Saturday, November 15, 2014

year 6 wrap-up / year 7 preview

What did I learn from the films I watched in 2014?  A review:

1) This was the year of Woody Allen, Alfred Hitchcock, and to a lesser extent, Charlie Chaplin.  Most of my process in watching movies has been actor-based and not director-based, but I felt I needed to make an exception for these three very distinct filmmakers.  This meant going back to their earliest works which were not always great - watching silent films these days just seems like such a futile process, but I wanted to see where Hitchcock and Chaplin got their starts, even though Hitch's early work was so damn rough.  Similarly for Woody, that meant enduring awful films like "What's New, Pussycat" and the pointless "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" just to get to the better stuff like "Broadway Danny Rose" and "Match Point". 

I ended up feeling like I'd cracked the code on these three filmmakers - for Hitchcock, so many of his mid-career films involved mistaken identity or someone being accused of a crime, and then going on the run to find the evidence to prove themself innocent, and usually falling in love along the way.  By the time he got to "Psycho" and "The Birds" he was finally able to break out of the pattern, but after that his career was really back to being somewhat erratic. 

2) Writers, artists, actors and musicians had a big year - biopics were hot, like "Pollock", "Coal Miner's Daughter", "Sweet Dreams", "My Week with Marilyn", "The Notorious Bettie Page", TWO films about the stage career of Orson Welles, "Sylvia", "Shadowlands", "Julia", and "Frances".  More fictionally, actors turned up in  "Postcards From the Edge" and "The Hard Way", while writers popped up in "Ruby Sparks", "The Shipping News", and all those Woody Allen films.  Fictional (?) musicians also made their presence felt in films like "Purple Rain", "Quadrophenia", "Velvet Goldmine", "8 Mile" and "Hustle & Flow".  So I've definitely got this topic, about what it means to be a creative type, covered.

3) Superheroes showed up again this year - my highest-rated film of the year was "X-Men: Days of Future Past", which received a "9", surprising no one.  Superheroes, time travel, lots of action, what's not to love, aside from a few Nitpick Points?  But this was also the year of "Thor: The Dark World", "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", "Amazing Spider-Man 2" and "Kick-Ass 2" - winners all, to some degree. 

4) And for other, non-superhero forms of sci-fi, fantasy and horror, always strong topics around these parts, you could say I covered this from A to Z - that's Aliens to Zombies.  For straight-out sci-fi I watched "Oblivion", "Elysium", "Zathura", "Solaris", "Gravity", "Ender's Game", "After Earth", "Lost in Space", "Pacific Rim" and "The Island".  In the realm of fantasy, there were the two "Conan" films, "Jack the Giant-Slayer", "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", and "Oz the Great and Powerful".  And for horror, I nearly finished up Stephen King films with "Hearts in Atlantis", "Cujo" "Cat's Eye", and "Pet Sematary", and then along came the walking undead in films like "R.I.P.D.", "Warm Bodies", "World War Z" and "Cockneys vs. Zombies".  Then I got raptured with "This Is the End".  Oh, and whatever the hell "Cloud Atlas" was, I watched that too.  

5) The February romance chain was a bit underwhelming this year - "The Notebook" and "The Vow" sort of stood out, but the rest was pretty average.  There was a weird upswing in romances involving reporters ("Up Close & Personal", "His Girl Friday", "It Happened One Night"), but the rest sort of felt like the remnants of previous chains on the topic.  There was also a preponderance of films with ampersands ("Celeste & Jesse Forever", "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry", and "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice") - I'm not sure what that means, probably just a coincidence.

6) Thank God the animation category was there to pick up the slack.  In addition to "Cheatin'" (now officially an Oscar-eligible film for 2014!) I got to some recent animated hits like "Rango", "Brave", "Wreck-It Ralph", "Planes", "Monsters University", "Madagascar 3", "Ice Age: Continental Drift", "The Adventures of Tintin", "Epic" and "Frozen".  I came darn close to clearing the category, I think there are just 4 or 5 animated films on the watchlist now.  I also dipped back into past years to finally watch "Mulan", "Dinosaur" and the lost classic "Gay Purree".  

