Triple Quickie Reviews: Quarantine 2: Terminal, Devil’s Playground, and Attack the Block


Quarantine 2: Terminal is the 2011 horror sequel to 2008’s Quarantine which was a remake of the much better Spanish horror film [Rec]. This sequel goes off on it’s own different path instead of just remaking the sequel which followed the Spanish film. As directed by John Pogue this sequel dumps the “found footage” style of the first film and instead just goes for a traditional film style. The film also goes it’s own way in explaining how it ties into the previous film.

Where the Spanish sequel had it’s events set at the same place this time around we find our new cast of characters on-board a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Nashville that soon gets diverted to Las Vegas when one of the passengers suddenly becomes violently ill. Once they land the film mirrors the first film in that the surviving passengers, crew and a lone airport maintenance crewmember get locked in the terminal they’re at. The very bio-weapon that was unwittingly unleashed in the apartment complex in the first film has made it onto the flight and one by one the cast succumbs to it’s “rage zombie”-like symptoms.

Quarantine 2 is not an awful as some would like to tell people, but it is also not a good film. It’s pretty average with little to no tension or scary surprises. It’s a horror film almost done by check-list.  We also don’t get fully realized individuals to root for so that when one becomes infected there’s no sense of loss. In fact, there’s not even a character to root against. That’s how bland the characters ended being in this film. The story itself has built on the details presented about the virus in the first film and it’s an interesting premise that deserved a better film. Maybe a couple years from now the series will get rebooted and remade Bollywood-style and get some energy into it.

 

Moving onto a much better film that also share’s the above film’s fast-moving “zombie”-like infected is 2010’s Devil’s Playground by British horror filmmaker Mark McQueen. It is set in present-day London where it begins in medias res a hard-looking man all bloodied going by the name of Cole (played by Craig Fairbass) who uses a computer’s webcam to record the events which has transpired to bring him to his current state.

We soon go back to the beginning of the crisis which starts from the human-testing of a new drug by the pharmaceutical company N-Gen. Of the 30,000 test-subjects only one doesn’t succumb to the deadly side-effects of the drug which causes those injected to transform into ravening, cannibalistic killers who also happen to have had their agility amplified that they’re able to parkour their way towards the uninfected.

Yes, you heard right, parkour zombies. That gimmick alone attached to the current trend of fast-moving zombies gives this film an edge over most fast-running zombie films.

Devil’s Playground doesn’t just try to make things interesting with a new brand of zombie-infected killers, but manages to create a story around the usual “man on a mission” plot. Cole has to find the only test subject who didn’t succumb to the experimental drug’s side-effects in hopes that this person carries the means to help end the spread of the virus. The cast itself helps in making this horror film rise above the usual dreck that gets released on video. While I’ve never been a fan of British “tough guy” actor Danny Dyer he wasn’t as annoying in this film as he is in others and it’s due to the performance by Craig Fairbass as the hardened mercenary Cole which makes Dyer’s dishonored cop Joe from chewing everything in the scene he appears in.

Director Mark McQueen does a good job in keeping the story moving forward even as he juggles subplot involving a couple of London river cops trying to find a safe haven in a city that’s going through a deadly crisis of apocalyptic proportion. Even the free-running zombies don’t come across as laughable and at times even come across as quite horrifying when Cole and his small band of survivors try to move from haven to haven in the hopes of getting the one who may be the key to solving the crisis to the right people.

Devil’s Playground may not join the ranks of the classic zombie films since Romero’s Night of the Living Dead changed the world of horror in 1968, but it manages to be both entertaining and scary despite the parkour zombies.

 

The best of this triple-bill of horror comes courtesy of one of 2011’s festival darlings. Attack the Block by writer-director Joe Cornish was able mash together scifi, horror and comedy and do so seemlessly. It’s a genre-busting film that doesn’t lean too heavily on either three but allows the great script written by Cornish to dictate when the horror begins and when it transitions to some sharp comedic scenes and dialogue.

This is a film that could’ve sunk under the weight of it’s cast of British teen and child actors, but instead gains much of it’s appeal from these fresh, young faces. Even for those across the Atlantic in the US the British slang used by the kids in the film doesn’t confuse as much as it could. The writing and performances by these kids (especially by John Boyega as the teen gang leader Moses) don’t come across as forced, but flow naturally from scene to scene. Their reactions to finding and killing what turns out to be an alien looks and sound exactly how any group of young hoodlums and ragamuffins would have. In fact, some of the film’s funnier scenes was due to how each of them arm themselves in their attempt to protect the block of apartments they all live in.

