• Film reviews

    #569 – Paul (2011)

    Paul (2011)

    Film review #569

    Director: Greg Mottola

    SYOPSIS: Graeme and Clive are two nerds attending Comic-con. On their road trip towards Area 51, they come across an actual alien named Paul, who is on the run from the authorities that have been holding him. Graeme and Clive end up helping Paul to get to the spaceship that is waiting to pick him up, and in doing so, end up getting chased by a number of people that they have annoyed in the process…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Paul is a 2011 sci-fi comedy film. Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as Graeme Willie and Clive Gollings, two British nerds and sci-fi artists/writers who are attending San Diego Comic-Con. Being alien fanatics, they take a trip out into the Nevada desert to the sites of Area 51 and the Roswell incident. On the road along the way, they come across an alien named Paul, who is being chased by the authorities after he escaped their custody, and is on his way to meeting a spaceship to pick him up and return home. Thus begins a buddy road trip film that plays out pretty much how you would expect: with plenty of laughs, silliness, and some heartfelt moments too. It’s clearly meant to appeal to a more casual filmgoer, but there’s a decent amount of quick references that more avid fans will pick up on. The story offers few surprises, but you don’t really notice because the film instead offers some quickfire comedy and solid momentum that keeps things rolling. It has a feel of Blue Brothers in parts in the sense that it builds into a chase film that has enough chaotic energy to bring all the characters together and make something interesting.

    Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as always, play the leads with good chemistry, and Seth Rogen as the alien Paul offers a character with enough gravitas and presence that contrasts with Pegg and Frost, but very much like a typical Seth Rogen character. It feels like his character is meant to be a lot more crude, but is perhaps toned down to make the film more mainstream, with only a bit of an edge. Even though Paul is obviously CG, he is still animated and expressive, and his interactions with the cast feel natural, which is a solid plus for the film. The supporting cast are very typical characters, but again, for the casual film viewer, play a part well, and you know what their role is very clearly and quickly.

    Paul is a film that works with very broad strokes: it’s comedy is quick and energetic, the story is condensed and easy to follow, and the characters have good chemistry. However, going any deeper you find an awful lot missing that is needed to make the film more memorable and gripping. It feels like the film was conceived with these very broad stroke, and little was done refining this underneath the premise. It plays it safe in the sense that it clearly needs to appeal to a mainstream audience (apparently this is what the funding for the film was based on), and so any smarter references or parodying other science-fiction works is reduced to easily missed one liners that don’t disrupt the flow of the film. The film is still lots of fun, even if you’re not a fan of the crude (but never too crude) humour. It could have been a lot more, but what we have is good enough for an entertaining ride.

  • Film reviews

    #540 – Bong of the Dead (2011)

    Bong of the Dead (2011)

    Film review #540

    Director: Thomas Newman

    SYNOPSIS: A meteor shower that strikes the Earth has the effect of turning everyone in to zombies and thus causing an apocalypse. A few months after this, two stoners, Tommy and Edwin, discover that the zombies can be used as fertiliser to create super powerful weed. With this in mind, and their weed stocks running low, they decide to travel to the zombie infested areas to get more of their fertiliser, but on the way, they run into a young woman surviving on her own…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Bong of the Dead is a 2011 film written, produced and edited by Thomas Newman. The film opens up meteors falling to Earth, one of which lands in a man’s garden, who starts to transform into a zombie. This opening scene is played with no dialogue, as we slowly see this man transform into a zombie, along with his wife. This opening scene is fairly clever, using no dialogue, and just showing the man’s transformation using plenty of visual effects. The way his wife is shown to be as much of a zombie as he is when she’s just sitting watching TV is quite clever, and the ending shot of them sitting on the sofa casually picking out each others organs and eating them is such a well executed shot thanks to all the gore and practical effects, and its certainly not what you would expect from a low budget film called Bong of the Dead.