7) Crime films, always another hot topic.  From the classics "The Big Heat", "White Heat", "The Public Enemy" and "The Postman Always Rings Twice" to "Payback" and both versions of "Get Carter", right up to more modern comedies like "The Heat" and "Identity Thief", it seems I was a bit scattered on this topic this year.  But, in my defense, it's a wide-ranging topic.  Where do more modern films like "Lawless", "The Newton Boys" and "Gangster Squad fit in if they're made recently but set in the crime-ridden 1920's and 30's?  Who can say?  And how do I compare those to films set in the present, like "Compliance", "The Call" and "Perfect Stranger"?  

If I had to pick an over-arching theme for the year (and really, I don't have to) it would be something about identity.  This manifested itself most blatantly in films where there were switches between identical-looking non-twins, like in "The Prince and the Pauper" and "The Man in the Iron Mask".  Late in the year, this repeated with "The Great Dictator" and "The Dictator".  Who is someone, really, when they look just like someone else?  Then we had films where people were going under false identities, like "We're the Millers", "The Stunt Man", "Apt Pupil" and "Identity Thief" (duh).  Who is someone, really, when they're pretending to be someone else?

You can carry this theme even further, into the typical and not-so-typical "fish out of water" stories, where a character is thrust into another environment and forced to change.  Great examples are "Rango", "Oz the Great and Powerful", and "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey".  Who is someone, really, when they're taken away from home and put somewhere else?  Do they become a new entity, or remain true to their original nature, or perhaps a little bit of both?  Other riffs on this theme: "Madagascar 3", "Hugo", "Wreck-It Ralph", "Anchorman 2", "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel", "Doc Hollywood", "A Good Day to Die Hard", even "Lilies of the Field".  

Now, a shout-out to the actors who showed up a lot...at least three times each this year:
Jim Carrey ("Lemony Snicket", "Mr. Popper's Penguins", "Anchorman 2", "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" and "Kick-Ass 2")
Michelle Pfeiffer ("A Midsummer Night's Dream", "The Age of Innocence" and "Up Close & Personal")
Halle Berry ("The Call", "Perfect Stranger", "Cloud Atlas" and "X-Men: Days of Future Past")
Kevin Spacey ("The Big Kahuna", "Swimming with Sharks" and "The Shipping News")
Natalie Portman ("Anywhere But Here", "Where the Heart Is", "No Strings Attached" and "Thor: The Dark World")
Scarlett Johansson ("Match Point", "Scoop", "Vicky Cristina Barcelona", "The Island" and "Hitchcock")
Wallace Shawn ("Clueless", "Admission", and "My Dinner With Andre")
Tom Hanks ("Captain Phillips", "Saving Mr. Banks", "Volunteers" and "Cloud Atlas")
Paul Rudd ("Clueless", "Admission" and "This is 40")
Adam Sandler ("Big Daddy", "Grown-Ups 2", "Mr. Deeds" and "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry")
Mel Gibson ("Bird on a Wire", "The River" and "Payback")
Colin Farrell ("Epic", "Alexander" and "Saving. Mr. Banks")
Ingrid Bergman ("Spellbound", "Notorious", "For Whom the Bell Tolls", "Anastasia" and "Gaslight")
Joan Crawford ("Grand Hotel", "Mildred Pierce" and "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?")
Cary Grant ("His Girl Friday", "Suspicion", "To Catch a Thief", "Notorious" and "North by Northwest")
Jimmy Stewart ("Rope", "Rear Window", "The Man Who Knew Too Much" and "Vertigo")
Grace Kelly ("Dial M for Murder", "Rear Window" and "To Catch a Thief")

and joining the "Four-in-a-Row" club:
Bette Davis ("Dark Victory", "Now, Voyager", "The Catered Affair" and "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?")
Jane Fonda ("Coming Home", "The China Syndrome", "Klute" and "California Suite", plus "Julia")
Ewan McGregor ("Velvet Goldmine", "A Life Less Ordinary", "The Impossible" and "The Island")
Bradley Cooper ("The Hangover Part III", "The Words", "Silver Linings Playbook" and "American Hustle")
Leonardo DiCaprio ("Shutter Island", "The Beach", "Revolutionary Road", "The Great Gatsby" and "Django Unchained", plus "The Man in the Iron Mask")
Goldie Hawn ("Private Benjamin", "Butterflies Are Free", "The Out-of-Towners", "The Sugarland Express" and "Bird on a Wire")
Anthony Hopkins ("Shadowlands", "Howards End", "The Remains of the Day", "Hearts in Atlantis", and "Hitchcock", plus also "Alexander" and "Thor: The Dark World")
Diane Keaton ("Play It Again, Sam", "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex", "Sleeper" and "Love and Death", plus "Interiors")

