Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ten Statements About....28 WEEKS LATER... (2007)

You hang your head, Imogen Poots!  YOU KILLED
"It all makes sense. They're executing code red. Step 1: Kill the infected. Step 2: Containment. If containment fails, then Step 3: Extermination."

1) You can see how badly this film gets it wrong in the opening sequence, where we see an Infected biting and, it is implied, eating a victim.  These Infected act like, well, conventional zombies, which implies that the four writers who wrote this sequel didn't understand the rules Alex Garland set out in the first film.

2) And another thing the script didn't understand about the first film was how the characters came first.  Instead of the small group of people we got in that film, we get a family of unlikable characters surrounded by a group of military ciphers.  We learn nothing about Jeremy Renner's Doyle and Rose Byrne's Scarlet and are expected to sympathize with them solely because they buck the system and decide to protect the kids we're expected to sympathize with solely because they're the main characters.

3) I guess an argument could be made that Robert Carlyle's Don is the most effective of a pretty sorry lot of characters, and he effectively pulls off his Janet Leigh-ing at midpoint...but it's hard for Carlyle to overcome the way Don was so badly written.  He's never quite able to add enough nuance to justify the fact that he was a cowardly dickhead who acts purely on selfish impulses.
Robert Carlyle tries to run away from his commitment to
star in this movie.

Plus he's there for far, far too long after the big change in his status quo solely so...well, we can get more sympathies for his children.

4) ...and don't get me wrong, Imogen Poots (still the most unfortunately named actress in the world) and Mackintosh Muggleton are downright awful as Tammy and Andy.  Andy is a rather one note character, and Tammy is petulant and unpleasant throughout.  And they end up making a decision--much like the decision Don makes when confronted with his wife--that's so stupid as to break the suspension of disbelief.

5) But then, that's the core problem with the script--it is moved solely by stupidity that's not profound, not illuminating, but just...stupid, starting with the way the writers have Tammy and Andy sneak out of an armed encampment by...ducking behind a wall on a bridge?  Hell, we have Doyle noticing their escape, reporting it to the main command center, only for the troops to do...nothing?...for as long as it takes for the kids to discover their mother.  The plot is built on stupid choices which are made solely to expedite the plot and are not supported by the logic of the film's set-up.
"I'm planning on taking up the does 'Hawkeye'
sound as a codename?

6) Why do you hire Indris Elba as Stone and then give him absolutely nothing to do except call 'Code Red' and order all the snipers to kill everyone and let God sort 'em out?  Is that how you waste an expectional actor like him?

7) I have nothing against characters being used as plot devices....except, you know, when the script doesn't bother to give Catherine MacCormick, well, anything remotely resembling a character other than 'concerned mother.'  Hell, once she re-enters the story, she's there solely to be washed up, have the big reveal about how her blood fights the infection, and get killed off.  We never even learn how she survived the Infected attack at the beginning of the film, or how she didn't starve to death; the implication is that she spent the intervening six months cowering behind that facacta couch.

8) Maybe it's the fact that they're using a different method to depict the Infected, or maybe it's because director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo saw The Bourne Identity and thought shaky-cam was a good idea, but the Infected attacks are not as scary as in the original.  They're messy, confusing and just not exciting in the least.

9) Given all the negativity I have for this stupid, stupid film, there is one moment that captures the feel of the original.  The sequence at the carousel manages to give the film its one breath in between the endless stretches of carnage, and manages to give us one of the best chills in the films as its punctuation.

10) Look, I know that the original script is contradictory about this fact--but it is mentioned by Selena in that film that there were reports of outbreaks in France.  So why is the revelation at the end (brought about, presumably, by the selfishness of Tammy) so shocking?

