Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Zombie Awareness Month Zombiethon 5: Severed: Forest of the Dead

This awesome severed zombie head
is nowhere in the movie. Or else it was
merely covered by a steaming pile
of suck.
Severed: Forest of the Dead (abridged) (Warning, spoilers. Or something.)

Fade up:
EXT. The Woods

HIPPIES: Hey, we believe in saving trees! We'll even sabotage the operation in a way that could possible maim or kill one of these evil Lumberjacks!  Because who cares about Lumberjacks! And let's chain ourselves to trees, too!  Yeah!!!

LUMBERJACKS: Move outta the way, you stupid people who are in our waaaaAAAARRRRGH! Curse you hippies and your tree sabotage! My chainsaw just bounced off the spike in this tree and made a lot of blood with no discernible wound!

INT. Cold, Corporate Office of Evil Lumber Corp. Ltd.

SUITS: Blah blah blah, bottom line! Because using the phrase, "Bottom Line," will key the audience into our Corporate Greed! Money is awesome! Greed!

WRITERS: Eat that, Romero! We've got trees in our social commentary! TREES!

Back to:
EXT. The Woods

TREE: You gave us a growth hormone and then chopped us down. We're going to seep hormone into that dude who cut his shoulder with the chainsaw and turn him into a zombie!!

AUDIENCE: Wait, what?

WRITERS: Shhhh. Suspension of disbelief!

AUDIENCE: I don't think it works that way, dude.

DIRECTOR: Look! A pretty hippie girl!


Cut to:
INT. Office

SUITS: We haven't heard from the lumber camp? I wonder if they're okay? Who cares! Why have our meat puppets stopped working?! Also, Greed!

CEO: Go out there, Son. I trust you.

SON: No.


SON: Whatever.

Cut to:
EXT. Woods

SON: I want to be an artist, or a sociologist or something, but am weak-willed and simply doing what my Dad wants me to do by seeing what's wrong in the woods.

LUMBERJACKS: Oh, look. The boss sent his son. He totally cares and whatnot.

SON: Yeah, about why you're not WORKING.

LUMBERJACKS: Boo, Corporate Greed!

WRITERS: Yeah! BOO, Corporate Greed!

AUDIENCE: Whatever. That chainsaw thing was cool. Can we see more of that?

HIPPIES: It has suddenly occurred to us that chaining ourselves to these trees was really stupid.


AUDIENCE: Wait -- it's been HOW LONG? And the zombies have just now noticed this tasty and completely immobile snack?!

WRITERS: We needed it for the emotion! EMOTION!

DIRECTOR: Hey, Zombies! Er, Eat the hippies!


HIPPIE GIRL: I'm very sad, because my hippie boyfriend was eaten for lunch.

Cut to:

CEO: My son is out there! I've grown a conscience!

SUIT: Quarantine the woods, or you lose your job!

CEO: Nevermind. It was just gas.


Cut to:

LUMBERJACKS: Hey! How did the Gate to the only road out get locked?!

AUDIENCE: Yeah... didn't they, like, JUST decide to do that?

LUMBERJACKS: We've suddenly remembered, there's totally another way out of here, at the other camp!

HIPPIE GIRL: Where's that?

LUMBERJACKS: Right around this next montage!


EXT. Woods. But different woods, because they're at the next camp!  There is a helicopter!

LUMBERJACKS: Hey, helicopter! Take us with you!

HELICOPTER: No! Instead, I think I'll shoot at you to establish how isolated you are, and what bad people the SUITS are, and then fly away and have nothing else to do with this movie at all!

AUDIENCE: Take us with you!!!!

See, you can tell he's a bad guy, because he's ARMED.
Social. Commentary.
MEN with GUNS arrive.

MEN: We're lumberjacks from the next camp! The other surviving lumberjacks are surprised to see us, are they not?!

LUMBERJACKS: Yes. Because even though we all have trucks, we all know our way around this one road that apparently exists on this island, and it's really not that big, we never, EVER come over here!

WRITERS: We're SO dramatic!!!

MEN: Also, we are vaguely menacing!

HIPPIE GIRL: Even though I've been hanging out with you guys for a while, it has only suddenly occurred to me that I'm totally the only girl!

SON: I'll protect you!

HIPPIE GIRL: Even though I am a vegan, liberal feminist, I would really appreciate that. Thank you.

SON: You wanna make out?

HIPPIE GIRL: Well, I mean, I just watched my boyfriend get turned into a zombie and then beheaded, but sure!

MEN: We're going to show how evil we are by making fun of a dude with a stutter, shooting zombies for sport, and then shooting the stuttering guy who has randomly started quoting the Bible!

EXT. WOODS, Night.

