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last update 26.Aug.12
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Cockneys vs Zombies
dir Matthias Hoene
scr James Moran, Lucas Roche
prd James Harris, Mark Lane
with Rasmus Hardiker, Harry Treadaway, Michelle Ryan, Alan Ford, Honor Blackman, Richard Briers, Dudley Sutton, Ashley Bashy Thomas, Georgia King, Jack Doolan, Tony Gardner, Georgina Hale
treadaway and ryan release UK 31.Aug.12,
US 2.Aug.13
12/UK 1h28

Cockneys vs Zombies The genius of Shaun of the Dead haunts this London comedy-horror romp to such a degree that it's almost impossible to enjoy it on its own terms. Lacking that film's skill and wit, this feels clunky and silly. Although the cast is hilarious. And the script does have its moments.

As construction workers open a plague pit, unleashing 500-year-old zombies in East London, brothers Terry and Andy (Hardiker and Treadaway) are plotting a bank robbery to save the nursing home where their grandfather (Ford) lives. They gather their lock-picking cousin (Ryan), a gun-mad nutcase (Thomas) and a dopey pal (Doolan) to hit the bank. But they end up facing an army of marauding undead. So they band together to sort out their personal issues before heading off to rescue the trapped pensioners.

Most of the fun is in the casting. Hardiker and Treadaway are lively young men whose banter keeps the film afloat, while Ryan's tough-girl feistiness adds a spark to the action. And the cast of terrific veterans playing the old folks are hilarious. Even if the gags are cheap ones, watching these iconic actors battle grisly walking undead is pretty ridiculous. And there is the occasional gem of a sight gag or witty punchline along the way.

There's also rather a lot of repetition, as the plot lurches from one zombie attack to another with guns blazing, blood spurting and heads rolling. A lot of this makes very little sense: if you were going to make your escape in a double-decker bus, you wouldn't choose an open-backed Routemaster, even though it looks much cooler. And surely you'd blast a chain with your gigantic assault rifle rather than run into a nest of flesh-eaters to unhook it.

But never mind. The film has a terrific sense of East End humour, including a few wacky rhyming slang jokes (what rhymes with zombie?) and knowing references to the area's reputation for both crime and street-smarts. It's also clearly filmed on location, with Olympic venues in the background and some decent effects and make-up work. But it would need to be a lot more original than this to erase our memories of Shaun of the Dead.

18 themes, language, grisly violence
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The Devil’s Business
dir-scr Sean Hogan
prd Jennifer Handorf
with Billy Clarke, Jack Gordon, Jonathan Hansler, Harry Miller, Mark Sealey
clarke and gordon release UK 17.Aug.12
11/UK 1h09
The Devil's Business Essentially a two-hander, this slow-burning horror film contains some strongly unsettling moments. But while the characters are engaging, the writing and directing feel simplistic in their approach both to them and to the escalating freak-out.

The experienced hitman Pinner (Clarke) and his young, impatient sidekick Cully (Gordon) break into a house and wait for their mark Kist (Hansler) to get home from the opera. While they wait, Cully gets Pinner to tell him a creepy story from his years working for their boss Bruno (Miller). But Pinner's tale is interrupted by a loud noise outside, and when they investigate they discover the aftermath of a gruesome satanic ritual in the garage. And from this point on, nothing goes remotely as expected.

There's a lively tension between Pinner and Cully that's both blackly hilarious and darkly unnerving, nicely overplayed by Clarke and Gordon. Clearly the fidgety Cully has no idea what's at stake here, and as the gravity of the situation slowly begins to dawn on him, the film grabs our attention too. It's a remarkably claustrophobic little thriller, making up for the arch script and uneven acting with a growing sense of dread things spiral out of control.

Writer-director Hogan hides his low budget in deep shadows (the two men don't turn on any lights) and a limited cast that makes the film feel like a stage play. Especially since the main elements of suspense are in the long, detailed story Pinner recounts like a theatrical monologue. Or maybe it's more like a radio play, since the shadows mean that we can't properly see Clarke's face as he tells his grisly ghost story. But this cleverly sets us up for the nasty nuttiness that follows.

Until it devolves into a silly conclusion, this is an enjoyably gritty little movie, with strong characters who create a gnawing sense of increasing chaos. The violence is effectively gruesome, even if it's accompanied by cheesy Dr Who-style music and make-up. As the veteran and the rookie, Clarke and Gordon bring a sharp edge to their interaction as everything that happens around them refuses to make any sense. But while Hogan's story twists are inventive and unpredictable, they're not hugely satisfying, simply because the increasingly goofy scenes are played with such a straight face.