    When we get into the film proper, we see something a bit more of what we expect to see: a few months after the meteors have caused a zombie apocalypse and wiped out society (supposedly, we don’t really see anything of it), two stoners, Tommy and Edwin are hiding out in their apartment, when Edwin shows Tommy he has found a way to turn the zombies into fertiliser that can grow super strong weed, they decide to brave going outside into the infected zones to make some more of this weed. Along the way, their car breaks down and thy meet Leah, a mechanic who helps them fix it. I think the film can be easily split into it’s good and bad points: the story is very typical and threadbare, and just consists predictably of a lot of weed smoking and occasional zombies. There’s a villain who appears in two separate scenes, but he doesn’t really have much of a role. The rest of the film is just scenes of empty dialogue that exist probably just to extend the run time. Speaking of which, the film stretches to nearly one hundred minutes, which is way too long for this sort of film. As always, I try not to be too harsh on low budget films like this made mostly by just one person, and try to judge a film based on what it tries to achieve with what it has, but the script definitely needed some help with regards to pacing, content, and just simple cuts. We also get an end credits scene that sets up for a sequel that, unsurprisingly, never came. Why do so many of these low budget films love to set up for a sequel that they never make?

    On the positive side, the film’s gore is really good and creative: the practical effects are flowing with flesh and blood, and even in close-ups, it looks pretty convincing. The action scenes where the zombies are getting sliced up look great, and there’s so much blood and gore that covers everyone it’s quite impressive, and gives a real authenticity to proceedings. Apart from this though, the rest of the production is more obviously limited by the budget and being a mostly one man operation, with fairly obvious greenscreens, and a lot of scenes being shot in someone’s house. Even though the camerawork and framing feels like it could have been better, for one person with a camcorder, it’s fine. Overall, for an almost one-man production, Bong of the Dead does some things better than you would expect: the practical effects are good, and there’s some effort put in to throwing about as much blood and gore as possible in some scenes. This is counterbalanced in the story not having anything special outside of typical stoner humour and zombie apocalypse stuff, and an overly long runtime dilute the positives, so we’re left with a fairly typical film that does what you expect. nevertheless, credit where it is due to Thomas Newman for pulling this off almost entirely by himself.

  • Film reviews

    #476 – Man From the Future (2011)

    Man from the Future (2011)

    Film review #476

    Director: Cláudio Torres

    SYNOPSIS: João Henrique, nicknamed “Zero” is a renowned scientist, who is attempting to develop a new infinite source of energy. When he activates his experimental machine, he accidentally finds himself transported back in time to 1991…on the day the love of his life dumped him. Determined to change what happened that day, he goes about trying to change the events that unfolded, but his meddling turns out to have unintended consequences, and manages to complicate his life in ways he never even imagined…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Man from the Future (O Homem do Futuro) is a 2011 Brazilian sci-fi comedy/romance film. The film opens up with João “Zero” Henrique, a physicist, about to test a machine that will hopefully create an unlimited new source of energy for the planet. To prove that it is safe, he sits himself at the centre of the machine. However, something unexpected happens, and Zero wakes up in the year 1991, on the day his life changed forever: it is the graduation dance, and Zero is unceremoniously humiliated and ditched by the love of his life; an event that defines his life from that point. Desperate to change what happened, Zero goes to find his younger self and convince him to do things differently. In a very expected and familiar story, he changes events in his own past, which leads to a lot of unintended consequences that makes things a lot worse in the present. The story is obviously fairly typical for a time travel film; with going back to the past altering the future in unanticipated ways. The film is split into a typical three-act structure between going back to 1991, the altered present, and back to 1991 again, and the structure helps stop things from getting confusing. On the other hand, there’s not too much unique that the film offers by playing it so safe. The film obviously (and like most time travel films) takes some cues from Back to the Future, but Man from the Future really strays into copying in some respects; in particular, the key setting of the film being a graduate dance as the turning point in the characters lives. The mixture of sci-fi, romance and comedy feels a bit uneven at times, and it wanders a bit loosely between them as a number of issues are thrown up that never seem to be resolved. For example, there’s a side-issue about trying to prove that “love is a fundamental part of the universe” that gets mentioned, but nothing is ever really done about it.

    Zero, the main character, is a bit of a flawed protagonist: his life is constantly overshadowed by being humiliated and ditched by his first love Helena at their graduation dance, and it still impacts him over twenty years later. Nevertheless, he is a professor, and has loads of funding for his research, so it’s hard to feel too sorry for him in that regard. You do see his character change as he realises his meddling in the past only made things worse, and he becomes determined to set things right, making him a more likeable character by the end. Helena as Zero’s love interest doesn’t really have too much character other than said love interest, but her acting is pretty good. It is a bit weird how she just seems to be madly in love with Zero even though we never really see how their relationship develops or how she gets to that point, and it seems like she is in love with him simply because the plot needs her to be. The rest of the characters have their own personalities and are acted well, but don’t play too much of a part in the film.

