Thursday, 20 February 2020

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)

"Easily As Charming, Entertaining and Funny as the First"

In a world filled with disappointing comedy sequels (ZOOLANDER 2) and poor horror sequels (pretty much all of them) here's a real surprise - a comedy horror follow up that's taken ten years to appear and is actually even more entertaining than its predecessor.

Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) are still together, surviving the zombie apocalypse of ten years ago with the aid of Columbus' never-ending set of rules. They return to the Whitehouse where Columbus proposes to Wichita and Little Rock bemoans her lack of a boyfriend. The next day both women have left, leaving a briefly scribbled note and two perplexed men.  

Discovering ditzy Madison (Zooey Deutch) at the mall, Columbus enjoys a brief relationship before Wichita's unexpected return with some worrying news: Little Rock has found herself a hippy boyfriend and they're off to gun-free vegetarian paradise Babylon by way of Graceland. Our heroes set off in pursuit, encountering zombies, Rosario Dawson and Columbus and Tallahassee's own doppelgängers (played by Thomas Middleditch and Luke Wilson) along the way.

With the same writers (Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick) and the same director (Ruben Fleischer) in addition to the same cast, it looks as if it was the right thing to take a bit of time in getting ZOMBIELAND DOUBLE TAP together. The chemistry between the leads is a sparkling as ever and the situations in which they find themselves as entertaining as in the first film. There's even a remarkable fight scene about halfway through (after a game of Magic the Gathering) that tops anything from the first movie. 

        It's rare that a sequel can take this long to come out and be this good but ZOMBIELAND DOUBLE TAP looks like it's going to be the exception that proves that particular rule. Don't leave at any point during the end credits if you were a fan of Bill Murray's appearance in the original because there's a whole extra bit just for you. 

Extras on all formats include a director's commentary where there is much Emma Stone idolising, featurettes on 'The Rides of Zombieland' (detailing the vehicles used in the film), 'Rules of Making a Zombie Film', 'Making Babylon' and 'New Blood' (profiling the actors new to the franchise).

Exclusive to the 4KUHD and Blu-ray releases are a blooper / gag reel, a piece on the 'doppelgangers' with Middleditch and Wilson, nine alternate and extended scenes, and the featurette 'A Day With Bill Murray'.

ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP is out on 4K Ultra HD, 
Blu-ray and DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on Monday 24th February 2020

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Daniel Isn't Real (2019)

"Excellent Psychological Horror... With Added Demons"

Arrow Films, generally considered a boutique label concentrating on releasing extras-packed packages of classic (and sometimes not so classic) cinema, have started to make inroads into bringing out some of the better movies to have played on the festival circuit in the past couple of years. Adam Egypt Mortimer's new film DANIEL ISN'T REAL is their latest release and it's very good indeed.

As a boy Luke witnesses the aftermath of a mass shooting and finds himself with an imaginary friend called Daniel. That is, until Daniel makes him poison his mother. After that Daniel is banished to an old doll's house. Years later, and at university, various stressors cause Daniel to resurface. Luke's new / old friend helps him to be successful with women, pass exams, and to express himself artistically, but it all comes at a terrible price.

With influences that could include the art of Hieronymous Bosch and the horror novels of 1980s authors like Clive Barker and Christopher Fowler (especially Spanky), Adam Egypt Mortimer's second feature is a mind-bending melodrama that's redolent with hellish imagery that deliciously embellishes the is-he-or-isn't-he-mad plot. To say anything more would spoil the surprise, suffice to say there's plenty of nightmarish set-pieces in here that culminate in a satisfying ending. 

Like their recent release of HARPOON, among the wealth of extras on Arrow's disc is the introduction and post-screening Q&A from the film's UK premiere at Frightfest last August, as well as an interview conducted at the festival.

In addition there's a director's commentary track, another Mortimer interview, a video essay on the movie from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, trailer and still galleries. The first pressing of the disc also comes with a booklet featuring new writing on the film from Katie Rife. 

Adam Egypt Mortimer's DANIEL ISN'T REAL is 
out on Blu-ray from Arrow Films on 
Monday 10th February 2020

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Under the Shadow (2016)

"An Iranian Urban Ghost Story"

Babak Anvari's domestic horror picture set against the backdrop of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s gets a whistles and bells limited edition Blu-ray release from Second Sight.

Tehran, 1988. Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is desperate to continue her medical training, but she's refused entry to the local university because of her previous political activism. Her husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi), currently a practicing doctor, is preparing to be despatched to serve in the war. The apartment block in which they live is in constant danger of being bombed. 

