Month: July 2014

ZOMBIE MOVIE DOUBLE FEATURE – 7/21/14

Dead Snow – 2009

A ski vacation turns horrific for a group of medical students, as they find themselves confronted by an unimaginable menace*: Nazi zombies.

*I can imagine the menace pretty well.

This is one of those movies where the zombies run and make animal noises. I’m a purist: I prefer the ones that shamble and moan. It’s also a Norwegian movie, which I’ve loved since Trollhunter. There’s just something about that dialect that grabs me and won’t let go.

It was pretty hard to figure out what the characters’ names were, so I named them by their basic character traits: Cool Guy, Nerd Guy, Fat Guy, Joke Guy (males), Blond, Brunette and Hippie (females). Oh, and Cool Guy’s girlfriend, who gets killed in the first two minutes, is Sara. Everyone is heading up to Cool Guy’s cabin for generic goofing and boozing. Conveniently, a grim mountain man shows up to warn them that a ruthless gang of Nazis fled to this area with all their ill-gotten WWII booty and froze to death. Turns out that their loot (which fits into one container the size of a cigar box) is hidden right beneath the cabin. (Insert wacky trombone sound¬†effect)

The first 45 minutes are actually pretty effective, with just the right mix of atmosphere, build-up and gore. Just a few notes: can we NOT have horror movies where the characters discuss other horror movies? Scream came out in 1996. We don’t still need to be doing it. There’s also an odd scene where the Nerd sits on the Hippie’s hands, blindfolds her, and starts to smother her with a pillow. I’m not even trying to be funny – I don’t understand the point of it. It’s almost as weird as the later scene where Cool Guy eats a sandwich that is comprised of one piece of bread and a slice of cheese.

WHAT IS THIS???

WHAT IS THIS???

The Nazi zombies use their own brand of BEAST VISION:

I'm not impressed.

I’m not impressed.

The best scene in the movie revolves entirely around the outhouse (I often find this to be the case). Fat Guy stands up, and the following dialog is heard: “I’m going for a shit.” “Best of luck!” It’s solid gold. Fat declares, “I’ll be back” in English, which sounds weird. He does his business and has time for ONE WIPE of toilet paper before Brunette enters, mounts him, and presumably does the whole deal right there on the seat. I just couldn’t get over the fact that he only wiped once. The odds were really against him getting everything on the first pass.

Unfortunately, the final 45 minutes really fall flat. When the Nazi zombies show up in force, they start to lose all their creativity. They do the “let one of the survivors see the dead friend’s head” gag, and they go to the well on the “a bunch of zombies grabs a guy and tears him apart” thing TWICE. They also appear to be brimming with fresh blood and viscera, judging by the stuff they’re constantly spewing out of their mouths. That’s odd, if they’ve been frozen up there for 70+ years.

Things jump the shark when the Boss Zombie (Orjan Gamst) shows up and starts using BINOCULARS to direct his zombie troops (including a squad of mini-boss SS zombies). Then it vaults the whale when the Boss Zombie leans back and bellows “ARISE!” to summon more zombies from the snow to help him.

...Okay.

…Okay.

In terms of overall quality, I enjoyed this Nazi-oriented feature a lot more than Captain American: The First Avenger. They actually showed swastikas in this one.

Last Love – 2013

A look at the life-changing connection between a retired and widowed* American philosophy professor and a young Parisian woman.

*And zombified.

This is one of those movies where the zombies talk. I’m a traditionalist: I like my zombies inarticulate. Then again, this is definitely not your typical zombie movie.

I have to hand it to this one: they don’t wait a second before getting down to the zombie action.

The embodiment of living death.

The embodiment of living death.

WHAM! The first shot is of our main zombie. I don’t know how they got him to do it, but Michael Caine is without a doubt the most distinguished actor to ever portray a zombie (even more than Dead Snow‘s Orjan Gamst). Our very first scene shows him crouched over his last victim (I presume). It’s apparently his wife, which really adds a tragic element to the story. He’s so intent upon trying to feast on her corpse that policemen literally have to drag him away. “I won’t leave her!” he snarls. “I won’t leave her!” Caine is truly one of our finest actors; he convinced me that he was a bloodthirsty monster.

As one might expect, Caine’s portrayal of the living dead is a little different than what we might be used to. He talks (although it’s definitely a mumble-y kind of talking), dresses himself and goes out to restaurants. I guess this is supposed to be sad, seeing the zombie still retaining enough of its humanity to go about its daily routine. The weird thing – this is a French movie, after all – is that people don’t seem phased by having a shuffling, saggy-looking old zombie in their midst. Is this a commentary on how we are all, in a sense, zombies? It’s a little over my head.

