Archive for the “movies” Category
Every month Ken Lowery and I look at a selection of trailers for upcoming releases, for, you know, reasons.
Now that awards season is over, it’s time for Hollywood to get back to business as usual: big, loud and dumb, not necessarily in that order.
Jack the Giant Slayer
DW: I generally like most of Bryan Singer’s films, so I want to be cautiously optimistic. But I burnt out on the whole “updated fairy tale” thing fast and this doesn’t appear to be doing anything clever or original with the notion of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Instead it’s a big Hollywood fantasy epic by the numbers, with eye-ache inducing levels of CGI and a bunch of white people with English accents, because that’s apparently the only way you’re allowed to do fantasy in American film, I guess. (Merlin was campy as all get out and I can’t stand Once Upon A Time at all, but they both found a way to avoid the “everyone in fantasy land is white” nonsense. Why is television ahead of film on this?)
KL: This is the kind of trailer you see in movies about how ridiculous the movie industry is. Maybe Singer can make a movie that’s Great Fun For Kids™, but it’s hard to look at this and not see the mainstream movie industry’s slow decline into “greater spending for lower yields” blinking in bright neon every time I start to look in this movie’s direction. Straight up, if you’re spending north of $200 million to make Great Fun For Kids™, and Great Fun For Kids™ that will likely be forgotten in six months’ time, you should have your budgets and your VFX houses (bills pending!) taken away from you.
KL: Solid reviews! Park Chan-wook! Nicole Kidman as a crazy person! A grimly monochromatic color scheme! Looks like a solid performer that I’d enjoy a lot (well, “enjoy” is probably not the right word) but for whatever reason, early to mid-spring is a particularly emotionally vulnerable time in my yearly movie-watching cycle. I think I get worn out by all the Serious Shit that comes out during Oscar season and basically, I need time to prepare, OK? I am guessing this is a Netflix rental. Another feature of getting old: Weighing the pros and cons of putting myself through an emotional ringer via movie. Do I want to do this? And, furthermore, why? Is this a worthy usage of my psychic landscape?
I am so old, Dorian. So old.
DW: I’m pretty much with you on this one. All the ingredients of a film that I should want to see are there. Good cast, solid premise, sharp cinematography. But the tonality just feels so leaden and heavy to me that I’m a little pre-weary. If they were pitching this as more of a thriller, or even a horror film, and not so much heavy psycho-drama, I’d be all over it. But, no, you’ve got to push the drama angle to be taken seriously as a film, I guess. So, probably an eventual rental, yeah.
Oz the Great and Powerful
DW: I’m starting to feel the same way about reimaginings of Oz as I am about fairy tales, especially this weird compulsion for Oz prequels we seem to be stuck in. The cynical part of me suspects we’re getting this because Disney couldn’t get the film rights to Wicked sewn up. But then I actually look at the thing, and it feels sort of like a slightly less nakedly cynical version of that atrocious live-action Alice in Wonderland Burton did for Disney.
I suspect my opinion about it will be rendered effectively moot, though, as this is right up the husband’s alley.
KL: Nice cast, and I’m a Raimi fan since I was a kid, but it is kind of grim that we’re throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into stories that can be told quite effectively with some paper and nice typesetting, don’t you think? Dorian, is this what it is to be old?
The ABCs of Death
KL: Here’s how I know I have not given in to inescapable cynicism: I will always, always, always give horror anthologies – of any medium – a shot. By definition the final product will average out to mediocre – if we’re lucky – and for every generally scary, surprising, hilarious or clever entry we’ll get three or four that are just no damn good at all. But that’s OK. That’s the movie-going (and just plain art-going) experience in microcosm: Dig and dig until you find the surprise that hooks you, the gem you gush about to your friends, the exciting new talent whose next project you can’t wait to see.
DW: The novelty alone will probably get this a look, eventually. Although I’m slightly pessimistic; looking at the list of directors I see mostly people whose work I either am not interested in or that I actively dislike. Even given the varying degrees of quality you can expect from an anthology film, those aren’t good odds to have going in.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
KL: Steve Carell is officially letting this magic thing get away from him. The 40 Year Old Virgin, The Office, and now this – OK, Steve, we get it.
Anyway, it’s spring, so it’s time for our mandated “oddball comedy” that’s very much the controlled burn of actual goofball comedies. I generally have nothing but fondness for the talent here (even Carrey, whom I will probably always have a soft spot for) but oh, good lord, we could probably script this thing out right now if we wanted to order a pizza and maybe grab a six pack.
DW: I’m just sort of amazed that this isn’t a Will Ferrell vehicle. I thought crisis of identity comedies based on silly careers was his thing, but I guess we’re transitioning Carell into that realm as well? All right then.
Yeah, this looks pretty safe and predictable. Nothing to be excited about, and nothing to be annoyed by, other than, y’know, the whole predictable thing. It looks like a lazy Sunday on Watch Instantly sort of movie when there literally isn’t any better option.
DW: Look, I like Paul Rudd as much as the next red-blooded homosexual male, but he can pretty much sleepwalk through these amiable man-child roles. And, oddly, I like Tina Fey more when she isn’t playing the career woman frustrated by her inability to have it all and jesus grow the fuck up already life is hard, lady, and you can’t always have it your way all the time.
Which I guess is a way of saying I’d like to see them embrace more diversity in their role choices.
KL: What’s fun is seeing the chameleon effect that’s spreading out across this movie’s trailers – watch the most recent ones and you’d think it was a straight-up romantic comedy, and the whole “hey Tina Fey I think we found your son, and he’s grown up now!” angle so prevalent in previous trailers is nowhere to be found. That’s kind of weird, don’t you think? Either they’ve done some re-chopping to the movie or it’s busier than the trailer indicates. There’s a certain inevitable pull that both of these actors have on me (and my wife), so much as you will inevitably see Oz, Dorian, I’m going to find out how this movie holds up one way or another.
DW: My interest in this begins and ends with Chris Sanders. He made the only watchable Dreamworks cartoon, well, ever, and Lilo and Stitch is still one of the best films to come from Disney’s animation department. So I’ll go and see this and put up with the bits that were obviously shoe-horned in to give it that smarmy “Dreamworks edge” and call it a day.
KL: This thing feels like some kind of stunt. It literally renders the established Animated Feature formula into a primitive state, and is absolutely about “a daughter wants to be free! The dad is afraid for her!” and not one scrap of plot more. It’s subtext as text. I admire its purity (much as Ash admired the xenomorph in Alien) but I need a little more art to my art.
