue after his superiors found out he was married to the head scientist of one of their secret projects (I think?). He took with him stolen information, but in retaliation his wife was taken away. Miller has spent the last 3 years searching for his lost love, whilst his former partner and protege Agent Net has been hot on his heels with orders to kill Miller. Finally he catches up to him, but a botched attempt to dispatch him using zombies (of course the secret project was zombies) leads to the outbreak of accidental zombie apocalypse. Teaming up with a group of survivors Miller keeps on the chase to find his wife.

This is not a good film by any stretches of the imagination, a few main characters aside the acting truly stinks, it almost seemed they were purposely trying to be bad at times. The plot is basic with bizarre plot holes, and the film cannot decide if it wants to be a goofy comedy or straight up horror, veering wildly between the two. The music is cheesy as hell rock that adds to the low budget feel, while loud generic sound effects are stuck absolutely everywhere.

What zombie action that is here is not that bad, mainly they will swarm in and drag people to the ground which always looks good, and there is some nice touches such as the big zombie fight towards the films end when most the people involved die in various different ways (highlight being the man in a gas mask who is dragged to the ground and eaten whilst frantically attempting to wipe blood off the eye pieces of his mask, even as he is pulled down) The make up is not the best, but it does do it's job even if the actors playing the zombies are very amateurish. One scene has a dead zombie quickly lifts it's head up to look at the action occurring in front of it before placing it back down, other dispatched zombies visibly blink, and a few insist on walking around with their arms straight out in front which looks ridiculous in this day and age.

The cast suffer by all being so young and youthful, it is hard to take them seriously, especially the Illuminati agent and Miller who do their best to disguise their age by wearing plenty of facial hair and speaking in near hilarious deep, deep gruff voices constantly. There is quite a well choreographed fight scene between these two at one point, a great part of the film even if scenes of a random pigeon sitting on a rafter kept getting intercut into it for utterly no reason.

The plot makes no sense such as several days into the apocalypse and a young militia group has already formed complete with fortified base complete with an armoury and klaxon alarms where they await the arrival of the zombies who for some reason are most definitely going to show up in a few hours in force. The final fifth was actually pretty watchable and surprisingly bleak and moody. I can't help but feel if the whole film had followed this tone it would have been a lot stronger for it.

Zombie Apocalypse is most certainly a zombie film, it is fun in places and has a strong finish, but too much of the rest of it just feels so filler with too many random, needless scenes injected in to make up the 90 minute run time.


Thursday, 6 March 2014

Autumn: Aftermath by David Moody (2012) - Zombie Horror Book Review

Autumn: Aftermath is the fifth and final book in David Moody's phenomenal zombie series that see a strange virus wipe out most the worlds population and reanimate a large chunk as decomposing ghouls. Being book five there are of course going to be some spoilers about previous entries in the series. On a side note the photo is not a new gonzo way of showing images, just could not find a decent picture online to use.

A group of English survivors hiding out in a castle are found by a man who calls himself 'Driver'. This man tells them of a group of others trapped in a hotel. After rescuing these people there starts to be a rift in the group when Jackson; the self appointed leader of the castle lot has his position challenged by newcomer Jas who is incredibly fearful of the walking dead. When an escape to all their worries comes about this split blows up into all out rebellion. Once again the most frightening aspect of a zombie apocalypse is man himself it seems.

Autumn: Disintegration showed Autumn at it's most violent, violence being a key part of that book, here the threat of the zombies has muted somewhat to a background concern. The undead have been put on hold, almost literally as with the arrival of winter the hordes freeze solid on a daily basis. The bigger concern for the survivors now is just what they do with their lives in a ruined, dying world. Thematically the demise of the zombie threat makes perfect sense, in a thrilling chasing way though I did miss the scenes of extreme violence.

The ghouls of Aftermath are truly pitiful creatures, they are rotted and decayed to barely nothing and as such are no longer the huge menace they had been. The cycle of the zombies comes to a very satisfying and poignant end in scenes that had me re-reading to truly comprehend the change of perspectives. These are not the crazed, angry mobs of before, here they juxtapose with the fading world, both elements on the way out to be replaced with something new.

The characters are as numerous as always, some of them did get confused to me but firm favourites do appear. It was very clever that a character who in Disintegration was relegated to a background position suddenly gets thrust into the limelight and for the first time you get to read his inner thoughts that for me changed how I felt about the character dramatically. I wonder if Moody purposely kept this character ambiguous and strange knowing the path he had planned for him in Aftermath. Another character was somewhat of a good guy previous, his transformation into brutality and insanity was unexpected and creates a true villain where previous books had near equal shades of grey for all it's characters. Late to the party but fitted into the world of Autumn well.