Overall...Almost everything the first film gets right, this film gets wrong, resulting in a film that does not innovate on the Zombie Film Formula, but slavishly imitates it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ten Statements About....28 DAYS LATER... (2002)

The people may not be dead..but they
might wish they were if they could.
"This is what I've seen in the four weeks since infection. People killing people. Which is much what I saw in the four weeks before infection, and the four weeks before that, and before that, and as far back as I care to remember. People killing people. Which to my mind, puts us in a state of normality right now."

1) I will always appreciate how Alex Garland's script, while never slavishly following the plots of George Romero's initial trilogy of living dead films, weaves enough elements from all three that you can see how each act represents a different Romero film.  That the story itself is unique is all the more cool.

2) The thing I love about Cillian Murphy--besides the fact that he's got those scary Meg Foster-y eyes--is how he's this slim, frail looking thing and Boyle slowly convinces us that yes, he can be an action hero even if he looks weaker and sicker than the infected that surround him.  It manages to keep Murphy's Jim sympathetic even as he's doing some horrible things to free his compatriots.

3) I think the reason why this film gets to me in its post-apocalyptic-ness where other, contemporary films with a similar set-up doesn't is the way Boyle consciously does not give us any sort of visual reference to England before the incident.  The eiree  shots of thoroughly empty highways and streets emphasize the fact that the world before the infection is over and isn't coming back.  That lack of a reference point to before the disaster only makes the reality of the disaster greater.

4) As I've said many times, the greatest villains are those that believe they are the hero, and this is certainly the case with Christopher Eccholson's Major West.  The moment where West tells Jim the real reason he set up the broadcast that brought them to the barracks is infused with such the motivation that he reveals for this deception is borne out of need and pain.  It makes this character who, up until then, we've looked upon with authority, somewhat vulnerable and transitions him into something darker and more sinister.
"I know I'm going to save the world in three years...but
I figured I'd destroy it first."

5) God bless Doyle and Garland for not forcing the attraction between Jim and Naomi Harris' Selena and letting it develop logically, organically and--more importantly--slowly.  This relationship builds only during unguarded or stressful moments, and I find Harris and Murphy never telegraph these developments.  When these moments of affection happen, they're impulsive, they're desperate and they feel natural.  But then, that's what I should expect...

6) ...because, much like the Romero films that Doyle gets his inspiration from, the humans are the ones who fuck it all up.  The Infected are a complication, but all the real effective acts of violence are committed by the characters we're supposed to identify with--Selena, who hacks up her traveling companion immediately upon showing signs of infection; Major West, who sends Jim to his death when he won't cooperate; the soldiers who seem to revel in destroying the Infected; and ultimately Jim, who releases the Infected soldier West keeps chained up and gruesomely kills one of the soldiers who is threatening Selena and Megan Burns' Hannah.  Unlike its sequel, the film never loses sight that what happens to the characters is more important than the world itself.

7) The effect used to realize The Infected--apparently using a slow motion feature on the Canon DX-1 video camera used to shoot the film--makes them unique and disturbing to look at, primarily because they seem perpetually out of sync with everything else around them.
What's worse than a rage-infected monstrosity
chasing you?  A rage-infected monstrosity on FIRE!

8) I like the fact that this film boils down to an argument about whether life is worth living or not over extreme circumstances...and not only does Garland set up Selena and Jim as opposite sides of this argument, he sets up supporting evidence with Major West and his men on one side and Frank and Hannah on the other.

9) And speaking of Frank and Hannah, I have to give so much credit to Brendan Gleeson.  While Megan Burns is iffy at best as Hannah, Gleeson's interaction with her actually informs and enhances her performance, elevating her in our eyes and making her credible even after he's received his pass out of the movie.  And his final scene, where he struggles to keep his humanity even as he knows he's lost it, is masterful.

10) Thank God that we do get these little grace notes of beauty and hope in the film, including the final moment that is so gorgeous in the message it delivers. excellent alternative to the standard zombie film that has become cliched and dull in the intervening years, a film that is about characters rather than special effects and features exceptional performances.