The Place Beyond the Pines
KL: Knockout cast, prestigious writer-director, but please, Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper: save some tortured-soul male lead roles for the rest of the class, huh?
I did not see Blue Valentine. All the descriptions of that movie’s achingly rendered depiction of an imploding relationship were equal parts intriguing and off-putting (see Stoker, above) and hey, look at this, an achingly rendered depiction of two basically OK guys on a collision course for tragedy. Hooray. It’s good to see Cooper getting to stretch those drama legs, though.
DW: This is like the handsomest movie ever.
Again, this hits a lot of the right notes and promises to be very, very good. The question really becomes “am I going to have the patience to sit through the heavy drama for the inevitably tragic and easily foreseeable ending?” And the answer to that is…maybe?
Every month Ken Lowery and I so on and so on cue trailer comments…
DW: Steven Soderbergh is just bound and determined to make us think Channing Tatum is a real actor, isn’t he?
It’s Soderbergh, so I’m cutting it a lot of slack, but this just feels like too much of a jumble.* Is it a corrupt doctor story, a corrupt pharmaceutical company story, a husband driving his wife crazy story? I’d be interested in seeing Soderbergh take on either of those, honestly. I’d plunk down for that in a heartbeat. But, c’mon guy, pick one to sell me on.
*Yes, the irony of saying that a film by the guy who made Schizopolis has an incoherent plot is not lost on me.
KL: It’s a thriller! I guess.
It seems impossible to discuss this movie without also discussing The Meaning of Soderbergh and blah blah blah since this is apparently his last film (Believe It When I See It, Party of One, right here) but I confess the same slight puzzlement many others have: Why’s he going out on something so seemingly… rote? Perhaps it’s not, I don’t know. Despite quite liking a number of his films, I’ve never loved any of them, and this doesn’t look like the one to make the rest of them make more sense to me.
KL: This looks just brutal. We’ve got the guy who directed Horrible Bosses — the most JV of raunchy comedies to feature any of its leads – and the guy who wrote not just The Hangover II but also Scary Movies 3 and 4, and Superhero Movie, which is apparently a movie that can claim to have been “written.”
At least the posters fall squarely in line with the dopey portrait series exemplified with diminishing returns by The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, all but screaming “CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS CRAAAAZY PERSON BLOOPTY BLOO?” And note the bonus “use a Big Gulp to denote trashiness” visual cue for Melissa McCarthy as pioneered by Amy Poehler on the Baby Mama promotional art. This way, we know going in not to expect anything that may startle the easily surprised.
DW: I usually have slightly more tolerance for Jason Bateman, though in aggregate his career has been far more “miss” than “hit.” But, man, this just looks like all kinds of waste.
And then I think about something like Butter, which was as slight as a film could be, but an actually pretty decent and well made comedy. And that sort of middle-of-the road film is now something you only get in indies, while mainstream comedies are…this sort of thing.
A Good Day to Die Hard
KL: Oh, goodness gracious. If you can find one person on this earth who genuinely loves the last Die Hard (and – important caveat – isn’t carrying at least three things diagnosable in the DSM-IV) then I’ll eat every hat in my house. And I like hats!
So here we are with another one, no doubt mandated entirely by the last one’s pleasing cost-to-revenue ratio and not at all by burning desire in the audience. It’s depressingly ironic that a franchise that made its bones on brisk, economical action should become so bloated and ungainly.
The three things I feel worth talking about lay out thusly:
1) At least this one’s R rated?
2) My Bruce Willis love is apparently bulletproof. He basically takes whatever work comes his way, I guess, but he also doesn’t limit himself, and I appreciate his eagerness to do projects that might be considered too unconventional for traditional action stars. So what I’m saying is: he can do as many of these movies as he wants and I’ll never think lesser of him.
3) That said, man, he looks so old when he smiles in the trailer, and that bums me out.
DW: I seem to be the odd man out amongst my circles of friends in neither particularly liking nor disliking the original Die Hard. Yeah, as far as 80s action films go, it’s pretty good, but that’s a depressingly low bar to set. Being of better quality than Cyborg or Tequila Sunrise isn’t much to be proud of. I don’t think I’ve ever even bothered to watch any of them past the second, so it’s unlikely I’ll bother with this one anyway. I will say that this feels awfully like an attempt to pass the torch to a reasonable stand in for Willis, who yeah, is starting to look pretty old, and keep the franchise going for whatever life it may yet have in it.
I kinda want to see Willis in a remake of The Detective now…
DW: I have absolutely no idea if this series of Young Adult novels are any good or not. I see that “Paranormal Teen Romance” section in the book store and I am perfectly content to say “not for me” and move on. I’ll leave the condemnations and the defenses to the genre for others, other than to note that a) they all seem kinda samey to me and b) I have a vague memory of all this Paranormal Teen Romance stuff going on with teen and preteen girls of my acquaintance in the late 80s. Heck, Dark Shadows was the same sort of thing.
It ain’t nothing new and so all the reactions, pro and con, seem silly to me, in other words.
Which is a long and roundabout way of saying that this really looks like it wants a piece of that sweet, sweet Twilight cash and so “not for me” is all I’m gonna say.
KL: I wonder if our heroine will defy the forces trying to pigeonhole her life and find her own way?
KL: Normally I wouldn’t care, but this Rock-heavy actioner is from Participant Media. Participant Media, if you’re not aware, is a production company that puts out what you might call “socially conscious” (that is, “lefty”) movies and documentaries about current events and the Crises of Our Times and so on. That they’re going the action movie route (or at least that’s how Snitch is being positioned) says they’re either getting savvier about sugaring the pill, or they’re going the Christian Rock route (no pun intended) and it’s not going to work well for anyone.
I want so desperately for The Rock to hit the leading man stride he’s meant to be, but I’m not convinced this will be the thing that does it. The February release date doesn’t speak well for its chances, either.
DW: Knowing that Participant Media is involved has me looking for lefty subtext, which is a pretty clever way to get me to pay attention to what otherwise looks like a pretty standard action film.
DW: If I was feeling generous I might say that casting an alien abduction movie as a haunted house movie is actually a pretty clever twist on the conventions of both genres. Except, of course, that the cleverness there comes from the joy of finding something unexpected, and the trailer pretty much ruins that. I’m not sure why, either; it’s not as if the audiences for haunted house movies and alien abduction films are so disparate that taking one approach in the marketing is going to scare the other group away.
What actually turns me off, and pretty spectacularly too, is that “from the makers of Insidious” tag. Insidious was something I didn’t have high hopes for, saw a few positive reviews for, watched it, and was actually angered by how awful it ended up being. It’s an anti-recommendation for me at this point, that no even JK Simmons can counter.