    The tone of the film is often quite difficult to figure out: apart from the mix of sci-fi, romance and comedy constantly competing rather than supplementing one another, there’s also the question of who the film’s target audience is. I don’t think it is older viewers because they would have already seen Back to the Future, and would undoubtedly recognise it as derivative of it (I’m not sure how popular BttF is/was in Brazil). It can’t really be seen as a satire or parody of it either, because despite the similarities, it never does anything to undermine the premises and tropes of time travel films, but rather just copies them. I’m not sure the main character being in their forties really appeals to a younger demographic either, although a few raunchy shots and a youth-oriented soundtrack certainly suggests a younger demographic. Man from the Future, on the whole, is produced and made well, with decent acting, and sets and props that are convincing in their scale and polish. However, it doesn’t offer anything unique in terms of its story, and it’s crossing of genres makes it seem muddled, but overall as a bit of light entertainment, it’s easy enough to sit through.

  • Film reviews

    #465 – T.O.R.R. Dawn of the Red

    T.O.R.R. Dawn of the Red (2011)

    Film review #465

    Director: Robert Towne

    SYNOPSIS: In the near-future, global instability and war is rife, and the CIA recruits army Captain Beck for a mission deep into enemy territory, where he and his team are to stop a Russian warlord from unleashing a new biological weapon…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: T.O.R.R. Dawn of the Red is a 2011 action film. Set in the “near-future” of 2014, the world is in a period of instability, with new wars and separatism rife across many countries…apart from the United States, which seems to be carrying on as normal (American exceptionalism means those sorts of things never happen there). Captain Beck, a member of the U.S. Army, is summoned by the CIA to escort one of their agents, Sophie Delgado, deep into hostile Russian territory to prevent a local warlord from releasing a new biological weapon. The plot in this regard is simple to follow: it is an action film with a team of soldiers going into enemy territory to stop the bad guy. You don’t need much more than that. When the film tries to create more of a story behind the motivations of the mission and characters, it falls down a little because the dialogue is lacking in impact due to a combination of unconfident acting and muffled audio (more on that later). The editing also hinders this, with cutaways that are meant to explain the plot hurting the pace of the film, and feeling more like an exposition dump. You won’t be expecting too much from the film’s story, but still, it’s confusing details and detours detract from the action-oriented nature of the film as a whole. There’s also some pretty funny moments which I’m not sure are intentionally meant to be, such as a terrorist jumping out of a fridge opening fire, which again makes the tone of the film quite uneven, as you’re not sure how seriously you’re meant to take everything.

    The characters again are pretty consistent with the genre, with the main character Beck being a chauvinistic soldier with an attitude problem towards escorting a woman. That’s his only personality trait. Agent Delgado as the only female character obviously conflicts with Beck, but it never develops into anything unique. Perhaps quite surprisingly, it also doesn’t develop into something romantic, which is usually how these things usually go in films. The rest of the cast are pretty forgettable, apart from the Russian warlord “Rasputin,” who is definitely overplayed and hyped up as a villain, even though he’s not really around too much. The characters are further diminished by some very poor acting, and a number of times the actors mess up their lines, and obviously a second take should have been done.

    About halfway through the film the action changes tone a bit as we are treated to…zombies. It turns out this biological weapon turns people into “reanimated” corpses, and the team have to fend off waves of zombies instead of soldiers. Again, the tone of the film is subjected to an unexpected change that isn’t set-up, and you’re left wondering how seriously to take everything as the military action switches to this horror zombie survival plot. I suppose the title “Dawn of the Red” is meant to be a double reference to the films Red Dawn and Dawn of the Dead, which I guess this film could be seen as a combination of, and hints of what to expect, but that’s a stretch (I also have no idea what T.O.R.R. is supposed to stand for).

    This is obviously a low-budget film, and so there’s a number of production issues that are very distracting and disrupt viewer’s immersion. Apart from the shaky acting mentioned above, the dialogue is very inorganic, and attempts to wax philosophical come across as unoriginal and not worth listening to. Apart from the choppy editing that breaks up the action, one of the most distracting things is the poor quality of the audio and how everyone’s voices are muffled or echoes significantly. Some of the zombie/reanimated make-up is very obviously fake as well, but the film hides it a bit in dimly lit rooms. The lighting overall is also something that stands out, with a lot of scenes being filmed in this weird night-vision which creates a high contrast and obscures some of the action. There’s some attempt to create different lighting effects depending on the situation, but they are typically overpowering. The low framerate of the cameras being used also lead to significant blurring, particularly during the action scenes, which means you can barely tell what’s going on sometimes, and combined with the poor audio, makes it completely unengaging. In a more positive respect, the film makes use of a variety of on-location sets, from deserts to snow-covered forests, which is better than similar low-budget films that might confine themselves to abandoned buildings or greenscreens (of which there are none that I could see in this film).

