Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Like The Blair Witch Project before it, the dark horrors of Paranormal Activity comes packaged with way too much hype to live up to. And by the same measure, if you didn't like the former, you probably won't like the latter. If there wasn't already a Blair Witch 2, the video vérité Paranormal Activity would comfortably serve as a long-delayed sequel.
Substituting a nice, upscale apartment for the boonies, here we join a young couple as they try to cope with an escalating amount of the eponymous problem. Setting up a video cam to record their bedroom at night, on reviewing the footage each morning they are disturbed to find that the uglies being bumped in the room aren't typical of your average bedroom... that is, any bedroom north of Hell. Occasionally, someone drops by to tell them to get out. They don't, of course.
Unfortunately, Paranormal Activity doesn't deliver on much more than its creepy premise. There's a whole lot of daytime jibber jabber recorded with the shaky-cam, interspersed with brief moments of nighttime goosebumps. Rinse, lather. repeat. Despite the ballyhoo, it's not all that and it's short a bag of chips, ending just when things start to get interesting. Fortunately, if you don't like the ending, there's a couple of other choices available online.
That said, I prefer the theatrical ending over the other options:
Don't know if it was the filmmakers' intent, but I liked the suspicion that the girl was out there looking for a new boyfriend... and that there might be some ex'd out exes in her past.
Oddly enough, also was wondering if she had a preference for Jewish boyfriends, and that if she were to settle down with a nice Christian goy, that her demon might lighten up.
That's sort of a joke. But still... the bloody cross implied Christian-based demon.
Not saying that it's bad, just that the movie seems like it would be more effective on home viewing, on the couch with someone you've been dating only a short time, curled up under a blanket with nothing on except the television as the dark house creaks ominously.
It's too small a movie to fit on the big screen. Still, while I wasn't all that satisfied with the movie, I'm still 100% stoked that a li'l $11,000 movie kicked the SAW franchise in the nuts. Go Team DIY!
Saturday, November 7, 2009
In the eternal debate on Shamblers versus Sprinters, it’s nice to see a new zombie film take the side of the Shamblers and put up one damned fine pro argument. Although the Brit DIY entry Colin starts off on a slo-burn, about a half-hour in it kicks into an extended set-piece involving a zombie attack on what seems to be a sorority house that proves that although they’re all slow and messed up, the sheer numbers of the Shamblers are what’s gonna get you in the end. And front. And whatever piece of flesh they can latch on to and sink their teeth into.
While there are plenty of other reasons to recommend Colin, this setpiece is probably one of the most well-crafted portrayals of zombie mass attack in recent memory. There’s a 70s vibe to the scene, with a grainy, near-fetish aspect to the girls (and a couple of dorky dudes) putting up their last stand, armed only with pots and pans, an umbrella and whatever else solid is on hand.
The five-minute setpiece taps into the creeping dread that used to be the benchmark of the genre, the futility of fighting off the undead masses only to inevitably sink beneath their weight, to be torn apart slowly… slowly… slowly. The scene seems to go on forever, in a good way. It’s refreshing to find a filmmaker that still cares about the potential of the genre, as with the main- streaming of zombies we end up with Hollywood churning out buddy movies clad in zombie rags.
If you’ve heard of Marc Price’s 2009 Cannes sensation (now on DVD), it probably came hag-ridden with the hype that it was the zombie flick that was shot on video for £45 (US$75). Ultimately, the ballyhoo does Price’s film more than a disservice than just serving as good publicity. Because seriously, how many non-filmmakers are gonna be tempted to buy or rent a DIY project that they hear cost less than a keg of Guinness to shoot? Putting aside that, Colin is a solid entry in the genre that should be approached with what it has to offer, rather than how much it cost to make.
Taking up the POV of the eponymous character, we follow Colin as he drops by friend Damien’s flat to wash off some blood. Outside, the zombie apocalypse rages, the popcorn rattle of a pitched battle as unseen forces try to put down the uprising. Colin’s bad day gets worse as he’s jumped by the erstwhile friend and has to put Damien down.
Unfortunately, Colin’s bleeding out himself… and soon wakes up dead. And so it goes, as the living dead boy shambles to Point A to B to see what’s on the London streets for him to eat. Like I mentioned, the first half-hour takes some investment to immerse oneself in. Shot on a handheld Panasonic NV GS250, the motion sickness-inducing cinematography might be a chore for anyone that can’t abide the shaky-cam ethos. But the fact that Price pulled a solid-looking shoot out of a $1,300 consumer cam (and edited the material on Adobe Premiere) is pretty damned impressive in itself… but it’s what he does with the material that is outstanding.
