Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Thing (1982)

Year 7, Day 297 - 10/24/15 - Movie #2,182

BEFORE: This is the first movie titled "The Thing", but it takes place right after last night's film titled "The Thing", which wasn't a remake or a sequel but a prequel - so the second movie happens first and then the first movie happens second, OK?  Or if you watch the first movie first instead of second and wondered what happened before you can watch the second movie second, just be aware that those events took place first, got it?  

And this movie has nothing to do with the Marvel Comics character named The Thing, and the movie titled "The Invisible Woman" is also on my list, and neither have anything to do with the members of the Fantastic Four - though I'm betting both are better films than the recently released re-imagining story of that superhero group.  

I've finally been quietly chipping away at the watchlist, which was stuck at 140 films for the longest time.  I had an influx of films from 2014 appearing on cable, so I was adding one film to the list for every one I watched, but finally the wave seems to have stopped, and I've got the list down to 136, after tomorrow it will be 135.  I've only got a few more chances to reduce that number before I take most of November off, and then come back in early December for the last 5 films and the new "Star Wars", of course.  

Linking from "The Thing" (2011), Mary Elizabeth Winstead was also in "Sky High" with Kurt Russell (last seen in "The Best of Times").

THE PLOT:  Scientists in the Antarctic are confronted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of the people that it kills.

AFTER:  This is a well-respected horror film from 1982, so much that it appears on that list of "1,001 Movies to See Before You Die" (more about that list tomorrow), and a lot of people seem to swear by its influence on the creepy-crawly claustrophobic horror sub-genre, ignoring the fact that it's really just "Alien" taking place in the Antarctic and not on a spaceship.  My prediction was accurate, I can't take the circa-1982 special effects seriously after seeing the much more sophisticated ones in the 2011 prequel.  Computers have truly changed the world, and that's most evident in Hollywood's ability to create nasty, gory but realistic nightmares.  

As I've said many times, I'm not really a fan of horror films.  I've forced myself to watch them for only a partial month each year (thank God for NY Comic Con) because I've tried to understand the spirit of the season, like a Jewish person listening to Christmas carols.  But this also gives me a different perspective, I can sort of take a step back and look at the genre as a whole, and spot some things that are universal - and I've noticed that a lot of the scares derive from a lack of control.  The killer ties up his helpless victims, the gremlins take over the town, the call is coming from inside the house!  (For God's sake, get out of there!)  Freddy Krueger invades your dreams, Jason knows his way around Camp Crystal Lake better than the sex-crazed teens, and The Thing could be standing inside the body of your best buddy, right next to you, and you won't realize it until his body splits open like a Venus fly-trap and some tentacles whip out and pull you into its gaping maw.  

You can't control it, that's the worst feeling of all - feeling helpless.  And you were just having an intimate philosophical discussion with him, though honestly he wasn't really keeping up his end of the conversation, and he did seem a bit sluggish, but honestly sometimes he likes to smoke a little pot, so how were you supposed to know that he was about to go all alien and eat your face?  If this film had been made during the 1950's, I'd say this was some sort of allegory for McCarthyism (your best friend could be a Commie) and if it had come out later in the 1980's, connections to the AIDS epidemic would have been easy to make (your lover may already be infected) and if it were made in modern times, no doubt people would see connections to secret Muslim extremism.  But no, it's 1982, so we have to deal with this at face value - your co-worker could be controlled by an alien parasite.  

Maybe there's a whole set of office management skills that can be parsed from the events in this film.  After all, in your average office there's probably someone who'd love to have your job, and just can't be trusted.  That person could be spreading gossip about you, or framing you for things you didn't do, meanwhile he or she just has no respect for the containers in the break-room fridge that are clearly marked with other people's names.  Take the advice of the men in this research expedition, and start bringing a flamethrower to meetings, you'll be glad that you did.  It's not paranoia if someone truly is out to get you.  

The makers of the 2011 sequel watched this film very closely, to make sure that their film tied in very well - every little detail from this film, right down to a single red axe stuck in a wall, was explained in the prequel.  This original film starts with a man in a helicopter shooting at a running dog, which is an enigmatic opening, unless you watched the prequel first, and then it makes perfect sense.  

