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World War Z (2013)

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Okay, Justin Bieber's just round this corner...
Okay, Justin Bieber’s just round this corner…

Twitter Plot Summary: Humanity will be wiped out by a zombie virus within 90 days, unless they can find the source and a cure. Step up, Brad Pitt!

Genre: Action/Drama/Horror

Director: Marc Forster

Key Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, Fana Mokoena, David Morse, Peter Capaldi

Five Point Summary:

1. That scientist guy was their best hope? Hah.
2. Brad Pitt rocking the Richard Herring look.
3. Feature length film or series of connected mini-sodes?
4.  I want to see more zombies, dagnammit!
5. Ant-like zombies are awesome. And scary.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve watched a zombie film, back in my university days (and up to a couple of years ago) I think I was watching at least one a month. Thinking back I don’t think I’ve ever seen one at the cinema either, so World War Z was definitely on my list this summer. I’ve previously read Max Brooks’ novel of the same name and his Zombie Survival Guide before that, so I knew what I was getting myself in for. From the pre-release news and rumours I knew full well that this would be an adaptation of the book in name only, so despite initial misgivings I knew from a scripting perspective it’s better to have a single protagonist rather than trying to follow three or four different characters. That’s in a film, of course – if you were talking about TV series then you’d have several hours to explore those characters, a film doesn’t have that luxury.

There are a lot of good ideas – the sheer number of zombies is a constantly observable threat, and the speed at which they turn following infection is a frightening idea. It’s also nice to see a few new aspects of an outbreak. In essence it’s a series of shorter zombie tales as per Brooks’ original book, but instead of being told from the perspective of various different protagonists here it’s all from the perspective of Brad Pitt’s UN rep Gerry Lane. First we’re in the US as Lane manages to get his family out of the city and onto a US aircraft carrier. This sequence is the type you usually see in zombie films, with hundreds and thousands of zombies streaming into the streets and attacking all and sundry. They’re incredibly violent creatures, flinging themselves at the living and trying to reach them by any means necessary – that includes smashing their heads through windows and windscreens.

Before Gerry’s had chance to settle on the aircraft carrier he’s quickly tasked with helping to find a cure and is whisked away to mini film number 2 in South Korea. Here he meets a platoon of US soldiers in a very atmospheric, rainswept location. After that it’s off to Israel where they were able to wall off the city before the outbreak reached them. Then finally Gerry lands in Wales, of all places, where a cure could potentially be crafted. The pace slows down considerably at this point, but that’s not to say it’s a bad thing. The whole sequence is incredibly tense and worthwhile stuff, but it’s let down by a lacklustre and incredibly rushed ending. It doesn’t so much as end as fizzle out.

Zombies. Fahsan's of 'em!
Zombies. Fahsan’s of ’em!

Most zombie films (and, indeed, TV series) focus on the conflict between people. Day of the Dead in particular is a perfect example – the zombies are secondary to the conflict between the living. Here, it’s all about co-operation. There’s a scene early on where Gerry is looking for medicine for his daughter and comes face to face with a hooded youth with a gun. There’s a moment where it looks like the youth is going to attack him, but then he subverts our preconceptions and helps find exactly the right medicine that Gerry needs. There’s a couple of bits where humanity’s natural predilection towards violence appear, but otherwise the real focus here is people helping each other. Be it all of the soldiers helping Gerry, or the border guards allowing survivors to enter the city in Israel, or even the small band of scientists uniting against the common enemy (zombies, not the Judean People’s Front), the clear message is that co-operation is key to survival.

The film suffers from the fact a number of re-writes and re-shoots were ordered, and it has a narrative that is somewhat disengaged from the threat of a global apocalypse. Okay sure, the whole reason he’s going off on these adventures is to help locate a cure, but a bit more engagement with the situation would’ve been better. I can see what they were trying to achieve though – we see events from Gerry’s perspective so the action is going to be limited in scope.

