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Saturday, 31 January 2015

DEAD SNOW 2: A Blu-Ray Review

Welcome Back, Once More,

Today, I review DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS DEAD (2014, Tommy Wirkola) on its US Region-Free Blu-Ray release. And boy, what a complete disappointment it is! (A version of this review can also be seen on too.)

Tommy Wirkola gave us the sublime DEAD SNOW in 2009 - one of the greatest and most enjoyable horror films in recent times, and then just a few years later, he gives us this - this complete cow-pat of a sequel!

Everything that made the first film great - a likeable cast; a clever, literate, fun and well-honed script, along with some great gore - is jettisoned for this shoddy, third-rate sequel! An awful second film, with almost no redeeming qualities to it, whatsoever!

Firstly, fans should be made aware, that there are two versions of this sequel:
- The English-language version, that runs to 100m 32s, and
- the "International" or Norwegian version, which runs to 100m 53s.

Both are almost identical, in terms of content, with just occasional exceptions here-and-there, except for the spoken language. However, both were filmed at the same time with the same cast and crew. Why two versions were needed, unless that is, Mr Wirkola was trying to gain more fans in Hollywood, by Anglicising his work, I don't know. They cancel each other out, as both are neither wholly in Norwegian, nor wholly in English, to the detriment of the film as a whole!

Sadly, the UK Blu-Ray and/or DVD versions only get the International version, predominantly in Norwegian, with some English. which - if I had to choose - is a marginal improvement over the purely English-language version. The English-language version, is a US Exclusive to the US WellGo Entertainment Blu-Ray release I've imported and am reviewing here. Admittedly, that release is labelled as being Region A (US only) locked, but their release is - in fact - Region Free, and can be safely imported into the UK and played on the vast majority of UK Blu-Ray players and drives.

With that said, and irrespective of which release you buy, or which version of the film you view, or which country's release you buy/rent, the film as a whole, is pretty bloody terrible. It starts off really well, with Martin (Vegar Hoel - in the green tracksuit) the only survivor from the original, getting into his car, having chainsawed his arm off, and desperately trying to escape.

Continuing off from the final moments of the original, was a great idea. As his escape is complicated by some more Nazi's, things don't run smoothly, and the resulting bloodbath is both side-splittingly funny and very graphic!

Alas, the film degenerates rapidly, once Martin arrives in hospital, and then tries to convince people that Nazi Zombies are about to take over the world, because of the Nazi Gold he and his friends from the original film discovered in their cabin, but were all brutally slaughtered for.

The film outstays its welcome for four reasons:
1) At 101-minutes, it chugs along rather slowly, compared to the dynamite pace of the first film.
2) There's almost no plot once Martin arrives in hospital. He escapes, and he fights the Nazi Zombies. That's pretty much it!
3) The acting is absolutely horrific! Some of the worst "talent" I've seen in a movie, in many a year!
4) Tommy Wirkola clearly decided to forego a great script, and spend his budget on CGI effects and lots more zombies - both of which negate much of the enjoyment for the viewer.

Some of the CGI seems horribly misplaced. When Martin and Herzog, the lead Nazi Zombie, resurrect their armies of undead, they do so by punching the ground, and have the deceased brought back to life with "lightning bolts". The effect looks cheap, and is really hammy, in my view. Worse still, the fact we have more zombies, does not mean this is a more enjoyable film. It isn't! In fact, having about 80 or so, undead - split across the "good" and "bad" sides - just means Wirkola has to spend more time finding more interesting ways to dispatch each of those who die. There's only so many intestine-ripping deaths, or heads being crushed, that I can stomach, before it all blends into one, gigantic mess of movie Special Effects! It all becomes mind-numbingly dull, rather than exciting, shocking or enjoyable! For every fun or shocking death, there are ten or twelve others that are pointlessly repeated.

On top of this, the acting is atrocious! Martin seems to be acting very much by-the-numbers, just shouting and screaming enough to remain plausible. But the three "Americans" who form the "Zombie Squad" (an Internet-based group who really believe that the world is being overrun by zombies) is just farcical, to the point of embarrassment! It's a shockingly inept set of characters, marred by an even worse bunch of talentless morons, who can't act for toffee!

To really twist the knife, in the viewers guts, two of the Zombie Squad are "American" teenage nerds/geeks, one of whom is obsessed with STAR WARS! This kind of tokenistic fan-worshipping kills the film stone dead! It's shambolic, to the point, that you'll feel ashamed to be spending time watch them desperately fight their way through the zombie hordes. I name and shame the following three actors: Martin Starr as Daniel (shown in the photo below), Jocelyn DeBoer as Monica, and Ingrid Haas as Blake, so you can avoid all of them, should they turn-up in any other work, in the near future. None of these three could punch their way out of a saturated paper bag. They give bad films a bad reputation, because they seem to be under the illusion, that all their hysterical screeching and shouting of "America", in a rather pathetic piece of blatant jingoism, counts as actual acting. It doesn't!