But the real champs this year were Mia Farrow, showing up in 8 Woody Allen films, and the Wood-man himself, showing up as an actor an astonishing 21 times (that's what happens when you're the director and you can hire yourself...) with a run of at least nine back-to-back appearances in my rundown.  (Though I guess if I count Alfred Hitchcock's cameos, he might have Woody Allen beat...) Right now, I'm going through the Woody Allen films that I skipped in March and April because I'd seen them before, just because I want to be able to say that I watched EVERY Woody Allen film in this calendar year - plus this sets me up to watch "Hannah and Her Sisters" as a lead-in to Thanksgiving, and several Thanksgiving dinners are seen in that film.

In the meantime, it's hard for me to NOT watch a new movie for the next month and a half.  Films like "Interstellar" and "The Theory of Everything" are opening in theaters and they look really appealing and interesting - plus I'm turning down invitations to see films like "The Boxtrolls" that are competing against my boss's film "Cheatin'" for the Animated Feature Oscar nominations, it's very tempting to check out the competition, but I'm holding back.  Same for "The Lego Movie", it's airing this weekend but I'm just going to record it and watch it next year.

But there is a purpose to finishing my year early - I'm re-sorting my entire comic-book collection, which is a labor-intensive job that involves moving some heavy longboxes.  I'm on the letter "H" right now, but I can only move about 10 boxes of comics a day before my shoulder gives out, so that's my free time for the next week.  Then it will be time to put together my annual Christmas mix CD that I mail out with Christmas cards, not to mention addressing all those cards, and getting started on catalog shopping and then the buying of Christmas gifts.

When all that's done, and January will be here before I know it, I've got to start thinking about either seriously buckling down and doing some writing, or alternatively looking for some more employment somehow.  As it is, I'm home four days a week and I'm getting caught up in the drama unfolding in my backyard, with birds, squirrels and stray cats all sharing the same space.  I'm feeding all three right now, because if I fail to put out peanuts for the squirrels, then they eat the bird seed, and the whole process falls apart.

Looking ahead to the films to watch in 2015 - what could possibly still be on the list at this point?  Turns out, 150 films right now, but I expect that number to rise a bit before January 1.  Still, that number represents great progress made in 2014 - there were 205 films on the watchlist at the end of last year, so the list is down by about 25%, and I've got my best chances ever of finishing this project off in 12 months.  150 films to go, plus there are the new releases coming out on cable, plus things I may want to see in the theaters next year, plus TCM's annual Oscar salute in February that always adds things to the list - so yeah, 150 films could easily become 300 to watch next year.

The next best stopping point would be film #2,200 - and I've love greatly for that to be "Star Wars: Episode 7", due out next December.  Film #1 was "Star Wars: The Clone Wars", so that would create some great symmetry, and define the project as sort of what I watched between installments in my favorite franchise.  I think I've devised some ingenious linking for the end of next year that will get me there. 

Thematically, coming up next year will be another look at various crime films in January, then the annual February mostly-romance chain, and then my linking will take me about up to the start of baseball season.  After that there's a big gap in the proceedings which I'm hoping will get filled in somehow, because the next topics are the fall ones like horror films, political films and back-to-school.  You can expect tributes to Laurence Olivier, Mae West, Harrison Ford, Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts, Sean Connery, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vince Vaughn, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Jeremy Renner, Matt Damon, Matthew McConnaughey, and of course, Robin Williams. 

What am I looking forward to watching in 2015?  "Nebraska", "12 Years a Slave", "Moonrise Kingdom", "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol", "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug", "About Time", and a bunch of others - admittedly, part of the fun is finding the undiscovered gems.

So, Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, plus a Merry Christmas or a Happy Hannukkah, and I'll see you back here right after New Year's.

Friday, November 7, 2014

This Is the End

Year 6, Day 310 - 11/6/14 - Movie #1,900

BEFORE: Learning that there were not one but TWO apocalypse-theme films released in 2013, within just days of each other, both starring Craig Robinson - well, that's just like organizational catnip to me.  I couldn't resist putting them next to each other.  And as you might surmise from the title, this was SUPPOSED to be the arbitrary stopping point for this project - at one point I had just enough films on the watchlist to make this be the ever-lovin' end, in form as well as in name.  But time moved forward, more films got added to the list, and mathematically it became impossible to stop here - but it still remained the stopping point for the year, from a thematic point of view.