KL: Well it’s all there, isn’t it? The ominous signs and symbols, startling moments of the surreal nested in the commonplace, the child who’s seen more than the adults but can only articulate it in childlike terms, the disassociation from normal life and normal solutions, the oddball expert brought in, blah blah blah. 31 years on and we’re still living under Poltergeist’s shadow.
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Making holiday themed horror films is a very tricky things. Everyone wants to be Black Christmas, a film which not only jumpstarted the slasher film wave, way back when, but also set the tone for an entire genre to follow (though it was largely eclipsed in popular memory by the equally influential Halloween-which, ironically, borrowed heavily from it). Mostly what you end up with, though is Silent Night, Deadly Night, films which exist only to wring some money out of saps amused by the notion of a holiday themed horror film. Christmas horror is especially tricky, what what millions of concerned moms (or a dozen or so with a bank of fax machines) ready to pounce on anyone who dares to show less than due deference to their narrow, easily offended views. Which probably goes a long way towards explaining why so few film-makers show anymore ambition than what it takes to create a Thankskilling.
Rare Exports opens with an American mining crew excavating Korvatunturi mountain near the border between Finland and Russia, allegedly for minerals, but in fact in the search for a tomb deep in the heart of the mountain. Their actions are noted by Pietari and Juuso, local boys and sons of reindeer herders. Pietari is afraid of Santa Claus, having read up on ancient legends which paint him as a monstrous child-killer, and becomes convinced that the tomb belongs to Santa. Meanwhile, the adults of the community are disturbed to discover that something has slaughtered their entire herd of reindeer, leaving the community $85,000 short of what they needed to survive the coming year, and blame Russian wolves driven into their territory by the mining. On Christmas Eve, a naked man wanders into a pit-trap dug by Pietari’s father. Uncommunicative, but strangely interested in Pietari and gingerbread, the disappearance of all the local children goes unnoticed, as the adults decide that the man must be a miner, and decide to ransom him back to his employer. It’s only Pietari’s insistence that something more sinister is going on (such as the disappearance of every other child in their community) that convinces the adults that they are, somehow, holding Santa Claus prisoner. When they do take “Santa” to the mining site, it quickly becomes apparent that everyone involved has badly misunderstood the actual situation, leading to an apocalyptic conclusion and a new lease on life for the community in a curiously cynical yet uplifting ending.
Rare Exports veers more towards the “dark fantasy” territory for horror films, which is appropriate, as the entire enterprise is essentially a long set-up for a punchline. It’s never particularly scary, or creepy, but the “twisted fairy tale” tone is enough to propel the plot forward. It’s also not particularly funny, save for the punchline aspect to it. It also flirts with several themes that never quite get fully developed. They hint at a conflict between the “modern” world as represented by the mining company and the traditional world represented by the reindeer herders, with the truth about Santa serving as a reminder that “tradition” has its unspoken problems, but it’s never fully developed. There’s some father/son conflict suggested in the relationship between Pietari and his father, but again it’s never fully developed, and is ultimately resolved when Pietari puts away his childhood toys and becomes a man symbolically by conquering Santa. Despite these issues, the film is ultimately fun and clever, and moves briskly. It feels a bit short in fact, which also contributes slightly to the underdeveloped feeling the plots and themes present, but is ultimately a rewarding watch.
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Every month, Ken Lowery and I take a look at a selection of trailers for films releasing this month, to see which ones create visions of sugar canes dancing, which ones deserve a visit from the Krampus, and which ones we’d rather get into arguements about whether Zwarte Piet is racist or not instead of watching.
It’s December, so that means the last hurrah of award contenders, family friendly epics, and the obligatory attempt to make musicals a viable genre again.
Bad Kids Go To Hell
DW: All through this trailer, I kept going back and forth between “this might be tolerable” and “for fuck’s sake, really?” at what was going on. On the one hand, we’ve got a pretty stock and unimaginative set of characters: nerdy guy, rebel girl, jock, shy beauty, token black kid. You can do interesting things with stock characters in a horror film, but doing “Breakfast Club only detention hall is haunted” isn’t really stretching things too much. Especially when you go and stunt cast Judd Nelson. It’s all a little too on the nose, and it comes off lazy. Especially when you throw in some really awful CGI and an extremely plastic looking bronze statue as your set centerpiece.
So points for a catchy name and doing the obligatory horror movie in December counter-programming, but I’m going to mark this as a “pass” I think.
KL: This is a locally produced movie. It’s also a locally produced comic. I’m not sure which came first – I think it was the comic, then the movie. If I sound hazy and confused, it’s because Bad Kids Go To Hell has had a booth at every local comic and sci-fi convention for the past, oh, 78 years or so, and it felt more like set dressing for being a nerd in Dallas rather than an actual thing. It was like finding the North Star in rooms full of sweaty men: “Oh, there’s the Bad Kids booth. We must be in North Texas.”
But here’s it an actual thing. They’ve been four-walling theaters in Dallas and showing up on IMDB’s front page and there’s even some billboards, so I guess this thing is a Real Boy. It’s obviously a work of passion for somebody – no one spends that many years flogging something that was essentially vaporware most of the time without believing in it – and maybe it’ll be surprising? I won’t be finding out firsthand, anyway. I look forward to the BKGTH booths having something to actually sell in the spring, though.
Hyde Park on Hudson
DW: I actually really like everyone who is in this, and FDR is one of my favorite presidents. (And, y’know, after a couple of years of a particular political party doing their damn best to trash his legacy, a public reminder of how awesome he was is probably a good thing.) Under normal circumstances, I’d be all for this; good cast, interesting characters and situation. It’s the timing that wearies me. It’s a bio-pic in December that promises to make statements about things. It’s that baiting for awards that tires me. I’d be a lot happier if the film was just its own thing and not trying to be “important.”
KL: I read a review that mentions at one point that Murray, as FDR driving in a car with a distant cousin played by Laura Linney, pulls the car over so Linney can give him a handjob. So I think I’m good, thanks.
KL: Eric Bana is one of those actors who landed in my good graces for all time with the first thing I saw him in: Chopper. That he diversified pretty rapidly since then solidified his position, even when he showed up in some stinkers. And it looks like he’s gonna be kinda-sorta a villain again, which is nice to see.