From a story perspective I’d suggest that a threat back on the US aircraft carrier would’ve also made for a more entertaining narrative – as it is, you know that nothing bad is going to happen there, which is almost at odds with the entire concept of the film. Given how persistent the undead are, you’d think they would somehow find a way to reach the offshore bastions that represent humanity’s last hope for survival? This would’ve given Mireille Enos more to do rather than sitting around looking a bit depressed. Maybe I’m just looking at this from a rather bleak perspective, but it would’ve made for a far more nuanced and interesting film.

More zombies would’ve been nice as well, until the final sequence in Wales you don’t really get a good look at them, and all of the big action sequences have been spoilt by the trailer – that seems to be a recurring theme lately. It’s a 15-rated film but there’s very little in the way of blood or violence. I think it’s more the threat of their overwhelming odds that justifies that rating.

Whilst it ends hurriedly and without really providing a satisfying conclusion, there’s the suggestion that a sequel could possibly follow. I’m in two minds as to whether I’d want to see that, if they can do away with the script problems and increase/improve the zombie action then I’ll be happy.

Favourite scene: Shuffling slowly through the Welsh health centre. Very tense stuff.

Quote: “Every human being we save is one less we have to fight.”

Silly Moment: Where Gerry Lane’s wife chooses exactly the wrong moment to call him back.

Score: 3.5/5

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

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This'll look good in the trailer...
This’ll look good in the trailer…

Twitter Plot Summary: Early 90s Hollywood does the Robin Hood legend and spawns THAT song by Bryan Adams. On the plus side – Alan Rickman.

Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama

Director: Kevin Reynolds

Key Cast: Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Christian Slater, Alan Rickman, Brian Blessed.

Five Point Summary:

1. Alan Rickman = awesomeness.
2. So if Robin Hood is supposed to be English, why does he have an American accent?
3. English guy = villain. Always.
4. Did we really need the Celts to show up?
5. All of the gags in Men In Tights now make a lot more sense…

Ahh, glory be to big Hollywood dramatisations of old legends. They can never get it quite right, but still we flock to the cinema like sheep  to see what they’ve done to Nottingham’s finest, Robin Hood. Except for me of course. I watched it for the first time last night (NB: this review was written in 2011) thanks to my Lovefilm subscription. In some ways I’m glad I didn’t pay for it, but in others I’d probably wait until I see it go cheap on DVD and make a purchase. First things first – this film is long. 2.5 hours of story await. Thankfully it doesn’t drag too much, but I found myself reaching the 90 minute mark and hoping the resolution was coming soon, if only because nothing had really happened for a while. Then I realised I had another hour to go and promptly settled in for a long evening. After a quick trip to the toilet.

Before the film had even begun my opinion of it was already tarnished thanks to Mel Brooks. I’ve seen Men In Tights many, many times over the years, with no inclination to watch the “source material”, as it were. I’m now glad I took the time to watch it. From the opening credits you can tell it’s going to be an entertaining movie, as the names “Alan Rickman” and “Brian Blessed” flash up on the screen. Both are undoubtedly legends, and Rickman camps it up mercilessly as the  villain of the piece, having a bit more fun with the role than his earlier appearance in Die Hard allowed. It’s another classic case of making the English guy the villain, but when the English guy is Alan Rickman you forgive the biased view American cinema apparently has of the English. Yes, historically we’ve had our issues, but I wouldn’t think about casting an American as my villain just because the thirteen colonies seceded from the throne. Then again, it might just be because English actors are very good at their job. And Alan Rickman? Fantastic casting choice.

Brian Blessed is not in the film long enough to have an impact, except for a couple of brief moments where he manages to resist shouting his lines. Still, it was nice to see him in any capacity. DIIIIIIVE!!! Sorry… The brief cameo of Sean Connery at the end (ahem, spoiler alert) as King Richard made me geek out a little bit (okay, a lot), and I really don’t know why. He’s on screen for about five seconds and then we’re into the end credits. The point, exactly? It’s very much like Patrick Stewart showing up in Men In Tights (and come to think of it, that appearance makes a bit more sense now).

