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Alien vs Predator: Requiem

Directors: Colin Strause, Greg Strause
Screenplay: Shane Salerno
Starring: Steven Pasquale, Reiko Aylesworth, John Ortiz, Kristen Hager
Twentieth Century Fox & Davis Entertainment


Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem is the 8th installment in the long-running 20th Century Fox Alien / Predator franchise... and it is about time to lay it to rest. Both series alone were top notch action/sci fi fare, but when someone at the Fox decided to throw both together, things began to go downhill (actually, the idea was born out of a comic book series of varying quality).
This time a Predator spaceship carrying Aliens crashes on Earth and the acid-blooded fiends, among them a dread-locked Alien/Predator hybrid, immediately begin to kill off the population of a small Colorado town. A Predator in pursuit of the Aliens is soon at hand to fix the mess and exterminate the Giger breed … and humanity is caught in the middle.

The idea of having Aliens run loose in a small town sounds appealing and might have been a pretty nice idea, but the final product is not at all satisfying. Screenwriter Shane Salerno relies on movie stock characters such as the teenage loser pizza delivery boy in love with the school beauty whose boyfriend likes to beat up teenage losers, the courageous ex-con with a heart of gold who looks after everyone including his teenage loser brother, the unwitting small town sheriff who might not even grasp what is going on when Alien facehuggers point him in the direction of the nearest Predator spaceship, the heroic Ellen Ripley-type war veteran mommy who knows better how to handle big guns than everyone else, including the half-wit sheriff, some sewer-dwelling homeless people destined to become Alien food, and so on and so on… none of them are given any background story since their only purpose is to share the destiny of the sewer-dwelling hobos and to end up in bloody pieces. And the audience could not care less because these people’s stories are so utterly uninvolving (or non-existent) and everything they say is either stupid or pointless or both.
At least there is a lot of slicing and dicing going on here. Unfortunately most of the killings are not particularly inventive or spectacular, mostly due to the fact that everything happens in complete darkness making it mostly impossible to figure out what or who is getting killed. Whether this was done in order to conceal a low budget or just a result of the inexperience of directors Colin and Greg Strause, whose previous job was doing digital effects for big budget Hollywood movies, will remain obscured forever.  Hopefully they will quickly return to doing effects because this mess of a movie surely does not qualify them for any more directing jobs (except maybe Sesame Street).

Prof. Röar awards Alien vs Predator: Requiem 2 out of 10 bloody chest bursts (three for ruining two of his favourite franchises minus one for neither bringing back Lance Henriksen nor Arnold the Oak).



I Am Legend

Director: Francis Lawrence
Screenplay: Akiva Goldsman & Mark Protosevich
Starring: Will Smith, Alice Braga
Warner Bros. Pictures


This is actually the 3rd adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel "I Am Legend", the better-known being 1971's Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston as a gun-wielding scientist.
In this version Will Smith is the scientist Robert Neville who seems to be the only survivor of a global epidemic of a genetically engineered virus. By day he and his dog Sam roam the streets of New York, trying to make the best of their fate. His daily routines include playing golf in the harbor on an aircraft carrier ship, hunting deer in the deserted streets of the city, driving a sports car at full speed or talking to display dummies at his local video store.

But at night Neville barricades himself in his house to be safe from the other human survivors of the plague: they have become zombies hungry for human flesh, who only can come out of hiding under cover of night because their skin and eyes are extremely sensitive to sunlight.
What keeps Neville going is the hope that one day he will find a cure for the terrible plague and undo what science has done to mankind…
I Am Legend is an extremely effective movie. The scenes of deserted New York streets in particular are eerie and totally frightening, despite (or even because of) the fact that they are set by daylight. They depict a wasteland that once was a megalopolis and has been re-claimed by nature: plants grow on buildings and in the streets, herds of deer run abound, and the only sounds to be heard are the distant noises of animals. Most of the time there is not even a music score, just complete silence and Will Smith talking to his dog.
The scenes taking place at night and in the dark are equally good: they are full of tension and when the zombies finally appear they are just among the most effective movie monsters, despite being 100% CGI creations. Unlike "traditional" movie zombies, these undead move frighteningly fast, climb walls easily and seem so much more dangerous than the creatures from George Romero's films. They pose a real threat, unlike the caricatures in many other horror films. A particularly tense scene involves Will Smith's character hanging upside down, while a pack of undead dogs wait for the last sun beams to disappear.
Director Will Lawrence, whose previous credits include the superb Constantine and - even scarier - music videos for Britney Spears and J.Lo, surely knows how to create tension and horror.