Also starring Keith David (last seen in "Novocaine"), Wilford Brimley (last seen in "The China Syndrome"), Richard Masur (last seen in "Play It To the Bone"), Richard Dysart (last seen in "Being There"), David Clennon (last seen in "Syriana"), T.K. Carter, Donald Moffat (also last seen in "The Best of Times"), Peter Maloney, Joel Polis, Thomas G. Waites, Charles Hallahan (last seen in "The Star Chamber")

RATING:  5 out of 10 thermite charges

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Thing (2011)

Year 7, Day 296 - 10/23/15 - Movie #2,181

BEFORE: Maybe I've got "Star Wars" on the brain, but my linking tonight comes straight out of Episodes II and III - Christopher Lee from "Gremlins" was also in two of the prequels with Joel Edgerton (last seen in "The Great Gatsby").

I was a little concerned, because the linking told me that I should watch this film first, before the 1982 film of the same name, but that was when I thought that this newer film was a remake of the older one.  But then I learned from a friend that this is a prequel, so it makes sense to watch it first, and the linking was ultimately pointing me in the right direction. 

THE PLOT:  At an Antarctica research site, the discovery of an alien craft leads to a confrontation between graduate student Kate Lloyd and scientist Dr. Sander Halvorson.

AFTER: As with the two "Gremlins" films, I think I'm going to see a massive difference in the quality of the special effects when comparing two different films in the same franchise.  The effects here were really good, at least in terms of creating nasty-looking disgusting creatures caused by an alien life-form taking over human bodies.  There are a lot of those "Oh, snap!" moments when things are really quiet, or two people are having a conversation, and then something JUMPS out from behind the door or someone's revealed as a host for the creature, usually by the Thing ripping out from their body, or splitting it down the middle to reveal a very hungry mouth.

And I usually don't go for this sort of thing - the gross-out moments would have really affected me when I was younger.  (After seeing "Poltergeist" as a kid, expecting something more akin to "Gremlins", I slept with the lights on for a few weeks.)  But I'm an adult now, I can handle a little gore, especially since I know much more about horror effects and how they're filmed.  I fell asleep during this film last night and had to finish it this morning, but that was largely due to how much beer I drank at an event last night.  And this enabled me to go to sleep this morning after the sun came up, which, you know, helps keep the monsters at bay.

This film typifies the paranoia often seen in horror films, like in "Alien" or the zombie films, where one or more people from a group in a closed space might be infected or evil, and the group has to work together to figure out who it is.  I guess it goes back to locked-room murder mysteries or stories like "Ten Little Indians", so ultimately it's all Agatha Christie's fault. 

Also starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (last seen in "A Good Day to Die Hard"), Ulrich Thomsen (last seen in "The World Is Not Enough"), Eric Christian Olsen (last seen in "Celeste & Jesse Forever"), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (last seen in "Pompeii"), Paul Braunstein, Trond Espen Seim, Kim Bubbs, Jorgen Langhelle, Jan Gunnar Roise, Stig Henrik Hoff, Kristofer Hivju, Jo Adrian Haavind, Carsten Bjornlund, Jonathan Walker. 

RATING: 5 out of 10 tentacles

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Year 7, Day 295 - 10/22/15 - Movie #2,180

BEFORE: The stars of "Gremlins" carry over - Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates, and a few others.  With the laws of diminishing returns on sequels, my hopes are not high today, but let's get this out of the way.

THE PLOT:  The Gremlins are back, and this time, they've taken total control over the building of a media mogul.   

AFTER: Well, if the first "Gremlins" film was quite silly, this is really absurdist nonsense.  Maybe it always was, I'm not sure.  Did someone set out to make a parody of horror films in general, or a parody of "Gremlins" specifically, or was someone just not trying to make something completely coherent?  Because once you start mixing in parodies of everything from "Rambo" to "Batman" to "Phantom of the Opera", it's difficult to take anything seriously, from start to finish. 

From the opening logo, which is a strange sequence starring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, which seems like it's going to turn into a short cartoon preceding the feature, but then doesn't, right through to the closing credits, which feature Porky Pig's famous "Th-th-th-that's All, Folks!", the tone is set.  Everything in between is essentially a cartoon, with cartoony sound effects to accompany every mallet to the head or breaking glass.  The Gremlins are somehow dressed in whatever costume they need to make a point, just like Bugs Bunny would suddenly be wearing a dress or a construction worker's overalls, if that's what was needed to move the comedy forward.  

