Cockneys vs. Zombies (2012)

Zombies. If there’s one undead creature that’s as popular as vampires on television and cinema, it’s zombies. I’d also argue that they’re done rather better too. Zombies don’t have volatile love affairs. Zombies don’t even have true emotions. Zombies also don’t sprinkle glitter on their chest and fall for women that can barely crack a smile. Zombies are just all around better creatures and the better basis for a story. Then you have to factor in the fact that zombies can arise from all manner of origins and have different traits: from the speedy, enraged fiends of 28 Days Later to the classic shambling living dead from Dawn of the Dead. In summary, zombies are pretty damn cool, and in-vogue again thanks to The Walking Dead. So, why not pit them against something? We all love a good versus movie (apparently) – just see Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, Alien vs. Predator and Cowboys vs. Aliens. But who do we pit our zombies against to have a great slice of fan fiction… Wait… What?… Cockneys?!

Yes, the clue to Cockneys vs. Zombies is very much in the title. It’s a group of Londoners versus those shambling abominations. This time, the zombies emerge when one is disturbed in an underground crypt that’s unearthed on a building site. The infection spreads and the zombies infest the Earth. Did I mention this is a comedy too? I bet I can predict your thoughts now: “a comedy? Involving zombies? In England? Oh wow, is it as good as Shaun of the Dead then?”… well, the answer is unfortunately not. It’s not even in the same ballpark.

There are many things that made Shaun of the Dead the best zom-com in recent memory. It not only had a great script, and an assortment of the best comedic actors that Britain has produced, but it also featured zombies that were compelling and really looked the part. They didn’t skimp on the effects – it truly looked like a horror movie, but was funny. Cockneys vs. Zombies falls down on every one of those points, for the most part.

The film stars Michelle Ryan, Georgia King, Harry Treadaway and Rasmus Hardiker as the characters of the “main” plot (good hearted bank robbers that find the horde), which is countered by the more elderly cast of Alan Ford, Honor Blackman, Richard Blackman and others, who serve in the secondary story: the pensioners that are trapped in their home by the zombies. How was all this acting? Well, “not bad” is my verdict, but nor is it anything to write home about. The younger cast are serviceable, but it’s Alan Ford that shines. Mainly because I feel that the director’s instructions were “be yourself”, or “act like you did in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch“. He’s “cockney” personified… not an “‘orrible ****” like in his previous films (his words, not mine).

Geriatrics, guns and cockney geezers – this film has it all! If that’s what you’re looking for…

Let me also include another name in the actors list… The Phage. Yes, I’m actually in this movie. My (real) name’s in the cast list. You’d think this’d make me think the movie was magical wouldn’t you? But I’m pretty objective. Even when I was on the set I felt the humour was a bit juvenile and not really funny. I thought this would be different when I saw it on-screen, but wow – it still wasn’t funny. I laughed a couple of times (twice more than Keith Lemon: The Film if you’re counting), but overall it wasn’t to my tastes. The movie kept my attention, but didn’t truly entertain me.

So I’ve dealt with a) actors, and b) the lack of humour, but have yet to address c) the aesthetics – the three ingredients that made Shaun of the Dead so good. Now, as I was on-set I already knew that the zombies were never going to challenge The Walking Dead for truly amazing prosthetics and make-up. But what I wasn’t expecting was such shocking continuity with these zombies. In 28 Days Later you knew what to expect: red eyes, in The Walking Dead: torn flesh and gaping, jutting jaws. But here? A mix of everything. The zombies’ eyes change from normal to red to yellow, depending on which zombie you’re seeing, and the “effects” on the zombies are extremely weak. Oddly, some have full blown sunken eyes like in The Walking Dead, but the majority look like they’ve had talcum powder sprinkled on them and that was it. As I was there, I can say that that’s not far off the truth. Sure, we all have budget constraints, but the producers should have had ALL with full-blown make-up or NONE with make-up. Not the mish-mash you see on-screen.

Sure, this movie will tick some people’s boxes for a zombie film: lots of gore, guns and shambling wrecks, but I just want so much more nowadays. I’ve been spoiled by films such as Rec and 28 Days Later, as well as the almighty The Walking Dead, that this just doesn’t hit the same notes. Even if those films didn’t exist, this is still a pretty hum-drum film. It has the odd laugh, but is probably worth picking up in a bargain bin, as opposed to venturing out to find a cinema that’s showing it.

