Archive for December, 2006
Director: Neil Marshall
I was familiar with Dog Soldiers long before I watched it, seeing it on the shelf at my local video store and thinking that it was just another straight-to-video D-grade horror film, directed by ‘nobody’ Neil Marshall. Years later, I watched The Descent (Marshall’s next film), a tense, frightening, smart horror film and decided to give Dog Soldiers a chance, hoping that it would be half as good as Marshall’s later film. Thankfully, I wasn’t let down: though not as polished as The Descent, Dog Soldiers is incredibly kinetic and suspenseful, and easily one of the best werewolf films of the last ten years.
To begin with, the action sequences are tense and exciting, full of realistic weapon use and quick editing. In fact, every aspect of this film is built on realism (ironically enough, in a film about werewolves in the Highlands of Scotland). This is one of Marshall’s strengths as a director, to be able to make an unbelievable or supernatural situation credible and real.
The actors help to strengthen this believability, with a solid cast of (relative) unknowns. Though Sean Pertwee does go slightly over the top in some scenes (purportedly because he was actually drunk for those scenes), he anchors the cast in a good performance as a tough Army sergeant.
Dog Soldiers isn’t without flaws, however. The editing is a tad patchy at times, with some scene transitions not making much sense. As well, the film is generally too dark, especially in the forest sequences, though this is perhaps due to the low budget of the film. As well, some of the characters get lost in the shuffle, only their names and regional accents differentiating them.
Director Marshall has a long career ahead of him, with his excellent grasp of horror and strong sense of narrative. Dog Soldiers, a film that risked getting lost in the video store, manages to shock and entertain, delivering a memorable experience.Colin Le Sueur
Director: Glen Morgan
I’ve got to say, up front, that I’m a big fan of the original Black Christmas from 1974, a creepy, smart slasher film way ahead of its time. When I heard Wong/Morgan (from the Final Destination film series and, farther back, the X-Files and Millennium TV series) were helming the remake, I thought it had potential to be a decent updating of a now-classic though little-known film. Unfortunately, Black Christmas 2006 isn’t nearly as effective as the original and comes off as more than a little strange.
Part of the power and tension of the original film is that you never see the killer… at all. One of the first slasher films to employ the POV device (where you see through the killer’s eyes), Black Christmas 1974 was frightening and decidedly voyeuristic. With the remake, director Morgan discards that device and makes the killer a fully-realised onscreen character (even fleshing out his background and tragic family history). This change thwarts the tone of the original, further separating the audience from the killer’s perspective. Ironically, even through making the killer a more rounded, three-dimensional character (to a certain extent), Black Christmas 2006 is a less realistic film than the original. Perhaps the studio felt that audiences in 2006 wouldn’t accept a POV killer rather than an onscreen one, or perhaps Morgan thought he could bring something new to the story. Unfortunately, this choice damages the tone of the film and helps to further weaken the creepy atmosphere.
There’s no shortage of shock and gore in Black Christmas (no surprise the trailer for Hostel Part 2 was screened beforehand). I was honestly surprised by the amount of visceral and graphic violence in the film (pleasantly surprised, as I’m a bit of a gorehound). This film isn’t afraid to be ruthless (something refreshing in the Hollywood horror genre) and many people will squirm uncomfortably in their seats through certain sequences. This gore factor is strangely contrasted with an almost camp edge to the script and storyline. The dichotomy is a little weird and I can honestly see Black Christmas becoming a minor cult film in the near future. Even with the camp elements, there are some genuinely creepy moments that will stay with you after you leave the cinema.
The acting is a little ‘all over the place.’ Some standouts are Kristen Cloke (a much underrated character actress) and Andrea Martin (one of the stars of the original, here playing the house mom lush). However, most of the other actresses are interchangeable and forgettable (as in most teen slasher pics).
Though an interesting update of the original film, I can’t totally recommend Black Christmas. I think it’s a film I’ll like more on repeated viewings, but other people won’t be so forgiving. The muddled tone, questionable acting and often disturbing content make the 2006 version of Black Christmas very strange indeed. In any case, I’d recommend you seek out the original version for a creepier experience and the remake if you like your horror a little more camp.Colin Le Sueur
Director: Muroga Atsushi
With a name like Junk, you know the director’s just asking for trouble. That said, this film delivers exactly what the title promises (in a good way). Those looking for a progressive zombie film, something socially critical like Dawn of the Dead or something cutting-edge and original like 28 Days Later, will be very disappointed. However, for those looking for an old-fashioned, flesh-eating zombie v. yakuza extravaganza (I know you guys are out there), Junk fits the bill.
Several times while watching this film, I got a sense of deja vu. Had I seen it before? Nope, but Junk borrows from so many different films that I couldn’t help but feel I’d seen it before, because I had, several times over. From the T2-inspired opening titles (with music), to the Reservoir Dogs-style bank robbery, to the Versus theme of yakuza fighting zombies, Junk is anything but original. That said, it was still an enjoyable film.
The acting, especially among the English-speaking actors, is bad. I think they just rounded up the only gaijin in Japan available in their price range (likely volunteers) and slapped an Army uniform on them. The special effects are bad, but in a bloody, low-budget way. Junk has a lot of gore (with some decent looking zombie effects, as well), but never takes itself too seriously as a horror film.
Finally, the story is pretty laughable and cobbled together from so many different films that you’re never sure exactly what the tone is supposed to be. Is this a straight horror film or a tongue-in-cheek homage? Likely a little of both.
Though some might say that Junk is aptly named, this film is actually a good laugh and a nice addition to the Japanese zombie genre.Colin Le Sueur
USA/UK/Germany/Czech Republic 2006
Director: Martin Campbell
As someone who grew up watching James Bond (Roger Moore was my favourite, don’t ask me why), I found myself less and less satisfied with the recent Bond films. Goldeneye was excellent, don’t get me wrong, but after that things just sort of fell apart. Plots got sillier and sillier, gadgets and special effects spun out of control, and Bond himself started becoming a live-action cartoon. Thankfully, everything changes with Casino Royale, starting with the man himself, Daniel Craig.
I know there were a lot of people opposed to Craig as Bond (seemingly simply because he has blonde hair), but I knew going into it that he had what it takes to bring Bond back to basics. The Bond from Fleming’s novels is not a nice guy: he’s a ruthless trained killer. Craig brings a quiet intensity and razor-sharp determination to the role, giving Bond an edge not seen since Timothy Dalton. This version of Bond is also the toughest to date, with Craig showing amazing physical charisma. For instance, I can actually see Craig’s Bond as a former SAS man, unlike Moore’s gentleman charmer.
Along with Daniel Craig’s excellent performance, the supporting cast delivers as well. Eva Green parries back and forth with Craig, never falling into the typical Bond girl trap of all style no substance. Mads Mikkelsen plays his role perfectly, a sinister gambler with a waxy poker face. Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter, a supporting Bond character left idle too long, is also quite good; I just wish we could’ve seen more of him.
The action in Casino Royale is exciting and believable, with standouts being the incredible free-running chase through a construction site and tense embassy confrontation. None of the stunts seem forced or unrealistic, as in Die Another Day. Director Campbell keeps the film grounded at all times and this pays off in credibility.
I think that’s the keyword of Casino Royale: credibility. The previous Bond films had lost it but Campbell and Daniel Craig have managed to return the Bond franchise (or a reboot as some people are calling it) to former glory. If the forthcoming films can maintain this quality and credibility, I see a long and interesting future for 007.Colin Le Sueur