Archive for May, 2010

SIFF MOVIE: The Trotsky (2009)

May 28, 2010

This crazy-brilliant comedy had such a bizarre concept, I almost didn’t go see it.  What ended up convincing me it might be worth a gander was a review of the film after its run at the Tribeca Film Festival that said it was one of the best high school comedies since the days of John Hughes.  Okay.  Okay, maybe.  Okay, let’s give this one a shot.  WE’LL JUST SEE ABOUT THAT, MADAM.

The premise is pretty bananas:  It’s about a 17 year-old boy, Leon (Jay Baruchel), who is completely convinced he’s the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky.  And you know what?  I think I’m going to leave you with that as a summary.  I tried several times to figure out a way to describe the plot of this hilarious movie, but everything I came up with made it sound completely ridiculous (well, see, he tries to unionize his high school, and there’s this theme of boredom vs. apathy, and that scary guy from Storm of the Century is the principal, and there’s a clever homage to Battleship Potemkin, and Leon is just, like, completely adorable and so, so utterly sweet, especially when he meets his first wife, and, er, um, so. . . well, hell, see what I mean?).

The thing is, it IS totally ridiculous.  But it’s also smart as hell, absolutely charming from start to finish, and very thoughtfully filmed (I was mesmerized by the camera work, for example, which often featured close-ups of Leon’s face while he spoke, framed at awkward angles, all a little atilt — kind of like Leon himself).

The guy sitting behind me in the packed movie theater last night had the greatest laugh I have ever heard; lucky for me, this film gave him ample opportunity to use it.  The entire audience was roaring through the whole picture, myself included, and the energy that emitted was divinely restorative.  So far, of the three Seattle International Film Festival flicks I’ve seen, this is by far my favorite (sorry Tucker & Dale!).  Sharp, funny, clever, unique, CANADIAN!  And any doubts I might’ve had about Jay Baruchel’s ability to carry an entire film by himself vanished the moment Leon banned the student dressed like Ayn Rand from the “Social Justice” school dance.

I think I’m in love.

If you live in Seattle, you’ve still got two chances to catch this one at SIFF — May 29 at 11am at the Neptune, and May 31 at 5:30 in Everett.  For the rest of you, you can stream it on Amazon.com for $5.99 (for those with Roku players, that means you can stream it to your TV set).  It’ll be, guaranteed, among the best six dollars you’ve ever spent.  Highly, HIGHLY recommended!  See this movie!

[Prequeue at Netflix | Buy tickets for SIFF & View trailer | Stream on Amazon.com]

Genre: Comedy
Cast:  Jay Baruchel, Saul Rubinek, Colm Feore, Emily Hampshire, Genevieve Bujold, Jessica Pare

SIFF MOVIES: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2009) AND The Freebie (2009)

May 25, 2010

The Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) started last Thursday, and over the next three weeks, I’m going to be seeing several of its films.  Most of my selections so far have been from the horror or sci-fi sections,  but I threw in a few “serious” movies just to keep my brain balanced out.  Watch this space — I’m seeing about four or five more this week alone.

Oddly enough, the two movies I saw opening weekend could not have been more different in terms of plot, yet were nearly identical in theme.   I say “oddly enough” because one is a horror comedy and the other is a mumblecore drama about a marriage that takes a bad turn.  Both movies, though, can be boiled down to one simple description:  terrible things can happen when people fail to communicate.

Let’s start with the fun one, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.  This funny, gory, delightful movie is about two hillbillies, Tucker (Alan Tudyk, better known to us geeks as Wash) and Dale (Tyler Labine, better known to us geeks as Sock), who recently bought themselves a “fixer-upper” summer cabin in the woods of West Virginia.  They’re on their way to their first weekend getaway when they encounter a van full of college fraternity/sorority kids heading to roughly the same area for a camping trip.  The college ladies aren’t too impressed by our heroes (in part because of a hilarious introduction involving Dale and a scythe), and the college guys are downright hostile.  But the two groups soon go their separate ways, and a great weekend appears to be on deck.