After Irak leaves and a missile wrecks the roof of the building, most of the occupants flee and Shideh and her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) are left on their own. Or are they? Dorsa has been told a story by a supposedly mute boy about a Djinn that takes personal items in order to entrap its potential victims. Dorsa's favourite doll has gone missing and soon other items start to disappear as well. And what's that floating shape that can occasionally be seen out of the corner of the eye?

Rather than being a film intent on hammering home any number of messages, instead UNDER THE SHADOW uses its elements of frustrated motherhood against a backdrop of war to help ramp up the suspense of what becomes, in its final act, a fine example of the urban ghost story, one which could easily stand alongside the literary works of authors such as Fritz Leiber and Ramsey Campbell. The effects are sparse but effective, with the use of distorted facial characteristics contributing immensely to the occasional jump scares.

Second Sight's disc comes with Babak Anvari's BAFTA-nominated short film TWO & TWO and a number of interviews, including 30 minutes with the writer-director himself and further chats with star Narges Rashidi, producers Lucan Toh and Oliver Roskill, and cinematographer Kit Fraser. There's also a new commentary track from Babak Anvari with Jamie Graham.

The limited edition set also comes with a rigid slipcase featuring new artwork from Christopher Shy, a book with new writing on the film from Jon Towlson and Daniel Bird that also contains behind the scenes photos and concept art, and there's a poster featuring the new artwork.

Babak Anvari's UNDER THE SHADOW is out on Blu-ray 
in a limited edition set from Second Sight on 
Monday 10th February 2020

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Bliss (2019)

"A Nightmarish Visual & Aural Assault on the Senses"

I mean that as a good thing, by the way. In fact quite possibly a brilliant thing. Joe Begos' exhausting, exhilarating, cathartic take on art, drug addiction, vampirism and so much more gets a UK Blu-Ray release from Eureka.

Blocked artist Dezzy Donahue (Dora Madison) is going through a bad patch. Struggling with her latest work, dumped by her agent and behind on the rent, instead of sorting out her life she spends her nights in a haze of drunken drug and sex-fuelled debauchery. Somewhere along the way, she's given something that might (or might not) turn her into a vampire.

Whether it's the drugs, the blood, or something else, suddenly Dezzy can paint again and she starts work on what she is convinced will become her masterwork, even if everyone she knows is going to end up as bloody casualties of her newfound addiction as a result.

With a pounding soundtrack (which sounds great on Eureka's 5.1 mix), enough camera craziness to make Gasper No√© jealous and a tremendously assured visual sense of the artsy sleazy world Dezzy operates in, BLISS only lasts 80 minutes but that's quite long enough to spend with your breath held and every muscle tensed. It's such an assault on the senses that anyone despondent about the lack of colour and intensity of experience offered by the SUSPIRIA remake would be well advised to check this one out. 

        Reminiscent of the work of Abel Ferrara and early Penelope Spheeris, BLISS has the original EVIL DEAD's sense of ferociousness in its no-holds-barred take-no-prisoners approach to its storytelling. Dezzy's artwork, once complete, is a hellish joy all its own to behold, like something from Lovecraft filtered through the lens of MANDY. 

Eureka's Blu-ray offers three commentary tracks. Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger offer a detailed contextualisation of the film both in terms of vampire cinema and modern horror film. Joe Begos and Dora Madison provide a laid back but information commentary on the making of the film, backed up by the third commentary track which features Begos, producer Josh Ethier and the FX team. There's also a deleted scene and a trailer.

Finally, if you get the limited edition (1000 copies) there's also an O Card slipcase with laminated finish and a booklet featuring new writing on the film from Alexandra Heller-Nichols & an interview with Joe Begos. 

Joe Begos' BLISS is out on Blu-ray from Eureka on Monday 10th February 2020

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Little Monsters (2018)

"Charming & Frequently Hysterically Funny"

It's not the month (or year) to give up on Zom-Rom-Coms as Abe Forsythe's Australian entry into the subgenre (or is that sub-sub-subgenre?) gets a DVD, Blu-ray and digital download release from Altitude.

Unemployed terrible stadium rock / thrash metal busking guitarist Dave (Alexander England) leaves his estate agent girlfriend in an opening sequence so full of swearing and general relationship break-up hatred that it's almost worth the price of admission on its own. Dave ends up having to sleep on the couch of his older sister Tess (Kat Stewart). 

Tess has a five year old son, Felix (that rare thing in cinema, a likeable child performance, in this case from Diesel La Torraca). Dave takes Felix to school one day and becomes immediately enamoured of Felix's pretty teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong'o), so much so that when a fellow teacher has to back out of accompanying the kids on their school trip to a local animal park Dave volunteers to help out.

Much ukelele playing and singing of a certain Taylor Swift song on the bus later they arrive, unaware that the US Military Research Facility next door to the animal park has suffered a zombie outbreak. Chaos ensues and Dave, Miss Caroline and the kids end up trapped in the gift shop.