This was RUMORED to be the final film ever rented from Blockbuster Video, before that company went out of business.  It's a nice story, but it wasn't true.  How would someone even know that, anyway, considering how many stores there were in the chain?  Was there some sort of centralized computer that logs in rentals from hundreds of locations, and who's to say two movies couldn't be rented at the exact same time, in which case which one is really last?  Don't believe the hype...
THE PLOT:  While attending a party at James Franco's house, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and many other celebrities are faced with the apocalypse.

AFTER: This is the film where Seth Rogen, James Franco and a bunch of other actors play themselves, or rather un-idealized versions of themselves, confronted by the rapture and the apocalypse going on around them.  Makes sense, since if you believe in the Book of Revelation, Hollywood will probably be toast, being the hotbed of liberalism and egotism and self-serving attitudes that it is.  You know those creative types, a bunch of spoiled, rich, self-serving and self-obsessed drug fiends, am I right?

Again, one hopes that these actors are merely poking fun at their own images, or are aware of what the public thinks of them, and took an opportunity to make comedy out of it and laugh at themselves at the same time.  If not, then this is just a chance to put themselves on display in all their own self-obsessed glory, and they've ended up proving their own point.  But let's assume the former for the sake of argument.

There's a party at James Franco's house, and drugs are involved, and wild sex is involved, and then in the middle of everything, the rapture happens.  Big shock, no one at the party is affected, not at first, because they're all heathens.  Like last night's film, this portrays what happens to those left behind in the post-rapture world, who have to deal with the hell that Earth has become.  Fire, demons, demonic possession, looting, cannibalism, and just a general feeling of "Oh, fuck, what do we do now?"

The answer, of course, is panic.  But once the panic subsides and everyone has a better handle on what's going on, perhaps more panic is in order.  But THEN, it turns out that the Rapture might not be the end of it all, and heaven might not be closed for business, it just requires an act of sacrifice to get beamed up there.

This is all supremely silly, right?  I mean, is the world going to end with a bang or a whimper?  Is there going to be the bright light leading to the heavenly choir, or are we just going to all die because of a plague or a virus or a zombie attack?  If the end is nigh, will it bring pain or pleasure or neither?  And can we all get past this silly nature that we'll ascend into heaven?  I mean, "Up" is a relative direction, right?  My "up" isn't the same vector as the "up" for someone in China or Australia, their "up" points in different ways.  So where is heaven, if it exists, since the Earth is surrounded by "up"?

I am liking that the Biblical endtimes are now largely portrayed in the same way that sci-fi monster movies are.  The Book of Revelation was really like the first doomsday science-fiction ever written, or maybe if we count all religion as fantasy, then the Greek or Egyptian mythologies were the first examples of science fiction.  Am I way off base here?  

Of course, since it turns out this wasn't the last film rented from Blockbuster, it wasn't the end of video rentals, and it's not the end of my project either.  I'll take a few weeks off and get some other stuff done, like finally organizing my comic books, and getting ready for the holidays. Wow, I'm kind of wasting a film with a lot of linkage on my last slot of the year - since I'll start in January with a clean slate.  I'll get a 2014 wrap-up written sometime in the next week or so, detailing what I learned this year.

Also starring Seth Rogen (last seen in "50/50"), Jay Baruchel (last seen in "Goon"), James Franco (last seen in "Oz the Great and Powerful"), Jonah Hill (last seen in "Django Unchained"), Danny McBride (last heard in "Kung Fu Panda 2"), Michael Cera (last seen in "Youth in Revolt"), Emma Watson (last seen in "My Week with Marilyn"), with cameos from Mindy Kaling (last seen in "No Strings Attached"), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (last seen in "Kick-Ass 2"), Paul Rudd (last seen in "This Is 40"), Jason Segel (ditto), Martin Starr, Channing Tatum (last seen in "The Vow"), Rihanna, David Krumholtz, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari, and the Backstreet Boys.

RATING: 4 out of 10 bottles of water

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Rapture-Palooza

Year 6, Day 309 - 11/5/14 - Movie #1,899

BEFORE: Now that I've visited The World's End, let's get back to the, umm, the world's end.  Linking from "The World's End", Martin Freeman was also in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", and the voice of the ship's computer in that film was provided by Thomas Lennon (last seen in "We're the Millers"), who's seen in tonight's film.