18 themes, language, grisly violence
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In the Dark Half
dir Alastair Siddons
scr Lucy Catherine
prd Margaret Matheson
with Jessica Barden, Tony Curran, Lyndsey Marshal, Simon Armstrong, Georgia Henshaw, Tim Lewis
barden and curran release UK 24.Aug.12
12/US BBC 1h25
In the Dark Half Moody and atmospheric, this low-budget British thriller gets under the skin as it explores the complex emotional life of a teen girl. And even if it's both elusive and overwrought, the film's eerie tone holds our attention.

Marie (Barden) is a 15-year-old loner who has an unnatural interest in death. She regularly steals rabbits from the snares of her loner neighbour Filthy (Curran), to give them a proper burial. And her curiosity takes a dark turn when Filthy's young son Sean dies suddenly while she's babysitting. After the initial shock, she starts to feel that is communicating with Sean beyond the grave. Meanwhile, her mother (Marshal) is frantically redecorating their house, while her best friend (Henshaw) has grown tired of her morbid obsession.

Siddons directs the film with an intensity that never lets up, portraying the suburban neighbourhood as a gateway between the lights of the nearby city and the deep, dark woods on the other side. These trees are surrounded by looming shadows, foreboding wildlife and flickering lights, hinting that there are spirits roaming the hills. At the centre is Marie's secret bunker, where she goes to talk to Sean.

This is a rather over-serious film that never relieves the pressure with real-life comedy or off-handed interaction. Everything is played for full emotional impact, which leaves the actors stuck in one-note performances. Still, each one is terrific as a wounded, needy person who simply can't reach out to someone nearby. Barden captures Marie's overpowering need to understand life and death long before we begin to understand why. And Curran is terrific as the town pariah whose sad, quiet existence unravels so tragically.

Like The Sixth Sense, this film overlays a personal drama with a supernatural horror story while slowly filling in the details of the mystery until we have the full picture. Along the way there are some surprises in store, and director Siddons is maintains a fairly relentless sense of downbeat gloom. But this also gives the film a charge of genuine terror, including a few big jolts. The emotional layers of these characters are so raw that the film is increasingly painful to watch. But that only means that the filmmakers are doing their jobs effectively.

15 themes, language, violence
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dir Ron Scalpello
scr Paul Van Carter
prd Nick Taussig, Paul Van Carter
with Joe Cole, English Frank, Kimberley Nixon, Shaun Dooley, Tyson Oba, G Frsh, Scorcher, Malachi Kirby, Ruth Gemmell, Mark Harris, Vas Blackwood, David Ajala
release UK 8.Aug.12
12/UK Revolver 1h42
Offender It's clear that director Scalpello and writer Van Carter were trying to do something unusual here, but those standard prison movies cliches prove that they're just too difficult to resist. And this leaves the film's revenge plot feeling rather uninteresting.

Tommy (Cole) is a young thug sent to prison for two years after punching a couple of cops. Once inside, he locks his eye on top goon Jake (Frank), and there's more than a hint of personal vendetta about it. Sure enough, in flashback we see a series of events during the summer 2011 London riots and some nastiness involving Tommy's pregnant parole-officer girlfriend Elise (Nixon). But now that he's inside, who can Tommy trust? His cellmate (Kirby)? A peace-loving Muslim (Oba)? Certainly not the dope-smoking guard (Dooley).

Over the course of the film, we see Tommy's journey from nice guy to tightly wound punk, complete with a Rocky-style montage as he puts some muscle tone on his skinny frame. But as he goes on his ill-planned vigilante spree, it's difficult to have much sympathy for him because Cole plays him as a hothead on a mission, lashing out violently at anyone who comes hear him. Even though we know that there's a more thoughtful, caring person inside, Tommy is determined to destroy his life.

If the filmmakers are trying to say that young-offenders prisons strip the humanity from their inmates, they have mangled the message badly, because Tommy turned mean before he gets there. More interestingly, the film notes that everyone has a choice about how they are going to respond to violence, as demonstrated by the Muslim characters whose lives have far more hope than the re-incarcerated monsters around them.

But the script and direction simply aren't up to exploring these subtle ideas. Scalpello relies far too heavily on shaky-cam action and blurry-cam drama as he tries to ramp up the emotion, but it just leaves us unable to see what's going on. And he timidly shies away from the most telling moments, lingering instead on the rather hackneyed brutality. Combined with a somewhat slack structure, this leaves the solid actors unable to connect with the audience. And it leaves us a bit bored.

15 themes, language, strong violence
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