Despite the fact that I’m in the film, I just find it hard to love it. I was entertained and definitely wasn’t bored, but nor was I actively engaged with what was going on. The film appeals to a certain crowd with respects to humour – if you like all of Adam Sandler‘s movies for instance, you may enjoy this. But most of it was too basal to really register with me as “funny”. Thankfully Alan Ford really relishes his role and gets “stuck in” – his scenes are consistently the best. The rest? Let’s just say that I hope this film doesn’t rise from the dead for a sequel.

With the film hopefully now buried six feet under, with no chance of resurrection (I removed the head – we’re safe), I’m wondering what’s the next crossover we’ll get. Vampires vs. Zombies? Strippers vs. Zombies? Or maybe John McClane vs. Zombies? My money’s on John. He’ll probably deal with those zombies like he deals with helicopters: by lobbing a car at them. Yippe-ki-yay you undead mother—–s!

Phage Factor:

Keith Lemon: The Film (2012)

One version of the UK… sans rage.

If you’re easily influenced by films and aren’t a resident of the United Kingdom, you’d probably assume that its inhabitants fall into one of a number of camps. To Pride & Prejudice fans, we’re dashing romantics living in a land full of whimsy and charm. To Green Street fans, we’re uncompromising thugs and hooligans inhabiting a land of football lunatics. And to 28 Days Later fans… well, we’re the bringer of plagues, in a land of rage-fuelled zombies (a bit like hooligans, but more “bitey”). But don’t judge us in this way – our country has aspects of all these films… OK, maybe we don’t have aspects of 28 Days Later (yet) but you can’t escape the fact that a film can shape your views of the nation or area in which it is filmed. If we go off recent releases such as Killer Joe and The Imposter, we’d infer that Texas is a hotbed of child abduction, white trash and murder. So, with all that said, what does the UK’s latest comedy film, Keith Lemon: The Film, say about us and our fair country?

Well hopefully no other nation will be exposed to this film any time soon, so they’ll never have the chance to form those opinions. But if they did, they’d probably ask “who’s this Keith Lemon character?”, “what’s he saying?” and “is this what’s funny in England?”. Let me explain this for our international readers…

Keith Lemon is a character created by British comedian Leigh Francis. Lemon is a larger-than-life character who says outrageously over the top things to celebrities. Generally these comments revolve around wanting to “get intimate” with them and himself. And that accent? Leeds – a city in the heart of Yorkshire (not near London). The character’s been enormously successful for Francis, as he not only hosts his own quiz show (Celebrity Juice), but an innumerable amount of spin-off shows. And what’s the obvious next step? To scribble down a “script” and cobble together a movie to milk that cash cow whilst she’s good for-a-milkin’!

With that explained, I feel I can continue. You see, I was tempted to forgo my normal review stylings and just invite you to this page to read one word:

Abysmal

But I decided against that, as I’m sure you love reading about a bad film as much as a good one right? Well, I do. I don’t like middle of the road nonsense. I like a polarising film, and this is polarising alright. It’s the equivalent of magnetic south, if “magnetic south” translated as “garbage”. The film follows Lemon, oddly playing an unsuccessful inventor who’s created a security pole. This doesn’t work out for him, and through fortuity he creates the “Lemon Phone” (a smart phone with a yellow lemon on the back). He becomes a billionaire, gets wrapped up in fame, dates Kelly Brook… Are you still reading this? The plot is nonsense. It’s something a group of 11 year olds would imagine at a slumber party. In 5 minutes. Before they realised how stupid it was.

It’s funny because he’s a lot shorter and has to sit on an elevated platform. Get it? Nope, us neither.

