Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cross Country Corpses: 28 Weeks Later

Spoilers to follow

I'm gonna be perfectly honest with all of you. I didn't much care for "28 Days Later."

I've never been a fan of sprinting zombies. "Dawn of the Dead", at least the remake, scared both legs of my pants off.

In the case of "28 Days Later," I was left with a few unanswered questions:

- Why would a group of scientists have a super-dangerous virus with NO SECURITY WHATSOEVER?
(This is actually a common problem, wherein the most deadly toxins/weapons seem to have little to no guards or cameras)

- Why infect monkeys with "rage"? How can you write that line of dialogue and not laugh yourself stupid?

- Why market your film as a zombie movie when the "infected" DON'T QUALIFY AS ZOMBIES??!??

Now, before you start chucking your computers at me, let me explain myself, and the directors as well.

I'm not that fast. It's a problem that the Army is trying to knock out of me. So when I see blood-vomiting, 400 meter-dashing, eye-gouging people chasing someone through the bedraggled streets of London, I get a little panicky.

And I prefer my zombies to be DEAD, not just "infected."

And slow...but I guess you could figure that from the above statement.

Now the directors of this film had other things in mind, namely money.

And their lack of it.

You see, movies cost a crap-load of money (an amount equal or greater than the tonnage of food horded by a constipated elephant) Directors without the clout of Spielberg or Cameron have to earn their keep making low-to-no-budget indies or horror movies.

This was an admirable attempt, and I liked a lot about it. The army men, for instance, provided a much needed twist. Granted, it all seemed to have colors of "Day of the Dead," but so did "The Last Kiss."

Now we have a sequel, one of the most dangerous moves in all of moviedom. Many mistakes were made before the credits finished rolling.

As this is a film I can still imagine recommending, I'm going to try and avoid too many spoilers, but be warned.

At the end of the first film, Jimmy, Selena and Hannah are in position to be rescued. The infected are starving off and all appears to end with an air of hope.

Now forget them. Those people are gone. In fact, all the emotion you invested in the first film is basically useless, as the beginning of the second is a sterile introduction to the facts of the timeline.

After, of course, the introduction of violence and gore. But that's the way good horror works.

I liked the introduction. Robert Carlyle ("The Full Monty") lives in a small cottage, riding out the infection with a group of friends. It all quickly comes crashing down, as the "infected" possess superhuman strength along with their commendable running talents.

The tension was well-played, and the acting was fine. I just...missed the old characters.

A standard trick with sequels is starting without your main characters. Think the beginning of "Terminator 2" or "Rush Hour 2". You get invested in the action, but you still wonder when the stars are gonna show up.

Without the stars, all you have is a sequel set in the same universe. It's like making "Lord of the Rings" but changing the Fellowship in each movie.

When "28 Weeks Later" begins, you already don't care about anyone in the film. If they die, fine. You've already lost three great friends, why waste time getting emotional again?

Next we have the setting of the film. America (being the big brother to England) arrives to save the day and rebuild the British country. They do this by hiring an inept one-star general and giving him an incompetent staff of officers. They throw in Delta Force (as portrayed by people who would never make it into Delta Force) to pull security.

When preparing to write this movie, the screenwriter wanted to learn about the American Army so he could create a realistic set of characters and events.

Unfortunately, after learning we had changed our uniforms, he forgot to ask any other questions and thus blew the chance at creating realistic characters, at least as far as this soldier is concerned.

The Delta operators are the most fun characters in the film, as they joke around and really act as though this were the worst possible situation to be in (both before and after the infection arrives). The lead operator (Jeremy Renner from "SWAT") leads with charisma that is restrained by common sense, almost like a real Special Forces soldier.

What doesn't make sense is the security set up by the inept one-star. This guy knows that the infection takes twenty seconds to spread to someone else, yet doesn't put security on any possible patient-zeroes.

When a woman appears who may or may not be infected, there isn't a SINGLE soldier waiting outside her door. It's just like they were asking to be infected.