Starting off with high gear comedy that comes thick and fast, by the time LITTLE MONSTERS settles into its zombie siege plot it still has plenty of laughs to offer. The leads are likeable and funny and have great chemistry, and there's an excellent over the top slimy turn from Josh Gad as "No.1 Nickelodeon Children's Entertainer For Five Years Running" Teddy McGiggle. 

Director Abe Forsythe has apparently been signed to the new reboot of ROBOCOP and after watching this I'd say that finally the future of law enforcement couldn't be in better hands. LITTLE MONSTERS is funny, charming, blood-splattered and a delight to watch. And it has a glove puppet frog. A great start to the year. 

LITTLE MONSTERS is out on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download on Monday 10th February 2020

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Harpoon (2019)

"Tightly plotted, splendidly made suspense thriller"

Three friends on a boat trip encounter deception, disaster and death in Rob Grant's tightly plotted HARPOON, now getting a Blu-ray release from Arrow.
Richard (Christopher Gray) is rich and has a terrible temper. Sasha (Emily Tyra) is Richard's long-suffering nurse girlfriend. Jonah (Munro Chambers) is Richard's much more poorly off best friend. When Richard intercepts a text message from Sasha to Jonah he immediately jumps to the conclusion that she and Jonah are having an affair and as a consequence beats Jonah up. But no! They were just discussing the purchase of Richard's birthday present - a harpoon gun. 

By way of an apology, Richard takes them for a day trip on his boat, where unfortunately for all three it turns out Jonah and Sasha have actually been seeing each other. Much smashing up of radio equipment and throwing off the boat of useful things later, and the three find themselves stranded at sea in a boat that doesn't work with only half a small pot of drinking water and a couple of mustard sachets for food. Richard is convinced someone will pick them up. No-one does.

A three hander that never lets up for its 82-minute running time, HARPOON starts off deceptively cocksure, with a voice-over narration that could have overbalanced everything but which you realise as you go along is just right. Thinking you're in for a shouty comedy means that when events take a darker turn they're all the more effective, and the director's original pitch of 'Seinfeld meets KNIFE IN THE WATER' is a perfect description.
Arrow's Blu-ray comes packed with extras. It premiered at London's Frightfest last year and you can relive the experience with the intro and Q&A that took place there (and you get to hear my voice at one point - now you want the disc, don't you?).

There are two commentary tracks. The first is with writer-director Grant and his two producers. Grant ingests magic mushrooms and goes solo for the 'Director's Psychedelic Commentary' which, considering that, is remarkably focused and far less deranged than you might be expecting.

You also get a 30 minute making of, deleted scenes, B-roll footage (with commentary), Frightfest interviews, a trailer and reversible sleeve. The first pressing comes with a booklet with new writing on the film from Amy Simmons. HARPOON was one of the best movies of last year (it's on the HMC Top 20) and is fully deserving of this extras-packed presentation. 

Rob Grant's HARPOON is out on Region B Blu-ray from Arrow on Monday 27th January 2020

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Cloak and Dagger (1946)


"Classic Fritz Lang Thriller"

The film Fritz Lang made as his follow up to 1945's SCARLET STREET gets a UK dual format DVD & Blu-ray release courtesy of Eureka.

World War II. Alvah Jesper (Gary Cooper) is a nuclear physicist who gets recruited by America's Office of Strategic Services. He's sent to Switzerland as an undercover agent to meet up with former colleague Katarin Lodor (Helene Thimig) regarding the Nazis plan to construct an atomic bomb.

However, things go wrong when Katerin is killed and Alvah finds himself travelling to Italy to meet Dr Giovanni Polda (Vladimir Sokoloff) whose daughter has been kidnapped by the Nazis so that he will work for them.

Alvah joins forces with resistance fighter Gina (Lilli Palmer in her first Hollywood role) and together they plan to smuggle Dr Polda out of Italy. But there are plenty of obstacles in their way.

A stylish wartime espionage picture with Cooper and Palmer having great onscreen chemistry, CLOAK AND DAGGER was the plot template for 1984 Jim Abrahams / Zucker Brothers spoof TOP SECRET! Admittedly Gary Cooper's science professor does possess a somewhat unbelievable ability to beat up bad guys but treated as the piece of suspenseful action cinema it was intended as it still holds up as a fun ride. 

       Eureka's disc gives us a brand new commentary track from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, a new video essay from David Cairns, a 1946 radio adaptation of the story starring Lilli Palmer and Ronald Reagan, 11 hours (!) of Cloak and Dagger: The Radio Series and a booklet with new writing on the film from Samm Deighan.

Fritz Lang's CLOAK AND DAGGER is out from Eureka on dual format on Monday 27th January 2020