There was a time in my life when I really sought out these twisty-turny tightly woven crime dramas with family n’ sex n’ death all tangled up together. That time is passing, but some little piece of this sparks something in me – maybe it’s Bana, maybe it’s director Stefan Ruzowitzky, whose The Counterfeiters was well-regarded. I’d like to know how it goes.
DW: Bana I think gets under-rated as an actor, probably mostly because most of the American films he’s been in were, frankly, not very good. But he’s really good as a villain, so it’s nice to see him in something that plays to his strengths.
I’m mostly in the same boat when it comes to the whole “twisty crime drama” genre. Used to really like it, now can just sort of take it or leave it. I think I can tolerate about one a year at my current rate of film consumption. (Though, oddly, my appetite for 80s horror films remains undiminished and I seem to be watching a lot of second tier teen comedies, if my “Recently Viewed” list on Netflix is anything to go by. Must be an age thing.) So, I’ll probably make the effort to search this one out. I like Bana, and I haven’t seen anything good in this genre for a little while, so sure, why not.
KL: When all is said and done, this world will contain approximately 18 hours of Peter Jackson filming hobbits, and that is the conservative estimate.
Much hay has been made about Peter Jackson turning 320 pages of book into a trilogy, and rightly so. But I thank him for satirizing his own complete departure from anything that resembles the concept of restraint. The Lord of the Rings (while a filmmaking accomplishment in the sense that building a massive, sturdy and occasionally eye-pleasing convention center is an architectural accomplishment) was the worst thing that’s ever happened to him. There was Peter Jackson who made The Frighteners and Heavenly Creatures; then after all that success and bloat, there was Peter Jackson who is I think still filming T Rexes fighting King Kong right this very second.
I saw all three LOTR movies in the theater. I saw the first one midnight, opening night. I saw the second one the weekend of its release. I saw the third one two weeks into its release, because it was there and I wanted to be done with the thing. And there was so much Epic Battle in that movie that I actually burned out on Sweeping Epics for over a year. I wonder if he even remembers how to make a movie that clocks in at less than 120 minutes.
Short version: No thanks.
DW: I’m probably a sucker. I’m in, just because it’s looking like a competently made fantasy-adventure film, with maybe more than a little hint of bloat. I really don’t care about the technical aspects that some people are arguing about. And I’m fairly amused by the very serious fans complaining about it looking “too jokey,” as if the novel doesn’t have talking purses and golf jokes in it.
Short version: Oooh, pretty colors.
Zero Dark Thirty
KL: Pretty big piles of angst surrounding this movie re: lionizing the death of Osama bin Laden, which forgets two pretty critical things: 1) this was in progress when he was found and killed, and 2) Kathryn Bigelow has never demonstrated much belief in the romance around authority generally or the military specifically. I’d say the same holds for writer Mark Boal, who also wrote The Hurt Locker and (the execrable but still not misty-eyed) In the Valley of Elah.
Bigelow is near the top of my small list of “will see absolutely anything they do.” She marries the mundane and the observational with the harrowing and thrilling with breathtaking ease. We’ll see if Zero Dark Thirty is the one where Bigelow veers hard into crypto-fascism, as portions of my Twitter feed fear, but I am doubtful.
DW: Bigelow and Boal are probably on the very short list of people who can probably be trusted to make this movie without turning it into a massive propaganda piece. Which it is going to be treated as anyway, and that will be fun to watch, if for no other reason than to see the usual cable news talking heads project their own issues onto a piece of art.
Yeah, I think I’m probably more interested in this as a socio-cultural artifact than as an actual film.
DW: Setting aside the issue of naming a film after the main character is proving to be a really bad idea, what mostly strikes me is that Tom Cruise is rapidly approaching the self-parody phase of his career. Yes, we get it, he likes to think of himself as an action-movie badass hero, so let’s make a film that throws every stupid cliché that goes with that into this! And let’s hire his pet screenwriter to direct it! And then let’s make sure that we make everything really, really, really blue all the time in the digital grading! Blue sells, right? It’s like they’re daring us to make fun of it. From self-aware film-makers that might work, but I really don’t get the idea that Cruise and anyone he hires to make himself look good are really anything other than entirely earnest.
KL: I think it was Chicago Sun-Times film blogger Jim Emerson who cracked the Tom Cruise Code for me: he’s great when he’s playing narcissistic characters brimming over with anger. He does the “feelings” stuff OK, but he was perhaps more at home than he’s ever been as Vincent, the heartless hitman in Collateral.
I am way less interested when Cruise plays this type as the hero. Sure, the last Mission Impossible had a lot going for it, but all that really did was demonstrate that Cruise is an effective action figure in the hands of a very good director. Everyone under Cruise’s name is great – Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Werner fucking Herzog – but ehhhh.
I am also a little put off by how much the trailer looks like it’s pushing Jack Reacher the character and not Jack Reacher the movie. Are you selling a franchise or a story? All I’m saying is, the Die Hard trailer didn’t play like a sizzle reel for how badass John McClane is, you know?
DW: I am a bad homosexual, as Les Mis is actually not a musical I am fond of. (I don’t think it’s as terrible as Wicked if that makes you feel any better…) It’s just a little too French I suppose with its bleakness and despair and really not funny at all comic relief and really not believable at all central romance and misguided insistence that spending approximately thirty years following Jean Valjean around is worthwhile in any way when the end result of doing so is that he gets to see Cosette end up with some snot-nosed punk that she could really do better than.
The cast just edges out my dislike for the material that I may consider seeing it, if it’s the 26th and I’m in the middle of Oregon with nothing else to do.
KL: Dorian, I too must admit that I’m a bad homosexual. I have never seen Les Mis in any form. I have seen Cats once, and that was a high school production starring a friend’s sibling. God help us all, I’ve seen Rent like five times in various media, despite never particularly liking it. And that’s about it for me and musicals.
This is a very talented cast but look, man, I’m just going to have to own it: Musicals do not speak to me.
KL: I thought I’d learned my lesson with QT after Death Proof, but Inglourious Basterds had juuuuuuust enough Christoph Waltz and Leone-aping and batshit-crazy finale to hook me in. Now, I haven’t watched IB since my first viewing, which should probably tell me something, but…
I guess Tarantino’s on this kick where he uses movies to correct historical wrongs: killing Hitler, writing a slave killing the hell out of racist slave owners, et cetera. That’s fine, I guess, though I would prefer to see these kinds of gleeful revisions done by people who would have a let’s say more direct connection to these historical atrocities. Also by people who have anything meaningful to say about vengeance. But I sure like the idea of Jamie Fox and Christoph Waltz bantering and shooting and whatnot.
