Neill Blomkamp’s free new sci-fi short films are goddam nightmare-inducing.

Writer-director Neill Blomkamp (who brought us 2009’s “District 9” and who wanted to bring us a fifth “Alien” installment) is currently releasing a series of sci-fi short films via his “Oats Studios” channel on Youtube.  There have been four released so far, with a fifth, “ZYGOTE,” scheduled for release today.

The two to which I’ve linked below, “Firebase” and “Rakka,” are fantastic.  They’re both military science fiction, they’ve both got lots of gore and great special effects, and they both show Blomkamp’s trademark predilection for body horror.

They’re both incredibly dark stories, too.  “Firebase” is disturbing; “Rakka” is downright horrifying.  (The Eiffel Tower scene … yeesh.)  It might make you smile, though, to see none other than Sigourney Weaver fighting alien invaders.

If “Firebase” doesn’t make much sense to you, try not to let it hamper your enjoyment of it.  (The short’s reveal shows us that many of these disparate story elements actually aren’t supposed to make much logical sense, considering their cause.)  And you should know ahead of time that both of these short films should serve as prologues for sequels or longer tales.  (Maybe Blomkamp is planning their denouements in subsequent shorts?)

I was so befuddled by “Firebase” at first that I wound up turning it off and then returning to it later.  I still think that its writing could be cleaned up a bit.  It’s definitely out there, and strays from science fiction into fantasy and … maybe even theology.  It was “Firebase,” however, that stayed with me and really got under my skin — much more than the more straightforward invasion horror story, “Rakka.”

 

 

A review of “Deadpool” (2016)

I’ve never read a single “Deadpool” comic book, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the movie.  It’s  a fun, creative and …  unconventional entry into the “X-Men” film  franchise that actually made me laugh out loud a few times.  I’d give it an 8 out of 10.

It isn’t high art.  It’s got a thin story based on a rickety plot device, nearly no exposition, and it includes some cartoonish action that I thought was just too over the top, even by comic book movie standards.  (Our hero dodges bullets and survives a stab to the brain.)

It helps to bear in mind this movie’s real purpose — fan service for the infamous niche character’s evident legions of followers.  “Deadpool” isn’t meant to be densely plotted, like “X2: X-Men United” (2003), or genuinely cinematic, like the Christopher Nolan “Batman” films.  It’s a long awaited, R-rated feature film to please loyal fans of this profane, adult-oriented antihero, who would be out of place and necessarily bowlderized in a mainstream superhero-teamup flick. (And I kinda get that — I loved the “Wolverine” comics when I was a kid, and, trust me, his film incarnation is tame compared to its source material.)

“Deadpool” is damn funny.  The movie succeeds by making us laugh.  And combining a raunchy comedy with an “X-Men” film gives it a weird, cool, subversive vibe.  It makes you wonder if Stan Lee would approve of this sort of thing … until you see Lee himself in a cameo at the story’s strip bar.  It’s fun to know that dirty jokes indeed do exist within the “X-Men” movie universe.

The lowbrow jokes made me cringe one or twice (“baby hand.”)  But you’ve got to give the movie credit for delivering its bathroom-wall humor if that’s what the original character is about.  (Are the comics like this?)  Ryan Reynolds is genuinely funny, and his deadpan delivery is perfect.  The film might not have even worked at all with out him.

By the way, this movie actually reminded me a hell of a lot of a long-ago flick that I absolutely loved, but which I’m guessing is largely forgotten — Andrew Dice Clay’s “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” (1990).  That movie also had a foulmouthed, lone, maverick antihero who often broke the fourth wall, and that also made me laugh like hell.  I know it sounds like a strange comparison, but they’re very similar films.

Finally, I’d like to think that the Wade Wilson we see here actually IS a version of the Wade Wilson that we first met in the widely lamented “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009).  (And how can he not be, if that movie is canon?)  If “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014) rebooted the timeline, then the Deadpool we’re rooting for here was never recruited, corrupted and experimented upon by William Stryker.  So you can have your cake and eat it, too.

 

 

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A review of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (2016)

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (2016) is a fun enough horror-comedy — maybe not quite as good as it could be, considering all of its excellent ingredients, yet still better than most new zombie movies out there.  I’d give it a 7 out of 10.

It’s a great genre mashup, and I don’t just mean combining Jane Austen’s 1813 classic book with horror’s most grisly sub-genre.  (This is a film adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 eponymous satirical novel.)  It’s also a detailed and thoughtfully constructed horror-fantasy.  (That opening credits’ alternate-history lesson was a nice touch.)  Then it tries, with less success, to be a serviceable romance and a mystery.

The film has a lot going for it: a fun concept, good actors, mostly competent direction, and a creative team that obviously had a hell of a lot of fun with the source material.  Science fiction fans should have fun spotting Matt Smith, Lena Headey and Charles Dance.  The movie has outstanding sets, costumes and filming locations — this was shot on location at historic mansions throughout England.  The fight choreography was decent enough, even if it was occasionally a little hard to follow.  Finally, the zombies that we get to see are indeed creepy — they’re not Romero-type zombies, but the livelier, chattier, brain-eating, sentient baddies similar to those of John Russo’s “Return of the Living Dead” films.  The makeup and digital effects for the monsters are pretty damn good.

Considering its unique idea, its zaniness and its high production values, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” could have been an instant cult favorite.  But it still falls short of greatness with two flaws that I couldn’t ignore.

The first is its seeming reliance on a single joke — the juxtaposition of Austen’s proper ladies as badass, feminist heroines in a crazy, Kung-fu, blood-and-guts zombie war.  I believe that’s funny and tickles the viewer for maybe 20 minutes.  But it isn’t enough to sustain the humor for the length of a feature film.  It’s fun, but badass, wise-cracking warrior women have been a common trope in mainstream horror film and television for a long time.  Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” came to TV 19 years ago, for example; the film that inspired it was five years earlier.

Second, for a film with “zombies” in its title, the monsters are a little sparse.  I’m guessing the script closely followed the 2009 book, which I have not read … but this isn’t the actioner that horror fans might be hoping for.  (And why not?  The film falls under so many other categories.)  The movie could have been better if there had been less banter and situational humor, and more zombie fighting.  Its establishing shots and sweeping vistas were downright beautiful … I kept waiting for a major land engagement that would knock my socks off.  But … there isn’t really a final battle, and the story disappoints a little with its anti-climax.  The action sequence that we are presented with is cool, and well executed, but the large-scale period battles you’re probably hoping for occur almost entirely off screen.

Oh — one final quibble … who exactly were the Four Horsemen, outside their allegorical context?  And what happened to them?  They were nice and unsettling — one of the movie’s few scary moments occurs when we wonder whether they’ve spotted a protagonist.  Were scenes cut from this movie that would have explained their role in the story?

 

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