Survival of the Dead (2009)
George A Romero, the grandaddy of the zombie movie, directed his sixth film in the venerable 'Dead' franchise with 'Survival'; this one's as different from the others as they all are from each other. Taking place shortly after the world goes to hell, the film revolves around the conflict between two patriarchs and their clans on a relatively safe island where the dead haven't taken over yet. The two men have a philosophical difference - one believes the zombies are dead and need to be disposed of, the other believes the zombies must be kept alive till a cure is found. Into the mix enter a young civilian and a group of ex-soldiers looking for sanctuary, led by a cynical but cool leader. The film plays much like a zombie western complete with cowboys and horses and gunfights and western archetypes. It doesn't try too hard to be subtle with its themes, and goes for humour way more than it does horror - the zombies are almost an annoyance instead of a threat, though there are plenty of gory human deaths and LOADS of inventive zombie kills. Everything looks pretty slick compared to the last two films, and it lays on its themes without going for subtlety. Negatives include a tone that is too mercurial and too many idiotic moments involving character behaviour that induce eye rolling. Overall, very enjoyable, plenty of great kills, funny, engaging and buoyed by some cool characters, but not quite achieving the heights of greatness of its predecessors.
This is one of those films that for some reason or the other managed to come and go fairly quietly despite boasting a stellar cast. Based on a BBC mini series that I now have to see, it tells the story of an intrepid reporter (Russel Crowe) and an up and coming reporter/blogger (Rachel McAdams) stumbling upon a story that involves a hotshot young congressman (Ben Affleck), a high profile death, and a private security company that subcontracts for the US military. It's slick and glossy in the fashion of mainstream Hollywood thrillers, and some of the writing is cringe inducing in it's cliche-ness, but the strength of the ensemble performances, the pretty good if occasionally OTT plotting, and the relatively intelligent examination of the way print media functions make this a very compelling film. Not quite deep enough to be called deep, but definitely not shallow.
Let's get the one most basic fact about Highlander out of the way right up front - it's a bad film. Low budget or not, it is simply bad. Despite featuring what must surely be one of the all time worst lead performances in history, hammy performances all round, dire action sequences, clunky writing, scattershot editing and an overall bad 80s vibe, I still really enjoy it! The concept - about a select group of 'immortal' humans, some of whom have been around for millennia, who will fight and kill each other (only decapitation can kill them) till only one remains to claim the mystical 'prize' - is actually fairly interesting, and the idea of gaining perspective by virtue of living through history while sacrificing hope of an ordinary life is a tragic one. The film does toy with these ideas, but it never really takes them anywhere. It's fun though, and funny (often unintentionally), and features two delightfully campy supporting performances from Sean Connery and Clancy Brown as the mentor and villain respectively, who compensate more than adequately for Christopher Lambert's performance (and horrible dress sense).
The Losers (2010)
Zoe Saldana is hot. And that's pretty much the only positive for 'The Losers', a comic book adaptation about a band of betrayed military men who go gunning for revenge, aided by Saldana's shady lady character who has reasons of her own for wanting the baddie dead. The cast is a strong one - Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Idris Elba, and Chris Evans are good despite the mediocre material that drags on from one locale to the next with irritating dialogue and humour and fairly unengaging action set pieces. There are a few fun moments but there's nothing new on offer, and nothing done all that well. Jason Patric's villain is forgettable and not nearly as cool as he's apparently meant to be. Not recommended.
Kung Fu Panda (2008)
Colour me surprised. I dug the hell out of this. Yes it's obvious and ticks all the boxes you'd imagine it does from the posters, trailer, and cast, but that doesn't prevent it from being thoroughly entertaining, funny, and fun. Jack Black voices Po, a panda who inadvertently becomes the 'chosen one', much to the chagrin of the five greatest kung fu fighting animals in the world and their teacher. Po must train to become the 'Dragon Warrior' and defeat the evil Tai Lung, who is prophesied to enter their valley and lay waste to their village. It's the fish out of water unlikely hero story writ large and with wildlife. There are no surprises, it's all obvious and you'll see it coming a mile away but the animation is glorious, the A list voice actors are on top form, the writing is zippy, the character designs are memorable and well done, and there's a distinct lack of overly modern 'Shrek-isms', all of which make this a winner. Jack Black is often an acquired taste, but by the end of the film I was invested enough in the story that I'd forgotten who was doing the voice... I'm now looking forward to the sequel.
The Faculty (1998)
A tremendously fun sci-fi comedy horror from Robert Rodriguez starring a few familiar faces - some in early roles - including Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, and Robert Patrick A bunch of archetypal high school students band together when they discover that their teachers are slowly being mind controlled by invading parasites and are starting to assimilate the entire school population. It's funny and very meta with direct references to 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', and the performances are loose and fun across the board. Much of the plot is ludicrous but that's besides the point; as a thrill ride it's highfly effecctive and entertaining. And, oh, John Stewart is in this as the science teacher, and there's a cameo by Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News fame! Hilarious!