Actually, if I’m being honest, the thing I really want to see is Leonardo DiCaprio being a joyous sleazeball. The rest is kinda like seeing a Beatles cover band – the real thing won’t ever happen again, so if you want a live show you’ll have to settle for their echoes and shadows. That is, I think, the Tarantino experience in general.
DW: I grew tired of Tarantino’s schtick a long time back. I’m not seeing the “growth” some of his fans claim he has gone through in any of his recent work. Sure, cinematically he’s improved; his films look better, they’re marginally more coherent, he’s stealing from (excuse me, “homaging”) other directors less. But they’re still violent recreations of exploitative genre films, and he’s still saying the same thing. Namely, that exploitative genre films are cool, man, and wouldn’t it be cool if they still made them.
But they do, Quentin, and as hamfisted as they are, I find them a hell of a lot more interesting than your 70s throwbacks.
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Every month, Ken Lowery and I take a look at a selection of trailers for upcoming films, to see what tickles our fancy and what tickles that thing that hangs down the back of your throat.
When November comes around, the block-buster season is officially over, but the winter vacation family films haven’t hit yet, so we tend to get a lot of prestige pictures. “Prestige” as far as I can tell is code for “give us award nominations.”
KL: It’s the usual Disney stuff – must we always do what we’re told to do, or can we break free and find happiness? – but at least it’s got a cute package, and I am a huge admirer of John C. Reilly’s endless talents. Get me going and I’ll talk about that guy like other people might talk about Hugh Jackman. He can sing! He can dance! He’s so funny!
The rest of the voice talent is pretty good, too, and the premise is cute. (I’m inclined to say a lot of the video game ‘types’ are probably mysteries to kids, but with console markets reselling old titles like they do, who can say?) Extra fun facts: Rich Moore also directed some classic animated shows, including “Cape Feare” from The Simspons and Futurama’s “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings.” Cautious optimism, right here.
DW: And I feel incredibly out of step with my friends and family on this one. They’re all looking forward to this, and I…just don’t see the appeal at all. The character designs are bland, the story is the same sort of “home is where the heart is/believe in yourself” trite moralizing that every kid’s movie has, the use of celebrities as voices in animated films I just find incredibly distracting, and the premise feels like a particularly dumb Robot Chicken sketch. Yeah, there’s talented people behind this, and there’s probably going to be enough of a base level of quality to make this watchable, but I’m really picturing myself getting dragged to this when I’d rather just go and see Sean Penn play a goth.
The Man with the Iron Fists
DW: There are a few things about this that make it look like it could have promise. Visually it’s lush, with sets and costumes and fights that promise to be spectacular. And the cast is actually pretty strongly to my taste. But I’ve still got some reservations. Those fights, as epic as they look, also look pretty highly derivative of just about every major kung-fu movie of the past two decades.
And that’s the other big problem. This isn’t so much a new original film, as it’s remix-culture taking all the best bits of a bunch of films that were better and more original and mashing them all up into a new film. I’m burnt out on the whole remix-culture thing. Do something original, don’t rehash what others have done. It might be interesting, it might have flair, but ultimately it only creates ephemeral things.
The saving grace might be that this is hip-hop culture remixing martial arts films, and not the nerd pandering we usually see with this sort of thing.
KL: I wish I could remember who it was that gave me a very valuable lesson in the merits of animation. They were writing about Fantastic Four and The Incredibles, and pointing out that CGI imposed on real actors would always be inferior to the same impossibilities rendered in animation. You’re always going to notice the moment that a real person transitions into special effects – when something there becomes something not there. This disconnect does not exist in animation; their consistency never changes.
That’s a lot of words to say I’d be way more into this if it wasn’t apparently a showpiece for CGI artists.
This Must Be the Place
DW: I’m as skeptical of “quirk” as the next man, and my hatred for “daddy issue” movies is quite strong, but there’s something really compelling about the set-up here. An aging ex-rock star, stalking the Nazi war criminal his Holocaust survivor father could never find? That’s a unique story. That’s what I want out of movies, unique stories. And what it looks like we have here is a nice little picaresque that neither overplays the potential for farce, but doesn’t take itself more seriously than it should either. I’m pretty much down for that.
KL: This looks bananas and I have no idea what to make of it. Nothing about it particularly reads “comedy” to me – I mean OK, there’s Sean Penn’s getup, but he’s such a Super Serious Sourpuss overall that it now seems like the Sean Penn of Fast Times days was perhaps a transmission from an alternate reality.
Regardless it’s not grabbing me. We’ll see what the crix say.
KL: My attendance is pretty much mandatory. I still marvel at the craftsmanship of Casino Royale, a movie that is as much an immersive experience for me as Fargo or Zodiac – I am not so much watching a movie as I am stepping into an aesthetic, one that envelopes me fully. Quantum of Solace was perhaps half as engaging (with action sequences not a tenth as imaginative or coherent), but I was nonetheless drawn to wounded thirst for vengeance that pulled Craig’s Bond and Olga Kurylenko’s Camille.
The writing crew appears to be the same, and I am a little skeptical of Sam Mendes’s ability to wow me; I respond to his movies either with surprised delight or impatience.
But man, I love Daniel Craig in this role, I love Javier Bardem, and I love Naomie Harris. I’d see this collection of actors in just about anything.
DW: I can never make up my mind whether I’m a Bond fan or not. Most of the films don’t really do much for me. I like camp, but there are limits, you know? The books are all right, but I’m not a spy book fan, and they’re different enough beasts from the films that it really doesn’t matter that much. Craig is the first Bond actor I’ve really liked, and a lot of that has to do with him being as different as possible from every actor who has gone before that he feels like a new enough character that I can ignore the other films. But, as much as I liked Casino Royale, I suspect it filled my quota for “good Bond films.” I had no desire to see Quantum of Solace, and this looks…pretty good, I suppose. I think I’d prefer to watch a film about Judi Dench kicking ass, so the hints of that impress me, but I just know that there’s not going to be nearly enough of M being in charge to get me excited.
KL: I’m sure it’s great. This is a biopic about a Great Man loaded with A+ talent all the way down. Perhaps I burned out too fast on the movie beat, but the Big Important Movies That Are Probably Great come out every November and I just get tired. I may see this if the family decides this is what we’re seeing on Thanksgiving, but barring that: Nah.
When did I get so old, guys?
DW: I’m mostly with you. You couldn’t ask for a better cast, but…Spielberg. Man, Steven Spielberg. There’s something about his blatant emotional manipulation and oversimplification of historical events into digestable, feel-good narratives that just rubs me the wrong way to an incredible degree. Even the musical cues in the damn trailer set my teeth on edge. You couldn’t ask for a more stereotypical “sweeping historical epic” set of notes. Add to that the November release, meaning someone wants an Oscar, and the whole thing just seems horribly cynical to me.