Late that first night, the kids decide to go skinny dipping while Tucker and Dale are out on the lake fishing.  When one of the girls, Allison, falls into the lake and nearly drowns, Tucker and Dale save her, pulling her into their boat while her friends look on from the distance.  When Dale yells out, “We’ve got your friend!” they immediately assume the worst and form a posse to try to rescue Allison from the crazy inbred hicks in the woods.  As the miscommunications pile up, the kids keep accidentally getting themselves killed, while all the while, Tucker and Dale are caring for Allison and trying to reunite her with her buddies.

This movie is riotously funny at times — every hillbilly horror movie cliché you can think of is whipped back around in a perfectly curved satirical arc, and the filmmakers didn’t miss a single beat.  For example:  there’s a great scene in which Tucker is out chainsawing some wood when he accidentally cuts into a bee hive.  He begins running, flailing the chainsaw around madly at the bees swarming around him, while the kids look on in horror from the woods, thinking he’s a crazed serial killer straight out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  One kid, in his rush to flee to safety, ends up impaling himself on a broken tree branch, and the bodies keep piling up from there.

Terrified by all the deaths he keeps witnessing, Tucker returns to Dale and, confused as hell, tells Dale the kids have clearly come out to the woods with some kind of suicide pact in place.  Meanwhile, the kids can only see Deliverance, one of them finally completely losing his marbles and going authentically berserk by the end (he becomes the literal “Evil” in the title, but, really, the true evil is assumption — clever job, filmmakers.  I was impressed).

The Freebie, on the other hand, tells the story of miscommunication in a marriage.  It’s about a young couple, Annie (Katie Aselton, who also directs) and Darren (Dax Shepard, playing essentially the same charming character he plays on Parenthood, hurrah), who are happily married but whose sex life has begun to wane.  I found this movie painful to watch, because their communication problems seemed so, so horribly obvious to me (lots of, “Well, do YOU want to?”  “I don’t know — do you?”:  repeat ad nauseum) and the solution to their sex life problem could’ve been as easy as simply sitting down and having a direct conversation with each other about what they were feeling and thinking.  Instead, they decide what they need to do is have a “freebie” night — a night where they go their separate ways, have sex with someone else, and then come back together reinvigorated with passion for each other.

The audience literally groaned in unison when this idea was suggested.  Because, like, STUPIDEST IDEA EVER, you guys.  Jesus.  And not because I necessarily think having sex with someone other than your spouse is a stupid idea — it depends.  But you could tell neither Annie nor Darren was fully on board with the plan — it’s just that neither one wanted to be the one to back out.

Even worse, after the freebie night is over, neither wants to be the first to admit they had sex (or admit they didn’t), and so the communication problem that got them into this mess in the first place continues to spiral out of control, leading to absolute misery and a complete crushing of all trust in their relationship.

Both movies made me go ARGH! about a thousand times in my head, but The Freebie got the most arghs from me total.  Open, direct communication is kind of my thing, see?  The minute you give up on talking, everything — EVERYTHING — will crumble at your feet, in the most painful ways imaginable.  I’ve seen it happen.  There is nothing more frustrating and more avoidable.

Luckily, while both movies are about a serious concept, they also both have excellent comedic timing (I’m so in love with Dax Shepard these days, I can hardly stand it, and that affection was doubled during The Freebie).  Additionally, The Freebie has an interesting story structure, one that confused me initially but became a very powerful construct as the film progressed (it’s told out of order, with chunks of before and after mixed together).  Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, on the other hand, had me laughing so hard and so often my stomach started to hurt, and by the end of the movie, everyone in the audience was madly in love with both those adorable li’l hillbillies.  We were calling out, “awwww!” just as often as “ewwww!” and the entire audience clearly enjoyed the hell out of the entire thing.  (This was less true for The Freebie, I’m afraid — listening to people talk as they left the theater, I got the impression many found it too slow and too long.  Such is the nature of film, I suppose — not for everyone.)

All in all, two terrific films and a superb first weekend at SIFF!  And to all of you readers out there:  TALK TO EACH OTHER.  Otherwise, you may one day find yourself head-first in a woodchipper.  And/or divorced.  (Same thing?)