Guy of Gisbourne’s character is very much a product of the movie’s time. He’s an early 90s surfer dude transferred into a 12th century tale, and made slightly gruffer so he doesn’t stick out like Brian Blessed in a Robin Hood film. Erm…  It may be controversial, but Richard Armitage’s version of the character from the recently deceased (previously moribund) BBC series was a much better take on the character, and has set a high benchmark for future interpretations of Mr of Gisbourne. Maybe it should be as simple as hiring a good actor.

What do you mean, "tone it down a little?"
What do you mean, “tone it down a little?”

Kevin Costner is a vaguely likeable Robin Hood, but the fact we’re in the middle of England in the age of the crusades and none of the speaking cast have a uniform accent, despite all supposedly being from the Nottingham area, grates a little. Little John and his wife are definitely West Country. Kevin Costner, obviously American and Christian Slater is… I’m not really sure. But then as we’ve seen from many other versions of this story, both older and more recent, they’ve never really put much effort into the accents. Yes, even you, Mr Crowe. Costner is a little too laid back for most of the story, but this was back when he was a bankable headline name (whoever thought Waterworld was a good idea anyway?).

Morgan Freeman added a nice touch as the foreigner in a strange land. Cue racist joke here. The script doesn’t overburden the  viewer with excessive comments over his difference to the natives, but there is a nice scene between Freeman and the blind servant who unwittingly puts his foot in it, specifically regarding Moors and foreign folk. From a tonal perspective it’s pretty spot on, not labouring too close to the point but acknowledging that yes, people have been cultural racists for many centuries.

There’s a fair amount of iffy moments in the story. Robin and Morgan Freeman arrive in England, presumably on the south coast. Then, as if by movie magic, they’re in the vicinity of Robin’s home and fighting off a group of Alan Rickman’s men. I wouldn’t mind so much if they had emphasised a passing of time, or given a clear indication of where they had made landfall, but as they did neither of these things I can only assume that the bigwig Hollywood production team decided a basic grasp of geography wasn’t necessary when making the movie.

If having Alan Rickman as your evil villain wasn’t enough, the scriptwriters decided to throw in the Celts to trample through Sherwood Forest and burn down the outlaws’ camp. It’s almost an affront to the power of Rickman to get the job done, and basically confirms that he’s surrounded by ineffectual lackeys who need some big ginger Scots to burst in and do the real dirty work. Much like Terry Pratchett’s Nac Mac Feegles in that respect, but much less amusing and much less effective.

The film has nice production values, but ultimately I think I’ve watched Robin Hood: Men in Tights far too often to take this particular interpretation of the Hood legend seriously. And, even better, I didn’t have to sit through Bryan Adams’ interminable power ballad at any point. Result.

Favourite scene: The Sheriff of Nottingham cancelling Christmas.

Quote: “Locksley! I’ll cut your heart out with a spoon!”

Silly Moment:  Pretty much anything with Alan Rickman, he’s turned up to 11. Specifically – him telling wenches to visit his chambers.

Score: 3.5/5

Gnomeo and Juliet (2011)

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A slight re-working of the original story...
A slight re-working of the original story…

Twitter Plot Summary: It’s the same story as Romeo and Juliet, except they don’t die at the end. Spoilers!

Genre: Animation/Comedy/Family

Director: Kelly Asbury

Key Cast: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Ashley Jensen, Michael Caine, Matt Lucas, Jim Cummings, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Ozzy Osbourne, Stephen Merchant, Patrick Stewart, Julie Walters, Hulk Hogan.

Five Point Summary:

1. One of the only films where a ceramic mushroom is a character in itself.

2. Elton John’s original tunes = not bad, actually.

3. I like the garden gnome concept.
4. Nanette the frog – best thing in the film.
5. Casting Patrick Stewart as Shakespeare? Genius.

The main review below was originally posted on www.randomstoat.com on 03 December 2011.

In the introduction to this movie the makers acknowledge that Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers has been told time and time again, which would go some way to explaining why the pitch for this film was clearly “Romeo and Juliet. With gnomes.”

