Monday, 30 November 2009


Coy student Columbus is off on a road trip. Of course, this is no ordinary journey – America has fallen victim to a particularly dangerous strain of mad cow disease which has turned most of the population into hysterical zombies. After a road accident, Columbus bumps into tenacious buccaneer Tallahassee, and the two continue the journey together in his truck. On the hunt for Twinkies, they cross paths, and later team up with panhandling sisters Wichita and Little Rock. Taking refuge at Bill Murray’s house (of all places), the quartet begins to feel safe, and Columbus comes to realise his feelings for Wichita. The revelation is too intense for Wichita, as the next morning she flees the scene with her sister, hoping to reach Pacific Playland, an apparently zombie-free fairground. Determined not to give up, Columbus enlists Tallahassee’s help in tracking them down, but soon enough, the group is back to fighting for survival as the zombies return en masse.

The film is clearly played for fun, and there’s no refuting that it delivers this in abundance. Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee is the B-movie hero every zombie fan could’ve wished for. But there’s a lot about this aspiring cult comedy that doesn’t quite sit right. Columbus, played by gawky actor du jour Jesse Eisenberg, should by all rights have died ten minutes into the film. The ridiculous story about going to the fairground seems contrived purely to justify some reasonably cool effects. And perhaps most importantly, the script is annoyingly lopsided.


Marguerite Duras was an unusual character in French cinematic history, a writer and director who repeatedly sought to challenge the whimsies and romantic flutters frequently associated with French films. She is perhaps best known for writing Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), a daring nouvelle vague romance which earned her an Oscar nomination and a special award at Cannes. This pithy oddity begins in the gardens of a hotel, populated by just two men and two women. Max is a professor who struggles to express his philosophies and bores most of his students, save his timid wife, Alissa. Max spends much of the film in pursuit of Elisabeth, a disconsolate woman sensitive to the world outside the hotel. Alissa, in the meantime, finds an admirer in the portly Stein, a voyeur who watches her nightly as she has sex with Max. Frequently, the soundtrack and image separate, leaving dialogue to run over into other scenes.

The film is clearly very personal – all of the characters appear to have aspirations of becoming writers, and the title most likely refers to Duras herself. It may then be no coincidence that, despite her attempts to remove the dialogue of charisma or fluidity, she has created an intriguing character in Alissa. Initially, Alissa appears vulnerable, forgettable; a simple asset of Max’s success. But before long, it becomes clear that, perhaps unconsciously, much of the film surrounds this woman’s effects on the group dynamic. Interesting but grating – a dehydrated reincarnation of Last Year At Marienbad.

Sunday, 29 November 2009


After being rejected for the role of manager at a brand new restaurant, the Krusty Krab 2, SpongeBob SquarePants turns his depression into action when King Neptune’s crown is stolen by pint-size villain Sheldon J. Plankton. Given just six days to return the crown, SpongeBob and his goofy sidekick Patrick Star head out on their quest, and almost immediately face a series of dangerous obstacles. Firstly, the pair is forced to prove their manliness at a seedy bar, then they are lured into a trap by the promise of ice cream. Meanwhile, Sheldon uses the distraction to try to steal the recipe for the coveted Krabby Patty, the burger which singlehandedly brought the Krusty Krab restaurants to fame. When SpongeBob and Patrick finally find the crown, it takes a miracle (and a lift from David Hasselhoff) for them to get home and return the crown to its rightful owner.

Enjoyment of this feature-length episode is quite heavily dependent of one’s experience with the TV programme – here’s looking at you, stoners – but suffice it to say there’s enough here to entertain most people. The humour manages a great balance between puerile and adult, and there are hilarious nods to cultural icons from several generations. In contrast to most other children’s animations these days, there are no cheap attempts to create memorable quotes or incompatible characters. But the best aspect of the film is the brilliant voice work – with guest turns from Scarlett Johansson and Alec Baldwin, how could you go wrong?

Saturday, 28 November 2009


The bizarrely disconnected Zombie Flesh Eaters ‘franchise’ continues with this extraordinarily camp instalment. We start the film on a mysterious island midway through an underground voodoo invocation, a hooded priest chanting as a Diana Ross lookalike whirls about in frenzy. The process is interrupted by a team of researchers armed with machine guns, but as soon as one of them shoots the priest, the dead are brought to life as zombies, and the only survivor of the ensuing carnage is young Jenny, who had come to the island with her scientist parents. Many years later, Jenny returns with a band of soldiers in the hopes of finding out what happened to her parents, but fortuitous interference from a group of unrelated hikers leads the island to be repopulated by the undead, and Jenny is left to fight the forces which had taken her family from her before.

This is perhaps the most serious of the Zombie Flesh Eaters films, and thus the least enjoyable. The voodoo theme makes for an interesting set-up, but it’s quickly forgotten once the special effects team get the opportunity to show off their skills. And boy do they show ’em off... within the first fifteen minutes, a character gets his eyeball pulled out, then a series of zombie fingernails scratches off the rest of his face. But the film has little to offer asides from senseless gruesomeness, mind-numbingly poor acting (the cast features a renowned gay porn star) and the tackiest score in recent memory.

Thursday, 26 November 2009


In this existentialist drama, Jozef Lauko is a middle-aged chef, living with his wayward ex-wife. Before we have even met him, we learn that he has terminal cancer (the title, 322, is the diagnostic code). In the agonising wait for a diagnosis, Lauko re-evaluates his life, questioning whether he has really been living for the moment, and what he has made of the relationships he has with people. When a phone call from the hospital informs him enigmatically that they have a bed for him, Lauko accepts his mortality, but as he grows more aware of his own imminent fate, he also becomes more conscious of other people’s lives. A suave jazz score runs through the film, as if a passing commuter train reminding the audience that life goes on.

Director Dušan Hanák began his career as a documentarian, but won considerable acclaim with this, his debut. Hanák is clearly a philanthropist, and yet his characters seem so flatly tolerant of life’s volatility. Lauko himself is a weak protagonist, but his observations of other people form the film’s very narrative. In the original short story from which the film was adapted, Lauko was apolitical, but Hanák was adamant that he was a former communist, contextualising the feature and giving the character’s self-deprecation some depth. In this way, 322 is perhaps not as timeless as some of its contemporaries, but still stands out as yet another great flagship of the Czechoslovak New Wave, a movement still palpable in European cinema today.