The performances are surprisingly subdued for the material, and assayed by actors that evoke an instant empathy from the viewer. Which is an accomplishment in itself, and necessary. The living only get a few moments here, and for the material to work we need to be pulling for them the moment they step into the frame. The actors pull it off.
There’s a lot of thought on display in Colin, playing almost like a Hal Hartley take on the genre. It approaches the scenario on a more existential level, keeping an eye out for the more mundane aspects of life among the dead. One survivor takes momentary refuge in her bedroom, the walls lined with DVDs. One assumes that the bulk of them are horror, gauging from the ironic mien of the girl. Her back to the door, it begins to rattle.
Throughout, the British stiff upper lip is on display as the living acclimate to dodging the Shamblers. It’s obviously a losing battle, but they’re not going down without a fight. Not having access to the arms caches like their American counterparts, bricks and clubs, pipebombs and even slingshots are used to put down the dead. It’s ugly and generally futile, as Colin (and the other Zeds) abide.
Even most of the deaths ring realistic, as one-by-one the living are inexorably tracked down and cornered, dying with clumsy flailing, whines and moans in lieu of a Wilhelm scream.
But Colin isn't all grim nihilism and grody gore effects... also apparent is the British appreciation for absurdity. While not as overt as Shaun of the Dead, there's still some chuckles to be found here, even after death. Fortunately (for the tone of the piece), the humor is situational and not at the expense of the zombies... no Romero-esque clowns staggering around, here. Ironically, while there's plenty of nods to Romero on display, Colin feels more like a Romero film than the man himself has managed of late.
It's one very working class zombie film, evoking Romero in his Martin period.
Not to say that the DIY aspect doesn’t show its duct tape on occasion. There’s one set-piece involving the sole survivor of sorority death row that is so dark, it’s hard to make heads or tails of exactly what the hell is going down until it’s done.
But otherwise there’s so much loving detail that even the weaknesses seem organic, and enough grace notes that it’d be a crime if Colin doesn’t find its audience down the road. Right now it’s only available on DVD in Britain, but hopefully an American distributor picks it up Stateside.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I suppose Zombieland is okay for a pilot for TV series that somehow made it to the big screen. Unfortunately, the flick never outgrows its made for TV birth and grows into a real movie. Not really a zomedy, it's more a cookiecutter road movie with zombie sprinkles.
Set a couple of months after the inevitable zombie apocalypse, we’re helpfully kept up with what’s happening onscreen by the interminable voiceover of a chuckleheaded teen (a low-budget Michael Cera). Short of a film noir parody, I doubt that there has ever been a movie with more voiceover than Zombieland. Our chatterbox is soon joined by Woody Harrelson (played by Woody Harrelson) and a mercenary pair of sisters (some raccoon-eyed brunette and that kid from Little Miss Sunshine). For some reason, they get it into their tiny little minds that an amusement park 3000 miles away is clear of the undead, and off they go. Along the way they talk, shop and argue. Sometimes, a zombie shambles into the picture and they kill it by way of a set of rules lifted (unattributed) from Max Brooks’ zombie satire, The Zombie Survival Guide. Pausing frequently to set up product placement for Hostess and General Motors, they arrive in LA and drop in on a fading A-lister to give him a handjob and pimp a certain film in the Paramount back catalog. The film stops dead in its tracks as the actors vamp to the interminable theme song of that film and the narrative never really recovers. Not that there was much going on before, but...
It’s never made clear how these rocket scientists manage to last as long as they do in a zombie apocalypse, what with leaving doors and gates open and lighting up big neon signs that flash "Eat Here!" for miles around. A whole, wide world of unlocked gunstores and auto dealerships, and these folks can only scrape up enough brain cell activity to either stumble across supplies or steal from other survivors. Maybe it’s weak metaphor, but it doesn’t feel that way.
If Zombieland was a li'l more cartoonish, it might have been something interesting. Unfortunately, most of the creative zombie kills promised in the trailer were featured in the trailer (and in the movie, mostly featured in the opening credits), with the rest of the running time padded out with tone-deaf jibber jabber. The weakest link is trying too hard to be a zombie movie for folks that don't like zombie movies, with too much of the sitcom warm-n-fuzzy hung around its neck. As such, it’s not clever and it’s not suspenseful; one never gets the vibe that any of the leads might not make it to the end credits.
Even worse, it doesn't even bother to try to overcome its sit-com roots. One gets the vibe that the third act of the script was cobbled together in a hurry to get away from the open end a pilot would have left. And not cobbled very well...here the third act completely betrays the two female characters by having them do something so out of character that it only works so that the two boneheaded males can come in and clean up the mess after them. Ah, stupid chicks. What can you do?