There are a number of references to other Shakespeare works (the house numbers are 2B and Not 2B respectively), but for the most part there is little to recommend this film to anyone at all. I wouldn’t go so far as to shoot it in front of its family (thanks, Mr Clarkson) but I’d certainly advise people to steer clear from it as if the movie was the smelly kid at school. No, there’s little to recommend here. Unless you’re a fan of Elton John’s music, in which case this acts more as an extended music video and will offer brief periods of life, intrigue, action and make a bit of excitement. But with gnomes. There were a lot of opportunities for some real laugh out loud moments but for the most part it falls flat and the only saving grace in the final third is the presence of Featherstone the plastic flamingo, voiced by Winnie The Pooh himself, Jim Cummings. Proof, if nothing else, that being a supporting character with a funny voice is usually enough to elicit interest. I also thoroughly enjoyed the camp by Patrick Stewart as the Bard himself. Or, rather, a statue of him.

In brief, the story sees Gnomeo and Juliet fall for each other despite the intense rivalry that exists between the red and blue gnomes living in neighbouring gardens. There’s some fun to be had with the various gnome designs but there isn’t enough emphasis on this aspect for it to really tickle the funny bone. Obviously because the families are at war with one another (or at least have a keen dislike of their rival gnomes) it’s frowned upon when they are discovered to be an item. Events come to a head when a character is bumped off, all out war takes place and an almost possessed lawn mower wreaks havoc across both gardens.And as this is a kid’s movie, don’t expect the usual Romeo and Juleit sad/tragic ending, although they do tease the audience with it almost excessively. Think about the fake endings in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and you’re in the right area for the potential to annoy.

She's just read the script.
She’s just read the script.

The now familiar game of “guess the voice actor” occupied most of my viewing time. No idea who Emily Blunt is and nor do I intend to find out. Jason Statham crops up as the rival; Ozzy Osbourne, whilst mildly entertaining, should stick to singing heavy metal and screaming at Sharon; Hulk Hogan basically appears as himself (Terrafirminator, Brother!); and then to wrap up we’re hit with the Brit actor invasion of Michael Caine, Maggie Smith and Julie Walters, along with some more recent alumni including Stephen Merchant, Matt Lucas and Ashley Jensen. As for James McAvoy, thanks to a recent viewing of X-Men First Class all I could see (and hear) was a young Professor X babbling on about groovy mutations…

If you’re reading this and you have young kids then they’ll probably get entertainment from some of the sillier moments, but from an adult’s perspective there’s little else I can say is enjoyable. The plot meandered, the voice acting was occasionally lacking in quality, and it’s certainly no Disney/Pixar effort. Missed opportunity methinks.

Favourite scene: “Shakespeare” talks to Gnomeo, and you realise he’s being voiced by Patrick Stewart.

Quote: “The story you about to see has been told before. A lot.”

Silly Moment: Racing on lawnmowers. Really?

Score: 2/5

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_L_5vrHoWQ

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

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I'm sorry, you've caught me on a bad day. Hail Cobra!
I’m sorry, you’ve caught me on a bad day. Hail Cobra!

Twitter Plot Summary: CGI meets a line of toys. GI Joe are tasked with taking on an evil organisation that may or may not become COBRA.

Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi

Director: Stephen Sommers

Key Cast: Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sienna Miller, Arnold Vosloo, Rachel Nichols, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce, Dennis Quaid, Byung-hun Lee.

Five Point Summary:

1. The Eiffel Tower has never looked more computer generated.

2. Snake Eyes’ mask has a mouth. Buh?

3. Badly written exposition = de jour.

4. I wonder why Sienna Miller was given that specific outfit? Teen market, clearly.
5.  Cobraaaaaaaa!

My first reaction once the film ended was… what has just happened? As origin stories go, this one didn’t play true to form – character histories were revealed at various points throughout the film, while at the same time we’re introduced to Duke and Ripcord, a couple of regular soldiers who survive an ambush from Sienna Miller’s Baroness and are rescued by the GI Joe’s. I can imagine, if you were a newcomer to the series, that it will all have been a bit confusing to start with. They don’t go out of their way to properly explain what’s going on or who these characters are, and it’s still not exactly clear until we’re almost at the end. I did like the training montage for Duke and Ripcord, and for some reason I liked the CGI lift/elevator scene as the team descend deeper into the Joe’s base, revealing land and sea-based training on various levels (including some HUGE tanks of water).