    Given that this is an independently made film without much budget, it is unfair to compare such films to big-budget Hollywood productions. However, even in the context of independent films, T.O.R.R. leaves very little to recommend it. The plot is an unsynthesised mix of military action and zombies that is inconsistent, and the mix of action, horror and silly one-liners will leave viewers alienated from anything that goes on screen as they’ll be left wondering how to connect with what is happening. The story and characters are completely forgettable, and the poor dialogue and delivery of lines further stifles engagement. While there’s obviously been a decent amount of effort put into this film with regards to location shots, and getting authentic looking weapons, the poor audio and blurry visuals combined with obtuse selection of lighting makes many scenes incomprehensible, and ruins most of the positive moments the film has. Overall, I don’t think there’s anything unique or interesting to recommend here.

  • Film reviews

    #447 – Gingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver

    Gingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver (2011)

    Film review #447

    Director: William Butler

    SYNOPSIS: The Gingerdead Man has been locked up in an asylum, but he is inadvertently freed by animal rights activists, and steals a time travelling device, ending up in 1976. Winding up at a roller disco, the Gingerdead Man decides to engage in yet another killing spree, while the roller derby itself has it’s own problems in the form of imminent closure, the announcement of the roller derby queen, and the niece of the owner finding her love for roller disco to the horror of her aunt…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSISGingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver is a 2011 film and the sequel to Gingerdead Man 2: Passion of the Crust. The film starts off at the Scientific Institute for the Study of Homicidal Baked Goods, where FBI agent Clarissa Darling is visiting the Gingerdead Man, intending to secretly kill him for possessing the soul of her brother, who was killed in the last film. In case you couldn’t tell, this opening is a parody of Silence of the Lambs (Clarrisa Darling/Claire Starling). Before Clarrisa can exact her revenge, a group of animal right’s activists storm the lab in an attempt to free the captives, mistaking the evil pastries for animas that have been experimented on (in particular, thinking the Gingerdead Man is a chimp of some sort with his tail chopped off). The Gingerdead Man makes his escape and stumbles upon a time travel experiment conveniently underway down the corridor, murdering the scientist’s and stealing a remote that allows the Gingerdead Man to travel back in time. This opening is…decent, I suppose. A Silence of the Lambs parody is hardly original and ground-breaking content, but it augments it with some creative designs of the other imprisoned pastries and some humour from the animal rights activists in their mistaken identities. It is also abundantly clear that the emphasis is on comedy rather than horror, so viewers in search of gore will be found.

    The Gingerdead Man winds up in 1976; at a roller disco specifically. Even more specifically, it is the last night of the roller disco before it is closed down. The story centres around the patrons and staff of the disco, in particular the owner’s niece who is forbidden from skating finding a love for it and also love for one of the workers there. It’s a pretty typical story that parodies films like Grease and Saturday Night Fever (hence the subtitle), but the satire never really has any impact, and lacks the originality to stand out in it’s own right. That said, the story is consistent, well-paced, and plays out across the cast of characters fairly evenly, so that everyone contributes something, making their personalities stand out a bit. The Gingerdead Man goes on his murdering spree in the background of these events, until the big reveal, which means his antics never feel like the focus of the film until the climax. The same set-up was used in Gingerdead Man 2, but there it felt more messy because the overarching story (of a struggling film director) just wasn’t straightforward enough. The setting of the roller disco has a simple, relatable story, but also a cast of characters that become recognisable, and have a certain weight attached to their butchering by the evil pastry. The film eventually pushes itself towards the ridiculous, when the owner reveals that she no longer skates because the last time she did she caused Pearl Harbour (long story…), and the Gingerdead Man being defeated by bringing the most evil people from the past to stop him, including Hitler of course. So while the story is simple to follow, it lets itself get silly.