Yes, the film contains many fun and gory deaths, which are quite impressive. Yes, the film is mindlessly fun at times. But it all smacks of utter desperation and tragedy - and not in a good way. Even the "I Heart Norway" t-shirt, that you seen in the picture to the left, is cringe-inducingly naff!

This is ineptness, painted large, with a budget that clearly didn't stretch to anyone remotely competent, having been completely decimated on the CGI and a fully working Army Tank! I kid you not! Even the Police officers are all hamming it up, whilst the viewer sits there, with their head in their hands just begging for this nonsense to cease as quickly as humanly possible! The latter part of the film, is a twenty-minute grudge match, with the Good Zombies fighting the Bad Nazi Zombies. It's embarrassing to watch, for much of the time, and feels like I'm watching some talentless, bottom of the league, primary school football teams slug it out. It's just toe-curlingly awful!

Tommy Wirkola has quite blatantly sold himself, (and that of the DEAD SNOW franchise), out! And this is absolutely a franchise, because Part 2 ends up with a post-credits coda that clearly demonstrates we are going to be seeing a DEAD SNOW 3 in the not-too-distant future.

Why did you have to sell yourself out, Mr Wirkola?! I get the impression that if you were given a smaller budget, and less time, you might have come up with something much more tightly-paced and innovative - the very things that made the first movie such a surprisingly great hit around the globe. As it stands, this is just a car-wreck of a movie, and should be immediately disassociated from the original!

Even the Extras aren't great: the US and UK release both get a frivolous two-minute-long Special Effects featurette, that merely shows the before and after shots - most of which is CGI material. There's a trailer, and a short-film of about 14 minutes. Considering the original film, came with an 80-minute Documentary about the "Making Of", this is just a two-fingered-salute from the UK studio to the fans! At least the USA, gets the alternate edit of the film (the English-language version) to watch, alongside the other pitiful extras I've just mentioned.

Ultimately, this is a film rotten to the core. It's barely worth renting, let alone purchasing, but either way, it sullies and degrades the original film's name, in almost every way imaginable. And that is something Tommy Wirkola should be thoroughly ashamed of!

In my eyes, this is now another in a long line of great films, with really lousy sequels. Avoid it!

I will be back soon, to complete my article on the value of film criticism, and some more news on my Cinema City Extreme All-Nighter event. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

BIRDMAN - A Mini Movie Review

Welcome Back, Everyone!

I trust that you all enjoyed a nice Christmas, and a Happy New Year,

As I am currently dealing with publicity for my Cinema City Extreme All-Nighter Horrorthon, this is only going to be a short update for you all. Although the film in question is neither a horror film, nor an "extreme" film, it's certainly a jaw-dropping piece of cinema that you should all seek-out immediately.

Michael Keaton, famous for his role in Tim Burton's BATMAN (1989) and BATMAN RETURNS (1992) stars as Riggan Thomson, in the superb BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) (2014, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu), and considering this film came out on New Year's Day here in the UK, this is almost certain to be my favourite film of 2015.

Thomson is a middle-aged wreck of an out-of-work Hollywood actor, having starred in the titular Birdman franchise. Sick of starring in blockbusting drivel, and having been cast aside by the very industry that made him a household name, he decides to take on Broadway, and cast and direct a (genuine) Raymond Carver short story, called "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love".

Determined to restore his career to its former glories, he finds his psyche is hellbent on destroying him, from within, as the titular Birdman refuses to let him go - constantly provocating and harassing him, like a demented alter-ego.

Struggling to get the Carver play up-and-running, he reluctantly but deliberately sets another lead cast member up for a fall, and when they are forced out of the play, Thomson brings in fugacious Hollywood A-Lister Mike, played by Edward Norton, in one of his most charismatic and interesting roles ever. Mike delivers an amazing performance for Riggan, and Riggan reluctantly hires him, after ticket sales double overnight, due to Mike's "status". But Mike is not what he seems, and nor is Riggan, and as the Birdman gradually erodes Riggan's psyche, strange, wonderful and horrific things began to occur - some of which are distinctly out-of-this-world in more ways than one.