GUY, formerly working with the LUMBERJACKS, decides to be a coward, and kind of a douche, and lets zombies into the camp.




SON: Hey, that GUY is being surrounded by zombies!

HIPPIE GIRL: We can't do anything for him, because there's, like, 10 of them. Plus he's kind of a douche.

SON: I must run into that growing horde of zombies, even though they are merely seconds away from eating the Guy!

HIPPIE GIRL: NO! I don't know why, but apparently I Need you to survive!

SON: No you don't! I'm not that bright!

HIPPIE GIRL: Noooooooooooo

WRITERS: Look, he sacrificed himself for the bad guy, but they both got eaten pretty much right away! How poignant is that!

AUDIENCE: Is that what poignant means? I always thought it meant something OTHER than stupid.

DIRECTOR: It's not stupid! It's awesome. And poignant!

AUDIENCE: It's really not.

HIPPIE GIRL: Seriously. Dumber than a sack of hammers.


AUDIENCE:  Damn you, HELICOPTER! If you weren't going to take us with you, you could have at least shot us!


(Here's a kinder, very well-written, and more or less dead-on review I found while Googling)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Zombie Awareness Month Zombiethon 4: Resident Evil: Degeneration

RE: Degeneration is a CG film developed by Capcom and actually set within the RE game universe.

I'm actually a fan of the RE games as well as the live action movies, on their own merits (particularly the first of each), and will probably do a post on the first three of those movies at some point this month (and/or the most recent, depending on how Netflix feels about it).

However, RE:D looked interesting enough a few years ago that I decided to take the time to watch it via streaming site. While, at the time, I thought it was decent, my absurdly slow internet connection created pauses and loss of sync, which severely hampered my enjoyment. So, for part 3 of my ZAM Zombiethon, I popped on the Netflix and streamed a much better version.

Now, to get a couple things out of the way: This is Capcom CG. The movie is simply not going to look much better than a really good cut scene in one of games. And, lo and behold, it does not. The expressions are stiff, particularly when it comes to the male characters. The female characters are allowed a bit more freedom of facial expression, and are also better acted, for the most part.

The drawing and coloration is actually excellent, and were it not for the stiffness of the facial expressions, this would actually be pretty well done. The script is interesting and entertaining, if a little convoluted. On the other hand, it's a movie done by a video game company, as a companion story to an increasingly convoluted video game series. So I guess that's to be expected.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pontypool: Postscript

Okay, so, in case you couldn't tell by my post from Monday, I'm unexpectdly enamored with the 2008 psychological/zombie thriller, Pontypool. As usual, when I find something I like, I research to the point of near-obsession. I discovered, for example, that there actually is a Drum Road in Pontypool, ON. I wonder if there's a church on it, which houses a small AM station. Hmmm.

Click for a larger view of the setting. (via googlemaps)
I also discovered that, appropriately enough, "Pontypool" was also produced as a radio play for BBC. The radio version is basically, an edit of the dialogue and sounds directly from the film. Right up until the end. The end of the radio play is actually quite different from that of the film. The new ending gives, perhaps, greater insight into the meanings in the film, and a closer look at what the epidemic is to those, in the movie, who suffer it. It's very well done and well worth giving a listen.

This discovery led me also to the discovery that the BBC actually has radio plays from around the world available for free listening online. Pretty cool, right?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Zombie Awareness Month Zombiethon 3: Pontypool

A few years ago now, I had the idea to create a webcomic centered on a radio station struggling to stay on the air during a zombie apocalypse. Somebody connected with the project at one point -- an artist I'd spoken with, perhaps -- asked if I'd ever seen Pontypool. I hadn't. And I didn't, until today.

I was gratified on two counts: First, though Pontypool is also set in a radio station, and during some sort of apocalyptic viral outbreak, it really is very different than what I had envisioned for my comic (and who knows: maybe it'll find its way out someday). Second, it was both completely unexpected and frighteningly compelling.

Based on the Tony Burgess novel Pontypool Changes Everything (which is now on my must-read list), this is by no means a traditional zombie film. It has, however, been added for reasons that will soon become obvious. In short, this film reminds greatly of the best in Stephen King, and is a phenomenal adaptation, to boot.

The film stars Stephen McHattie (Syfy's "Haven") as Grant Mazzy, a former shock jock, banished to obscurity in a basement radio station in sleepy Pontypool, ON. On his way to work, he's shaken by a strange incident: a woman, very underdressed for the weather, bangs on his car window. He rolls down the window to hear what she wants, and she disappears into the night, repeating his last words to her: "who are you?"