TUCKER & DALE vs. EVIL:

[Prequeue it at Netflix | View trailer | Official Site (to watch for screenings/release dates)]

Genre:  Horror, Comedy
Cast:  Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Chelan Simmons

THE FREEBIE:

[Prequeue it at Netflix]

Genre:   Drama
Cast:  Katie Aselton, Dax Shepard, Joshua Leonard, Bellamy Young

BOOK: Touched by an Alien by Gini Koch (2010)

May 22, 2010

After I recently read and happily snarked my way through the supremely cheesy sci-fi romance, Steamed (Katie McAlister), my friend Steve the Bookseller has had his eye out for more garbage with which to entertain me.  When a proof copy of this one turned up at his shop the other day, he grabbed it for me.   And how could he resist?  I mean, the title alone screams “DELICIOUS CRAPPY GOODNESS,” doesn’t it?   Touched by an Alien?  That has GOT to be terrible.  Delightfully terrible.  Among the most delightfully terrible crap of all time.

Imagine my surprise and disappointment, then, when I cracked it open, got about a hundred pages in, and realized, hey, this book doesn’t suck.  Not at all, in fact!  What a rip!

Now, don’t get too excited, people.  When I say it doesn’t suck, that is not the same thing as saying it is brilliantly written or anything ridiculous like that.  It is, after all, titled TOUCHED BY AN ALIEN.  It needs some work.  It’s got a lot of cheese.  It’s topped with a fair helping of dork.  It features a few plot elements a little too obviously inspired by a decade or two spent in front of the SyFy channel.   But overall, this novel is surprisingly good.  It’s funny, well thought-out, and features a main character I actually, god help me, both liked a lot and could sort of relate to.

It’s about a young woman, Kitty Katt (unfortunate name, but does it help that “Kitty” is a nickname?  Does it help that it used to be MY nickname?), who is on her way to work one day when suddenly, a man yelling at his wife in the street starts to pulse, grow, sprout wings, and then shoot dozens of knives out of vents in his skin, killing everybody in the immediate vicinity.   Though stunned at first, Katt thinks quickly on her feet, and before the bad dude’s had time to finish racking up the carnage, she pulls out the only weapon she has (a Mont Blanc pen), races up to him, and stabs him in this weird jellyfish-looking area on the back of his neck.

Hey, it looked vulnerable, she later says.  And it was:  he immediately transforms back into a human and dies right in front of her.

The next thing she knows, a bunch of men dressed in black suits come out of nowhere and scoop her up, rushing her back to their car.  Thankfully, she makes the Men in Black joke before we can, and, as it turns out, none of us are too far off.  As is soon revealed, these are alien guys (you can tell because they all look like supermodels) and they’ve been sent to our planet to try to keep evil “superbeings” (humans infected with an intelligent alien parasite, like the guy on the street) from wiping out our planet.  But they need more help and they think Katt has what it takes to join their organization.

As the story progresses, the silliness does indeed start to pile up.  But the thing is, it’s all really entertaining silliness.  There wasn’t a single moment in this book when I was so annoyed with something I was tempted to give up.  And while the writing is pretty weak (it reads like a first draft in need of major polishing up), you can tell Koch has given the plot serious thought.  Her explanations for things don’t always make sense, but at least she tries to explain those things (I hate it when sci-fi authors come up with crafty plans that involve alien technology and don’t bother attempting to explain how that alien technology works — I’ll take a bad explanation over no explanation any time.  Just give me something!).  And, what’s more, she’s authentically funny at times and her characters are both endearing and engaging.

Highly recommended to anybody who likes a good silly rom-sci-com!  I would totally watch this if they turned it into a SyFy movie.  <– True stamp of approval.

[SCIENCE FICTION, ROMANCE, COMEDY]

[Buy from an Indie Bookstore | Buy from Amazon | Browse more book reviews | Search book reviews]

MOVIE: Daybreakers (2009)

May 19, 2010

This movie surprised me by not being nearly as terrible as I was expecting it to be.  I love it when that happens!  Also: Ex-Boyfriend-of-the-Weekapalooza :  bonus!