Pity the sequel sucked so badly.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ten Statements About....MACHETE KILLS (2013)

Yep...Amber Heard is riding Danny Trejo.  Which proves
no virtue goes unrewarded...
"Machete don't tweet."

1) Boy, Robert Rodriguez really, really wants to direct a Star Wars movie, doesn't he?

No, seriously--there is a point in this film where the Star Wars tropes so overwhelms it that it forgets what made the original film so enjoyable, namely that this was a gory late 70's action film with Danny Trejo stuck in the role usually reserved for some white pretty boy.  Sure, the intention this time seemed to be to pluck the old Mexican in the middle of a spy movie, but the sudden turn into science fiction doesn't work.

2) ...but then, Rodriguez seems so excited by all these new characters he wants to introduce that he seems to forget this is a film about, you know, Machete.  Not that I'm saying that El Chameleon and Voz and Miss San Antonio and Desdemona The Maneater and Mexican Dennis Miller aren't fun characters; I'm saying that Rodiguez spends so much time setting them up and letting them play around that Machete and the characters already set up in his world almost seem like an afterthought.

3) Is it just me, or did it seem like Rodriguez was setting up Charlie Sheen's President Rathcock as either an ally of Mel Gibson's Voz or the ultimate mastermind behind him?  That political campaign ad in the middle of the film seemed to do everything but scream out 'bad guy in disguise'.  I suppose I should be grateful that he doesn't pull the trigger on that, but if you're just going to make Rathcock into a foul mouthed straight shooter, why bother muddying the water?

4) See, Hollywood?  It is possible to make Michelle Rodriguez smile and have fun in spots while still keeping her bad ass credentials.  Hell, we get her doing the big patriotic speech to rally the troops and kick Amber Heard's ass while blind.  Let's keep that in mind for Fast Seven, 'kay?

5) Okay, I give Demain Bichir major props for being a theatrical star in Mexico City, and for appearing in a Santo movie.  But I can't buy him as Mendez because every time he slips into his psychotic personality he
"Of course I have a heart!  It's right
here in this jar!"
becomes Mexican Dennis Miller and I keep expecting him to make Cop Rock references.

6) I know there are some people who have rolled their eyes in disgust ever since the first photos of Sofia Vengara's Desdemona showed up online....but I don't have a problem with her.  It's obvious that Vengara is having fun with this character who's the opposite of the one she plays in Modern Family, and she fits within the world that was set up in the first film.

7) Whether you think Mel Gibson is a racist, misogynistic pig dog or not, he gives a really amazing performance as Voz--which is even more amazing considering what a strange and wrongheaded character Voz is.  Gibson takes this messed-up bundle of science fiction and spy movie cliches and actually put real thought into it.  This results in a character with a level of realization that maybe doesn't deserve it.

8) The political content of this film is not only weird, it's contradictory to the political content of the original film.  Starting with the scene where President Rathcock gives Machete 'what every Mexican wants'--namely, U.S. Citizenship--and continuing with Michelle Rodriguez giving the speech about it not being about Mexico anymore, the film seems unconcerned with the immigration agenda the original embraced.  And given that it slides into cheapjack sci-fi James Bond-isms, well....
"You make one more reference I don't understand,
Mexican Dennis Miller, and I will so cut you!"

9)  Another thing that's missing here from the film is those 'what the hell' moments that infused the original.  There are plenty of attempts to do so, especially when we get to Voz's compound and he shows off his science fiction toys, but they don't have the impact of, let's say, Machete using a man's intestines as a rope or Lindsey Lohan dressed as a nun mowing people down.  Maybe it's because the 'oh shit' moments in this film are both calculated and centered around hardware instead of behavior.

10) I think it's indicative of how bored I was with the later half of the film that when Antonio Banderas shows up driving an evangelical tractor trailer (just go with it), my main thought was how cool it would be if this film was a Machete/El Mariachi crossover rather than the mess I was actually watching.