THE PLOT:  Two teens battle their way through a religious apocalypse on a mission to defeat the Antichrist.

AFTER: It's a little tough to say if this film is trying to stay faithful to the Book of Revelation, or trying hard to poke fun at it, because it depicts a rapture much like the one that Christians have anticipated by reading between the lines of that Bible book, but it also showcases how logistically unlikely the whole thing is.  People disappearing all at once, leaving behind their clothes and half-eaten meals - what if one of the faithful was driving a truck or flying a plane, what happens then?

But this is really a film about those left behind, the people who didn't go to church and went out and had fun instead.  They have to live in a world with post-apocalyptic conditions, like taunting locusts, cursing crows and downpours of blood.  Plus there are flaming meteors falling randomly from the sky.  This is another film very light on the science and logistics, you just sort of have to buy into the rapture and believe that all these things can happen, without people being driven insane.

Most annoying of all would probably be knowing that there definitely IS a heaven, and you're not on the guest list.  But then, what happens to the people left behind when they die?  Do they even die?  If heaven's closed, does that mean the only other option is hell?  Or maybe earth becomes hell, and hell is no longer necessary.

Plus there's the Beast to contend with.  It's a little tough to say if the one portrayed here is meant to be the Beast described in Revelation, or if it's just a guy who saw his chance and stepped up to the plate.  Oh, he's definitely evil, but I'm not sure if he's Biblical evil, or just human evil.  Where do you draw that line, anyway?

It's not until the Beast sets his sights on a woman who he can't have that anyone even thinks of taking him down, which is a little strange.  You'd think people would be lining up to dispatch the Beast if it meant they could get back on God's good side, considering all that's taking place in the world and that heaven is confirmed as real.  Beyond that, there are a lot of ideas here that feel sort of half-formed - when characters admit that they don't really have a plan, it's often a sign that a screenwriter couldn't come up with one.

OK, one film left to watch in 2014, and if you've been playing along at home and gotten a feel for how I think and organize things, it shouldn't be too hard to predict what it will be.

Also starring Anna Kendrick (last seen in "Pitch Perfect"), John Francis Daley (last seen in "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"), Craig Robinson (last seen in "Hot Tub Time Machine"), Rob Corddry (last seen in "Warm Bodies"), John Michael Higgins (also last seen in "Pitch Perfect"), Ana Gasteyer (last seen in "Dick"), Ken Jeong (last seen in "The Hangover Part III"), Rob Heubel (last seen in "Celeste & Jesse Forever"), Paul Scheer, Tyler Labine.

RATING: 4 out of 10 bowling pins

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The World's End

Year 6, Day 308 - 11/4/14 - Movie #1,898

BEFORE: Perhaps you saw this one coming.  I figured this would work out somehow, with two films set in the U.K. put back to back, and I was right - Georgia King from "Cockneys & Zombies" was also in a film called "Burke & Hare" with Simon Pegg (last heard in "The Adventures of TinTin")

THE PLOT: Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind's only hope for survival.

AFTER: To be clear, the title of this film refers to the name of a pub.  Though I guess it's a double meaning of sorts, the actual end of the world as well as a catchy name like "The Famous Cock" or "The Two-Headed Dog".  Also to be clear, there are NO zombies in this film, I guess that's because the people behind this film also made "Shaun of the Dead", and they wanted to break fresh ground.  I won't reveal the identity of the actual villains in the film, but they do act sort of zombie-like in a way.  


But this film is much more about battling sci-fi villains, and the best films are usually about more than one thing.  This film is also about re-connecting with old friends, forgiving old grudges (or not, where appropriate), the futility of trying to recapture one's youth, alcoholism, anti-bullying, love, regret, the over-Starbucks-ification of everything these days, the indefatigable nature of the human condition, and yes, trying to save the world in the middle of all that.   

Also, we learn what a "marmalade sandwich" really means, what happens in the disabled stalls in British pubs, some really great ideas for band names that I hope someone steals, and how ill-advised a 12-stop pub crawl really is.  Look, I do a lot of different beer events around NYC, everything from beer dinners to special food + beer pairing events, to special spring and fall tasting events.  At some of them I admit I drink to excess - even if they're giving out 2 oz samples, I find that if I drink enough 2 oz samples, I can get plenty wasted.  