The story begins ten years in the future, when most of the humans on the planet have been infected with some sort of plague, turning them into vampires.  The few humans that remain are being hunted for food (their blood), as more and more people are converted, tipping the population too far in the vampiric direction.

As supply-and-demand problems heat up, a pharmaceutical company (Bromsley Marks) decides it’s high time they cash in.  Company researcher-slash-vampire Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) has been tasked with the job of developing a synthetic blood substitute, one he hopes will end the genocide of humans and make it possible for the two races to coexist peacefully.  But the pharmaceutical company’s CEO, Charles Bromsley (Sam Neill, NOT sucking in this, for once of late) has a different agenda — he wants to get vampires hooked on his stuff so he can make a fortune.

Meanwhile, the company has hired a bunch of bounty hunters and sent them out in search of humans they can bring back to HQ, where they’ll be sedated, hooked up to machines, and then “farmed” for blood.  But the blood shortage quickly hits critical mass; vampires are starting to starve and, when deprived of blood for long enough, begin to suffer brain damage that makes them devolve rapidly into crazy monsters.

This fractures the vampire race, causing the creation of an army of sorts, tasked with keeping the derelicts down.  But Dalton, horrified by what he’s seeing around him (especially the farming of humans for food), teams up with a small band of humans who have stumbled across a “cure” for vampirism.  Determined to right the vamp world’s wrongs, Dalton begins helping the group’s leader, “Elvis” (Willem Dafoe), figure out a safe way to administer the cure (which involves using sunlight to set a vampire temporarily on fire) hoping it will ultimately reset the balance of humans and blood-suckers on Earth.

I really liked the overall concept of this film — it’s one of the few monster movies I’ve seen where the monsters are the majority, first of all, and while I found it a little bit heavy-handed about its various messages (evils of corporate greed, dwindling natural resources, animal rights, the perils of eating processed foods instead of organics, etc.), I was definitely 100% along for the ride.

The problem hits about twenty minutes from the end, though, when the movie suddenly shifts into standard action/horror mode.  Instead of carrying the whole “cure” thing through to an interesting finale, it pretty much just drops all the science balderdash and replaces it with a gory series of shoot-outs and exploding bodies.  I thought it was headed in one direction (Edward stumbles upon another “cure” for vampirism that looks like it would work much better and be sort of self-perpetuating as well), but instead of really pursuing that “twist,” it seemed to me like the writers got bored with their own ideas and decided to throw in the towel and start blowing shit up instead.

ALSO, and this has nothing to do with the film itself, but is more a general beef about DVDs:  this DVD has a really, really annoying root menu that asks the user to select whether they are “human” or “vampire” before opening up the playback options.  Not having seen the film, I didn’t really get the joke, and I was confused — often a DVD that starts with two options like that is asking me if I want the widescreen vs. standard display, or the theatrical version vs. the director’s cut.  I had no idea what I was being asked to select here.   And so, Dear DVD Production Companies:  Please do not confuse me with meaningless options on your DVD menu.  It’s not cute.  It doesn’t amuse me.  I don’t want to have to sit through animation or gimmicks — I just want to start the damn film.   God.

Minor complaints aside, however, I really enjoyed this one.  Overall, a good experience and definitely a flick I would recommend to anybody who likes a goodish-badish monster movie.

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Science Fiction, Horror, Vampires
Cast:  Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Claudia Karvan, Sam Neill, Mungo McKay

MOVIE: Dark Reel (2007)

May 18, 2010

I picked this one up the other day at my local video store after reading a review on the back of the box (I forget from where) that said this was the reviewer’s favorite horror movie of 2007.  I know, I know!  You should never trust reviews on books OR boxes.   But I figured if it was someone who liked bad horror movies and he liked this one the best out of all the bad horror movies he’d seen in 2007, it couldn’t be that terrible.  Or, if it was, it might at least be fun-terrible, right?

WRONG.

This movie actually starts out sort of good (relatively speaking), with a black-and-white scene set in the 1950’s that featured a dude picking up a gorgeous blonde at a bar, tantalizing her with an offer to shoot her in a screen test for his production company.  Because she’s dumb as a sack of Palins, she’s all, “That sounds great!” even though his “production company” is in an abandoned warehouse and he wants to shoot her “screen test” at 2 o’clock in the morning.  Hello, red flag!  Good gracious, lady, did your mother teach you nothing?