I don't like the view that Hollywood has on the American military. In fact, most people who know someone in the Army, the Corps or any of the other branches don't like the way soldiers are oft portrayed in film.

This movie really annoyed me because of the gross mistakes the writer made with Army logic. I understand that most people haven't read the FM 121-88 (the Army Field Manual on a Zombie Invasion [sprinter variety]) but COME ON! Give us a little common sense here.

These "infected" can sprint like the Flash, jump like Superman and vomit like Ozzy Ozbourne.

Oh yeah, quick question to the writers. Why do they vomit? And why, if they vomit, does this not affect them?

I'm not dissing the idea. In fact, the bloody vomit was one of my favorite parts of the films. I mean, it's gross and awful and it makes you hate the fact that they exist, exactly the sentiment you need when zombies come to town.

This is not an awful film. It's not going to win any awards, but it can certainly entertain. But I met a woman who taught me a valuable lesson about fiction.

If you do something so unbeleivable that you lose the audience--even momentarily--you've lost them for good.

When you make Army officers as dumb as the ones in this film, I just lose interest. The characters were bland and not from the original film.

That said (and it was quite a bit) if you enjoyed the first film, I'm pretty sure you'll like this one.

This blog is my opinion on movies, and you may disagree.

You'll be wrong, but it's a free country, so go ahead and be happy.

I'll give this movie six gouged-out eyes out of ten.

Watch carefully.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Frightening Beauty: Children of Men

Possible spoilers ahead. You've been warned.

There is a feeling that comes with watching a great movie.

I liken it finishing a good book, or completing a challenging endeavor. There is a peace, and a sense of fulfillment that comes with the expected fatigue.

You take a moment to look around and really see the room you're in. You savor the feeling, because you don't know when it will come again.

I have just completed a great film.

This saddens me for two basic reasons.

The first is obvious. I have watched a movie that was made to near-perfection. It's flaws are negligable and don't detract from what could be the most important sci-fi movie of the decade. I won't see anything near this quality for a long time, unless "Transformers" carries with it more beauty than Michael Bay normally manages.

The second is that the title of my site is not "The Movie Review." Had that been the case, I could easily take my time digesting this film and producing a criticism of equal valor. But I have not yet made the leap to that cause.

Instead, I will take my right as blogger to give you my impressions of the film in a different color: that of film viewer, not reviewer.

First there is the simple matter of casting.

Clive Owen, a man whom I've come to respect in his craft, plays Theo. This man is down on his luck and living in a depressing state, regardless of the fact that humanity has become infertile and isn't long for this world. His wife/ex-wife is Julianne Moore, who asks him to take on a dangerous and illegal action for the simple reason that she trusts him.

Throw in Michael Kane, who's forgotten how to act in any way that won't win him an Oscar, as Jasper. This old political cartoonist lives with his catatonic wife in seclusion in the woods, smoking weed and waiting for the end.

In fact, the whole world is waiting for the end. Women no longer have children, and everyone understands the meaning of that simple fact. Streets are no longer cared for, garbage is no longer picked up, and no one washes their cars. It's a painfully realistic look at human depression.

Most people just quietly wait for death, or take government issued suicide drinks. Many have become criminals and terrorists, just because there is a sense of purpose in destruction and pain that makes them feel alive, if only briefly. A few turn to religion, but with anger, not hope. This is truly a world of sadness, as made very obvious by the somber color palette chosen by director Alfonso CuarĂ³n.

But something miraculous has happened. A young girl, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey in her first film) is pregnant. Rather than take her to the government, who might use the easy propaganda to continue their own rule, the terrorist group known as the Fishes (with Julianne as the leader) want to bring Kee to the Human Project, a group with the ultimate goal of saving humanity.

The side-plots notwithstanding, this is a quest movie to end-all quest movies. "Lord of the Rings" had a definitive good/bad ending, where either the ring ends up back on Sauron's finger or melted in the fires of Mount Doom.