Now, I’ve nothing against Francis‘ Keith Lemon. I quite enjoy the Celebrity Juice panel show he hosts. He’s very sharp and knows how to get a rise out of his contestants on a weekly basis. It’s funny. This just isn’t. It’s a number of tired sex gags tied together with appearances from B and C list celebrities that I doubt anyone from outside the UK would recognise. Rizzle Kicks? Peter Andre? Paddy McGuinness? Recognise these names? Thought not. I’m already regretting bolding their names. The “known” international “stars” such as Verne Troyer (Mini Me in Austin Powers), David Hasselhoff (Baywatch… you knew that one) and Kelly Brook (Piranha 3D – she swims naked with another girl, remember?) are hardly setting the world alight either. All supporting performances are phoned in, or just come across as very cringe-worthy, especially Brook in the finale. Troyer can act but has a flat script and Hasselhoff can also deliver those nonchalant “I don’t want to be here” lines that can make you smirk, as in Piranha 3DD, but they were also absent.

Kelly Brook’s breasts? Check. Sex gag? On it’s way. Boys, we’re onto a winner here!!

I know this is meant to be a tongue-in-cheek movie and is probably not intended for me, as I’m post-pubescent. But my screening also had that “target demographic” of teens. And did they laugh? Nope. In fact, I counted a total of three walk outs during the film. That’s impressive for an 85 minute runtime! Hell, I’ve seen The Three Stooges, which I was gearing up to brandish as “Worst Comedy of the Year” (until now), but no-one walked out of that. And this movie even featured bare breasts, ejaculate AND “celebrities”… what more could your average hormonal teenager want out of life?! Seemingly whatever’s outside the screen’s exit doors at 40 minutes in.

Keith Lemon bounds onto our screens in what has to be one of the most ill-judged and ill-received moves from television to the big screen. Not even Harry Enfield‘s Kevin and Perry Go Large can compare to this train wreck of a movie. At least that had Rhys Ifans, some quotable lines and a good 90’s dance soundtrack. At the time of writing, Keith Lemon: The Film is pulling in a whopping 0% on Rotten Tomatoes; joining the elite club that also houses Highlander II and Eddie Murphy‘s classic A Thousand Words.

So what does Keith Lemon: The Film suggest about the United Kingdom? Probably that we speak with funny accents, have an absurd sense of humour and that we have numerous ways of describing sex, breasts and genitals. I guess it at least makes a change from describing us as “stabby” or “bitey”…

Phage Factor:

The Three Stooges (2012)

Three steps away from being funny.

Slapstick is probably the oldest form of comedy. When one of our joker ape-like ancestors fell off a log and into a lake, I’m pretty sure its fellow mammals laughed hysterically. It’s always been funny to laugh at others in mild jeopardy, so long as it doesn’t affect us in the slightest. However, if this slapstick ape was transported Terminator style into the future to entertain Sarah Conner with his routines, I doubt she’d be too excited or riveted by his performance. Slapstick may have remained and may still make us chortle, but humour has changed and moved on. Sure, we can still laugh at someone getting hit in the head with a plank (a massive achievement for an ape), but can that one joke sustain an entire film? The Three Stooges puts that to the test.

The Three Stooges originated back in the 1930’s, at a time when Charlie Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy ruled Hollywood, and have been a mainstay of American culture ever since, being reincarnated time and time again for US viewers. None of these versions made it into popular UK consciences – I’m sure of that; except for the current film incarnation, courtesy of the Farrelly brothers. These are the guys that brought comedic classics such as Dumb & Dumber, There’s Something About Mary and Kingpin to the big screen. The fact that they wrote and directed Dumb & Dumber, one of my all-time favourite comedy movies, puts them on a pedestal in my mind. People so often criticise the Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels comedy marvel that is Dumb & Dumber, but it’s incredibly well written and is hilarious. However, after being subjected to The Three Stooges, I can say that they do not always deliver hilarious movies… in fact, I would go as far as brandishing this the least funny comedy movie I have ever had the displeasure of seeing… And I’ve seen Eddie Murphy‘s Norbit. (Edit: This title now belongs to another movie, reviewed later this week…)

The movie follows the threadbare plot of Moe, Larry and Curly, played by Chris Diamontopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso respectively, as they attempt to raise the money to save the orphanage where they grew up. Add in a paper-thin murder conspiracy story featuring the buxom Sofia Vergara and… well, that’s it. The 92 minutes are padded out with facial slaps, “zany” sound effects and hammer blows to the head (and shots of Vergara‘s cleavage). None of which remotely tickle the funny bone, or sustain one’s interest. Not even the cleavage.