This totally unusual blockbusters deserves to be seen, if only for Will Smith's excellent acting. I Am Legend only loses some of its effectiveness in the final chapter. But that can be forgiven, when the first two thirds are so absolutely amazing and genuinely frightening.
Professor Röar hands down 8 out of 10 cans of Spam for scaring him shitless…



Sweeney Todd

Director: Tim Burton
Screenplay: John Logan, based on the musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Alan Rickman, Sacha Baron Cohen
Dreamworks SKG/Warner Bros.


Sweeney Todd is Tim Burton's latest journey into the world of Gothic horror and fantasy. Re-united with long-time collaborators Johnny Depp as the titular barber and Helena Bohnham-Carter, Burton has applied his trade-mark quirky film-making techniques to a Broadway musical about the famed London serial killer Sweeny Todd. Benjamin Barker, a London barber is married to beautiful Lucy , who has attracted the interest of villainous Judge Turpin. He has Barker deported and imprisoned under false accusations, in order to take claim on his wife. On a party Turpin rapes Lucy and she supposedly commits suicide, while Turpin takes her daughter Joanna and she becomes his ward.
Who would not trust a barber with a winning smile like Sweeney Todd's (Johnny Depp)

Many years later, Barker returns to London, according to him "a great black pit, filled with people who are filled with shit". He now calls himself Sweeney Todd and soon befriends Ms. Lovett, who bakes London's worst meat pies. Todd is driven by the wish to take revenge on Turpin and to get back his daughter Johanna. He sets up a barber shop in Ms. Lovett's house, where he kills off members of London's high society, who then end up in Ms. Lovett's meat grinder to be turned into mince meat for her pies.

Considering that musicals are terribly unrealistic – 60% of Sweeny Todd's dialogue is sung – Tim Burton was probably the best choice to direct this movie. Here he revels in his trademark gothic style, a kind of Marilyn Manson land of Oz: everything looks like it came straight out of a fairy tale or an Edgar Allen Poe story, there is a constant atmosphere of darkness, even more so than in his version of Sleepy Hollow. The streets of London, lined by black brickhouses with gargoyles at the front door, are crowded with dirt-ridden people and all kinds of beasts – horses, rats, cats and roaches. Burton's London is by no means a real place, just as Sleepy Hollow and the town of  Spectre in Big Fish are not real. And the characters are equally removed from reality: Johnny Depp's Todd looks like a demonic version of Edward Scissorhands, another character from Burton's gothic parallel universe. But unlike Edward, who is careful not to hurt people with his deadly digit-extensions, Sweeney Todd, a sort of Edward antithesis, takes sadistic pleasure in cutting the throats of his upper class customers. There is no comic relief here (besides some dark humored song lyrics), Todd's work is terrible, he murders people because he hates mankind, and he hates them from the bottom of his dark soul.
If you expect Sweeny Todd to be like your average kitsch-ridden musical film, then be warned. Here you will not find cute sing-alongs, no catchy chorus to hum and no dancing to merry melodies. This is a gore-drenched fantasy about deeply demented characters, who all pay a  bloody price for their unspeakably despicable crimes. And the few positively-connotated characters – young lovers Joanna and Anthony and orphan Toby - end up losing at least parts of their sanity. And even worse – the final resolution of this infernal chain of errors and misunderstandings is no relief either, when Burton leaves us with a grotesquely distorted image of a loving family, united in blood and gore.

Sweeny Todd will surprise with its utterly bleak atmosphere and shock with its graphic depiction of murder and mayhem. This bears more resemblance to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre than to the Phantom of the Opera. But maybe this is the only way how musicals can be done nowadays, by radically refusing to go along the lines of traditional musicals, instead breaking with most of its conventions.

Professor Röar slashes 8 out of 10 throats for making musicals accessible to people who normally would never bother with anything only remotely resembling dancing, singing people on a stage.