Here it isn't nearly as simple. Even if Kee and her child make it to the Human Project, there is no guarantee that they can do much more than celebrate the birth of the last human again. It's that hope, the idea that something good can come of this miracle, that makes this movie so mezmerizing.

In terms of visual style, I was floored. This is the anti-Bladerunner, as the director puts it. The technology is slightly advanced, but dirty. Gray mud covers most cars, taking that possible "ooh that's pretty" moment away from this future. There are shiny things, but they are few and far between. For the most part, this movie is about reality, and the grim state of it.

In terms of realism (a term rarely applied to science-fiction) this movie is painfully realistic. Bullet kill you, and quickly. Like "Band of Brothers" or "Black Hawk Down", war and violence is presented as sudden and terrifying. People die with that snap that traumatizes you. When an uprising brings in the army against a group of fanatics, you feel like a bystander on the corner of a market in Baghdad.

The gritty and often bloody outcomes of these battles is shown in a documentary style, with long shots and very few cuts. Clive Owen runs past bodies and grieving family members. In the background of many scenes, a man might take a round and slump against a wall. The sound design is also as gruesome.

As someone who has, unfortunately, seen the bloody and awful side of war (as of yet only in video and in a hospital, b''H) I can say that the director and effects supervisor put together a very, very realistic portrayal of carnage and death. It's so much that I almost recommend watching this under supervisement. Some people can't handle reality.

But that's not what breaks you with this movie. In the few hours of film, you grow attached to the idea of babies being gone. You think about what it would mean not to ever hear a child laugh. Your heart aches with the idea of it, and then--poof. Well, a more liquid sound would be appropriate. The child is born, and it's as though hope floods the scene. No one is safe yet, and in fact most are in more danger, but that child is so perfect and fits the hole that life bleeds from.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (The Operative from "Serenity") plays the newly elected terrorist leader who wants Kee's child for his own purpose of starting an uprising. This man is one of the best actors I've seen in a long time. In his final scene, as he fires from a window at soldiers, he looks at Clive Owen, lost.

"I was taking her up the stairs and I just started crying. I forgot how beautiful they are." When people see the child, they just break down. They hear its cry and weep, so greatful to be near it. I honestly felt moved by the scenes where everyone stopped, just stopped dead in their tracks, and watched this miracle go past.

This was a great film, and visually stunning. I can't recommend it enough. I hope you've already seen it, otherwise I've revealed quite a bit, but that's what the warning up top is for.

Don't worry about being careful with this one.

Just watch.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

My Favorite Oriental Dish: Big Trouble in Little China

Kurt Russell is the man.

Seriously, his gritty and one-eyed persona Snake Plissken in "Escape from New York" created the blueprints for the videogame legend Solid Snake.

He rocked Antarctica in "The Thing" and even showed a little emotion in "Breakdown."

So when I was a lad (a measurement equal to ten or eleven years of age) I was enthralled with a movie that had no name.

I mean this literally. We had a VHS tape with no title that played an amazing film. I realize, looking back, that some bootlegging went on in my household (one of many reasons for the anonimity of this blog) but I won't spend this post revealing the nefarious criminal enterprise of my family.

The film in question was John Carpenter's sleeper/cult film "Big Trouble in Little China." If the length of the title throws you for a loop, just give it a minute. The film is full of 80's glory and macho attitude. Quite honestly, this is one of my favorite films.

It all starts with big-rig driver Jack Burton (Russell) coming into China Town, San Fransisco. He meets up with an old friend Wang (Dennis Dun from a few episodes of "JAG") and wins a bundle of cash. Wang can't front the bill, so Jack insists on taking him to wherever he keeps his cash.

But first, a trip to the airport.

Wang's girlfriend/fiance is arriving from China. Before he can sweep her up in a beautiful kodak way, three crazed Chinese gang members kidnap her and flee the scene. Jack and Wang give chase, only to end up in the middle of a huge brawl between rival Chinese gangs.

In the middle of a very finely choreographed ballet of death, three mystical figures appear from clouds of smoke. They are the "Three Storms," gods of Old China.