Just like Paul WS Anderson has a very specific style, this movie is typical Steven Sommers. Thankfully his use of CGI has improved over the years, to the point where most of it gels quite nicely with the live action scenes. The action scenes are quite inventive for the most part, although the final climactic showdown at Christopher Eccleston’s underwater/under-ice base borrows liberally from the Death Star battle at the end of Star Wars (Episode 4: A New Hope for anyone raised on the new numbering scheme), to the point where I half expected a Han Solo-type character to show up and save the day.

More of this in the film would have improved it immensely.
More of this in the film would have improved it immensely.

Clearly the best action sequence of the entire film was the attack on the Eiffel Tower.  It conveyed a real sense of danger and showed the potential behind the “rise of Cobra”,  and divided the action up nicely despite the rather ludicrous “superman suits” given to Duke and Ripcord. The scenes with Jonathan Pryce’s president also gel nicely, and he emotes “baffled” very well indeed. But then it’s Jonathan Pryce, much like Alan Rickman (albeit in a much different sense) he could play a coma victim and still eat up the screen. And I know this is a work of fiction, but the name “GI Joe” being uttered, in all serious, by real life actors, feels a little awkward. But then the UK name for the series, Action Force, isn’t much better.

It was obvious that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is too big an actor to only have a brief cameo in a flashback or two (as Rex, brother of the Baroness), and it was nice to discover (but not difficult to see coming) that he was the evil scientist hidden beneath a wig and a face mask. It was clear to me that he had a lot of fun with that role, even more so given that he only had one eye to emote with for most of the film’s runtime. His interpretation of the role was definitely in line with the tone of the movie, and the same can be said of Dennis Quaid, who seems to have a knowing glint in his eye throughout. Everyone else did an okay job with the material, and Marlon Wayans wasn’t nearly as irritating as I was expecting. Yes he’s the comic relief, but he’s surprisingly restrained.

As is often the case, some elements of the movie are much sillier than others. For starters, let’s look at Snake Eyes. Specifically, his mouth. Why, in all the costume designer’s infinite wisdom, was the silent character given a moulded mouth on his mask? It looks ridiculous and bearing in mind the character doesn’t say a word, completely unnecessary. Why not just stick with the original animated design and have a single piece of material covering the area instead? Very silly.

The film also suffers in its delivery of exposition. It’s very ham-fisted in style, such as when they explain why Snake Eyes doesn’t speak – he has a climactic sword fight with Storm Shadow who says, mid-combat, “when our master was killed you took a vow of silence. Now you will die without a word.”  It’s entirely needless, if anything there’s more intrigue  about Snake Eyes by not revealing much about his past. There are lines similar to this dotted all over the movie, and you could probably come up with 100 different, better ways of getting the information to the audience without resorting to cheap dialogue.

Another ridiculous side of the story was the flashback sequence involving Rex and the fabulously named Dr Mindbender. Not only does he have a name ripped straight from the cartoon, and that he has the classic “evil scientist” garb, but he speaks in the same comical tone of the cartoon as well, a cross somewhere between Vincent Price and Dr Evil. His brief appearance was hilarious to say the least, and I found it a shame that he wasn’t in the film for longer. I vote to create a Dr Mindbender spin-off TV series, where he creates a new, evil world-changing virus every week and be stopped just in the nick of time by one member of GI Joe, a different one each week. I’d pay to see that.

It’s a fun yet disposable film, from a director who is slightly more mass-market friendly than Paul WS Anderson. Excessive use of CGI? Check. Occasionally amusing dialogue? Check. Story that would be better in another director’s hands? Check. I feel a missed opportunity with this film, in that it could have been a big, gritty tale of revenge and redemption and focused more on Cobra’s lack of demands – they’re evil and want to blow things up, end of. Saying that, in spite of the silly tone the movie sets, I quite enjoyed it and will watch a sequel should they make one, but a better script would be much appreciated.