Sofia Vergara – always one to cover up, but not even this will keep your interest from waning. Promise!

Now, I’ve questioned whether my views regarding The Three Stooges are due to The Phage being of UK origin. Over here, we favour dark, edgy and cringe-worthy humour that’s often unpalatable to US audiences. But I doubt that this is the reason the film fell so flat for me. After all, I enjoy the physical comedy seen in films such as Naked Gun, Dumb & Dumber and BASEketball. I think the real reason is that the film is just that bad.

The three main actors all throw themselves headlong into their roles, and they cannot be faulted for their spot-on performance, which is at times quite endearing. But you can’t escape the cold, hard fact that this form of comedy is horribly dated. Silly voices and “thwak” noises no longer cut the mustard with audiences. Not even children. In my screening, there were a couple of boys with their father who were incredibly excited about the movie. Did they laugh? Once. If children that were excited about the movie can only muster a single laugh then it doesn’t say much does it?

The three main guys are great in their role… but where are the laughs? I think this was meant to be funny…?

The only humorous part for me was the pre-credits scene where two obvious stand-ins for the Farrelly brothers explain to the children that the hammers used in the film were fake, and that the poke-to-the-eyes routine didn’t actually connect with anyone’s eyes. This was funny for three reasons: a) the actors playing the Farrellys were hulking beefcakes – a great sight gag, b) kids are exposed to far more severe violence in cartoons, games and wrestling so the warning was a bit pointless, and c) you’ve got to question how many kids were actually entertained enough to care by this point in the film. Actually, I’m wrong – there was another solitary point in the movie that made me smile, and that’s in relation to Jersey Shore. I won’t divulge any more. Hopefully you can remain awake to that point if you insist on watching.

The only reason you can want to see The Three Stooges is for nostalgia, so for non-US audiences, there’s very little reason to see it. It may bring back great memories for those of you familiar with the clowns from your childhood, but for everyone else? Nothing. If you want to see a genuinely funny portrayal of The Three Stooges, then check out the South Park episode called Hell on Earth 2006, where Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer and John Gacy are charged with getting a Ferrari cake for Satan’s Super Sweet 16 birthday party. Now that is funny. As ever, the comedy world can learn a lot from Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

Ultimately, if you’ve seen the trailer for The Three Stooges, you know exactly what you’re getting. Just extend the trailer to 30-fold the length. It’s a constant onslaught of dated slapstick comedy featuring hammers, chainsaws and “boink” sound effects. If this appeals to you, then kudos – this is the film for you. For everyone else who has no affection for the The Three Stooges of yesteryear, then avoid.

In fact, I think the only non-fans that would enjoy these antics would be apes – ancestral or not. They’d guffaw at the stooges’ clowning. At least if you distracted those “damn dirty apes” with such vapid attempts at humour then they’d never gain intelligence, rise and take over the Earth. By this reckoning, The Three Stooges is the single most important cinematic effort of a generation. Now there’s a misleading quote for a poster.

Phage Factor:

Ted (2012)

If you’ve seen a poster, a trailer or a bus advertising Ted you’re sure to know that this film is brought to you courtesy of Seth Macfarlane: the man behind the Family Guy, American Dad! and The Cleveland Show franchises. Though I think it’s best for all if we forget the last title on that list, as I’m pretty sure people with an IQ over 39 don’t think The Cleveland Show is “comedy” in any shape or form. Unless you’re a simpleton. For the uninitiated, Family Guy revolves around a Simpsons-esque family and their shenanigans. Most of these episodes are essentially random sketches tied together with some semblance of a plot. American Dad! again focuses on a family, but is much more plot-driven – like any good sitcom. The Cleveland Show… well… let’s just not go there. Why am I explaining all this? Well, everyone has a “favourite” of these three titles whilst some can’t stand Macfarlane‘s brand of humour. Consequently, your enjoyment of this film will rely heavily on which of these four shrines you worship at. See if you can guess where I fall…

It’s a Macfarlane face-off… which camp do you fall into? Moronic, sketch-driven or plot-driven comedy?