One complaint: this movie moves much too slowly. When Caine begins stalking his next victim – a young woman named Pauline – it takes him forever. He moves in with halting, awkward conversation, gaining her trust, I guess trying to lure her away on her own. But Caine appears to retain some scraps of morality – it’s almost as though he doesn’t want to kill her. You can tell he’s struggling with himself not to get too close, as though the smell of her young, vital flesh might be enough to send him over the edge.

The predator and its prey.

The predator and its prey.

There’s also an older woman that he stalks for the first third of the film, but he’s more interested in the younger Pauline. The older lady disappears eventually, and I have to conclude that Caine ate her.

This movie is a real mind-bender. Oddly, Pauline seems almost hypnotized by the specter of death constantly lurking around her. Then again, is not death itself seductive? I was on the edge of my seat for literally every scene where they were alone, wondering whether this was the moment that Caine would bite her throat out. Actually the body count was a little on the light side for a zombie film… Caine doesn’t even butcher her boyfriend.

They missed out on a lot of chances for great zombie moments. When Caine decides to shave his beard, I wanted to see him shaving off little bits of his flesh, too, and I figured the next scene would be him shambling along, blood dripping down his chin, teeth showing through his ravaged cheeks. But they really skimped on the special effects and makeup.

Make note: Last Love features the only romantic boating scene in a zombie movie.

Things really go off the rails in the second half of the film. Caine attempts suicide, but instead of blowing his brains out, he takes pills. No wonder it doesn’t work. His son and daughter show up, and it’s almost as though it becomes some sort of French absurdist comedy. I didn’t like it. The son and daughter do seem mad about Caine killing their mother (or at least they’re mad about something), but why are they so casual about the situation? They make nary an attempt to slay him. It really strains credibility.

My interest was re-awakened, however, when we see that the SON is also moving in on Pauline. Woah. What a twist, right? Even though I didn’t fully understand it – is the son supposed to be a zombie too? – I loved it. The two of them are clearly locking horns over who gets to feast on Pauline’s organs. Despite my hope for a real zombie vs. zombie battle to close things out, the ending was still touching. With what is perhaps the last vestige of his human feelings, Caine gives up his last victim – his last love, if you will – to his son. The film ends with the son escorting Pauline into the distance where, I must assume, he slaughters her.

The haunting final image of "Last Love."

The haunting final image of “Last Love.”

If you ask me, these films could have benefited from a little name swapping. Dead Snow should have become Last Snow, and Last Love should have been called Dead Love. Honestly, it would have reinforced the whole zombie aspect, which was a little hard to pick up on if you weren’t looking for it.

Girl Most Likely – 7/2/14

2012

Girl Most Likely is to Kristen Wiig what every movie since Anchorman has been to Will Ferrell. I imagine the writing process for it went a little something like this…

Setting: writer’s room for Girl Most Likely. The room is strewn with empty cans of energy drink and cigarette butts.

Time: around 2:43 AM.

Writer 1: I don’t know… I’m still a little confused about our main character. I mean, she seems completely unsympathetic. She’s pompous, egotistical, deluded… she has no real friends, and right from the beginning she seems pretty annoying. Maybe we should give her some kind of redeeming quality.

Writer 2: Aren’t you forgetting something? She’ll be played by Kristen Wiig. From Bridesmaids. Remember her character from that movie? It’s pretty much the exact same one here.

Writer 1: Yeah, but you could actually understand her motivations in that one. Here she just comes across as a spoiled, self-entitled bitch.

Writer 3: IT’S A COMEDY!

Writer 2: Exactly. So anyway, the scene is set: Kristen’s boyfriend is breaking up with her, so to get him back she decides to stage a fake suicide attempt. But then – and this is what the audiences will love – she somehow messes up and attempts suicide for real!

Writer 3: Comedy gold!

Writer 1: Wait, what? I didn’t think we had decided on that yet. It sounds… I don’t know… not really that funny. It actually sounds really cheap. Besides, what kind of awful person tries a ploy like that? It seems like one of those ideas that only looks funny on paper.

Writer 2: Listen, suicide is hilarious. And remember, on the big screen it won’t be just anyone pretending to attempt suicide but accidentally doing it for real – it’ll be Kristen Wiig from Bridesmaids.

Writer 3: I’m laughing already!

Writer 2: So, because of this hilarious misunderstanding, she’s forced to go live with her family…

Writer 3: Oh boy!

Writer 2: …which is just a grab-bag of ridiculous characters!

Writer 1: I see here you have written, “Slutty Mom.”

Writer 2: Yes. Her mom will be a former stripper or something. Basically the worst mom of all time – chronic degenerate gambler, neglected her children, big whore. But eventually Kristen will discover that her mom was really pretty great all along.

Writer 1: How so?

Writer 3: IT’S A COMEDY!

Writer 2: Exactly. And the mom’s younger boyfriend will be a real nut. He’ll claim he’s in the CIA and have all these crazy stories about his adventures.