In any case, naturally, he turns out to be a serial killer and while she scream-queens it up, he hacks her into little pieces with a machete or somesuch, letting the blood from her dismembered limb shoot out in spurts all over her face.  Now wait, I know — that sounds totally gross.  But it’s not!    The violence in this scene was classic camp; what it made me think of were old horror movies I’d seen as a kid, before people had a general understanding of arterial blood spatter from watching too many episodes of CSI.   Seemed sort of promising, really.  If this was going to be a campy spoof of old slasher movies, I could be in for a pretty good time.

After the opening credits roll, we rejoin the story 53 years later with a down-and-out guy (Edward Furlong) who recently moved to LA with his girlfriend only to be immediately dumped for someone cooler and more likely to make it big.  Despairing, he spies a flyer taped to his pizza box  advertising a walk-on role in a new horror movie to the person who writes the best essay about why the horror genre rules.  He promptly fills it out, and the next thing he knows, he’s gotten the call of victory.

His movie ends up being a hokey pirate adventure thing made by the same company whose previous picture, Gnome Killer, he’d just been watching a few nights before (Gnome Killer was hilarious, by the way — we get to see a few scenes of it ourselves and it had me laughing out loud, which again gave me some hope for this film.  “Oh gnoooooome!” one of the characters cries out in terror — for that line alone, I’d slap down four bucks for a rental).  Most of the cast treats him like the peon contest winner he is, but the movie’s buxom saucy wench, Cassie Blue (she of Gnome Killer fame!) takes a shine to him.  She’s way, way out of his league, but lucky for Edward Furlong, she appears to find washed up T2 stars who look like they’re coming down from a six-week methamphetamine binge totally sexy.  Go figure.

Of course, this is a horror movie, so before the pirate director can rack up many completed reels, bodies start piling up under the mainsail and reports of a ghost of a mysterious blonde woman begin to roll in.

From there, you can pretty much write the rest of it yourself, no doubt, and you’ll probably do a much, much better job of it than these guys did.  Here’ s a hint: someone on the set is the original killer of the original blonde and someone else is her son, there to get revenge.   Blah blah headless corpses blah blah chop chop blah blah scream scream blah blah blah.

The primary problem I had with this movie is that while it had a couple of decent-enough moments of intentional camp and humor, it didn’t take that campy humor far enough.  It’s not successful as a comedy, and it’s absolutely ridiculous as a horror movie.  Instead, it got stuck somewhere in between, which is a bad, bad place to be.  I think it was also trying to parody the crazy world of film making (check out the sound guy, for example, who whoops with batty joy every time he successfully shoots a scene with “no reverb!”), but it got too hung up on also trying to be “scary” and didn’t go over the top enough with its over-the-top-ness.

It’s also at least 30 minutes too long, jam-packed with some of the most tedious filler in the history of tedious filler.   It took forever to get going, and once finally rolling, took forever to end (felt like!).  The only thing about this horror movie I found even remotely horrifying was when, in an online interview, director Josh Eisenstadt said he had been forced to cut dozens of scenes from the film and wished he could’ve kept them all in.  Truly the stuff of nightmares, sir.

Furlong has to be one of the most consistently boring actors I have ever encountered, by the way, and as he gets older and is relegated to more and more crap like this, you can see his career’s failings taking a huge toll on his appearance and drive.  He was sleepwalking through this entire picture, only energized when he finally got to make out with Tiffany Shepis, that poor dear.  Time for him to retire and find something else to do with himself, because acting is simply not gonna be it.

And Henriksen, argh.  I love him, and I still love him, and I will always love him.  But, well, let’s just say he ought to do us all a favor and stick to movies about Sasquatches and Yetis (or Sasquatch-Yetis, for that matter, like in Abominable).

Major, major stinker.  Don’t read the box, whatever you do:   TRAP!