Ted follows the life of 35 year old John (Mark Wahlberg) and girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis)… and of course Ted (Seth Macfarlane), the toy that came to life when John was 8 years old. At a core level, the film deals with the dilemma of being one of the boys vs settling down. Add in a truck load of 1980’s TV references, a sprinkling of drug paraphernalia and a sometimes obvious plot and you have Ted. Firstly, I want to say that in recent years I’ve become a big fan of Wahlberg, especially his contributions to HBO’s Entourage both on and off-screen, and in 2010’s spectacular The Fighter. His performance in Ted is what you’ve come to expect of the guy – professional, comic and charming. Similarly Kunis, who works with Macfarlane on Family Guy, acts admirably; although her role as the “straight guy” limits her ability to flex any comedic muscles on screen. The supporting cast is also brilliantly put together, surely thanks to Macfarlane‘s rich address book accrued from the numerous cameos that Family Guy and American Dad! have had over the years. I won’t ruin any of these for you, but appearances from a 1980’s film star and a famous Hollywood A-lister who doesn’t utter a single word are simply sublime. The only negative I can draw from the cast is the fact that Macfarlane didn’t write anything comedic for Lori’s boss Rex, who is played by the awesome Joel McHale from one of my favourite ever series: Community. An opportunity missed.

This brings us to Macfarlane himself who voiced Ted and wrote the script. Ted as a character is solid and beautifully rendered by the animation team. I just feel that we’ve seen this character before if you’re familiar with Macfarlane‘s TV series. He’s a slacker, a “bro” and less than politically correct – all things which you could pin to numerous other characters. But overall, I can look past this as it’s clearly Macfarlane‘s sense of humour and that’s fine. The character worked well. What felt a bit more hackneyed was the script, which came across as a number of hit-and-miss sketches loosely woven into a plot. Ringing any bells yet?

The trailers showed off some of the big hitting comedic moments, and there are more to be found in there, but there was also a lot of humour that fell flat for me. For instance, an elongated fight scene erupts that reminded me of Pineapple Express. I didn’t like Pineapple Express. I didn’t like this either. It just wasn’t funny. Luckily these duds were outweighed for me by Macfarlane‘s pop culture references (when they sit inside the plot) and sometimes sinister sniping at other popular celebrities. He does this in his animated shows and doesn’t pull any punches on the big screen too. This, for me, is funny. It’s a shame that more of the film wasn’t as guffaw-inducing as the prologue and epilogue by Sir Patrick Stewart (who also voices characters for American Dad!).

Bart Simpson by way of South Park: not a Family Guy fan!

But then again, many people in the screening I was attending laughed at literally everything. For some their humour level was any reference to drugs. I call these “The Cleveland Show fans” (or young teenagers… or adults with the brains of young teenagers… or morons – it’s ok, they won’t get offended; often they can’t read) – replete with honking laughs that made me think I was about to be attacked by a flock of geese. Next you had the people with a humour level resulting in them laughing at jokes that were in the trailer that surely every film-goer has seen? I call these “Family Guy fans“, as the jokes are funny but you’ve seen them before – just as with many jokes on Family Guy. Then finally you have people that enjoy the humour thrown up as part of the plot: the “American Dad! fans“.

If you’re playing along at home and guessed that I am c) an American Dad! fan, then kudos to you. Go get yourself a cookie. If you guessed a) then I strongly suggest you watch The Cleveland Show – it’s probably right up your alley.

Ultimately, Ted earns the title of “funniest film of the summer”, but more by default as it’s not had strong competition. Had 21 Jump Street landed at the same time, it’d have easily lost the title. It has its great moments, but much like Macfarlane’s Family Guy it has an uneven hit-to-miss ratio in term of gags.

If you didn’t like Macfarlane before, then seeing a non-animated form of his comedy won’t change your mind. If you believe the man can do no wrong then you’re delusional you’ll get a lot of kicks out of this film. If you fall somewhere in between and think that his shows have their moments, then there’s fair reason to see this. Macfarlane‘s humour has made the jump to the big screen far better than Matt Groening‘s The Simpsons Movie… but nowhere near as well as Matt Stone and Trey Parker‘s South Park or Team America: World Police. That’s what you get for letting manatees write your comedy Seth!