I just plain don't understand pub crawls.  Why visit 8 bars to drink 8 beers, when you can stay in ONE bar and drink 8 beers?  Why the need to leave one bar and go out into the world, dodging traffic (or worse, driving from place to place) when everything I need is already in one bar?  In terms of pints, if I'm eating food I'm probably good for 5 pints, and a well-stocked craft bar probably has more than 5 beers to choose from, even if I'm looking for the ever-elusive perfect combination of food and drink.

And it's not like any bar has a special beer that I can't get at the next place down the road.  Wait, I do now of a couple restaurants in the city that are the only place you can get certain beers - but I can always go to that other place on another night!  Why risk life and limb just to cover a certain number of pubs in one night?  Does the moving from place to place somehow sober up pubcrawlers just enough to be ready for the next beer?  (Hmm, I'll have to investigate that...)  

But I suppose this film (and pub crawling) is about being obsessive, and I can understand that.  Downing a pint in 12 different pubs just to check them off a list, just to prove it can be done.  I've been there - certainly if there are 40 or 50 beers to be sampled at a festival, my mind certainly goes straight to "I wonder if I can sample them all..." and they also provide me with a handy list that I can make checkmarks to.  Well, what am I supposed to do, NOT try them all?  

There's even a high-alcohol Belgian beer made by the Unibroue brewery called "Fin du Monde", which translates as "the end of the world".  Definitely something to consider drinking while watching this film...

Just 2 films left in Movie Year 6, which is a bit like having one more pub to cross off the list before heading home, I suppose...

Also starring Nick Frost (also last heard in "The Adventures of Tintin"), Martin Freeman (last seen in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"), Paddy Considine (last seen in "The Bourne Ultimatum"), Rosamund Pike (last seen in "Wrath of the Titans"), Eddie Marsan (last seen in "Me and Orson Welles"), Pierce Brosnan (last seen in "Die Another Day"), David Bradley, Michael Smiley, and the voice of Bill Nighy (last seen in "Jack the Giant Slayer").

RATING: 7 out of 10 tap handles

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Cockneys vs. Zombies

Year 6, Day 307 - 11/3/14 - Movie #1,897

BEFORE:  Just three films left for me to watch in 2014 after this one, and I'll say that all have to deal with the end of the world in some way.  I was trying to wrap up the project, but with 150 films left on the list, it looks like I'm setting myself up for Year 7.  The watchlist has just never gone down as fast as I'd hoped.  Linking from "World War Z", Brad Pitt was also in "Snatch" with Alan Ford, who appears tonight.  The IMDB informed me that there was one actress who played a soldier in "World War Z" who also played a zombie in tonight's film, but since those were minor roles, that sort of feels like cheating.
THE PLOT: A gang of bank robbers fight their way out of a zombie-infested London.

AFTER:  Well, we had a zombie film that was also a romance, then one that was pure action, and now we've got one that's a semi-comic crime film.  The poster for this film says that it's like "Shaun of the Dead" crossed with "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels".  That's about as spot-on a description as you're going to get, and I'm hard pressed to come up with a better one.  There just aren't any big-name stars in this one, whereas those other two films each had a few.

It occurs to me that if we are indeed inching toward the zombie apocalypse, the current generation of teens and twenty-somethings, raised on first-person shooter video games, will be uniquely qualified to handle the encroaching horde.  Hey, that's just nature taking care of itself - creating a situation, and then the necessary mutation of skills to deal with it.

But we also learn a few things here - like which is faster, lumbering zombies or shuffling senior citizens?  Does a zombie attack really create an ideal time to rob a bank?  What's the British equivalent of an old Indian burial ground?  And what's up with that Cockney rhyming slang, anyway?  Isn't "stairs" so much easier to say than "apples and pears"?  Slang should be fewer syllables than the word it's replacing, right?

Other than that, it's the usual zombie knowledge - you have to kill them with a head shot, don't get bitten or you turn into one of them, get out of town and head for higher ground.  Fortunately by now every character in films has also seen a few zombie films, so there's a lot less of a learning curve.

There is a moment in the film though, where a bunch of zombies wearing the colors of one soccer team encounters another bunch of zombies wearing another team's colors, and the two groups of undead hooligans start to fight.  They've lost all cognitive brain function, yet somehow remember that the other fans are their enemies, and they're supposed to be duking it out with them.  I'm being told that the two groups are fans of West Ham and Millwall, and in the U.K, this joke is probably hilarious.  In the U.S. not so much, unless you can think of them as fans of rival teams like the Yankees and Red Sox or something.