After he gets to the station, he pulls out some of old schtick to test out on his new audience, angering his station manager, Sydney Briar. In the meantime, events are unfolding in the outside world. Soon, a call from their man on the street informs Mazzy and Sydney, along with show producer Laurel-Ann, that strange things are happenig in the outside world. People are, in short, going a bit insane. At first, it looks like a protest, then a riot. Then, as the situation worsens, people begin eating one another.

At least, that's how it sounds. Mazzy isn't certain he's not being screwed with, until he ventures outside and attracts some very unwelcome attention. Turns out, it's exactly as bad as it sounds, and possibly worse.

Pontypool is brilliant in many ways. On a visceral level, it is a study in isolation and helplessness. The claustrophobia becomes a tangible thing as you cannot help but feel the fear and frustration of Mazzy and company as they listen to the events unfolding, aware only of the information trickling in through the phonelines and unable to actually do anything about any of it. On the one hand, it is reminiscent of the infamous "War of the Worlds" radio play, except that here, you are in the room with McHattie's DJ, uncertain with him as to whether he's going insane, or if he might just find a way out of all this.

The tension is about as tight as can be throughout. Stuck inside this dark basement, you have no idea of what could happen to anybody at any given time. Because of events throughout, you become aware of the precariousness of their situation which only heightens the suspense.

There are, to be sure, other levels here. Deeper meanings. As the movie progresses, these deeper meanings are brought out of the shadows and highlighted as part of the plot. So I'm not going to go into them here. Got to leave you with something to figure out on your own, right?

Scary, entertaining, and cerebral, Pontypool easily makes it to my list of all-time greats.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Zombie Awareness Month Zombiethon 2: The Horde

Gritty revenge drama meets
zombie apocalypse! In French!
Here's the thing about apocalypses: however they go down, it's safe to assume they don't happen in a vacuum. Sure, once the dead start rising and eating people, that's more or less the only thing on your mind. However, right up until the excrement hits the oscillator, other things are going on. In a world where a group of cops, for example, decide to avenge the death of a friend by raiding a gang hideout, bent on slaughter, well, plans are plans. Incidentally, that's how La Horde begins.

Unfortunately for the cops in question, a nosy landlord manages to get in the way, accidentally alerting the gang to their presence, right before they're about to let them know in their own way. One is gunned down (more or less) immediately, and the rest taken hostage. All told, this is about to be one horrifically gritty revenge-gone-wrong thriller.

Annnnnnd then the dead start coming to life, and our heroes -- and villains -- find themselves in the single most holy-crap-we're-screwed moment, possibly in zombie movie history: Stuck at the top of a crumbling highrise while the city explodes around them and thousands of walking dead surround the building. The harried survivors out at the Monroeville Mall had it easy.

How do you say "royally screwed" in French?
On the other hand, as we find out in the course of the story, this is also the home of the most well- (and illegally-) armed former landlord ever. I don't know that we ever got his name. I'm pretty sure it's Deus Ex Machina.

This represents the only real weakness in this film (other than the fact that MOST of the characters are just plain unlikable): at some point, it really is possible to stretch suspension of disbelief to its breaking point. Thousands of zombies randomly surrounding a crappy building that just happens to house our heroes? Fine. That same building also being host to an entire platoon's worth of weaponry, including a hand grenade that defies the laws of physics in its explosiveness? Now we're stretching things a bit.

That said, though, it really is a pretty good film, all things considered. Even if you do have to take your eyes off the action to read the dialogue.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Zombie Awareness Month Zombiethon 1: 2012: Zombie Apocalypse

At the very last minute possible, I decided to celebrate my favorite monster archetype with a month-long moviethon. May, if you were unaware, is Zombie Awareness Month. So, I'm celebrating in style with a few old favorites and as many as I can of those I have not seen. Now, I've probably seen most good zombie films, which means I'm steeling myself for an onslaught of laughable B-movies. Not that that's a bad thing, of course. Since I had time, I started a day early.

Kicking it off is digital-gorestravaganza, 2012: Zombie Apocalypse. Starring Ving Rhames, himself no stranger to the undead (or to straight-to-video crap, for that matter), the dude who plays Darnell on My Name is Earl, and a bunch of people I don't really recognize, 2012:ZA is a nonsensical suckfest that manages (because it IS, after all, a Syfy Original) to be almost fun in its campiness. I chose this movie for a couple reasons. First, because I try to, at some point, watch as many bad Syfy Originals as possible. Second, and most importantly, because I had just over 90 minutes, during my girls' nap, in which to actually watch a movie, and this one clocks in at just under 1:28.