But these are still puppets - oh, the animatronic technology got better in the 5 or 6 years since the first film, but they still look like puppets, and I still can't take them seriously as a scary thing.  

Huge contrivances tonight, the first being the set-up - I can accept that the male + female leads from the first film have moved to NYC from their upstate (?) town, but what are the odds that they've both gotten jobs in the same office building as the man who discovers Gizmo out on the street?  It's astronomically unlikely, considering the thousands of companies and buildings in Manhattan.  And they work for a media mogul / real estate developer (think Ted Turner meets Donald Trump) who just happens to have his TV channel broadcast facilities in the building, and there just happens to be a genetic research lab renting out one of the floors.  Yeah, right.  Give me a break, it's ridiculous, even for a movie. 

Then we come to a number of other things which cannot be taken seriously.  The nutty female boss takes out her young male employee to a Canadian restaurant?  Where the waiters dress like Mounties, and they serve chocolate mousse in the shape of a moose?  There's no such place in New York - I think we have one pancake house that serves big Canada-themed breakfasts, but that's it - it's not even a proper style of dining, like Chinese or Thai.  Similarly, at one point the characters exit a police station, where a group of mimes is being led out of a paddy wagon - WTF?  As a non sequitur, this is like something out of "Airplane", and it messes with the suspension of non-belief, it reminds us that we're watching a movie.  

Then there's this weird break in the movie, which made sense if you saw this film in the theater - the film appears to blister and break, as if the projector malfunctioned, and then we see Gremlins doing hand shadows, as if they've knocked out the projectionist and taken over the cinema.  However, this makes much less sense if you're watching the film on DVD or cable.  They then put on a 1950's nudist film to mess with the audience.  But then they cut to a woman complaining to a theater manager - OK, so we were briefly in the same reality as the Gremlins, but now we're back in the film again?  Essentially it's an admission that the plot of the film is weak, the break probably covers up a narrative point where they didn't know how to advance the story.

Similarly, there's a point where a movie reviewer is seen on TV, reviewing a copy of the VHS release of "Gremlins".  So, inside the "Gremlins" universe there's also a movie called "Gremlins"?  Is it the same film, and if so, how is that possible?  My mind should be blown, but instead I just want to shrug and point out that this makes no sense.  By throwing in an extra gag, they torpedoed any chance of this reality being possible, and again, that reminds me that I'm watching a film and messes with my experience. 

I know, I take this sort of thing too seriously - but most films don't feel the need to throw in extra gags that are also impossible.  This is like piling on, things that are ridiculous on top of things that are already unlikely and hard to believe.  In addition, we've got all this junk science, like when the gremlins take over the genetics lab, and start messing with their own DNA.  But if you drink spider DNA, you don't turn into a half-spider, that's not the way DNA or digestive systems work.  And if you get electrocuted, you don't turn into electricity.  Jeez, this is worse than some of the origins from old comic books.  

Though I will give props for poking fun at the first "Gremlins" film - like people asking questions about that "Don't feed them after midnight" rule, much like I did last night.  And the character who told that terrible Christmas story in the first film starts to tell a similar story about a terrible thing that happened to her on Lincoln's birthday, and the other characters cut her off.  Now, that's funny.

Also starring John Glover (last seen in "Melvin and Howard"), Robert Prosy (last seen in "The Scarlet Letter"), Robert Picardo (last seen in "Wagons East"), Christopher Lee (last seen in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies"), Dick Miller (also carrying over from "Gremlins"), Jackie Joseph (ditto), Keye Luke (ditto), Gedde Watanabe (last seen in "EdTV"), Havilland Morris (last seen in "Sixteen Candles"), Don & Dan Stanton, Shawn Nelson, Archie Hahn, Kathleen Freeman (last seen in "Ready to Rumble"), Julia Sweeney (last heard in "Monsters University"), the voices of Tony Randall (last seen in "Down With Love"), Howie Mandel (also carrying over from "Gremlins"), Frank Welker (ditto), with cameos from Paul Bartel (last seen in "Into the Night"), Patrika Darbo, John Astin (last seen in "Teen Wolf Too"), Henry Gibson (last seen in "The Incredible Shrinking Woman"), Isiah Whitlock Jr. (last seen in "Not Fade Away"), Leonard Maltin, Hulk Hogan (last seen in "Muppets From Space"), Dick Butkus (last seen in "The Last Boy Scout"), Bubba Smith, Joe Dante. 