Someone could re-make this film for U.S. audiences, set it in Brooklyn, and call it "Hipsters vs. Zombies".  Nah, that would never work, and even if it did, then I'd be rooting for the zombies.

Also starring Rasmus Hardiker (last seen in "Your Highness"), Harry Treadaway (last seen in "The Lone Ranger"), Michelle Ryan (last seen in "Cashback"), Jack Doolan, Georgia King (last seen in "One Day"), Ashley Thomas, Tony Gardner, Honor Blackman (last seen in "Goldfinger").

RATING: 4 out of 10 meals on wheels

Monday, November 3, 2014

World War Z

Year 6, Day 306 - 11/2/14 - Movie #1,896

BEFORE: More zombies tonight, the Halloween horror chain is sort of spilling into November, and I'm back on track for sort of an end-of-the-world pandemic thing.  Which is quite timely considering all the ebola news - I swear it's all a coincidence.  I planned months ago to be exactly where I am now in the chain, I'm not tying in with headline news intentionally.

Linking from "Warm Bodies", John Malkovich was also in "Burn After Reading" with Brad Pitt (last seen in "Killing Them Softly").  Simple as that.

THE PLOT:  United Nations employee Gerry Lane traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, and threatening to destroy humanity itself.

AFTER: This film definitely treats Zombie-ism as a disease, like a virus - only instead of producing flu-like symptoms and bleeding out of every orifice, it's a virus that makes people into brain-dead flesh eaters, with an incubation period of about 10-12 seconds.  Usually these days something going "viral" is a good thing, at least where promotion is concerned, but with the taste for human flesh, not so much.  And these aren't your regular, lumbering, stupid zombies - these things move FAST and appear to have sort of a hive mind mentality, which means they can work together to cover more ground and spread the virus more quickly.

I'm sure that there are many people hard at work on ebola treatments and possible anti-virals - top men, so to speak.  But in the movies it takes only ONE man to make a difference, and that man happens to look like Brad Pitt.  And he's not a virologist, or even a doctor, he's....wait, what are his credentials again?  Oh, right, he likes to travel, he's good with a gun OR a hatchet, and he's not afraid to take weird, stupid risks if that's what it takes to come up with an answer to the zombie virus.  (We're assuming that there even IS an answer, which is a big leap in logic, if you ask me.)

He's supposed to be retired and not involved in the world-saving anymore ("I'm not even supposed to BE here today...") BUT, with zombies attacking his wife and daughters, he's willing to jump back into the fray and risk being eaten or zombiefied if it means that his family will be kept safe.  This sort of calls to mind another film, "2012", with main characters jumping from point to point around the globe, looking for a safe haven.  Pitt's character goes from New Jersey to Korea to Jerusalem in his quest for answers, and the zombies are hot on his heels, no matter where he goes.  (Are we sure they're not just tracking him because he looks so tasty?)

Like "Warm Bodies", this film is very short on details about how the whole zombie plague thing started in the first place - but here that's sort of justified, since they're looking for a cure and part of finding that cure is figuring out how and where it began.  There's an opening montage that references everything from global warming to pollution to the collapse of bee colonies so, umm, you do the math.  The answer must be in there somewhere, right?  

There's a HUGE coincidence near the end, I won't spoil it.  Actually, THEM, there are a number of outlandish contrivances near the end, as if someone realized that the movie was running long and we better start summing things up, so look, don't ask how this character ended up exactly where he needed to be, just take it as written, OK?  Then it's a BIG leap in logic to come up with a solution to "How not to get eaten by a zombie", and if you believe the ends justify the means, then the fact that it works is enough to allow it to take place.  Me, I prefer to see how we get from Point A to Point B without guesswork.

Also, call me old-fashioned, but I believe that a movie should have a beginning, a middle and an end.  By glossing over the origin of the zombie plague, and presenting an aftermath that feels more like an afterthought, this film is nearly all middle, from start to finish.  Does that make sense?

