3 July 2010

DVD ROUND UP 5: Zombies, Teen Rebels and Danny Boon

SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (Dir. George Romero, 2009, US)
YOUTH IN REVOLT (Dir. Miguel Arteta, 2009, US)
THE BOOK OF ELI (Dir. The Hughes Brothers, 2010, US)
MICMACS
(Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2009, France)

Danny Boon stars in Jeunet's visual tour de force Micmacs.

Survival of the Dead
is the latest in the long line of Romero directed Zombie films. I have always been an admirer of his work and not just the Dead Saga; just consider The Crazies and Martin - both remarkable American horror films. Whilst Romero's last Dead film, Diary of the Dead was an allegory of the media, this time one could interpret the story of warring families as a suitable metaphor for sectarian conflict - The Troubles are the most explicit political allusion. However, Survival of the Dead falls short of Romero's best work as it suffers from weak performances (not that performance really mattered in any of the Dead films) and a lack of substance. It is perhaps the worst of the Dead films and could be the last one in the series if Romero comes to his senses. (The studios won't though).

Youth in Revolt
, starring the quirky and likeable Michael Cena is a teen pic that manages to rise above the crass and pretentious sensibilities of the current crop of high school films through an irresistible performance and assured direction from American indie film maker Miguel Arteta. Though the screenplay cannot really steer clear of convention, Cena's dual role as rebel and conformist generates enough subversive undercurrents to guide the film to one of the stronger endings for a teen pic I have seen in a while. Miguel Arteta is evolving into a very interesting film maker as his last films including The Good Girl and Chuck and Buck evident his knack for subtle characterisation.

The Book of Eli - yet another over wrought post apocalyptic movie.

The Hughes Brothers latest film The Book of Eli was released at the same time as much anticipated The Road. Though The Book of Eli benefits enormously from the presence of Denzel Washington as the mysterious stranger who is an equal mix of samurai warrior and western cowboy, the film's premise is poised on a twist that may surprise but can do little to counter such obvious and tired imagery of the dystopian nuclear nightmare. The Hughes Brothers could have potentially become great film makers but have struggled to get projects off the ground whilst also having to deal with studio interference. Why does Hollywood cinema feel sincerity can be constructed by simply having characters recite redundantly from the Bible? A poor conceit. Had this been a western, it might have worked as the moments in the town are by far the most interesting. What's worse is the off putting cameo of Malcolm McDowell who shows up in the last reel donning a ridiculous Fu-Manchu moustache.

In terms of pure cinematic invention, Hollywood need only look to the work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and his latest Micmacs, a Chaplinesque and Tati inspired slapstick comedy of errors. Starring French cinema's current hot property Danny Boon, Micmacs really took me by surprise. The magical work of George Melies looms large over much of Jeunet's films whilst Danny Boon's eccentrically over the top performance as the unfortunate Bazil who has a bullet lodged in his skull generates just the right level of sentimentality to avoid falling into clique. Every minute of Micmacs pulsates with a visceral energy that is infectious and Jeunet confidently uses the slapstick genre to critique the arms industry. A highly original work like Micmacs does seem to suggest that though Hollywood may be able to lure away big name directors like Jeunet, the net result is usually quite negative as evidenced in the spectacular failure of Alien Resurrection which Jeunet had the misery of directing. I wish I had seen this one on the big screen which is where it firmly belongs as a joyous, childish spectacle that offers infinite pleasures for the film spectator.

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