Overall...A thorough mess on almost every level that manages to undermine the strength of the Machete franchise at every turn.

And incidentally--Fuck you, editor of the Machete Kills television spots for ruining several of the major plot twists with that MMA/Ready To Rumble style campaign.

I was one of three people who were in the theater at Atlas Park to see this crumbling of a franchise first hand.  I have to be honest--none of the trailers appealed to me.  Hell, the closest thing to a promo I liked was the little behind-the-scenes stunt segment with Johnny Knoxville for Bad Grampa.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ten Statements About....EVIL DEAD 2 a.k.a. EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN (1987)

Remember...he's not laughing at you....he's just laughing...
"In 1300 AD they called this man the uh, 'hero from the sky'. He was prophesied to have destroyed the evil."
"He didn't do a very good job...."

1) You know what's brilliant about this film, and something very few people mentions?  This is the first Sam Raimi superhero origin film.  Bruce Campbell's Ash experiences a trauma, rises above it, takes command of his destiny, gains what amounts to super-powers and ends up fulfilling a prophecy.  It even has a 'suiting up' scene to represent Ash's transition into herodom!  The only reason we probably don't realize it's a super-hero film is because it's surrounded by this wacky haunted house/demon horror film!

2) I know there are some people who deride Bruce Campbell as a terrible actor (Hi, Kevin!), but this film really needed his physicality.  There are moments of extreme physical comedy, especially involving That Hand, that I can't envision another actor selling effectively.

3) And speaking of That Hand...I like how this film is blocked out so well that we forget entirely about it not once, but twice, creating these genuine shocks for the audience.  But then...

4) ...we are talking about a film so fast paced that the audience barely has time to breathe, let alone think about any plot holes.  Raimi barrels through the plot so fast that we're swept up in the insanity.  This is one of the few films I can confidently call a thrill ride because it never bothers to give us much of a lull.

A severed possessed hand is giving you the finger.
Your arguments are no longer valid.
5) I get that we're not dealing with Grade A actors in this film.  That being said, I do think that Sarah Berry's Annie doesn't quite work.  Her introduction and expository scenes are amongst the very few things that slows down the film, and she never quite convinces me that she's some archaeologist type.  Truth be told, I'm pretty sure she's only there because a) She's a big screamer and b) she looks a little bit of alright in those knee-high socks.

6) Bless Sam Raimi for insisting on using so much stop-motion animation.  Sure, some of it is kinda hinky (although the worst example--Linda's 'dance'--make up for it in its inventiveness), but it gives the film a distinctive flavor all its own...and as a devotee of Ray Harryhausen, I ate up every second of it.

7) In this world where even the slightest movie plot is stretched out to two hours, I am so glad this film is roughly eighty minutes in length.  It makes the constant barrage of gags and grue last just long enough we don't tire of it.

"Gee, your hair smells...edible!"
8) Boy, given everything that Sam Raimi puts his best friend and his brother through...well, I guess there's a price for loyalty.

9) Supposedly, the whole reworking of Evil Dead 1 in this one's first five or so minutes came from Raimi literally being unable to get the rights to use any original footage.  But all told, I think it works pretty well because the retread takes such a short time, and because Raimi is able to bring to bear on that sequence everything he learned in the intervening years.  And while this reshooting thing doesn't work as well when Raimi does it again in Army Of Darkness (mainly because it's hard to get away from the fact that Linda is being played there by Bridget Fonda), this time it gives us a cue that the story we're about to see may have a different tone and feel to the previous one.

10) And it's that tone that may make it unique--in a way, this is the film that reflects Raimi's sensibilities the truest.  It's got comic-book-y elements, lots of slapstick and lots of outrageous shocks and gore.  Everything that Raimi does in the future can be seen in the entrails of this film.

Overall...a classic little film that shows a great filmmaker in his embryonic stages.  Essential viewing if you're interested in horror or indie filmmaking.