Contains 28 Days Later and the sequel 28 Weeks Later
28 Days Later–Anti-vivisection activists make a very bad judgement call and release an experimental monkey infected with “rage”. 28 Days Later…, as the title has it, bicycle messenger Cillian Murphy wakes up from a post-traffic accident coma in a deserted London hospital, ventures out to find the city depopulated and the few remaining normal people doing everything to avoid the jittery, savage, zombie-like “infecteds” who attack on sight. Our bewildered hero has to adjust to the loss of his family and the entire world, but hooks up with several others–including a tough black woman (Naomie Harris) and a likable London cabbie (Brendan Gleeson)–on a perilous trip northwards, to seek refuge at army officer Christopher Eccleston’s fortified retreat. However, even if they survive the plague, the future of humanity is still in doubt. Directed by Danny Boyle and scripted by novelist Alex Garland, this is a terrific SF/horror hybrid, evoking American and Italian zombie movies but also the very British end-of-the-world tradition of John Wyndham (Day of the Triffids) and Survivors. Shot on digital video, which gives the devastated cityscapes a closed-circuit-camera realism, this grips from the first, with its understandably extreme performances, its terrifyingly swift monster attacks and its underlying melancholy. Deliberately crude, 28 Days Later is also sometimes exceptionally subtle. –Kim Newman
28 Weeks Later–Put that cynical look away, because the critics were right. 28 Weeks Later really is a sequel that delivers, that expands on the original, and in many ways even surpasses it. Faithful in many ways to the enjoyable, if derivative, 28 Days Later, this sequel sees original director Danny Boyle (who went off to make Sunshine instead) replaced by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo behind the camera (director of the excellent Spanish film Intacto). And Fresnadillo is an inspired choice, putting together a film that’s not bereft of flaws of its own, but one that proves to be an ambitious and surprisingly thought-provoking follow-up. Many of the building blocks are the same. Primarily set over six months after the Rage virus engulfed Britain, turning many of its inhabitants into deadly zombie-esque creatures in the process, the film this time though sees the American military arrive to help sort things out. Only things quickly go wrong, allowing Fresnadillo to mould a pacey, exciting and desperately enjoyable action carnival, that’s got a little more under the surface. Grounded by Robert Carlyle as one of the survivors of the virus, replete with his kids in tow, 28 Weeks Later skilfully navigates the labyrinth of sequel hell and really, really delivers. What’s more, it opens up the enticing possibility of a further sequel, and on the evidence of this film, that’s a very welcome thought. 28 Weeks Later, like its predecessor, isn’t a film for the faint-hearted, and wholesome family entertainment it absolutely isn’t. But it’s a very good, energetic horror movie, and far, far better than you might have originally given it credit for. –Jon Foster
- SPIDER-MAN [REGION 2] MOVIE
SPIDER-MAN [REGION 2] MOVIEMarvel Comics fans have been waiting for this big-screen Spider-Man since the character made his print debut in 1962, which attaches impossible expectations to a film that rates as a solid success without breaking out of the spandex ghetto in the way that Batman Returns or X-Men did. Tobey Maguire is ideally cast as speccy Peter Parker, a high school swot with personal problems. The suit and effects take over when he gets bitten by a genetically engineered (i.e., no longer radioactive) spider and transforms into a web-swinging superhero who finds that these super-powers don’t really help him get close to the girl next door (Kirsten Dunst) or protect his elderly guardian (Cliff Robertson) from random violence. The villain of the peace is Peter’s best friend’s industrialist father (Willem Dafoe) who has dosed himself on an experimental serum which makes him go all Jekyll-and-Hyde and emerge as the cackling Green Goblin, who soon gets a grudge against Spider-Man.
Sam Raimi gives it all a bright, airy, kinetic feel, with wonderful aerial stuff as Spider-Man escapes from his troubles by swinging between skyscrapers, and the rethink of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s origin story is managed with a canny mix of faithfulness (JK Simmons’ as the crass editor JJ Jameson is the image of the comic character) and send-up (after a big introduction, Spider-Man finally appears in a really rubbish first attempt at a spider costume). Maguire and the impossibly sweet Dunst make it work as a hesitant teen romance, but somehow the second half, which brings on the villain to give the hero someone to fight, is only exciting when it wants to be affecting too. —Kim Newman
On the DVD: Spider-Man‘s two-disc offering is nothing out of the ordinary, but fans will find some gems here including Stan Lee’s thoughts, a gallery of comic cover art and profiles on the baddies. The two commentaries (cast and crew, and Special Effects) both have long periods with pauses, but the special effects guys are full of insight. The DVD-ROM section offers some of the more exciting features, including three comics transferred onto your computer, page by page, although be aware that the “Film to Comic” comparison is not for the original but for the new comic of the film. As you would expect from a blockbuster superhero film, the sound and vision are immaculate. —Nikki Disney
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Hugh Grant takes the lead role as aimless, commitment-shy, thirtysomething Will in this adaptation of Nick Hornby’s bestseller. Living on the royalties of a hit song his father wrote 40 years ago, Will drifts through life, moving from one relationship to the next with little lasting effect. But when he hits upon the new idea of dating single-mothers, he soon finds himself entangled with the suicidal Fiona (Toni Colette) and her 12-year-old-son Marcus (Nicholas Hoult). As he and Marcus gradually develop a friendship, Will begins to reassess the selfish life he has been living.
The film version of Nick Hornby’s novel About a Boy takes a deeper though no less entertaining approach than the easy laughs of Fever Pitch and High Fidelity. The “coming together” of idle playboy Will (Hugh Grant) and put-upon loner Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) is a revealing tale of self-understanding and role reversal. Will finds that being yourself is of little consequence without a defining human context, while Marcus finds that pleasing others counts for little without a degree of self-confidence. How they arrive at this complementary awareness is the intriguing subject matter of the film, involving well-meaning single mothers, difficult adolescents and helpless older adults. Yet there’s a wider significance to all this in the guise of human stereotypes–how we fall into them and how we can try to get out of them.
The film’s wit and amusement comes down to deft and understated directing from Chris and Paul Weitz, and a snappily crafted screenplay from Peter Hedges and the Weitz brothers. Grant clips his hair as well as his vowels for a believable and ultimately sympathetic Will–by far his best performance since Four Weddings and a Funeral. As Marcus, Hoult is convincingly self-dependent, but could have been even more self-absorbed. Toni Colette is a dead-ringer for the well-meaning but ineffectual hippie mother Fiona, while Rachel Weisz gives her best screen performance to date as the attractive and vulnerable Rachel, with whom Will comes of age emotionally. Badly Drawn Boy’s soundtrack will delight those who enjoy his brand of reconstituted 1970s Dylan; the title track has a wistful charm and there’s a gem of an instrumental in the “Countdown” sequence. About a Boy is in the best traditions of British comedy: enlightening as it amuses, it’s a film to enjoy and come back to. —Richard Whitehouse
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