[Netflix it | Buy it if you have $20 to set on fire and are too dumb to listen to what I just told you, GOD SERIOUSLY]

Genre:  Horror, Crap
Cast:  Lance Henriksen, Edward Fulong, Tiffany Shepis, Rena Riffel, Tony Todd

MOVIE: Rachel Getting Married (2008)

May 14, 2010

In my recent review of the new George Romero zombie movie, Survival of the Dead, I mentioned how tired I was getting of the whole “faux documentary” technique being (egregiously) employed to often these days in film.

The very next day, I finally got around to seeing this movie, which has been recommended to me often over the last year, and totally ate my words.

This wonderful film is shot kind of like a homemade wedding movie, but centers on the bride’s sister Kym (Anne Hathaway) more than the happy couple.  As the story opens, Kym has just gotten out of rehab for the umpteenth time (spurred originally to get help by a horrific accident in her youth that resulted in the death of her baby brother).  This round, though, she’s taken it far more seriously, spending several months in a center instead of the standard “28 days.”

But her reintegration into her family is a rocky one, not only for the usual reasons, but because she comes home only a few days before her sister Rachel is getting married.  The house is in chaos, everyone overwhelmed and stressed, emotions naturally high (or perhaps unnaturally high — weddings are nuts).

This film does an incredible job of really showing us what it’s like for someone newly out of rehab — the constant struggle, less “one day at a time” than one minute, the constant temptations, the guilt, the isolation, the hope.  It takes us intimately inside the world of 12-step meetings, smothering parental concern, and the complexities of familial love vs. resentment — more powerfully and more honestly than I’ve ever seen in a fictitious film about drug addiction.

The acting is fantastic (especially Hathaway and Bill Irwin, though I may have been slightly biased in his favor, so in love was I years ago with his character, “The Flying Man,” on Northern Exposure) and the documentary/wedding home movie feel was perfectly executed.  There’s no manipulation of the audience’s feelings, no zealous message about the dangers of drug abuse.  Just a purely, intensely emotional portrait of a family that felt as authentic as my own.

Highly, highly recommended!

[Netflix it (incl. Watch Now) | Buy it]

Genre:  Drama
Cast:  Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Debra Winger, Mather Zickel, Bill Irwin

BOOK: 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (2007)

May 13, 2010

A few years ago, I read Joe Hill’s first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, and wasn’t terribly impressed (it’s in the list of book reviews from April 2007, if you’re interested (scroll down), and I filed it under “Utter Crap”).    But a month or so ago, my husband picked up this book of short stories and got really engrossed in it, so when he was done, I picked it up myself and have been working my way through it over the last couple of weeks.

Some of the stories in this collection are as bad as the novel was — I go back again to the words “clichéd, boring, and trite.”  But there were a few that were absolutely wonderful, including one, “Pop Art,” that I’ve now read twice and loved even more the second time around.

“Pop Art” is about a little boy who befriends another little boy who just so happens to be a living, feeling blow-up doll named Art.  The two become best buds and the story deals a lot with Art’s feelings of fragility and “otherness,” as well as his poignant courage and strength.  It’s a simple, cleanly-written coming-of-age story with a bizarre and fascinating twist, and the ending actually made me tear up both times.  That’s saying a LOT, believe you me, because I don’t often cry at books.

A few of the other stories in 20th Century Ghosts were just as strange and just as mesmerizing, and, overall, the collection impressed me enough to reverse my position on Hill (who’s Stephen King’s son, by the way) as an author and start looking forward to reading whatever it is he puts out next.

The thing I noticed the most as I read this collection, though, which is technically described as a book of horror stories, is that it’s when Hill is NOT writing horror that he starts to shine.  The first story in the book is the only truly “horrifying” of the scary ones, and that’s only because it’s truly, authentically disturbing.  But even it has an ending that struck me as a bit on the silly side, and that’s the direction Hill always seems to head whenever he’s trying to put on a fright.  (Something he learned from his father, I would say — I’m not much of a King fan, especially over the last decade or so.)

Here’s hoping Hill breaks from the family tradition for his next novel or collection and sticks to what he seems to do best:  peeking deep inside his characters and finding out what motivates and moves them, and staying far, far away from monsters, ghosts, and serial killers.  You’ve got nothing new to add in that category, Joe, I’m sorry to say.  But when it comes to making me feel things, you got me sitting up every now and then.  Run with that.  Trust me on this.