RATING: 3 out of 10 flashlights

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Year 7, Day 294 - 10/21/15 - Movie #2,179

BEFORE:  I've got my ticket for the opening night of "Star Wars: Episode VII", so now I just have to watch 20 more films, get through Halloween and Thanksgiving, and then I know for sure how Year 7 is going to end.  Today is also "Back to the Future" day, it's the day that Marty McFly traveled forward to from the year 1985 and got a look at his own future.  Me, I'm flashing back to 1984 with this one, it's another of those films that nearly everyone has seen, it seems, except for me.

(Interesting trivia - the set used for this film's fictional Kingston Falls is on the Universal back lot, and was also used as the set for Hill Valley in "Back to the Future")

Linking from "Zombieland", Woody Harrelson was in a film called "The Sunchaser" with Harry Carey Jr.  Or, if you prefer, Bill Murray was also in "Space Jam" with characters voiced by Frank Welker, and Frank voices some of the title characters tonight.

THE PLOT: A boy inadvertantly breaks 3 important rules concerning his new pet and unleashes a horde of malevolently mischievous monsters on a small town.

AFTER: My overall feeling is that this film has not aged very well, I find it difficult to take the film seriously because the special effects are so bad, at least by today's standards.  Maybe these creatures were cutting edge back in 1984, but they just look like simple puppets now.  I suppose you have to say this was an innovative film, because this predated all the cute/demonic creature films like "Ghoulies" and "Child's Play".  Well, I'm not an expert in the genre, after all.

But this film is just ill-advised, all around.  Was some movie executive trying to teach his kid a lesson about not being repsonsible enough to take care of a pet?  Jeez, get your kid a goldfish or a hamster, already, why do you have to drag me in to your family drama and make me watch these characters learn valuable life lessons?

Anyway, I think these "rules" for taking care of Mogwai are bogus, anyway.  "Don't feed them after midnight"?  OK, when am I supposed to feed them, then, when the whole damn day comes after midnight?  Did you mean to say "Don't feed them until morning", because that would be more clear.  Something like "Don't feed them between 12 midnight and 6 am" would be a lot more helpful.  How about "Don't feed them until after sunrise", because that would be good all year - in the winter the night lasts longer, so the instructions are really going to be confusing if it's still dark out.

Plus, what kind of a father brings home a pet for his son, for Christmas no less, when it's an animal that he's never seen before, that doesn't match any animal on the planet that he's familiar with?  I mean, most people are aware of all the different types of pet you can own - cat, dog, lizard, snake, fish, frog, hamster, ferret even - that's it!  Anything outside of those categories, something you don't even recognize, you don't bring that home!  He does this like it's not even a thing - that animal could be poisonous, vicious, toxic to humans.  What an idiot.

But the worst, the absolute worst, has to be after the evil Gremlins are loosed (because the kid couldn't follow the complicated rules, what a shock) and they're tearing apart the town, killing people and destroying everything.  And the lead boy has a moment with the lead female, in between being chased around by the gremlins - and she chooses that exact moment to relate the story of why she doesn't celebrate Christmas.  Are you kidding me?  Honey, you're being chased by evil demon creatures with teeth, and you're going to take a moment and share a personal story NOW?  Why don't you wait until there aren't little beasties trying to kill you?

I can't take this film seriously.  Maybe I'm not supposed to take this film seriously, maybe nobody was ever supposed to take this film seriously.  But that's not the point.  If you're going to make a comedy, make a comedy - if you're going to make a horror film, make a horror film.  You can't do both, unless you're doing a parody film like "Scary Movie" - instead you end up trying to satisfy the conventions and fans of both genres, and doing both things poorly.  By contrast, "Zombieland" is a horror film with some comedy in it, but this whole film is just too silly.