Writer 3: Oh man, don’t tell me! Don’t tell me what HILARIOUS twist you’ll have in mind for THAT character!

Writer 2: Oh, let’s just say that perhaps his ridiculous claims may not be as outlandish as you at first suspect!

Writer 3: HA! You’re a genius!

Writer 1: And you have another character marked as “Awkward Brother.” Let me guess: That’s her lovably awkward younger brother who provides a lot of innocent screwball-type humor?

Writer 2: Correct. Imagine him being played by Zach Galifianakis… but we can’t afford him, so we’ll get some guy nobody’s ever heard of to sort of do the same thing.

Writer 1: Oh, God. Who is “The Other Young Guy Who Lives In The House But Isn’t Her Brother”?

Writer 2: Right. You’re never going to guess this, but he turns out to be Kristen’s love interest. I say you’ll never guess it because, although he’s the only other unattached male character in the film, they don’t seem to hit it off at first. At all. In fact, they may be openly hostile to each other. But then it turns out that they really get along. Complete surprise, right?

Writer 1: How do you figure out that they get along?

Writer 2: They sleep together. After he gets her drunk.

Writer 1: WHAT?!?

Writer 3: IT’S A COMEDY!

Writer 2: So a bunch of stuff happens, yadda yadda… Oh, right. The big reveal is that Kristen’s father, who you think is dead the whole movie, turns out to be alive. The whole “death” thing was a story thought up by the Slutty Mom to spare the kids the agony of divorce.

Writer 1: Fine. Sounds great. Perfectly logical.

Writer 3: And funny. Funny in the kind of way that will make people laugh like, “Oooooh-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoooooooo!”

Writer 2: Don’t worry, though. The dad turns out to be a real elitist scumbag. So there’s some more zany hi-jinx, Kristen’s boyfriend insults her old Uncaring Superficial Friends, and everyone becomes successful and happy. That’s the end.

Writer 3: Flawless. Now let’s get started on Anchorman 2.

VISIONEERS – 6/26/14

2008

I’m fascinated by Visioneers. To boil the plot down to its most basic elements: Zach Galifianakis plays George Washington Winsterhammerman, an employee at the Jeffers Corporation, “the largest and friendliest and most profitable corporation in the history of mankind.” His job is boring, incomprehensible, and unfulfilling. He can’t muster the enthusiasm to get intimate with his wife (Judy Greer). He has no relationship with his never-seen son. He falls in love with his co-worker Charisma (Mia Maestr0), who he only talks to on the phone. Meanwhile, the stress of living in a soulless, sterile corporate society is causing people to spontaneously explode all across the country.

This sounded like it had the potential to become one of the worst movies I’d ever seen, but it surprised me. I watched it once and was confused; I watched it again and fell in love with it. This movie is beautiful.

Visioneers…But, in a way, it’s hideous.

I worked in a few different “corporate” jobs over the past 8 years, and I went through the usual emotional progression – cheerful optimism, grim determination, bitter disappointment, paralyzing rage, and then listless apathy. I was finally forced to adopt the philosophy that, if I just came in every morning, did my job, and THEN went home and lived a happy life, everything would be fine.

Visioneers shows that this really isn’t possible. The Jeffers Corporation stresses production above all else – dull, mindless production. The company doesn’t actually produce anything other than keeping people working. Nobody has dreams, goals, or aspirations beyond maybe moving up to the next level of the building. In fact, actual dreams are viewed as a symptom of mental illness (and eventual explosion).

George’s life away from work is just as empty of purpose. People in this movie – except those who have given up any concept of personal desire and satisfaction – are uniformly miserable and unfulfilled, and they turn to cheap TV and meaningless self-help books to give their lives meaning.

The picture of the heartless, nightmarish “corporate society” painted by Visioneers rings so true (we’re basically 80% of the way there already). An announcement plays every minute of the day, informing workers how many minutes of work remain in the week – similar to the internal announcement each of us make as each hour brings us closer to the weekend. In an attempt to stop their employees from exploding, the company forces them to carry around stuffed bears; a survey then asks them to describe their “sexual relationship” with said bears. It makes you realize that the people at the top of the ladder who devise these morale-boosting activities have no idea what morale is.

Visioneers isn’t a comedy, despite its few moments of black humor. It’s not a straight-up corporate satire. It’s a movie about doing what it takes to be happy, even if that means shrugging at everything society tells you is important. It’s about realizing that you just might be trapped in a society where people are giving up their humanity and blowing up from the stress. It’s about reaching the end of that self-help book and finding that the only real advice it has to offer is: “Happiness is being happy” (“What the fuck am I supposed to do with that?” one character wails).

It’s not a perfect movie by any means – it can be a little too obvious and preachy, and the budget obviously wasn’t the biggest – but it’s one of those “big idea” movies that I saw at just the right time. If you’ve ever spent any time in a cubicle, it’s worth a watch.