Why they've come to San Fransisco is another story.

Jack and Wang try to flee the scene, but another demon, Lo Pan, stops them in their tracks. They manage to escape, but lose the truck.

That's basically the crux of the story. First they steal a girl, then Jack's truck.

And you don't mess with Jack's truck.

Now plunged into a world of Chinese mysticism and magic, Jack has to lead a group of ridiculous Americans and a few capable Chinamen to take on a terrifying mob of demons and monsters.

Intrigued yet?

What makes this film stand out from among other 80's fantasy titles is the level of character development, namely zip.

Jack Burton doesn't need to change, from beginning to end. He is a BAMF and lives the lifestyle. At no point in the film does he act in any way distressed that his system of beliefs have gone out the window. Even when he's fighting an animated suit of armor, he soldiers on with American stubborness.

His cohorts in the movie act in the same manner. Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall from "Sex and the City") is kidnapped by a monster and has the same reaction as though an uncle were behaving crudely at dinner.

In fact, the only character who seems to realize the stakes is Lo Pan (James Hong from "Waynes World II"). His mortality is at stake, even if he is the villain of the movie. Egg Shen (Victor Wong from "3 Ninjas") also seems to realize the gravity of the whole affair, though he is more worried about his thriving tourist-trap business.

A lot of the film follows no real direction. Jack goes from place to place, trying to find Wang's girlfriend and never really questioning the tactics his friend's employ. Wang, for his part, is willing to beat the ever-loving hell out of men, women and animals to find his Miao Yin (You don't know her, just let it go).

Granted, none of this matters. The plot is solid enough to carry over until the action arrives, and Kurt Russell has the ability to make any action sequence a religious experience.

You honestly can't not like this movie.

It's cinematic gold. It's Carpenter's unicorn to the world. It's the best thing to come out of the 80's since Aha.

If I had to pick a seminal scene, one which really captures the feel of the flick, it's when Jack and a group of good ninja soldiers, led by Egg, traverse a deadly marsh underneath the city. When they round a corner, a crazy dragon worm thing jumps out and eats one of the disposables. Egg tosses something into the worm's hole and it explodes.

"It shall come out no more!" Egg shouts to absolutely no one.

"What?" Burton cries back. "What will come out no more?"

And no one answers. They just continue on, because no one really knew that guy's name, so no one has to mourn. In fact, no one liked that guy anyway. He wore his ninja costume wrong.

I can't say enough good about this film. And I don't have to. Just go watch it for yourself.

Thank me later.

I give this film ten floating heads-full-of-eyes out of ten.

Watch carefully.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Why Can't I Shoot Web From My Wrists: An Homage to the Spider-Man Trilogy

Ladies and gentleman, it's here.

Spider-Man 3 has arrived and the world may not be ready.

Or maybe Hollywood wasn't ready, but needed some money. Only time will tell.

Actually, time has already told us plenty. And the word isn't good.

Spider-Man 3 was the most disappointing thing to happen in theaters since they reenforced the bottom of popcorn boxes, ruining the lives of many perverted fifteen-year-olds.

(If you don't get that joke, have a smart friend draw you a diagram)

Before we begin, let me explain my love of your friendly neighborhood so and so.

I met Peter Parker in a simple comic in my brother's room one sad and rainy day, back when being a little brother meant keeping out of your sibling's rooms lest they beat the ever-loving piss out of you.

I read the detailed and beautifully drawn comic for hours (I was young, and words weren't my specialty in the brain section) before hearing those footfalls that stood as my cue to exit.

But I wasn't hooked yet.

A few years (and many solid whuppings) later, I was at my friend Tony's house when I saw an action figure. Now, comics only slightly interested me, but action figures? Those were my bread and butter.

And then came the video games.

And TV Series.

And cameos on lunchboxes.

After a few years of severe inundation, I couldn't say no to Spidy.