Also starring Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates (last seen in "Bright Lights, Big City"), Hoyt Axton (last seen in "We're No Angels"), Corey Feldman, Keye Luke (last seen in "Alice"), Polly Holliday, Glynn Turman (last seen in "Super 8"), Frances Lee McCain (last seen in "Patch Adams", but hey, she was also in "Back to the Future"!), the voices of Howie Mandel, Bob Bergen, Michael Sheehan, Michael Winslow, and cameos from Jonathan Banks (last seen in "Horrible Bosses 2"), Chuck Jones, Judge Reinhold and Steven Spielberg.

RATING: 4 out of 10 Christmas trees

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Year 7, Day 293 - 10/20/15 - Movie #2,178

BEFORE: Another year, another birthday, and I know it's just an illusion, because I'm not suddenly 365 days older than I was yesterday, it's a gradual process.  But I'm reminded of a day about 7 years ago when I had to leave my 40th birthday party before it even began, after accidentally smashing my head into a lightbulb (or vice versa, depending on how you look at it) and getting driven to the E.R. to get myself stitched up.  A head wound can make you reconsider what's important in life, and in my case, it made me realize that I wasn't watching enough movies.  Oh, and someone gave me a copy of a book called "40 Things to Do When You Turn 40", and I didn't particularly care to go scuba-diving, or sky-diving, or waterskiing or whatever, so I figured I'd start a movie blog instead.  Now I just need to figure out a way to stop doing this.  

Linking from "28 Weeks Later", Jeremy Renner was also in "North Country" with Woody Harrelson (last seen in "EdTV").  Alternately, Catherine McCormack was in "Magic in the Moonlight" with Emma Stone.

THE PLOT: A shy student trying to reach his family in Ohio, a gun-toting tough guy trying to find the last Twinkie, and a pair of sisters trying to get to an amusement park join forces to travel across a zombie-filled America.

AFTER: I enjoyed this film more than I thought I would, there were funny bits but it wasn't really an outrageous comedy, it was more like slice-of-life comedy, but in a world where the zombies have mostly taken over.  You have to imagine that among the living, non-zombiefied people, life would be rough, but also quite ridiculous in some ways.  

Plus, this film perfectly illustrates the point I was trying to make about writing a screenplay according to a set of rules.  While "28 Weeks Later" essentially threw the rule-book out the window where zombies are concerned - heck, where narrative structure is concerned - this film is nothing but rules.  Zombies have to act a certain way, people fighting zombies have to act a certain way to kill them, and life in general is reduced to a list of practical rules that help people stay alive.  The narrator and main character is definitely on the OCD side, writing down the tactics that work and numbering and reciting the tips that help keep him alive - like "#7: travel light" and "#31: always check the back seat before getting into a car".

He also practices a policy of traveling alone, but really that's because he believes that he may be the last human not turned into a flesh-eating monster.  But he meets a man with a truck and a weapons arsenal, who offers him a ride back East.  (Why he hasn't become proficient at car theft himself, I'm not sure...) And together they take down several zombie nests before encountering a pair of sisters who also know a few tricks about staying alive.  After some initial differences are ironed out, they form a sort of de facto family.  

But, after the decline of civilization, what is there to do, besides driving around, destroying property and defending themselves from zombies?  Have fun while waiting for the zombies to starve, I guess.  Because they're not inclined to eat groceries at the market, so you have to figure eventually they're going to run out of live humans to snack on.  So they head for the mansions of Beverly Hills, and a nearby amusement park.  Nothing could possibly go wrong in an old, abandoned theme park, right? 

I have to call a NITPICK POINT on the presence of fresh food and electricity everywhere our heroes go.  If this were truly two months after the zombie plague broke out and most humans died, there wouldn't be much edible produce left in grocery stores (canned food and cookies, sure, but not fresh fruit) and there probably wouldn't be electric power without people to maintain the power stations & hydro-electric dams.

Also starring Jesse Eisenberg (last heard in "Rio 2"), Emma Stone (last seen in "Magic in the Moonlight"), Abigail Breslin (last seen in "August: Osage County"), Bill Murray (last seen in "The Monuments Men"), Amber Heard (last seen in "Drive Angry").