Life of Pi
DW: I’m probably pre-disinclined to be interested. Most of my exposure to the story prior to this was critics and readers I trusted criticizing the book for it lazy and confused religious allegory and the obnoxious boosterism of the book’s fans. And the story does have a very “Oprah’s Book Club” sort of feel to it. The sort of thing that makes people who don’t read very often feel good about themselves because it’s the sort of thing that’s mildly challenging.
If it wasn’t for Ang Lee being involved in the film I probably wouldn’t be interested at all. And what we get in the trailers is very pretty, but Lee can be very hit or miss. And when he misses, he misses bad. And when he misses, he usually misses because he didn’t have great material to work with at the start.
So I think I’ll just chalk this up as a “not for me” and leave it at that.
KL: See it’s like LIFE, because you’re trapped with SAVAGERY which you will FIGHT and then learn to TRUST and LIFE, YOU KNOW? GUYS? RIGHT? LIFE?
Ang Lee directs a beautiful movie, and I’ll admit to some mild pleasantness when I saw the extended trailer for this in front of Prometheus on a ginormo digital screen. It was OK, but the thinness of the content and its placement in front of an actual movie only undermined it; basically, it worked fine as the pre-feature cartoon but I’m not at all interested in seeing the two-hour version.
DW: Why, what’s that I hear? Is it the tingling of tiny bells, baiting the Oscars to come out? I believe it is.
Look, I don’t doubt that Alfred Hitchcock was a fascinating man, and that there’s a juicy story to tell about the making of Psycho, but everything here just feels so…calculated. Look, it’s a Respected Actor in so much make-up that not only is he not recognizable, but he barely looks like the person he’s meant to be playing! It’s a biography of a famous person, with a Respected Actor in the lead role! Why, I do believe it’s even a movie about the motion-picture industry, celebrating the brilliance and vision of an auteur, triumphing over those pig-headed studio suits (who at least had the foresight to greenlight this picture, amirite guys?).
I’m sure it’s a good film. It’s also completely obvious why it got made.
KL: There are just so many great books about Hitchcock that never had to worry about obeying Sir Oscar, you know?
Killing Them Softly
KL: I’d be ready to dismiss this as Tough Guys Being Tough Guys, or Another Grim Lesson In Where Bad Life Choices Will Get You, or whatever, even though I like everyone here. However, this is adapted and directed by Andrew Dominik, the guy behind Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I suspect this will not be enough to make this movie not about Karma’s Payback yadda yadda, which fans of crime fiction have seen a bajillion times before. But that talent is hard to deny.
Also go see Chopper if you haven’t. That movie is where I first encountered Eric Bana, so imagine the cognitive dissonance of going from that to, say, Funny People. Crazy world.
DW: I am like the only gay man in the world who Doesn’t Get The Appeal when it comes to Brad Pitt, so anytime he’s the headliner you really have to work hard to convince me that the film is worth seeing. This looks like virtually every crime drama I’ve ever seen, with every Hard Man type making an appearance. I mean, heck, you’ve even got Liotta and Gandolfini in it, and they’re the Go To guys for that sort of movie. I’m sure it’s good, but I think this is a definite wait to see what critics think. Or I’ll just go rewatch Drive.
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One of the frustrating aspects of watching a lot of horror films, is that it very quickly becomes apparent that the genre tends to rely heavily on cliches and stock characters. Not all films, but the grind-out, cheap, fast and exploitative films that are the bread-and-butter of the genre. Partly that’s just plain old laziness; the audiences aren’t paying enough attention anyway, the last thing you want to do is make things harder for them by challenging them with new characters or unfamiliar situations. Partly it’s genre purist adherence to “the rules,” and that sort of tunnel-vision is a pet peeve of mine for another time. So when a film not only breaks down the cliches that dominate the genre, but actually makes the subversion of those cliches its central premise, it’s worth noting.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil opens with a stock group of obnoxious frat boys and their girl-friends in a truck, on their way to a camping trip in the woods, smoking pot and bemoaning the lack of beer, when they narrowly avoid a collision with a beat-up pick-up truck driven by a pair of “creepy” hillbillies. But, rather than follow the kids, we cut to the pick-up and discover that the “creepy” guys are…just two guys, Tucker and Dale, on their way to the fishing cabin that Tucker just sunk all of his savings into buying. Dale is stricken with one of the college girls, Allison, but belligerent Alpha Male wannabe Chad continually puts off his friends with talk about “freaks” and “hillbillies” and other insults coded with contempt for the less fiscally secure than he and his friends. Later that night, Tucker and Dale are night-fishing when Allison and the rest of the kids decide to go skinny-dipping. Allison is startled by Tucker and Dale and falls in the lake, hitting her head and knocking herself out. Dale dives in to save her, which the kids mistake for a kidnapping. In the morning, Dale makes Allison breakfast while her friends prepare to “rescue” her. Due to accidents with farm equipment, three of the kids end up killing themselves, convincing Tucker and Dale that the college students are camping out as some sort of suicide pact and are trying to force Allison to join in. Stand-offs between the groups continue to whittle down the number of college students, though Chad does manage to capture and torture Tucker in order to, well…supposedly to rescue Allison but really because he wants to. Allison eventually manages to talk Chad and Dale into discussing the situation, in an attempt to peaceably resolve the conflict, only for Chad to reveal that his mother was the sole survivor of a “hillbilly” attack on college students twenty years ago. Chad manages to blow up the cabin, kidnapping Allison and killing the rest of his friends, and Dale sets off to rescue her. In the process, Allison and Dale discovers that Chad’s real father was the “hillbilly” killer of twenty years ago, making him part hillbilly, and the pair are able to outwit him, leaving him seemingly for dead, and free to pursue their budding romance.
