Friday, October 25, 2013

Shaun of the Dead

Year 5, Day 298 - 10/25/13 - Movie #1,566

BEFORE: The third "cult film" of the week - I know this one has a loyal cult following because I've often seen people at Comic Con dressed like the lead character.  And this may sound weird, but after watching this week's other cult classics, I'm anxious to get to films about zombies and vampires, because at least they tend to make some logical sense about how these creatures work and how to defeat them, right?

Linking from "Naked Lunch", there are a few different ways I can go - but let's link from Ian Holm through the "Hobbit" films to his co-Frodo, Martin Freeman, who's in this film somewhere.  (Peter Weller would also link to Simon Pegg through "Star Trek Into Darkness", for one)

THE PLOT:  A man decides to turn his life around by winning back his ex-girlfriend, reconciling his relationship with his mother, and dealing with an entire community that has returned from the dead to eat the living.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Hot Fuzz" (Movie #167)

AFTER: Ah, definitely the most fun movie I've seen in a while.  I don't think I'd programmed anything comic for the last month, so this sort of stood out in that respect.  Again, I tend to not watch straight horror films, and the whole zombie genre is one I've intentionally ignored - I haven't seen "28 Days Later" or "Evil Dead" or "Dawn of the Dead" or anything like that.  But I'm sure that the genre was just begging for a spoof.

Simon Pegg is best when he's playing these underdog characters, like he did in "Run, Fatboy, Run" - maybe not as much fun as he is in the "Star Trek" films, but he seems like a guy who knows how to have a good time, despite playing these hangdog loser types.  Nothing seems to go right for him, we see him screw things up with his girlfriend, his job and his mother + stepfather, and meanwhile we get to see bits of news reports in the background that something more sinister is going on, possibly due to an infection or some kind of space meteor - we're never really sure, but it's not that important.

Once Shaun wakes up and goes through his morning routine, only to find the streets deserted except for the start of the zombie horde - the film sort of takes an odd left turn, which is fine because the opening bits were all just set-up material anyway.  And then there's a bit of a learning curve while everyone figures out how to take the zombies down - namely cut off their heads or bash in their brains (geez, everybody knows THAT).  But eventually the Zombie nation keeps growing and growing, and our heroes are forced to take shelter in the local pub - makes sense, since the place is probably stocked with food and drink, and used to dealing with unruly crowds.  It's just too bad that the lights and the jukebox also attract the walking dead...

In fact there are some quite subtle jabs at not just zombie films (zombies are confused with tired and/or drunk people several times, and vice versa) but film language in general - an almost-complete sentence is formed from different TV clips as someone with a very short attention span is clicking around for information.  Nice touch.

And I can sort of see how this would get better after multiple viewings - once you know what to look for and how comic the tone is, there's probably a bunch of inside jokes that you can pick up, which I probably missed.

But of course I'm left with a lot of questions about zombies, which I don't expect this film to answer seriously, and I doubt that even serious zombie films tackle.  What do the zombies eat when they run out of human flesh?  Do they eat each other, or animals?  What's the life expectancy of a zombie, both with and without food (assuming it doesn't get its brain bashed in...)?  How much damage can be done to a person eaten by a zombie until he just plain dies, and doesn't turn into a zombie himself?  Clearly some more research into this non-real thing is required.

Also starring Simon Pegg (last seen in "Star Trek Into Darkness"), Nick Frost (last seen in "Paul"), Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis (last seen in "Nicholas Nickelby"), Bill Nighy (last seen in "Total Recall"), Dylan Moran, Peter Serafinowicz, Penelope Wilton (last seen in "The French Lieutenant's Woman"), with cameos from Rafe Spall (last seen in "Prometheus"), Matt Lucas (last heard in "Gnomeo and Juliet"), and Chris Martin from Coldplay.

RATING: 5 out of 10 shotgun shells

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Naked Lunch

Year 5, Day 296 - 10/23/13 - Movie #1,565

BEFORE: This one's been on the books for a long time, because if I'm working thematically, how the heck do I link to a plotline like THIS?  I'm just going to lump it in with Hallo-weirdness and hope for the best.  Linking from "Repo Man", Harry Dean Stanton was also in a film titled "The Fourth War" with Roy Scheider (last seen in "All That Jazz" back in 2011).

THE PLOT:  After developing an addiction to the substance he uses to kill bugs, an exterminator accidentally murders his wife and becomes involved in a secret government plot being orchestrated by giant bugs in a port town in North Africa.

AFTER: Umm, yeah, so THAT happened.  I've had to do a little background research on this film, only to find out that the original novel of the same name by William S. Burroughs was pretty darn un-filmable, being the loose narrative of a junkie whose chapters can be read in any possible order.  They kept some elements of the book, like Dr. Benway, and the fictional settings of Interzone and Annexia, but that's about where the similarities cease.