RATING: 6 out of 10 Hostess Sno Balls

Monday, October 19, 2015

28 Weeks Later

Year 7, Day 292 - 10/19/15 - Movie #2,177

BEFORE: Now it's 12 days until Halloween, and under two months until "Star Wars: Episode 7".  I can feel the end of the year approaching quickly, and in fact tickets go on sale tonight for the new Star Wars film, so I'm thinking I have to buy 5 or so tickets for opening night, because I'm sure I can find four people to go with me.  That's my real holiday, traditionally when there's a new Star Wars film I take the day off from work to wait in line - but that's usually in May, and this year it will be in December, so I suppose there's the chance of a blizzard or something.

"28 Days Later" was directed by Danny Boyle, director of "Trainspotting", "Slumdog Millionaire" and that 2nd Steve Jobs film - so it seems appropriate that "Trainspotting" is the link between last night's film and its sequel.  Stuart McQuarrie was in "Trainspotting", and so was Robert Carlyle (last seen in "The Beach"), who appears in tonight's film.

THE PLOT:  Six months after the rage virus was inflicted on the population of Great Britain, the US Army helps to secure a small area of London for the survivors to repopulate and start again. But not everything goes to plan.

AFTER: I imagine that the role of a screenwriter is something akin to the role of an artist - the white page is a blank canvas, on which any story can be written or painted.  But really, complete creative freedom is just an illusion.  A painter doing a still life, for example, is hampered by the image of the thing he's painting - his painting has to look enough like that object for it to be recognized as such, or else the viewer might question what it is.  Even a landscape artist needs to follow rules, even if creating an imaginary landscape - the horizon has to go in a certain place, trees need to grow straight up, and look like trees, and the sky needs to be one of only a few colors that we associate with the sky in real life.  So there is artistic freedom, but only within a certain set of parameters.  (I know, there is abstract painting, which has no rules, but work with me here...)

For a screenwriter, I imagine his process working in a similar fashion - he's free to write whatever he wants, provided that it falls within a certain set of parameters.  There's a hero, there are villains, things need to look really bleak about 10 minutes before the ending, but everything eventually works out for the best, either through a twist or an unexpected salvation.  Within specific genres there are further rules - in romances you've got love triangles, in sports films you've got the come-from-behind victory in the last quarter, and in spy films you've got gadgets that save the day and villains who lay their plans for world domination out in great detail.  

Horror films are no different, and zombie films specifically have a number of rules.  Zombies walk slowly, moan quietly and eat brains whenever they can.  This "28 Days/28 Weeks" series, however, throws all the rules out the window.  Here zombies RUN, and they run FAST.  They don't moan, but they shake and scream with rage - and they don't eat brains, but they bite people and then vomit blood on to them, which seems even worse.  

But "28 Days Later" still worked as a narrative, because they focused on a few people, and gave one the lead male hero role, and even though he had to do some nasty things fighting zombies and soldiers, he still was essentially an action-based superhero.  You can believe in him, root for him, and still be fairly confident he's going to make it to the closing scene.  Well, the sequel throws those rules out the window also.  There's no one lead character here, it plays out more like a series of successive vignettes in the zombie-occupied London neighborhood, and you can probably guess why each character who takes the lead in part of the story isn't available to do the same in the next part.  

So the storyline sort of jumps from person to person - this person is the focus for a while, then that person is, then the next person steps up to become important.  It's jarring in a way, because it's not what we're used to (like Brad Pitt in "World War Z", who remains the hero throughout) but it also is somewhat innovative, and perhaps more reflective of the nature of the zombie attack.  You can't get too attached to any one person, because you'd just be setting yourself up for disappointment.  But I can't decide if this is a valid method of storytelling, like creating an abstract painting, since it doesn't seem to follow the established rules of cinema, namely that we want to see our heroes succeed and overcome obstacles.  

How am I supposed to tell the difference, for example, between a story written by someone trying to defy my expectations, and a story written by an incompetent person who didn't know about the expectations in the first place?  Take any quest movie, like "The Lord of the Rings" or "Titanic".  There's usually a clear goal - like "take the ring to Mount Doom and destroy it" or "find a way to get off the sinking ship", and if some people succeed in this quest the audience feels good, but if they don't manage to do it, the audience may feel like their time has been wasted.  I'm just sayin'.