I did find halfway through Autumn: Aftermath my interest waning ever so slightly but this only lasted for a few chapters until amazing things started to occur again with some fun twists, I had a slight feeling of sadness knowing this was the end of the series. I adore the Autumn books for the reasons that they are great books, well written, and do some really interesting spins on the traditional brain hungry zombie tales. As always if you have not yet read them then they are well worth reading.


Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The Butcher of Banner Cross Part 3: Sliced & Diced (2014) - Horror Comic Review

Sliced & Diced is the third part in Craig Daley's latest surreal murder mystery that involves a serial killer only going after vegetarians. As always for the Banner Cross stories art is by Chatri, a step up from Daley's demented creations but something lacking some of the charm also.

With the bizarre Punchline not willing to stop the serial murders until five victims have been killed he is forced to show his hand when the killer makes an appearance. Following the wrapping up of the case Punchline's origins are revealed in the second half of the comic.

I have to say that for once I was not blown away with the resolution to this latest surreal murder mystery. I think it was the fact that quite early on in the comics it was made apparent that the killer was no human, so the reveal here while clever in that intricate way that only Daley is capable of was still  not mind blowing. The second half of the comic is the real treat though, especially if you have read previous stories of Daley's as there is some really quite clever reveals that include specific segments from a past comic. The art is really quite strong, and the Sin City style of reds give the otherwise black and white inks more substance as is always the case. I had a decent look at the art this time around, it is pretty good.

A bit of a short review but it's part 3 anyway so if you have the other two of course you will buy this one. I admit I am a fan of Daley's style of doing comics, there really is nothing quite like it out on the market, so if you are after something surreal, and something different then this is for you.


Monday, 3 March 2014

Home (2012) - Horror Videogame Review (iOS)

Having recently acquired an i-Phone I have finally gotten my chance to play all the horror games released on the platform over the years. I have been a staunch opponent of mobile games, but now I have dived right in they are not actually that bad for a quick distraction. Home is one such game I have long been itching to play.

You play as a man who awakes in a mysterious house in the dead of night with absolutely no idea how he got there. It isn't long until he stumbles across a corpse. With evidence suggesting that the dead man was killed by a serial killer loose in the town, and evidence pointing to his wife Rachel as being a potential new victim the amnesiac decides to hurry home through places both creepy, yet also somehow familiar.

Home is a 2D side scrolling survival horror game done in a beautiful pixel art style. The game is blocky but looks great. You control your character by either pressing the left or right half of the screen to make him walk. Any doors, or items of interest you come across can be examined by double tapping the screen. That is about it, with no combat, and not even any other living beings in the game this is a story of isolation.

Silent Hill 2 starts with James Sunderland making his way through empty forests and streets. In this opening section there is no combat of any kind, just long pathways. The designer stated this was to give a real feeling of being isolated from the outside world. Home makes this design choice at it's core. A simple journey home for the man takes anywhere from one to two hours with the oppressive atmosphere forever choking you. Locations range from the house you start off in to sewers, a forest, and even a factory. All these locations have their own feeling of doom to them, and usually at least one corpse will be found.

The strongest, and also the weakest part of Home is that the games story changes depending on your actions. Aside from a few simple puzzles (such as turning valves to shut off a water supply, or finding a tool to break open a locked door) you are free to explore as much or as little of the environments as you wish to. Exploration yields bits of story, sometimes quite long that is shown via the thoughts of your confused character. Along the way for example you can gather the contents of your wallet that somehow has ended up all over the town, or you can find rooms off the beaten track that point to sinister goings on. Items you choose to pick up or leave also have vast influences on your story.

I did say the weakest and strongest part of the game in my last paragraph when commenting on the plot, here is my reason why. With a story that is built around your actions nothing is set in stone, your game tailors itself to the decisions you make and what you witness so that by the end when you would expect everything to be resolved nothing really is. I don't mind vague plot, again going back to Silent Hill that game excelled at leaving you to fill in the blanks, here this doesn't work. I had in my head the events I thought had happened yet the game presented me with a muddle of choices that left far more questions than answers. I did a second playthrough to get a different ending, but this too was unsatisfying. Home is only scary the first time you play, this is mostly from sudden loud noises, and being fearful of what you will find next. I did explore more on my second game, but by this point it did feel slightly more like a chore.

This is not a particularly long game, but for £2 that doesn't matter. It has a strong graphical style, and is a brave attempt to create something that has the creeping fear of a survival horror, but without any of the actual survival. I just wish there had been an option to be provided with a solid story rather than being expected to find your own.