It wouldn’t be an alien invasion film of any quality if we didn’t get some memorable aliens. Fortunately we do get aliens that come across not just menacing, but also not fake looking. Nothing takes an audience away from suspending their disbelief and enjoying a film than a badly pulled off visual effect. Cornish and his effects crew use a combination of practical and CG effects to bring to life a horde of alien invaders who look like a cross between apes and the ball of fur and teeth from the 80’s cheesetastic scifi-horror film series Critters.

Attack the Block doesn’t skimp on the death and destruction. The film doesn’t treat the young characters with kid’s gloves either as they’re not exempt from the mortal danger posed by the aliens who have invaded their Block. The fact that each character (both young and old) were written to be rounded characters with distinct personalities that we feel each death no matter how minor the role. It’s a rare horror film that actually made great use of character development in-between scenes of action and terror. Even during those particular scenes each character on the screen adds a new layer of complexity to the role. This is a testament to director Joe Cornish who also wrote the excellent screenplay. The fact that this was his feature film debut as a director also makes Attack the  Block such a surprise wonder.

So, our tally for today when it comes to the three films mentioned above would come down to….

Quarantine 2: Terminal – Pass (watch on Netflix Instant if there’s nothing else to watch)

Devil’s Playground – Definite Watch (can be seen through Netflix Instant)

Attack the Block – Must-See (buy the blu-ray to add to your collection or rent if you’re not into that)

Arleigh’s 13 Favorite Films of 2011


2011 was a year that wasn’t spectacular by any stretch of the imagination. From January right up to December there were not many films which I would consider event films. This is surprising considering all the superhero blockbusters which arrived during the summer and the final film in the Harry Potter film franchise. Even the prestige films which came out during the holidays never truly captured everyone’s imagination (though one film was very close to achieving it due to one Michael Fassbender).

What 2011 did have was a solid slate of titles which ranged from the pulpy to the cerebral. We even got films which were able to combine the two to come up with something very special. Not every film resonated with everyone and some even split audiences down the extreme middle with half hating it and the other half loving it.

The list below catalogs the films which I consider my favorites of 2011. Some titles on this list I consider some of the best of 2011 while some didn’t make that particular list but were entertaining enough for me to make this favorite list. Once again, the list is not ranked from top to bottom, but only numbered to keep things organized….