Favourite scene: Snake Eyes’ sword fight with Storm Shadow.

Quote: “Knowing is half the battle.”

Silly Moment:  Duke and Ripcord using their special suits to hop skip and jump towards the Eiffel Tower whilst deflecting attacks from enemy troops.

Score: 2.5/5

Toy Story 3 (2010)

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Are you classically trained?
Are you classically trained?

Twitter Plot Summary: Andy’s off to college and doesn’t play with the toys anymore. They’re accidentally shipped off to a day care centre where trouble is afoot.

Genre: Animation/Adventure/Comedy

Director: Lee Unkrich

Key Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger.

Five Point Summary:

1. Senor Buzz is awesome.
2. Lotso The Bear. Nasty piece of work.
3. Ken (of Barbie fame) is surprisingly entertaining.
4. If toys could actually walk and talk, their hopes and fears would be exactly as this film presents them.
5. How bleak did that ending almost turn out?

The main review below was originally posted on www.randomstoat.com on 23 September 2010.

I worried before walking into the Imax ahead of seeing Toy Story 3. I’d planned ahead and visited the toilet beforehand; I was fully aware of the immense scale of the Imax screen (note to self: sitting in the back row is probably the best place if you want to see the whole screen); I even made sure I had safely stored my recent purchases in a rucksack so as to avoid spilling them on the Imax floor (because we all know how awkward it is fumbling around on the floor as people try to restrain their bile and disgust). No, my concern was… how can Pixar make another Toy Story film work? After all, it’s been 15 years since the first film was released, technology and films have moved on quite a way (although perhaps not as much as the visual effects gap between the 80s and 90s).

Suffice to say I shouldn’t have worried, really. This is the studio who said they’d never release a sequel unless they could get the story right. So way back in 1999 we got Toy Story 2, which was a superb follow-up to the original and did what all good sequels should do. That is, it didn’t duplicate the plot of the first film and just tweak a few elements to give it a fresher look (see Jaws 2 and Robocop 2 as prime examples). Instead we had a fresh tale with the characters we already knew, and that is no different here.

Admittedly it starts on a bit of a downer (after a very impressive and EPIC intro sequence involving the red monkeys and evil Dr Pork-Chop). After the dulcet and slightly “special” song from Randy Newman, Andy has grown up, there’s only a handful of his toys left, and he’s about to head off to college. So, the toys are worried that he’ll just throw them away – we have after all lost just about all of the cast from the first two films, including Bo Peep, Etch-A-Sketch and all but three of the green army soldiers. Naturally Woody believes that Andy will bag them up and leave them in the attic, but the other toys, Buzz included, aren’t quite sure what will happen. It’s all a bit grim.

Hang on lads, I've got a great idea...
Hang on lads, I’ve got a great idea…

Before it all gets too depressing, Andy’s dog Buster shows up. I loved the appearance of Buster. He’s an old dog now, certainly in no condition to replicate the derring-do that he demonstrated at the start of Toy Story 2. And that’s exactly what Woody, and the audience, is expecting. Things don’t work out quite the same way, and it’s clear how far CGI animation has come in the last 11 years  just based on Buster’s fur alone.

Andy, being a typical teenager, throws his toys into a black bag with the intention of leaving them in the attic. Then Andy’s mum appears as Andy is distracted by his sister, and naturally, she sees a black bag and assumes it’s rubbish to be thrown out. Disaster is averted, of course (otherwise there wouldn’t be a story), so the toys decide to leave for Sunnyside Daycare, a nirvana-esque haven for toys that is established in the first 10 minutes of the film.
The group hear toys are treated well and played with/used by kids all day. Again this is another classic case of Toy Story misinterpretation as we are introduced to a whole batch of new characters. Lotso the Bear (smells of strawberries) is in charge of day care, and around him are a number of toys including a rather scary baby, an insect type thing that looks like a He-Man toy range knockoff, and the best new character of the film – Ken of Barbie fame.