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

Magic Mike (2012)

An entertaining, but predictable magic trick…

If you asked me to list some movies that revolve around the age-old profession of stripping, it’d be no problem whatsoever. Of course, you have Showgirls and Striptease from the mid-90’s, whose VHS cassettes were the equivalent of gold dust to every teenage boy of the day; back when a) VHS was the standard, and b) this was the ultimate in semi-accessible titillation… hell, these movies pre-dated 56Kb modems for most! If you preferred a more male-centric clothes-shedding tale then there’s the British classic The Full Monty where a motley crew of unemployed guys from the UK city of Sheffield star in their own strip show. It also made Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff the sexiest song of 1997 and made Post Office queues that little bit more exciting; albeit briefly.

So now we come to Hollywood’s late rebuttal to the UK’s men’s strip show film. I wasn’t aware that a rebuttal was needed, but here it is nevertheless. Magic Mike follows the tale of the eponymous Mike (Channing Tatum) – an “entrepreneur” who dabbles in tiling roofs, building unique furniture… oh, and getting down to a thong as “Magic Mike” for the gathered throngs of women baying for flesh on Thursdays through Sundays. Though Tatum is a key player in the film, it really revolves around Adam (Alex Pettyfer; I Am Number Four, In Time) who’s introduced to the business through Mike. What follows is an enjoyable, occasionally lighthearted, if not lightweight tale of the underbelly of the stripping business.

“What did you say about my shirtless tie outfit?”

The strongest asset of this film is without doubt Tatum himself, who was once upon a time a part-time stripper. Whilst he gets to use some of his dance moves from his days in Step Up, he really showcases his abilities as an actor. In particular, his one-on-one scenes with Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn) are particularly poignant; coming across as effortless and genuinely authentic – the mark of a true actor. The other “top billed” name on the posters, Matthew McConaughey, fares just as well playing Dallas: the club’s owner / MC / dancer, and primary antagonist of the film. What’s so remarkable is that Dallas is instantly dislikeable; you know from the outset that he isn’t a nice guy. Indeed, I found McConaughey‘s character in Killer Joe (reviewed here) – a guy who forces someone to perform oral sex on a KFC drumstick – to be more likeable than Dallas. It’s great to see these two actors again expanding their repertoire and avoiding the clichéd roles they’ve become synonymous with in recent years, as I’ve discussed previously.

Where the film loses its way is the fact that some of the plots seem too railroaded and scripted – you can see the eventual incidents coming from a mile off. You could predict the third act of the film before the fourth thong-clad rear is on-screen. A few decoys are deployed where you expect the plot to go down a certain alley; but overall this isn’t an example of effective smoke and mirrors. A golden era M. Night Shyamalan film this is not. And for those curious about the nudity in the film, yes you’ll see a lot of bethonged rump and guys will have that feeling that they did watching 300: “damn, I need to work out!”. McConnaughey in particular, who’s now cruised past 40, looks in remarkable shape.

Who else is going to be sporting this fetching yellow crop top at the gym this summer? Just me? Damn…

Overall, Steven Soderbergh‘s (Ocean’s Eleven, Contagion, Haywire) film has its heart in the right place, but falters due to a predictable storyline. It also irritatingly leaves a number of plot threads deliberately open for the already talked about sequel. Personally, I feel that Magic Mike needs a sequel about as much as Contagion (a phage’s favourite film – the virus is the star!) does. But then again, this is Steven Soderbergh, a man who is a more than capable director, but he’s also the man that brought you the uncalled for Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen. However, it’s great to see Channing Tatum flourishing into a well-rounded actor who’s deviating from GI Joe-esque roles. The future is very bright for this guy, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.

Magic Mike proves to be more of a daytime TV magician than a David Blaine, Penn & Teller or Criss Angel: his tricks are a bit too transparent. The film’s respectable and earns its place, but it’s not playing with the big boys out in Vegas thanks to that plot. But maybe I just prefer a bit of Donna Summers’ Hot Stuff in my strip scenes, as opposed to the latest Skrillex wub-wub-athon… Now where’s my VHS player…?

Phage Factor:

3 Star