This is one of those movies -- and Syfy is famous for them -- that make me wonder whether digital blood is really that much cheaper than good, old-fashioned squibs and models. Don't get me wrong: in general, I'm not a lover of gore. I don't hate it, but it isn't the reason I watch movies. That said, the effects in this movie are just laughable. There are moments where the blood doesn't even match the location of the hit. It's like somebody just handed people sharp objects and said, "Just poke and stab anywhere; we'll do the rest." And then did it badly. In one memorable scene, I distinctly heard a single gunshot, and watched as wounds opened up in two places on the same zombie.

Seriously. Check out the dude in the fright mask (far left).
There is also zero uniformity to the zombie makeup. Some are clearly in masks, others in grayface. It was as if the director just emailed a bunch of friends and said, "er, try to look like a zombie."

What else... Ving Rhames wields a sledge hammer, because that makes sense. They have a Michonne-like character who, um, at least has a katana (and just in case you awoke from a month-long coma before popping this into the ole blu-ray, and therefore missed the reference, they also refer to an unseen character named "Kirkman"). Shotgun blasts can apparently lift heads from bodies with the strength of a low-powered rocket, while a 50-cal machine gun barely manages to poke holes in the undead (looks like somebody neglected weapons research 101 before filming). Oh, and the presumptive main character (after the first half hour, I'm honestly not sure) weeps uncontrollably after killing a zombie that looked like Alice Cooper in Prince of Darkness, but immediately thereafter just sort of yells angrily upon learning of Crab-man's death before quickly getting over it.

Also, the zombies who don't just kinda shamble into blunt objects have quickly learned to team up and make plans at least as well as most 9th graders. But they do it being utterly unable to communicate through any means beyond barely-audible grunts. Take that, 9th graders.

Of course, all of this probably makes it sound like I hated it. Not at all. Granted, it's your standard Syfy Original fare, and does absolutely nothing to distinguish itself. That said, it IS a good 90 minutes of absolutely mindless entertainment.

Ah, campy fun.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Guilty Pleasure #1 - Neil Frickin' Diamond

When I was doing a media blog (MediaJerk, now defunct), I started a feature called "Guilty Pleasures." I don't really know how well-received it was, but I enjoyed it. So I'm starting it again. Before I bring back some of those original Guilts, I thought I'd start here.

Neil Diamond.

Why? Because I was listening to it on my way home, and I wanted to, that's why.

I grew up listening to Neil Diamond. Well, oldies of all kinds, actually. But he stood out. My Dad was, and is, a huge fan.

Honestly, I'm not even sure why I'm listing this as a "guilty" pleasure, because frankly, if you don't like Neil Diamond, you hate awesome.

No, I don't know why I picked these two songs. I could have picked several. I could have filled this entire post with Neil Diamond videos. But that seemed like overkill.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Don't you forget about me

My brother and sister-in-law sent us an Amazon Gift Card for Christmas, and my wife and I have spent the last couple of weeks deliberating over what to spend it on. By deliberating, of course, I mean, both of us said we'd think about it, until we finally sat down, took a look at a couple options, and made some snap decisions. Among those decisions: The Breakfast Club, on Blu-Ray.

I love John Hughes movies. Hughes was a writer who knew his characters. He knew what each would say in a given situation, based on who they were, how they grew up, and what they wanted. He built them back stories, and used those stories to create rich, funny, and often insightful dialogue.

The Breakfast Club is a wonderful case in point. Sure, it got heavy-handed at times; occasionally melodramatic. But it was high school. This was, in my mind, the genius of this film in particular. The movie was about teenagers and, importantly, told from their points of view. So yes, some things that we as adults don't necessarily find important were, in the scope of the film, possibly the most vital things in the world. And, too, it raises an interesting question: why aren't some of these things more important as adults? In some cases, it is precisely because they were so important to our teenage selves. Cultural and personal identity. Friendship. Judgement. Healthy adults don't have to think about these things, because we worked them out while we were young. On the other hand, there are adults who never did answer these questions, and have simply -- and tragically -- forgotten why they were so necessary to ask.

Hughes also did something too few writers did when it came to teenagers: he asked about life at home, and what they felt about it. And then, in spite of the tragedies great and small evident in each of these kids' lives, he does something even harder for a writer: refuses to solve them. Instead, he looks at the questions, offers no easy answers, but allows his characters to become comfortable with them. It becomes okay to ask. In this, The Breakfast Club almost feels like a fantasy for teenagers: to be given permission from your peers to ask questions, and to cross-mingle outside your comfort zone. 

The narrative is tied together by the "essay" assigned by Mr. Vernon: to answer the question, "who do you think you are." The beauty is, in spite of himself and entirely by accident, he helps them discover exactly that.  And just as importantly, they discover something about each other as well. They don't leave the school with their lives changed. They still go home to the messes they left, but they go armed with a fresh view of their identities and perhaps a bit of understanding.