EDIT: I just can't let this film's "solution" to the zombie plague go.  Allow me to illustrate my beef with an analogy - this weekend, I changed the batteries in our thermostat when I set the clocks back an hour.  To do this, I needed to lift the device off the wall, and when I did, I noticed 9 small pins on the base that corresponded to holes on the control panel - only one of them was bent and wasn't going where it looked like it was supposed to go, so I bent it back into position.  Somehow this made the whole device stop working, and a day later the house was freezing.  We checked the pilot light, I checked the thermostat programming, even tried to set the temperature to 75 degrees just to kick-start it.  Nothing.

I figured the only thing I'd changed was that bent pin, so today I lifted the control panel off the wall again, bent the straight pin back to the odd angle it was at before, and replaced the device.  Whhooossh!  The furnace kicked in, the heat came on, and I apparently fixed what I'd broken when I tried to "fix" it the day before. This was a silly, stupid, counter-intuitive solution.  It shouldn't have worked, but it did, so I have to just shrug it off, because I'm not a heating technician.  But in this I find a similarity to the zombie "solution" displayed in "World War Z", and since I'm guessing a zombie virus is about 100 times more complicated than my thermostat, it's also about 100 times sillier and stupider as a solution.

Also starring Mireille Enos, Fana Mokoena, Ludi Boeken, Peter Capaldi, David Morse (last seen in "Hearts in Atlantis"), Ruth Negga, Daniella Kertesz, with a cameo from Matthew Fox.

RATING: 5 out of 10 satellite phones

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Warm Bodies

Year 6, Day 305 - 11/1/14 - Movie #1,895

BEFORE:  Well, I said I was going to watch zombie movies, but I never said they were going to be very scary ones.  Linking from "Pet Sematary Two", Edward Furlong was also in "The Green Hornet" with Analeigh Tipton.
THE PLOT:  After a highly unusual zombie saves a still-living girl from an attack, the two form a relationship that sets in motion events that might transform the entire lifeless world.

AFTER: This is a film that doesn't get all hung up on the technical aspects of zombies - where they came from, how they function, how to kill them - which turns out to be both a good and a bad thing for the film.  Bad because it feels all kind of hazy and half-formed, there was some kind of virus or apocalyptic thing, but the zombies don't remember it and the humans don't seem to talk about it.  I guess everyone just takes it as written and is dealing with it in their own way, but it's still very convenient from a screenwriting point of view.

But it's good because the film has other objectives.  Since the story's told mostly from a zombie's point of view, and that character has limited brain function and memory, it makes sense to a certain degree - that character died because of the virus or disaster, so he wouldn't remember it.  The only memories he gets to experience come from eating a human brain, and then he gets flashes of that person's life.  OK, this is a bit of a stretch because people in some cultures eat cow brains and don't get to experience memories of standing around in a pasture eating grass.

But you have to take a leap in logic with zombie movies, I guess - something's keeping these creatures alive without a heartbeat or without flowing blood, so they're walking anomalies (OK, lumbering anomalies).  Still, there are contradictions because the main character talks slowly and seems to process information slowly, but at times his internal voice-over monologue is at normal speed.  ("Why are we walking so slowly?  What did that guy do before he was a zombie?")  Because I guess the movie wouldn't be as interesting if his internal thoughts were just "Uhhhhhnnnnn!  Brrrrrainsssss!"

About halfway through I glommed on to what this was really riffing off of, and it's Shakespearean.  The lead male character is "R" (that's all he can remember of his pre-zombie name) and the lead female is "Julie" - get it?  Like Romeo and Juliet they come from two different worlds, only instead of two Italian families, one comes from the world of the living and the other, not so much.  But it's sort of a reverse Shakespearean tragedy, because instead of an impossible love leading to the death of the two main characters, it's an unlikely love that causes one to start living again.  Take that, Bard of Avon.

There's even a balcony scene that drives the point home, in case you missed it.  Julie's friend is Perry (Paris) and R's friend is M (for Mercutio).  But that's about where the similarities end - another new twist on zombies is having different kinds of zombies, some are more skeletal in nature (the "bonies") and are also more fierce.  But they never say whether these are corpses who have been zombies for longer, or if these are the original zombies that infected the others, or aliens or demons or what.  Again, short on technical stuff in order to focus on other things.

Also starring Nicholas Hoult (last seen in "X-Men: Days of Future Past"), Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich (last seen in "Shadows and Fog"), Rob Corddry (last seen in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry"), Dave Franco (last seen in "Now You See Me").

RATING: 4 out of 10 Polaroids