  1. Shame (dir. by Steve McQueen) – This character-driven film starring Michael Fassbender and Cary Mulligan was one of those film which got close to becoming the one film everyone ended up talking about as the year wound down. It’s an exercise in minimalist filmmaking as Steve McQueen doesn’t allow too much dialogue to get in the way of telling the visual story of sex-addict Brandon and his downward spiral from addiction to self-hate. Much have been said of how much Fassbender’s penis in full display was a reason why people flocked to see this little existential film, but I rather thought that was probably just a bonus for some and instead it was Fassbender’s uncompromising performance in the role of Brandon which made Shame one of my favorites for 2011.
  2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (dir. by Rupert Wyatt) – this film was one which didn’t garner too much high-anticipation from genre fans leading up to it’s release. People had been burned by Tim Burton’s reboot of the franchise and saw this second attempt to reboot the series as a failure in the making. So, it was to o everyone’s surprise that Rupert Wyatt’s film managed to not just bring new life to a stagnating franchise but do so in such a way that it became one of the best films of 2011. Sure, there was some flaws in how the human character were written, but in the end it was the performance-capture work by Andy Serkis and the digital wizardry of WETA Digital which made Rise of the Planet of the Apes not just a wonderful and fun film this past summer, but also one which laid the groundwork for more stories in what is a franchise reborn with fresh blood and life.
  3. I Saw the Devil (dir. by Kim Ji-woon) – this little revenge thriller from South Korea was one which I happened to catch just before it left the theaters this part spring. It had played in one of the few arthouse theaters in the Bay Area that hadn’t closed down. I was glad to have seen this film on the big screen instead of on Netflix Instant the way most have seen it. It’s a brutal cat-and-mouse story of a South Korean secret agent who stalks and hunts the serial killer (played by Oldboy‘s Choi Min-sik) who kidnapped and brutally murdered his fiancee. The film is not for the timid and weak of stomach as we see through the eyes of not just Agent Soo-hyun (played by Lee Byung-hun) but that of serial killer Kyung-chul the dark corners of South Korea where hunter has become prey and vice versa.  South Korea has always been good for one great film that I feel personally attached to and for 2011 it was this film.
  4. Cave of the Forgotten Dreams (dir. by Werner Herzog) – I don’t think I could ever make a year’s favorite list of any year that had a Herzog release and not have it as a favorite of mine for the year. It happens that Herzog had two films come out in 2011 and both of them excellent documentaries. It would be his earlier documentary for 2011 that became a favorite of mine. It also happened to be his first (and according to him the only time) foray into 3D-filmmaking. Herzog makes great use of 3D filmmaking’s added epth of field to make the cave paintings in the Chauvet Cave come to life. If this was going to be Herzog’s only film shot in 3D then he made one for the ages and it’s a travesty that those who vote for documentaries to be nominated for the Academy Awards failed to even list this film.
  5. Attack the Block (dir. by Joe Cornish) – this scifi-action film from the UK became the darling for genre fans everywhere. It had everything which bigger-budgeted films of the same stripe failed to accomplish. It was fun, thrilling and, most important of all, had characters which the audience would get to know and care for. John Boyega as the gang leader and, ultimately, the reluctant savior of the block which has become under siege by an alien force is just one of the highlights of the film which boasts one of the best screenplays of 2011. Joe Cornish joins the likes of Neill Blomkamp as a filmmaker whose first feature-length film hits on all cylinders.
  6. Captain America: The First Avenger (dir. by Joe Johnston) – this film was to be the last leg of the Marvel Films before 2012’s highly-anticipated The Avengers film. It introduced the film’s title character and his origins for those not familiar with the name Captain America. This film could easily have been a throwaway one. A film to set-up this year’s The Avengers. Instead what we got was one of the most fun blockbusters in the summer of 2011. Joe Johnston goes back to his Rocketeer days and creates an action film that’s full of genuine nostalgia but not burdened by it. Any doubts fans might have had of Chris Evans in the role as Captain America had them wiped clean with his pitch-perfect performance as the title character. The film also had one of the most romantic relationships on-screen in quite awhile with Evan’s Steve Rogers and Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter.
  7. Drive (dir. by Nicolas Winding Refn) – In my opinion, Refn’s existential take on the pulp genre with Drive is also one of the best films of 2011, if not the best of them all. Refn, with Ryan Gosling in the role of  the Driver, has created a film that mashes up so many different genres and does it so well that it’s hard to be sympathetic to those who felt they were misled by the fim’s trailer that it would be a nonstop action film similar to Fast Five. The film is not an action film, but a film which just happens to have some action in it. Action that comes sudden and brutal and none of the whiz-bangs other action films rely heavily on. It’s another film where Refn explores duality of the male persona. It helps Refn’s film that Gosling is so great as the Driver that the film never slows down too much before things revs up once more. The rest of the ensemble cast also does stand-out work with Albert Brooks as an aging, cynical Hollywood gangster leading the pack.
  8. Fast Five (dir. by Justin Lin) – Speaking of Fast Five…this was a film that surprised me in so many ways. It’s the fifth installment in a series that seemed to have evolved from being an action series whose main goal was to highlight the street-racing community and the ridiculous lengths people in it would go to in order to trick out their cars. This latest installment in the franchise has put the street-racing aspect of the series on the back burner and instead has remade the franchise into an action-heist series that just happens to have fast cars in it. This film was loud, fast and fun and despite some major leaps in logic in the storyline it never stopped being entertaining. It also brought back Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in an action film role that he had stopped doing these past five or so years.
  9. Hanna (dir. by Tom Hooper) – If someone had come to me and said that little Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, Atonement) would turn out to be kickass action-hero directed by a British filmmaker not known for action films then I would dismiss such a thing as crazy talk. But crazy talk it wasn’t and all that came to pass with Tom Hopper’s excellent modern fairy tale in Hanna. Ronan as the title character was asuch a find in a role that didn’t just need for her to act like the little lost babe in the woods, but to also turn on a dime and kick ass with the best of action heroes past. It helped that everyone else around her were up to the task of supporting her performance whether it was Eric Bana in the role father (huntsman in fable lore) to Cate Blanchett as the cold-hearted CIA chief (evil queen) whose connection to Hanna drives the film’s narrative from beginning to end.
  10. Kung Fu Panda 2 (dir. by Jennifer Yuh Nelson) – in a year where Pixar had one of it’s rare misses (Cars 2 really was awful and such a blatant cash grab for the studio) it was there for the taking for top animated film of the year for everyone else to fight over. There was Rango and there was The Adventures of TinTin, but my favorite animated film of 2011 has to be Kung Fu Panda 2. It continues to adventures of the Dragon Warrior and panda kung master Po and his compatriots, the Furious Five. With the first film having done with him becoming the Dragon Warrior, this sequel was free to explore more aspects of Po’s life and personality such as his true origins and the tragic circumstances which led him to be adopted by his noddle-making goose of a father. The film is much darker than the previous one with it’s storyline exploring such themes as genocide and the destructive march of technology over nature’s harmony. It also had one of the best villains to come out in 2011 with Gary Oldman as the evil peacock, Lord Shen. Plus, it had scenes of Po as a baby Panda…A BABY PANDA.
  11. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (dir. by Tomas Alfredson) – a feature-length film remake of the BBC miniseries of the same name (adapted from a John LeCarre novel), this spy thriller/procedural was Tomas Alfredson’s follow-up to his coming-of-age vampire film, Let the Right One In. Once again he has taken a well-worn genre and infused it with his own unique style of storytelling which valued characters and how they all interacted with each other over action and thrilling sequences. With a cast that’s a who’s who of British cinema the film was able to condense many hours of the miniseries into just a couple and still not lose the complex and layered plot involving political intrigue and betrayal. This film also had one of the best performances by any male actor for 2011 with Gary Oldman in the role of George Smiley. With Fassbender being passed over and not nominated for Best Actor for the upcoming Academy Awards I would be very perturbed if anyone else other than Oldman took home the statue.
  12. Kill List (dir. by Ben Wheatley) – I’m not well-versed on the work by Ben Wheatley so I saw this film on the recommendation of many whose opinions I trust when it comes to genre films. To say that I was thoroughly surprised by just how well this filmed turned out would be an understatement. Kill List is one of those films which turns so many horror and thriller conventions right on its head, but do so to serve the film’s narrative instead of a filmmaker trying to show his/her audience just how clever they can be. The film moves at a gradual pace that leads to a surprising ending that has split audiences down the middle. Some have loved the ending and other have hated it. I, for one, thought the ending was the only way the film could end. This was a film that was able to balance the different aspects of what makes a thriller and what makes a horror film. The moment when the film transitions from the former to the latter was so seamless that it takes several viewings to find just where it occurred. The best horror film of 2011, bar none.
  13. 13 Assassins (dir. by Miike Takashi) – many will be saying that I’m cheating with this final entry since the film was released in 2010. I would agree with them, but then again this film wasn’t released in the US until early 2011 so in my own honest opinion it qualifies as a 2011 film. This latest from Japan’s eclectic and prolific filmmaker, Miike Takashi, is his own take on the Japanese jidaigeki and a remake of the 1963 film of the same name. If there was ever a best action film of 2011 then this film would be it. Miike would pull back from his more over-the-top visuals (though he still manages to insert some very disturbing imagery early on in the film) for a much more linear and traditional action filmmaking. It’s a men-on-a-mission film that pits the 13 assassins of the title against 200 or more bodyguards of a sadistic lord who must be killed for the sake of the country. The first 45 minutes or so of the film shows the film gathering the assassins and planning their ambush. It’s that final hour or so of the film with it’s nonstop action which qualified this film not just one of my favorite for 2011, but that year’s best action film. No other film could even get to it’s level.