Down and dirty, the film is an mouth-breathing genre piece made by opportunists that have no affinity for the genre. It's nothing more than a half-baked narrative designed only to connect a series of product placements. Which in itself is ironic, seeing how the prime metaphor of the zombie genre is of rampant consumerism. It's another example of pop culture eating itself, with no self-awareness. A zombie film for zombies.
Shaun of the Dead, Return of the Living Dead and Dead/Alive are secure as the only zomedies that matter.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
So... the word burbling up is that Jacko went out on Demerol. Mmmmm... Demerol. I can dig it. And with his face falling off the way it was, completely understandable.
Like... me and Demerol? We dated briefly.
In a reassuring tone laced with an undercurrent of you-deserve-everything-you're-getting, an emergency room doctor once told me that pancreatitis is the closest a man can come to knowing what it's like to give birth. If that's the case I cannot even begin to figure out why a woman would decide to have a second child. On the other hand, I tried the pancreatitis thing a couple of times myself, so I suppose it all boils down to the same thing ... making the same mistakes all over again just means you're crazy.
Demerol burns as it makes its way up the vein. Not a bad burn, just a disconcerting one. Sorta sexy, if you're into that sorta thing. The pain doesn't go away, but it soon becomes insignificant as other things catch your attention ... like how perception of the hospital room shifts and suddenly the bed seems to be aligned against the wall. Sorta cool, but you don't want to sit up suddenly... you might tumble off the bed and smack your face against the wall. Which is now the floor.
That morning, I had woke up with what seemed to be the nastiest hangover. Not being prone to them, I figured it was just something that was long overdue. It was... just not in the way I thought. A pints-o'-Guinness diet chased with Jägermeister shots (and no food) is not a diet. As the morning wore on, cold sweat settled in and the abdominal pain began to build. And build. Jack-knifing my torso in a futile attempt to ease the agony, I took a cab to the hospital.
Rewind to the ER doc. And a nurse. And an IV drip. Mmmmm... Demerol. Did I mention that Demerol is a blast?
It is ... at first.
Motionless in my bed as the room slowly tumbled, I kept my attention on the television. Vampire hunters were taking on undead hookers with supersoakers filled with holy water. It was very wet-looking and sounding, although not as much so as my roommate's dying gasps. An older gent, it sounded as if he were drowning in his own blood.
Unfortunately for him, he was on an HMO that had decided that he was more expensive than what had been signed off on their terms of agreement, and soon the staff was wheeling him out of the room to presumably dump him out on the street.
More on the street later.
I was on the government's dime, so again they obligingly paused during the course of his evacuation and asked if I "needed" more Demerol. Why the hell not? I was having fun.
The fun ended early in the morning. I didn't see them at first, but I could sense the ghosts of the patients-past moving in. If you're going to be haunted, an old dark hospital is probably not the best place to be. Soon I began to catch glimpses of them, a hollow-eyed little girl darting peeks over the foot of my bed. Not good, and even worse than that was the shadow lurking ... waiting ... behind the curtain that separated the room. Whispering rustled from intangible throats.
As they say... fuck that noise.
I ripped the IV from the crook of my arm and quickly got dressed. Easing the door closed behind me as I stepped out of the room, the hospital seemed deserted. Almost. A German shepherd padded slowly down the hallway. It looked up at me with dull eyes and I hit the stairwell, winnowing down through the levels until I reached the street.
The dead were waiting for me. Over the last couple of hundred years a lot of folks have died at that hospital, and I suppose some of them had nothing better to do than to while away the countdown to the End of Days. Loitering near where they drew their last breath. The streets were choked with them, and they had a malevolent mien. I gave them wide berth. Their empty eyes turned to watch as I stumbled by, the only movement they made toward me. I made for my home, zigging occasionally as a specter loomed in my path, zagging away as another turned towards me.
As I made it further from the hospital, the haunts began to taper off. A bloody little boy here at what I assumed was a deadly intersection, a bag lady there where she probably crawled into the bushes one night to sleep off life.
They were finally gone by the time I began to cross the campus. Dawn was near. In the place of mere haunts, the crisp air was filled with the dull thuds of something being torn asunder. I spied colossal trolls, trying to tear the roof off of a nearby auditorium with giant sledgehammers.
"Damn," I realized ... "I'm trippin'."
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Been AWOL awhile, you betcha. Thing is, I got tagged last July to run a late night theatre company... which means that my time's been filled scramblin' to get things done. Doesn't leave alot of time to absorb and comment on other folks work.
Anyway, this has (hopefully) culminated in getting ready to get my own film done. Details going on over at The Deadly Penguins.
For anyone that drops by on occasion to see if there's been any new posts... thanks for the faith. I miss it, but just don't have the juice. At some point, I'll get back in the groove. Just not happenin' until I get this done.