    Like any other Full Moon Pictures film, the effects and production are minimal, so there’s never anything flashy or remotely convincing about the effects. There’s a mix of practical and CG effects, and it’s good that it doesn’t rely too much on the latter. The Gingerdead man himself is a lot more goofy looking in his design, and definitely seems less threatening (not that pastry is very threatening in the first place I suppose), but the fact that he rarely interacts with other characters (except when he kills them) means there’s no awkward interactions between the puppet and actors. The CG effects on the gore aren’t entirely convincing, but help give an over-the-top feel to the kills, which is where the comedy comes from in part. While the story is set in a roller disco, it is also pretty obvious that almost none of the cast can roller skate and dance. There is one actor that clearly has experience where the rest of them just move around the floor without trying to fall over. The transitioning of scenes often cuts t this one guy showing off some moves, but never anyone else.

    Overall, I am inclined to think Gingerdead Man 3 is the best in the series (so far). It is structured soundly in terms of story and pacing, even if the story itself is lacking and the satire lacks bite or originality. The setting is recognisable, its cast has personality, and lets itself embrace the absurdity of the concept of time travelling evil pastry. It’s never going to get beyond a 3/10 in terms of rating, but it delivers something at the very least coherent, watchable, sometimes funny.

  • Film reviews

    #423 – Evil Bong 3D: The Wrath of Bong

    Evil Bong 3D: The Wrath of Bong (2011)

    Film review #423

    Director: Charles Band

    SYNOPSIS: A strange meteorite crashes onto earth, and a man discovers a bong inside of it. Meanwhile, Alistair McDowell finds it later on alongside his old buddy Larnell, and when the bong coincidentally is bought by their old roommates Brett and Bachman, the group must again stop an evil talking bong from trying to take over the world…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSISEvil Bong 3D: The Wrath of Bong is a 2011 comedy horror film and the third film in the Evil Bong series. The film opens up randomly with a man burying his wife in the woods after he seemingly killed her. This plays no part in the story other than this opening scene. As he is walking home, he finds a meteorite that has crashed to Earth, and inside is surprisingly a bong. Later on, Alistair McDowell, the protagonist of the previous films, now working for the Space Institute, finds the meteor and undertakes an analysis. He runs into his old friend Larnell, who remarks he didn’t recognise him (a reference to his recasting, which was also done in the second film), and explains he has been training with a “ninja master,” and as usual is knee-deep in conspiracy theories. Meanwhile, Brett and Bachman, now running a weed shop, buy the mysterious space bong off the old man that found it in the meteorite, and find that it is once again an evil bong that wants to take over the world. The story is practically identical to the previous films: an evil talking bong is trying to take over the world, and anyone that smokes from it is taken into the inner “bong world” where the bong tricks it’s victims with illusions. The remaining cast must venture into the bong world to rescue their friends and defeat the bong. Simple stuff, but it has to be simple when you’re a film that’s designed for people to watch when high. Being the third film in the franchise (not since Attack of the Killer Tomatoes has a film franchise been so unnecessary), there’s actually evil bong lore that the film dives into which establishes continuity between the films, but as I said, you’re not going to be too focused on the plot when watching this.

    The cast is made mostly up of characters from previous films, which provides a sense of continuity, even though it’s not necessary. Alistair, Larnell, Brett and Bachman are the same guys from the previous films, and nothing has changed much for them. Rabbit, the delivery guy who for some reason seems to have become a main character, is now a priest, and Larnell’s grandfather, now calling himself Dr. Weed, is fully converted to supporting marijuana after his escapades in the jungle in the previous film. And of course, the original evil bong herself turns up to offer advice on defeating the new space bong, with her usual sassy attitude. The expanded cast means there’s a bit of variety between their different perspectives, but there’s no stand-out performances of character developments.

    The main problem with this film is it is almost exactly the same film as it’s predecessors, without adding anything new to proceedings. The effects are a bit better, and there’s more than two sets unlike the previous films, but there is so much time spent on the characters standing around talking that it becomes a bore. When characters start trying to explain their motivations it becomes difficult to follow, and there’s always a feeling of it simply not mattering whether you know their motivations or not. Ideally, the film should be breaking up this dialogue with some funny one-liners or jokes, but there’s barely any of that. The bong only really becomes the focus of the last act of the film, which under-utilises the main draw of the film. Despite all this, I think this one still improves on the second one just because of there being more than two locations, and the lore of the evil bong series starts to give the characters and ideas a bit more substance. The acting is still flat, and the budget is still low, but it’s still going to appeal to it’s target audience with plenty of weed smoking, ridiculous voice-overs, and partial nudity.