Director David Cronenberg daringly took these pieces and mixed in elements of Burrough's own life, such as accidentally (?) shooting his own wife while playing the "William Tell" game, and the main character here is also an author who ends up writing a stream-of-consciousness story called "Naked Lunch", but also worked in what this film is ultimately most famous for - giant bugs.

There's puppetry and FX worked in, since this film was made in the early 90's, before CGI was fully perfected.  This lends it a tangible, organic quality, but yet also makes things look a little low-rent by comparison.  I think they were going for something approaching "X-Files"-meets-"Brazil" status, with intelligent bugs using humans as agents to file reports, but everything's just so unclear and obtuse that it's darn near incoherent.  The audience is left to fill in a lot of gaps about what's going on, and what it all means, to the point of near madness.

Also, it's worth pointing out that this "bug powder" our hero uses to exterminate roaches also seems to have some hallucinogenic properties - he and several other characters become addicted to the stuff, regardless of its poisonous qualities - so there's the possibility that everything on screen after a certain point is not really happening, except in his own mind.  Perhaps he's seeing the giant talking bugs that also function as typewriters and other objects as his way of dealing with other stuff.  Who knows what goes on in the mind of a drug addict while using?

But the events in the real world that are then being clouded by the hallucinations are somewhat unsettling too.  It almost seems like the main character (possibly representing Burroughs himself) has come up with a convoluted way to explain his sexual and violent tendencies.  There can't really be justification for sleeping with another man's wife, or shooting your own wife so you can go have sex with younger men, but if there could be, a creative writer would be the one to find it.  But damn, what a long way to go to find yourself.  If that's really what's taking place here, and I'm not sure it is.

But unclear and obtuse is often confused with symbolic and artistic, and that's probably what pushes this film into the "cult classic" category.  Again, I'm not seeing it, probably because I'm stuck at the "WTF?" stage.  Sure, the whole thing's a metaphor, but for WHAT?  I guess when he enters "Annexia" at the end, that's a metaphor for becoming a writer, and Burroughs had stated that he never would have become a writer if he hadn't shot his wife.  Yeah, good luck with that - let me know how it goes.

Also starring Peter Weller (last seen in "Star Trek Into Darkness"), Judy Davis (last seen in "Marie Antoinette"), Ian Holm (last seen in "The Madness of King George"), Julian Sands (last seen in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo").

RATING:  2 out of 10 "Mugwumps"

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Repo Man

Year 5, Day 295 - 10/22/13 - Movie #1,564

BEFORE:  Took a few days off and went to the Poconos, during which time I somehow turned a year older.  But it was good to get away, after somehow surviving New York Comic Con - knowing I was going to take a long weekend was something that was keeping me motivated.  We went to this little resort with cabins and a killer buffet, hit a casino for a few hours on Saturday, a couple of PA diners and then just generally lazed around and played iPad games until I could watch the Red Sox game.  That's a pretty darn good weekend, all things considered.  Now I'm refreshed and ready to watch 8 Halloween-type movies in 10 days - no problem.

Linking from "The Raven", Jack Nicholson was also in "The Missouri Breaks" with Harry Dean Stanton - as I proved last week.

THE PLOT:  Young punk Otto becomes a repo man after helping to steal a car, and stumbles into a world of wackiness as a result.

AFTER: I like to say it's impossible for me to make a mistake in my scheduling - just as it's weird when people say they go off to "find themselves".  Like, dude, you're right THERE - remember, wherever you go, there you are.  But this is a case where I think I mixed up what little I knew about "Repo Man" with what little I knew about "Eraserhead", another cult classic I hope to watch someday.

So, there's not much here that ties in with Halloween - no ghosts or ghouls or goblins, but there is weirdness, and I'll have to roll with that.  There's a Chevy Malibu with a glowing trunk that seems to disintegrate people who open it, and that's pretty weird.  And this takes place among the backdrop of a young man learning the ropes in the repo business - it's a stretch but I can console myself that as this guy is growing up and becoming (sort of) responsible, I'm dealing with another birthday.  (It's funny, I started this process shortly after I turned 40, and now that I'm 45, I'm feeling it would be more responsible if I stopped staying up so late watching movies...)

What does follow after the magical / mysterious / possibly alien car is found doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I don't think it's supposed to.  In the same way that the sorcerers' spells in "The Raven" can't be explained - magic is just technology we don't understand yet, after all.  It's also kind of hard to tell if this is supposed to be a comedy or not - it's more of a head-scratcher, and I'm hard pressed to figure out why this is considered a cult classic.

I can almost see how this inspired films like "Fight Club", "Pulp Fiction" and maybe even "The Big Lebowski", since they all have that weird sort of destructive tone to them, but I just don't think it's as good as those other films.

Also starring Emilio Estevez (last seen in "The Mighty Ducks"), Tracey Walter (last seen in "Mighty Joe Young"), Olivia Barash, Sy Richardson, Richard Foronjy.

RATING: 3 out of 10 slim jims