Also starring Rose Byrne (last seen in "This Is Where I Leave You"), Jeremy Renner (last seen in "Avengers: Age of Ultron"), Idris Elba (ditto), Harold Perrineau (last seen in "Zero Dark Thirty"), Catherine McCormack (last seen in "Magic in the Moonlight"), Imogen Poots (last seen in "Me and Orson Welles"), Mackintosh Muggleton.

RATING: 3 out of 10 "safe rooms"

Sunday, October 18, 2015

28 Days Later

Year 7, Day 291 - 10/18/15 - Movie #2,176

BEFORE: OK, time to get serious.  I took last night off because we went to see "Les Miserables" again for my wife's birthday, but it's time to buckle down.  And with three of the last 4 films focusing on messages from the dead, which all seems pretty passive, now it's time for contact with the undead - zombies, to be exact.  I did zombie films late last year, but I didn't get to them all.  Zombie movies and shows are so popular, it's like they're multiplying, increasing and spreading like, oh, I don't know, but it will come to me.

Linking from "White Noise", I can't find my original notes, but an actress named Marsha Regis played a policewoman in that film, and she was also in "The Company You Keep" with Brendan Gleeson.  That'll have to do for now.  I found a couple of other links, but they all go through people who played minor zombie roles.

THE PLOT:  Four weeks after a mysterious, incurable virus spreads throughout the UK, a handful of survivors try to find sanctuary.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "World War Z" (Movie #1,896), "Cockneys vs. Zombies" (Movie #1,897)

AFTER: I'll admit that before last year I avoided zombie movies like the plague - I think when I was a kid I saw a commercial for one of those "Night of the Living Dead" movies, with a realistic (to me) zombie crawling out of the ground and asking for "Braaaains" and it really scared me.  So when the "Walking Dead" phenomenon came along and revitalized the genre, I took a pass.  Now that I've built up a little resistance to horror films, and it sure helps that I know so much about how special effects are done, I can dip more than just a toe in the pool.  

It also helps that I've now seen the world end many different ways on film, so a zombie apocalypse is just one of the many ways this thing can go down.  This time it's not really the forces of evil, it's virus-based, it was developed in a lab, where scientists were injecting monkeys with a "rage virus".  WTF, scientists, why do you want to make monkeys madder than they already are?  Isn't it enough that we put them in zoos and use them in lab experiments, why do you want to go and make them mad?  And since some of them throw their feces at us, I'd say they're probably pretty pissed off already, why make the situation worse?  

Plus, what is a "rage virus"?  And how did we go from angry monkeys to humans that eat each other's flesh?  That's a pretty big leap, if you ask me.  We get to see the transmission from monkey to human, but after that there's a 28 day leap forward in time, and we then see things through the eyes of a man who's just waking up from a coma.  Pretty convenient, this way the screenplay doesn't have to cover the how and why of the zombie takeover, just the aftermath - and this way they can play fast and loose with the science of it all as well.  

But I can't help but think that watching the zombies take over London would be the most interesting part, so perhaps the film's focus is not in the right place or time.  OK, so maybe focusing on a couple of people who've got a shot at living is more narratively interesting, rather than just chomp, chomp, chomp.  Our hero tracks down a couple of other uninfected people, and they pick up a radio message telling them to head north to Manchester, where they'll find the "answer to infection".  About half the film is them trying to get out of town, and then the other half is dealing with what they find there.

No spoilers - but the film is ultimately about the breakdown of society, and how people act when there are no longer any rules.  And it's not just the zombies - the uninfected have to not only fight and kill zombies, since resources are spread thin, as you might imagine, they end up fighting each other.  That's when it goes from a typical zombie film to more of an action film with zombies in it, and that's OK.  There's less flesh and brain-eating here than in other zombie films, but there's quite a bit of zombies puking blood onto people, because that's one of the methods of transmission.  Any resemblance to contagious diseases like Ebola is no doubt purely intentional. 

Also starring Cillian Murphy (last seen in "Transcendence"), Naomie Harris (last seen in "Skyfall"), Brendan Gleeson (last heard in "The Pirates! Band of Misfits"), Christopher Eccleston (last seen in "Gone in Sixty Seconds"), Noah Huntley, Megan Burns, Stuart McQuarrie.

RATING: 5 out of 10 bottles of single malt whisky