BIRDMAN is one of the most wonderful, wondrous, jaw-dropping and incredible pieces of film I've ever enjoyed. It not only works as a great film on its own, but it's a spectacular piece of meta-cinema - that is film that talks about itself and its own creation. Whilst you can easily look at the parallels between Keaton and Riggan, this is not where the film excels. Where it excels best, is as a scathing critique of Hollywood, of big-name, big-value actors who star in brain-mushing, patronising, blockbuster films where millions of dollars are spent on the CGI, but almost nothing is spent on the script. Keaton and Norton are mere cyphers through which Inaritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Armando Bo, and Alexander Dinelaris create one of the cinematically literate pieces of movie-making for the intelligentsia. This is a thinking-person's film, and it doesn't give you a single second to digest much of the electric, daring, provocative and often hilariously profane dialogue, that turns this film into a real whip-crack piece of near-documentary-like cinema.

When Riggan (as Birdman) exclaims: "People: they love blood! They love action! Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit." part of you realises, he's not actually kidding. You only need to look at the number of mind-numbingly dumb blockbusters that frequently make it into your local multiplex to see that this is as prophetic as you can get. Does Michael Bay need to make a TRANSFORMERS 4, when the first one was already dumb-enough for the masses? Clearly, Bay thinks he does. The fact that TRANSFORMERS 5 will almost certainly be made within the next couple of years, just saddens me even more!

As we watch Riggan's own seeming self-destruction, we also - simultaneously - marvel at his own rebirth. Seeing him levitate and discard objects, with the flick of an angelic hand, as if he has become both Birdman and at one with Birdman, is mesmerising. You are never sure whether Riggan is controlling Birdman, or Birdman is controlling him, and thus constantly changing fluidity is ultimately what makes this film work so amazingly well.

Alongside Keaton and Norton, we have Emma Stone as Riggan's teenage daughter Sam, who Norton exclaims has "a nice ass" early-on in the film, puts in one of her best performances, and demonstrates she can truly act when given the right material to get her teeth into. Her co-stars include Zach Galifianikis as Jake, Riggan's lawyer and best-friend struggling to deal with Riggan's mental breakdown; Naomi Watts as Lesley, one of the other cast member's in the play Riggan is staging, and one of Mike's ex-flames; Andrea Riseborough as Laura, another actress from the play, (and Riggan's current beau), and Lindsay Duncan as Tabitha Dickinson, a deliciously vicious New York theatre critic, who is determined to see Riggan laughed off of Broadway, and permanently exiled as an actor, forever!

The cast universally put in some of their best work ever, and Norton is certainly one of the film's revelations for me personally. He has an early revelation, when he and Sam enter the theatre's changing room, and Mike proceeds to view himself in the mirror. It really is a great performance, and a very funny moment, in a film full of laugh-out-loud and stand-out moments! Emma Stone, as Sam, has some of the zingiest dialogue, including one of the finest put-downs I've ever heard, when she scorches her father for not being "hip"! (I'll leave you to find out what that is, when you go see the film.)

On top of all of this, there is the editing! Wow! What we have here is a film so meticulously staged and edited, that the entire two-hour film feels like one, uninterrupted and continuous shot! If you look hard, you will see where the edits are, but it's still an incredible piece to witness on the big-screen, alongside all the other amazing moments that Inarritu and the cast deliver for us. It's almost meticulous in the way it has been set-up, to the point that the entire film had to be filmed in order - something that isn't the norm for many films or TV shows these days - with cast and crew having to run-into or hide-out of shots, as and when they were needed.

And how can I neglect to mention the heavy and intense Percussion Score from Antonio Sanchez? A vast, throbbing constant driving beat, that pounds itself into every fibre of your being, as the film flows from one moment to the next. This is riveting and fervent stuff! Admittedly, when listened to as a separate entity, it doesn't quite work. But within the context of the movie, it's an astounding and binding force, that will keep you hooked and your brain on fire! Mr Sanchez also cameos, a few times, which makes for much merriment!

This really is an absolute knockout film! Considering we're barely a week into 2015, I have to say that my money is on this being the film that will be the surprise hit at most film awards ceremonies around the globe. If Keaton doesn't win at least one award for Best Actor In A Leading Role; and if Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione don't win for editing, AND if Inarittu doesn't win a Best Director or Best Script, then there will genuinely be no justice in this world.

See BIRDMAN, and be prepared to see one of the finest pieces of cinema, ever committed to celluloid! The film is showing worldwide, so go see it! And remember: "Shave off that pathetic goatee. Get some surgery. Sixty's the new Thirty, motherfucker"!

ADDENDUM: The film is now out on US Blu-Ray, but should you wish to purchase it, you'll be pleased to hear it is Region Free or A-B-C encoded, meaning it will play on any Blu-Ray player, regardless of the code-locking on your Blu-Ray player! I'd heartily recommend it, as it comes with a great 30 minute documentary, a 15-minute interview with Michael Keaton and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and a nice gate-fold packaging too, as shown in the image below.