Honorable Mentions: Warrior, Super 8, Batman: Year One, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, Sucker Punch, A Dangerous Method, The Adventures of TinTin, The Skin I Live In, Bunraku, The Guard, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Hugo, Tyrannosaur, Thor, The Interrupters, X-Men: First Class, Contagion, Battle: Los Angeles, Project Nim

The New York Film Critics Online Are Spunky For The Artist


Even while critics in both Los Angeles and Boston were separately meeting and voting today, yet another group of film critics was announcing their picks for the best of 2011.  This group is known as the New York Film Critics Online and, quite frankly, it sounds kinda made up to me.  But what do I know?  I’m just a country gal living in flyover country who has rarely agreed with any of the critics — online or not — this year. 

But anyway, here are their picks:

Best Picture: “The Artist”

Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”

Best Actor: Michael Shannon, “Take Shelter”

     Runners-up: Michael Fassbender, “Shame” and Gary Oldman, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”

Best Actress: Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”

     Runner-up: Viola Davis, “The Help”

Best Supporting Actor: Albert Brooks, “Drive”

Best Supporting Actress: Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”

Best Screenplay: Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, “The Descendants”

Best Foreign-Language Film: “A Separation”

Best Documentary: “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”

Best Animated Feature: “The Adventures of Tintin”

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, “The Tree of Life”

Best Use of Music: Ludovic Bource, “The Artist”

Best Ensemble Cast: “Bridesmaids”

Best Debut Director: Joe Cornish, “Attack the Block”

Breakthrough Performer: Jessica Chastain, “The Tree of Life,” “The Help,” “The Debt,” “Take Shelter,” “Texas Killing Fields,” “Coriolanus”