[SHORT STORIES / FICTION / HORROR]

[Buy from an Indie Bookstore | Buy from Amazon | Browse more book reviews | Search book reviews]

MOVIE: The Descent: Part 2 (2009)

May 13, 2010

I had some complaints about Neil Marshall’s 2005 film The Descent, mostly about the cave creatures themselves, which made little scientific sense to me (for example, we’re supposed to believe they’ve evolved out of using their sense of sight because they live in caves with no light and therefore have no use for it.  But this makes no sense because they also hunt above ground — and frequently, if the sequel is to be believed.  But in any case, even if they did evolve out of using their eyes, why did they also evolve out of using their noses?  Because they clearly also have no sense of smell, not even a regular sense of smell, and that makes no sense whatsoever).

BUT WHATEVER.  Despite those complaints, after watching it a few more times in the past few years, I’ve grown to appreciate many things about the original.  It’s extremely entertaining, for sure, but it also has very solid characters, fully-drawn with complex, intriguing relationships.  It’s not just about cave monsters and blood and guts — it’s about the six women friends themselves and the way they work and don’t work together, the way their various personal problems get  in their way, and their resiliency and reactions under stress.  Good writing in this film, is what I’m saying.  Also, it has some truly suspenseful/scary moments, which is a rare thing in a modern horror flick, at least for me.

So, appreciating the original as I finally do, it was with some trepidation that I sat down a couple of nights ago to watch the sequel, which I’d been hearing about for a few years and was surprised to find had gone straight to DVD (never a good sign!).  But, wonder of wonders, I actually enjoyed it!  It pales in comparison to the original, in part because it suffers from the usual problems with horror sequels (excessive focus on gore instead of characters/plot, e.g.), not to mention a ridiculous number of story elements that make no sense whatsoever.  Nevertheless, it’s still pretty fun to watch, which both surprised and pleased me greatly.

It starts off roughly where the original left off — with the character Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) finally escaping the caves and getting back to civilization.  Covered in blood, she’s rescued and taken to a local hospital, where the cops begin to question her and discover she’s lost all memory of the previous few days and has no idea where her friends are.

The search and rescue team that has been exploring the cave system in the meantime has had zero luck in finding any trace of Sarah’s pals, and they know the longer they go, the less likely they are to find anyone alive.  So the cops decide the only solution is to send Sarah back into the caves herself. . . because what could possibly help more than sending a severely traumatized woman with ZERO memory of her ordeal back into the very place that severely traumatized her to begin with, right?

Er, wait. . .  Yeah, that makes no sense.  But never you mind, people.  Never you mind.

In any case, the search and rescue team (trained cavers) and two cops (total caving rookies — it made no sense to send them in either, if you ask me) go back down into the caves with Sarah, where, naturally,  they are viciously attacked and killed one by one by sightless, smell-less ex-people-thingies.  Lots of blood and gore this time — way, way more over the top than in the original — but most of the obnoxious characters are put out of their (our) misery right off the bat, and soon we’re left with just Sarah, the female cop (who I really liked and was rooting for all the way), and, well, I won’t tell you who else.

SURPRISE!

The last scene has a “twist” I saw coming from the very beginning of the film, and anybody who has watched a lot of Scooby Doo episodes will probably see it coming too.  But overall, this is a pretty entertaining sequel and I had a good time watching it.

If you liked the original, I think this one is going to be worth a rental for you.   You’ll be disappointed, for sure, but I think you’ll still come away glad you saw it, and it’ll likely give you new appreciation for its predecessor.  I’ve certainly seen dumber movies set in caves (The Cave, for example, which, despite its serious lamenesses, I still greatly enjoyed — in no small part because Dimples is in it, humina humina).  Give it a shot and let me know what you think.

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Horror
Cast:  Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Krysten Cummings, Gavin O’Herlihy

MOVIE: Survival of the Dead (2010)

May 12, 2010

Okay, someone needs to say it and that someone might as well be me.

Dear George Romero: I think it’s time to hang it up. Please. Before you embarrass yourself any further. Your Loving Fan (I mean that, I really do), Meg.