There’s a lot to like about the film, and it works well as a comedy, but again most of the horror works more as parody of the genre rather than as something scary in its own right. What’s frustrating about the film, though, is that it sets up a nice inversion to the normal “kids in the wood”/serial killer-slasher cliches, but never risks actually following through on them. Yes, Tucker and Dale are nominally the heroes and preppie Chad is the villain, but both Tucker and Dale are required to be oblivious to the fact that their antics do, out of context, come off as creepy. Meanwhile, the revelation that Chad is “half hillbilly”, and the use of that as explanation for why he sets out on a murderous rampage, buys into the same stupid, classist assumptions of every other “killer redneck” film out there. And that’s what’s really aggravating. The film flirts with the idea of actually addressing the offensive “poor people are evil subhumans” subtext of many horror films, but ultimately only manages to reinforce it. Even the romance between Dale and Allison is only allowable because, unlike her friends, Allison, it turns out, is actually from a blue-collar background as well, further cementing the class restrictions that Chad was so eager to enforce earlier in the film. And mostly I find all this frustrating because the film otherwise is so very good and the makers of horror films don’t need to shy away from their subtext, they don’t have to dumb it down, and that’s what it feels like happened here.
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The limits of horror as a genre fairly vaguely defined. There’s a tremendous amount of sci-fi horror, for example, but mostly what you get there are gore and splatter films with sci-fi trappings, or straight-forward sci-fi films that merely have some scary elements; actual blends of both sci-fi and horror are fairly rare. For that matter, we have pretty much the same problem with comedy and horror films. Fantasy and horror is somewhat less tricky, since there’s a dark aspect to many fantasy stories that fits with horror. But if you go to dark, are you still really a fantasy film, or just a horror film with a silly monster?
Trollhunter focuses on a trio of college students making a documentary about bear poachers in Norway. Interviewees tell us that there have been a large number of bears killed by poachers recently, but each site contains anomalous evidence that licensed bear hunters are unable to explain. The students begin tracking a mysterious man who seems to be the poacher, but when they finally track him down, hoping to catch him in the act of illegal hunting, the group is attacked by a giant, three-headed troll. The hunter, Hans, explains to the students the next morning that he is actually a government agent, tasked with monitoring the troll population and killing them when they move out of their territory and threaten the civilian population. The documentary then shifts to an expose of the colossal secret, the existence of the trolls, that the government has been keeping from the populace. Despite some setbacks, including rabies and the devouring of the Christian cameraman by a group of trolls, the tape makes its way to the public.
Trollhunter isn’t much of a horror film. It uses the language of horror films quite extensively. The “found footage” genre and the “true story” angles are common cliches for horror, and Trollhunter makes use of both. But ultimately, while the techniques do manage to create some tension, the fairy-tale monsters never really quite manage to come off as scary or threatening. What the film does work as, if you consider it as such, is satire, mostly of the horror genre, but also of the “found footage”/faux-reality techniques that have become so pervasive. In that context, the inherent silliness of the subject matter works well when matched with the slightly unbelievable horror the characters seem to be experiencing. The film takes itself too seriously, and so the humor comes through from the concept itself. And while the “dark fairy tale” aspect is sort of scary, the modern setting isn’t used to its full effect. None of which is to say the film is bad, at all. Quite the opposite, it’s a stellar film, but it’s also only a kinda-sorta-horror film, ultimately being more of a fantasy-comedy than straight-forward horror.
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Farce is hard to pull off at the best of times. Exaggerated situations and cartoonish characters aren’t exactly relateable for most audiences, so you have to be really funny to counteract the audience’s ability to suspend disbelief. Which is probably why so many things that pass for farce are just really broad jokes, delivered with a “laugh now” inflection for the viewer. Trying to add horror to farce just complicates everything more than is necessary, which probably explains why so many horror comedies go so broad when trying for farce, and why zombies are so popular a subject, since their inherent unreality and unrelateability doesn’t get in the way of the joke.
Which is a long way of going simply to say that it’s really tricky to pull off satisfying farce in a horror film if you’re not making it about fucking zombies.
Botched opens with Richie and two compatriots stealing diamonds from an auction house during the auction itself. Before they can get away, though, their car crashes and Richie is the only survivor, losing the diamonds in the chaos. To make up for the debt he owes mob boss Groznyi, he agrees to steal an antique cross from an office building in Russia, and is paired up with two brothers, one an idiot and one…an idiot but a trigger-happy one. Predictably, this heist goes wrong as well, and the three are forced to take hostages when they become trapped in an elevator, including office worker Anna, reporter Dmitry, incompetent security guard and alleged ex-spetsnaz officer Boris and a trio of female missionaries. Richie and his companions originally believe that they have been trapped on the 13th floor of the building and are waiting for a stand-off with the police, but when a man dressed in medieval Russian armor begins killing the hostages, it becomes clear that they have stumbled onto the killing floor of a serial killer who believes himself to be the descendant of Ivan the Terrible. Working with his sister, the head of the missionaries (who had been in the process the women to the killing floor when they were taken hostage), he picks his way through the hostages and criminals, using vaguely Rube Goldbergian schemes and traps, while Richie and Anna try to escape. Critically wounding the brother-sister pair, Richie and Anna make their way out, while Boris accidentally alerts building security to the situation, leaving Richie to deliver the crucifix to Groznyi and return to America with Anna.
On the horror-comedy scale, Botched definitely leans more towards the comedy end of things. It opens much like a heist film, and uses much of that same structure throughout. Only instead of clever crooks having to evade police, we have clever crooks trying to evade a serial killer, a more extreme situation, a less plausible situation, and a far more dangerous situation. But rather than play up that situation for drama, the film uses cartoonish characters and gives us Richie, an everyman who must react to the lunatic he’s surrounded by and the unfathomably terrible situation he’s in. But, again, the film goes broad, highlighting the surreal and bizarre nature of Richie’s situation, acknowledging to the audience that, yes, we know that this is an entirely absurd situation, just go with it. And so, crazed religious fundamentalist descendants of the czars on killing sprees it is.
Some horror sub-genres often feel like a better fit for melding comedy and horror than others. Zombies, for certain, seem to lend themselves to comedy quite well. Vampires have had a fair go too. Ghosts, werewolves…not so much. Slashers and thrillers would not seem likely to be a good match for a comedic tone. The “terror level” tends to be fairly high in slashers and thrillers, possibly because they’re the sub-genre most grounded in, for lack of a better word, “reality.” And it is arguable that, from many perspectives, slashers tend to be the most problematic sub-genre of horror films, and have a tendency to trend towards the exploitative and misogynistic in many cases. And there’s always the faint specter of there something…untoward about making jokes about people being horribly murdered by maniacs. So slasher comedies tend to be rare, because they’re really, really trick to pull off.