I read more comics, trying to discover how anyone touched by a spider could be popular. (I believe that spiders are in fact the creations of the Devil and will one day reveal their true purpose in trying to bring about a thousand years of evil domination on Earth)

Skip ahead a few years and you get senior year of high school, the most tumultuous time for any teenager. Girls have gone from scary to hot to scary again in the span of a few years, friends have come and gone with the frequency of an eighty-year-old man's twilight bathroom trips, and "Spider-Man: The Movie" entered theaters.

And it was awesome. Toby Maguire ("Cider House Rules") was not my first choice to play the destiny-fulfilling Peter Parker, but once I saw his performance as a whole I was quite impressed.

The effects took my pants, ripped them from my legs, wrapped around a length of pipe and beat my head in with awesomeness.

And Willem Dafoe as the villain? GENIUS!

I left the theater dancing, and for those of you who don't know me, dancing is not my specialty.

In fact, the last time I legitimately tried to dance, I nearly killed fourteen people and gave a young girl a seizure.

Skip ahead again and you reach the launch of "Spider-Man 2."

This time, the audience is geared up for the movie. "X-Men" and "X-Men II" already proved the validity of comic-book movies, and the first film rocked my face (as previously mentioned).

Alfred Molina (the bad politician from "Chocolate") starred as the nefarious Doctor Octopus, and by George he stole the damned show.

Again, the effects were out of this world. Again Toby showed off his acting prowress (though he sometimes makes this bird face which cracks me the hell up.)

My only doubts came at the end of the film, when Doc Ock dies in a heroic manner.

This was the beginning, and I should have seen it then.

The Batman series, arguably the best superhero series of all time (with some GLARING exceptions) suffered greatly when the creators chose death over imprisonment of famous villains.

The Joker (Jack Nicholson at his creepiest) stomped all over other bad guys, even the best of Bond, and scared the begeezus out of children. But then he died at the end of the film.

With "Batman Returns", Danny Devito stepped in as the Penguin (an uber creepy Penguin) but as he was only half a villain they had to bring in Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman (which could bring us to an amazingly awful Halle Berry film, but we'll skip that for now).

At least with "BR" they kept Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight. In "Batman Forever" Mike left and Val Kilmer (a fine actor who I shall not slander) came in to play. Val was a different style of Bruce Wayne, but his Caped Crusader stayed true to Keaton and the audience couldn't tell the difference.

However, the use of Jim Carrey as The Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face (which, by the way, is a REALLY CLEVER NAME--sorry, the writer in me weeps for the comic) brought the seriousness of the series down a peg or FIVE.

Also, given the fact that Val was a little distracting as a hero, they thew in Chris O'Donnel as Robin, and boy did his career soar after this.

Finally, we come to "Batman and Robin," decidedly the worst Batman movie to ever be made (yes, that includes the orignial "Batman: the TV Show: The Movie" with Adam West).

The quick rundown of bad decisions include:

- George Clooney as Batman
- Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl
- Governor Ahnuld as Mr. Freeze
- Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy
- A love triangle with B, R and PI
- Some of the worst dialogue since the silent film era.

The list goes on, but this diatribe isn't called "Why Batman Almost Died." Needless to say (needless because I just said it) I was very disappointed with the addition to the series.

Which brings me back to "Spider-Man 3."

Willem Dafoe bites it in the first movie, and Alfred Molina in the next. In the third, director Sam Raimi made a wee little mistake.

Three villains.

Yes, three: The Green Goblin (the Harry variant); the Sandman and Venom.

And none of them get nearly enough screentime. In nearly three hours of film, you find out so little about these characters as to render them pointless.

What you do find out about is how EMO they can make Toby Maguire look. And how he likes to dance in the street.

Sure the effects are great, sure they even managed to work in the Spidy-Gals, but WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?

Wait, I apologize. I can't really use that line. It belongs to the Angry Video Game Nerd, a man who needs no introduction.

Instead, I shall use this phrase: WHAT A TERRIBLE MOVIE!

I can't go into too much detail, as this has already gone on longer than intended, but look for a review to come soon.

In summary, why can't I shoot web from my wrists?

Watch Carefully.