This movie, the latest Romero zombie flick to hit the big-screen (coming soon to theaters near you, but available for pre-theatrical streaming at Amazon.com) is absolutely laughable. And though I tried to make myself believe it was doing it on purpose, I KNOW IT WAS NOT. It was not. Don’t try to tell me it was now, either, because you are too late, sirs and madams.

The special effects are terrible — not in a good way, mind you — the story is ridiculous, the acting is completely hammy, and the attempt at social commentary (always a Romero zombie movie element) fails miserably.

To be honest, I loved 2004’s Dawn of the Dead, finding it both entertaining and emotionally satisfying (don’t laugh). I also really enjoyed 2005’s Land of the Dead, which, though not as engaging as Dawn for me, at least had an interesting idea at its root (what if zombies can think? And UNIONIZE? BAM!)

Diary of the Dead (2007), by comparison, took me by surprise, in part because it suddenly dropped Romero back out of the world of big Hollywood budgets and “real” actors into the land of lo-fi, badly-acted B-movies. I figured it was possible that had been done on purpose — it had an endearing quality, a back-to-your-roots sort of thing. But ultimately, I felt it lacked originality (oh, tired, tired faux-documentary format) and felt sort of half-assed. This one, which ties in slightly with Diary, is a further drop in quality all around.

It starts with a group of soldiers (and here’s the tie to Diary — remember when the van of kids shooting the documentary got harassed by a bunch of renegade soldiers? This is those guys) who have split off from their platoon and gone rogue, primarily to save themselves from the hoards of “deadheads” (zombies) swarming around them.  Without going into much detail, they end up teaming up with an old Irish guy, O’Flynn, who takes them to a small island off the coast of Delaware (Plum Island), where the soldiers soon find themselves swept up in a (seriously clichéd) long-standing Irish family feud.

The reason for the most recent round of feuding was that O’Flynn wanted to kill all the zombies on the island and Muldoon wanted to keep them alive until a cure was found. Because they were family, you see. It’s kind of an optimism vs. pessimism thing, and I think we were supposed to have a debate here, along with the characters, over which philosophy was the most noble: sacrificing the zombies to protect the living, or protecting the (un)dead to see if they can’t somehow be saved.

Except the problem is Muldoon is no more a Mister Glass-Half-Full than O’Flynn is, and he starts shooting zombies for the hell of it himself at one point.  (Running Romero theme: People who are afraid often turn into completely animals.)   Plus, there’s this whole subplot with O’Flynn’s twin daughters, one of whom is a zombie who appears to be able to think for herself somewhat. Muldoon’s plan evolves into trying to teach her how to eat something OTHER than humans, in the hopes that if the zombies can’t be saved, perhaps they could at least be trained to like bacon instead of brains and thus be reintegrated into society. Slight twinge of Land of the Dead there, but it’s not pursued at all. And besides, it’s stupid.

This movie is essentially a big offensive piece of crap (I say “offensive” for a variety of reasons, but let me cite one specific example of a cringy moment for you: the only female soldier in the group of Army rogues is introduced to us as she sits in the group’s jeep on patrol, masturbating right in front of her colleagues. Then it turns out she is, of course, a lesbian. Because military women are all lesbians, first of all, and lesbians are also, as we all know, completely sex-crazed. Oh, shut the hell up, George. You’re a moron).

There isn’t a single element of this film that justifies its having been made. Someone spent money on this! And then *I* spent money on this! We’re all idiots, is what I’m saying. Don’t be like us.  USE your brains, don’t eat them.

[Prequeue it at Netflix | Rent/Stream via Amazon.com | View trailer]

Genre: Zombies, Horror
Cast: Alan Van Strang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe, Athena Karkanis

New Boyfriend Is Up!

May 9, 2010

This one is a Mother’s Day gift to my mom, my number one fan.

(It also served as a reminder that I need to add the word “humina” to my spellcheck dictionary.)

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mommas out there!  And to all you non-mommas  too, who do your mothering in a different way (aunts, friends, pet owners, caretakers and builders of all kinds).

http://megwood.com

Love,
Meg