30 Days of Night

Director: David Slade
Screenplay: Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie, Brian Nelson, based on the graphic novel by
Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston
Producers: Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert
Ghost House/Columbia


Based on a comic book series by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, 30 Days of Night is the latest cinematic entry into the vampire genre, which has regained some popularity over the last 10 years, thanks to Blade and Buffy. Every year the remote Alaskan town of Barrow experiences a 30-day period of night. On the last day of sunlight strange things start to happen: someone burns all the towns mobile phones, the only helicopter is sabotaged and all the sleigh dogs are brutally killed. When the sun finally sets, it soon becomes obvious what is going on: A band of vampires have chosen Barrow as their perfect holiday destination. Not having to fear the threat of sunlight, they intend to feed on the helpless population, who have no chance of getting any help from the outside world.
Don't they know guns are no help when you confront a
century-old evil? But Josh Hartnett and Melissa George will
soon find out...

A small group of locals, including the sheriff (Josh Hartnett), his wife (Melissa George) and his 15-year old brother (Mark Randall) manage to escape the terrible slaughter and hole up in the attic of a deserted house. There they want to wait out the month of darkness, but soon they have to face the vampires and engage in a final fight for life and death against the creatures of the night.

David Slade's vampire saga may well be one of the best flicks about bloodsuckers in a long time, ranking alongside such genre-defining achievements like Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark, which mixed vampires with road movie and western.
The most distinguishing feature of 30 Days of Night is its premise that the vampires can freely go on a rampage in this little town. They are fast moving creatures, that drag people out through windows, climb roof tops, tear out their victim's throats and move swiftly like animal predators.  The vampires speak in an ancient tongue, a mix of growls, shrieks and other eerie sounds (thankfully subtitled) and look genuinely frightening with pointy piranha teeth, distorted facial features and blood-smeared mouths. Where they come from we do not know. And exactly this lack of a background story makes these monsters even more frightening. They just appear out of the blue for one reason: to feast on human blood. One particularly scary moment is a camera shot of the town from high above, that shows
the vampires hunting and feeding on the town's people. It perfectly expresses the nightmare that has befallen Barrow, when dozens of people are killed off, leaving pools of blood in the white snow. Such stylish moments add a certain quality to 30 Days of Night, just as Guilermo del Toro's masterful direction made Blade II a much better film than it actually deserved to be.

What makes this film work so perfectly is the constant atmosphere of isolation, coldness and unbearable tension, very much like that in John Carpenter's The Thing, a claustrophobic horror classic that made similar use of its arctic setting, and which, I have to admit, ranks among my all-time favorite horror films. This atmosphere is underlined by Brian Reitzell's effective music score, throwing in the occasional industrial noise and electric guitar, but without the seemingly inevitable pop songs, that every film studio nowadays tries to force into a soundtrack, with the only purpose to work as an excuse for just another CD compilation with mostly below-average songs from artists nobody needs, bearing the tagline "inspired by the movie".
Someone should tell them to wipe their mouths after drinking...

30 Days of Night does not cater to the teenage clientele - its approach is serious, brutal, uncompromising and (spoiler ahead!) happy-ending-free: there are no funny one-liners, no cheap laughs, no teenage hero to identify with. Instead we witness a group of desperate adults while the movie does not shy away from chopping off heads of vampire-turned kids. Yet, 30 Days of Night never uses its outbursts of gore and violence as a means of gratuitous entertainment, these are short, sharp moments of shock that add to the film's constant atmosphere of helplessness against an overwhelming, inexplicable threat.
Of course writer Steve Niles and director David Slade do not turn the vampire genre upside down, which is in its premise very limited, much more than the zombie or Frankenstein/mad scientist genre. But Niles and Slade manage to move inside the genre's confines while adding enough variation and new ideas here and there to insert the well-needed breath of fresh air into a genre that has recently lost its scary edge, thanks to action-heavy fare like the Blade franchise or soap opera trash like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Let's just hope 30 Days of Night does not spawn too many bad sequels, usually a sure ticket to movie mediocrity.
Anyway, Professor Röar is pleased to donate 9 out of 10 gallons of fresh human blood to 30 Days of Night.



© 2008 Andreas Rohrmoser