Michael Keaton plays him perfectly (which makes me wonder – where’s he been since the 1980s?), and he sparkles in every scene. Especially when he accessorises. There’s yet more misdirection as it turns out Daycare is in fact a prison dictatorship ruled over by Lotso. Andy’s toys are left in pre-school (Rex has the best line where he says the toys aren’t age appropriate for those kids), and Woody leaves so he can get back to Andy. Woody gets a taste of the good life outside of Day Care with Bonnie and her own toys (fantastic appearance from Timothy Dalton, easily my favourite “person who played Bond” but NOT my favourite Bond – that accolade goes to Sean Connery). Woody realizes he has to get the others out and hatches a plan to break IN to Sunnyside.

We then get an homage to all the great prison break movies ever released, as the toys try to escape from Lotso’s maniacal day care prison and return to Andy before he leaves. It’s a fantastic sequence as the plan comes together, none more so than what Mr Potato Head has to go through. Put it this way, you’ll never look at a naan bread or a cucumber the same way ever again…

The ending looks like a rip from Star Wars Episode 3 but with toys undead of slightly more wooden actors (I was half expecting someone to shout “You were the Chosen One!!!” and lop off someone’s limbs), and just when it looks like it’s all going to end, an appropriate Deus Ex Machina pops up, harking back to the original film. The ending that follows is appropriately upbeat and, dare I say it, leaves the series open for further sequels. I hope that if Pixar did decide to make a follow-up they treat it with the same respect they have shown to even other film they have made and, most importantly, don’t rush it.

And it would be pointless to review the film if I didn’t at least mention Senor Buzz. Absolute. Genius. That is all.

Favourite scene: The escape from Sunnyside Daycare and the multiple homages to WW2 prisoner of war movies.

Quote: “Are you classically trained?”

Silly Moment: Senor Buzz. Not silly per se, but amusing and happens unexpectedly.

Score: 5/5

Resident Evil Afterlife (2010)

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Somebody put poo particles on my pillow...
Somebody put poo particles on my pillow…

Twitter Plot Summary: It’s more frankly ludicrous zombie action as Alice tries to find a safe haven and ends up squirreled away in a prison. For a bit.

Genre: Action/Adventure/Horror

Director: Paul WS Anderson

Key Cast: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Kim Coates, Wentworth Miller, Boris Kodjoe

Five Point Summary:

1. Eeeeeverythiiiiiing iiiiiisss iiiiinnn slllloooooow moooootionnnnn.
2. Las Plagas!
3. Paul WS Anderson still can’t write a proper ending.
4. The T-Virus is all seeing, all powerful.
5. Apparently we don’t need to know why the Axemen exist, or why they appear to have Captain Scarlet-esque invulnerability.

The main review below was originally posted on www.randomstoat.com on 16 September 2010.

This review is going to be chock full of spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet you’d probably best leave reading this until you have.

So Paul WS Anderson has returned to the franchise… I had mixed feelings when I first read that he was directing the fourth entry. Each film has had its good and bad points that would take too long to go into here (maybe when I re-watch them at a later date), and this one is no different. Within the first ten minutes all of the story threads left hanging from Resident Evil Extinction are hurriedly brought to a close, with the exception of the Arcadia thread. The Alice clones are all wiped out, Alice herself has her super powers switched off by a completely different Albert Wesker (played very much in the style of Agent Smith from The Matrix), then it’s straight in with the action and the plot unfolds. As far as a Resident Evil movie plot can.

In summary, after her clones have wiped out the Tokyo base of Umbrella and Wesker has turned her powers off, Alice goes looking for the survivors from the end of Resident Evil Extinction, who travelled to Alaska to find Arcadia, a place where apparently there is no infection and is a safe haven. After rescuing Claire (she has a robot spider thing attached to her chest, very Los Ganados), they fly to Los Angeles where they land on top of a prison and meet another disparate bunch of survivors. They discover that Arcadia isn’t a town in Alaska but is a cargo ship, travelling up and down the coast. From there, after much arguing and face-hugger zombie attacks (if you’ve played Resident Evil 4 or 5, you’ll know the type of creature), they decide to escape via the storm drains and head towards the sea. Arcadia ends up being a trap set by Umbrella (surprise, surprise) and they have a final showdown with Wesker, who can now move in Bullet Time and has bad-ass powers thanks to the T-Virus running through his body.