Severance opens with a mixed group of British and American employees of a weapons contractor and design company, Palisade Defence, on a bus travelling through the mountains of Hungary on a “team building” exercise for the weekend. The group is a fairly typical mix of office types/slasher cliche victims: the yes man, the handsome jock, the mousey girl, the stoner, the tomboyish “Last Girl” sort and the manager filling in the “oblivious authority figure” role. Their journey is interrupted by a fallen tree blocking the path. The driver refuses to take an alternate route through the woods and Richard, the manager, walks the group to the lodge on foot, eventually declaring a run-down, decrepit old house to be their destination. Meanwhile, a figure appears to be watching the group from the woods, and they narrowly miss discovering a corpse in the underbrush. It quickly becomes apparent that the dilapidated building is a far cry from the luxury chateau the group was promised, but Richard refuses to admit the possibility of making an error and forces the group to stay the night. A cache of medical files bearing the Palisade logo is found in a nearby shed, and rumors of a seedy incident in Palisade’s past is recalled, when the residents of a Russian asylum for war criminals broke loose and the military hunted down escapees, using chemical weapons supplied by Palisade. After a rough night, the group decides that it’s time to leave and two head for the main road in search of assistance while the rest stay behind to participate in a team-building exercise of paintball. The body of the bus driver is discovered by those who left, and the judge of the paintball game wanders into a field set with bear traps, losing his leg in the process. The two groups join back together and attempt to leave in the bus, only to discover the road is booby-trapped. A man wearing a balaclava then begins to pick off the group one-by-one, driving the survivors back to the house. They attempt to wait out the night, but discover that the killer has entry through an unexplored basement. Soon only three members of the group are left: Richard, Maggie (the stereotypical “Last Girl”) and stoner Steve. Richard escapes into the woods, leaving Maggie and Steve to kill the masked man. They leave, thinking their ordeal is over, only to walk into another six heavily armed men, who chase them through the woods to the actual chateau, with Richard sacrificing himself in the chase to take out several of the men in a mine field, where they discover the owner of Palisade partying with two escorts Steve had hired online earlier. Steve and Maggie manage to eventually take out the rest of the men, leaving the pair and the escorts to escape by boat in the morning.
Severance mostly plays closer to the horror end of the spectrum, front-loading most of the jokes and basing them on the character’s personalities and reactions to the uncomfortable “team building” situation they find themselves in. The characters themselves are mostly flawed, but realistically so, and most of them are given a chance to demonstrate that there is depth of humanity to them greater than merely their office roles or their “slasher film” role designations. That humanity helps the film tremendously to avoid falling into the trap that too many slasher movies lay; making their victims too unpleasant and too unrelatable and cartoonish, so that the audience ends up quietly hoping that they will die quickly and leave the screen forever. We actually feel a connection to these characters, and when the jokes stop and the situation becomes deadly, we hope that the innocent survive. Given the morally questionable nature of the work the characters do, that is an especially critical need, in particular when it becomes apparent that the situation they are in is one that, indirectly, the company they work for is responsible for, on every level.
As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m generally not a fan of zombie films (and yes, I’m well aware that, every year, I seem to hit a couple of them with these reviews). Mostly I dislike them because, well…they’re boring, and usually all anyone ever wants to do with them is gore or tired “oh, humans are the real monsters” moralizing. Gore is generally pretty dull, and that moralizing tone always rings false to me, because in a contest between humans who may or may not be jealous, petty, and/or racist and flesh-eating, rotting ghouls, I’m always going to go with the ghouls being the real monsters. So the “zombie” films I tend to like are the ones that tend to go far afield from usual routine in terms of tone, since the “not really zombies” trick doesn’t tend to impress me much either. The Return of the Living Dead is about as close to a “pure” zombie film as you can get and still keep my interest. A lot of that has to do with the strange nexus point it represents in the “canon” of zombie films. It’s an indirect sequel to the original Romero films, but posits those films as taking place in the realm of fiction; sort of the Earth 1 of zombie movies to Romero’s Earth 2. I find it hard to resist that sort of metatextual shenanigan.
The film opens with a jokey title card announcing that this is a “true story,” an attempt at versimilitude that feels increasingly lazy today but was relatively rare at the time, and actually ties in to one of the minor themes of the film. We then cut to Freddy, newest employee at a medical supply warehouse, being shown the ropes by foreman Frank and company owner Burt. Burt heads home, and Frank decides to impress the new kid by telling him how that “zombie movie” was actually a true story, only the military forced the film-maker to change the details. And the proof is in the chemical containers hidden in the warehouse basement, accidentally shipped to the warehouse due to a government error, each containing a preserved zombie. Frank shows the containers to Freddy and accidentally douses the two of them with the gas that reanimated the corpses, knocking them out as the container cracks open. Meanwhile, Freddy’s girl-friend, the suspiciously clean-cut Tina, and their much more Hollywood Punk friends decide to wait out the end of Freddy’s shift in the cemetary next door. Frank and Freddy wake up to find all the fleshy dead things in the warehouse coming back to life, including a medical cadaver. They’re more surprised, though, to learn that destroying the brain doesn’t do much to the zombies, and that films lie. They call up Burt, and the three cut up the body and take it to the morturary next door, since Ernie the Undertaker owes Burt a favor. The smoke from the incinerated body interacts with the storm clouds above the cemetary, coating the entire plot of land with the zombie reanimating chemicals to predictable results. Eventually the surviving punks make their way to the mortuary where the survivors, and a rapidly deteriorating Frank and Freddy, hole up. Before the end of the evening events continue to slip further and further into chaos, and the military drops a nuclear bomb on the entire city, ending the film.
By modern standards, The Return of the Living Dead is pretty tame. The gore is fairly minimal, most of the zombies are in pretty decent condition, and the usual markers of 80s exploitative horror, bare breasts, are limited to a few mid- to long-shots of naked Linnea Quigley. Even the comedy is fairly subdued; there are a few pratfalls early on, but the comedy mostly tends to focus around an earthy sex/death consciusness that informs the whole film, reaching it’s height when Trash (played by Linnea Quigley) reveals that to her mind the worst possible way to die would be to be chased by old men who then eat her alive, and sure enough that’s exactly what happens to her later in the film. It’s that sort of black-humored irony that informs most of the not-quite jokes, culminating in the ultimate “everybody dies” ending when the entire city is destroyed in nuclear fire. Most of the actual joke-jokes come from the zombies themselves. While the film is generally credited as being the origin of the zombie brain-eating connection (as opposed to the simple flesh-eating of earlier film ghouls), it is less rarely credited for its use of fast zombies, clever zombies and articulate zombies. These aren’t simply aimlessly wandering cadavers; they plan, they emote, and their hunger for brains is rooted firmly in their need to alleviate the physical and existential pains of death. It’s still dark comedy, but the deadpan dialogue of the zombies is endearing.
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