The best aspect of the film has to be that there is a bad guy called Bennett. Sadly he doesn’t skulk around the building wearing a chainmail vest and caressing a knife, but he’s a thoroughly unpleasant chap. You can tell, because he dresses all in black. And he’s not very nice to other people. And he has a little Asian lackey as a sidekick. Another piece of casting genius (if that’s the right word for it) is the presence of Wentworth Miller as Chris Redfield. This piece of casting will only mean something to fans of Prison Break, or people who are aware of Prison Break. We first meet him, funnily enough, locked up in a solitary cell in the basement of the prison. It must have taken them literally seconds to think about casting him, and probably the same amount of time for him to agree to it. And lo and behold, he plays it in the same one-note fashion as his Michael Schofield character in Prison Break. If Chris Redfield emoted a little bit more I might actually have given a damn about the character. As it stands, the only reason I knew he wasn’t going to be killed off is that he’s a named character from the games. Everyone else besides him, Alice and Claire are fair game for a grisly death, and this proves to be the case for just about everyone else involved.

Everything looks cool when posing in a shower of water. In 3D.
Everything looks cool when posing in a shower of water. In 3D.

The soundtrack is classic Anderson. Lots of synthy, John Carpenter-esque tones (especially when they approach the Arcadia), mixed with a dull rock score that is supposed to match the scene, but instead falls horribly flat. It serves its purpose to some degree, but most of the score fails to impress. Each musical cue sounded much like the last, except where they channelled John Carpenter’s The Thing. That bit wasn’t too bad…

The 3D wasn’t as forced as I was expecting, although there were a lot of “things flying at the audience” moments, as only the best worst 3D films attempt. Again, most of it didn’t feel too forced, particular stand-out moments include the fight between Claire Redfield and The Executioner (is the presence of this non-zombie, almost non-killable giant ever explained? Don’t be ridiculous). The various layers of water worked very nicely in 3D, but it would be a nice-looking sequence in standard 2D as well, although the whole fight is over way too quickly. Because the whole thing is done in slo-mo it probably counts as roughly fifteen seconds of real-time fighting. I was reminded time and again throughout the movie, every time there was a slo-mo sequence (and there’s a lot of them) of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, where their use of slo-mo in the fictitious series was because the scripts weren’t long enough. Afterlife doesn’t really need the slo-mo apart from showing off their lovely 3D sequences.

Despite the occasional great sequence or story element, this is still a perfect example of generic “PG-13” cinema. Normal zombies only rear their decaying, ugly heads for about five minutes, more of an afterthought to the great big unpleasant baddies that can be purloined from the games. It lurks somewhere between the utter trash that constitutes an Uwe Boll movie, and a George Romero zombie movie. If you’re a fan of Mr Anderson’s previous work or you’re willing to switch your brain off for a couple of hours and enjoy the ride, then you’ll love Resident Evil Afterlife. If not then I recommend a good book, or maybe even George Romero’s initial script pitch for the first Resident Evil film (you can find it online easily enough). Suffice to say this film is entirely derivative, and only worth your time if you’ve stuck with the series thus far. It might be bearable if The Merchant from Resi 4 makes an appearance, although I’m not too keen on them tarnishing his character in the movies. And in true Paul WS Anderson fashion, the movie ends on yet another cliffhanger. No surprise there. Luckily for us there will be another one in a couple of years. I wonder if that will actually have an ending… probably not.

Favourite scene: The opening sequence where an army of Alice clones takes out an Umbrella base. In 3D.

Quote: “Nice landing.” “I think technically it’s called crashing.”

Silly Moment:  The shower room fight between Alice, Claire Redfield and an Axeman. It’s just an excuse to show off the 3D.

Score: 2.5/5