Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Random Movie: Brain Dead (2007)

Written by: PBF

My first impression of this film was that it was like a zombie film made specifically for Cinemax to air at around 3am. There was plenty of (somewhat justified) nudity almost immediately. However, it vanished just a quickly as it had come. FYI: If you are going to make a marginally engaging film, try not to blow your nudity wad all in the first 15 minutes. It leaves nothing much else to pay attention to.

Brain Dead, directed by Kevin Tenney, doesn’t really show us anything new in its zombie story. Not that it is trying to. It’s the story of 6 random people (actually, 3 random groups of 2 people) who for one reason or another end up in an empty fishing lodge. We have Bob and Clarence, who are brothers and escaped prisoners. They arrive first, and end up holding the others hostage. Next to arrive are Claudia and Sherry, who were hiking and swimming naked. Last is Reverend Farnsworth and his assistant Amy. The Reverend would like to pork his assistant. What these people don’t know as they arrive at the cabin is that there are zombies lurking about. A space “amoeba” shot into a local fisherman’s head and promptly turned him in to a zombie host body. He in turn killed his buddy, and so on. Later in the film it is “figured out” that the parasites find a host body and then eat brains until they can reproduce. Reproduction involves a zombie vomiting a black oily substance onto someone. The substance (another parasite) enters the body and another zombie is born. Eventually these zombies make their way to the cabin.

So, if the film wasn’t made to show us anything new, why was it made? Just to be purely entertainment? Sure, I can buy that. The writing wasn’t completely terrible and I laughed out loud a couple of times. The acting sure was a mixed bag. No one was bad enough to make me wince. There were a couple of cool scenes. You ever watched a movie where someone punches another person through the chest and rips their heart out? Imagine that scene but instead of the chest, it was the head, and instead of the heart it was the brain. That was a pretty entertaining scene, yes. There is plenty of gore for those of us who like that, but it was well placed and not that over the top.

The biggest problem with this film is that it focuses largely on character interaction, and these people were complete bores. I either didn’t care about them or they were complete assholes. In that case, you would think they would be dispatched rather quickly so we could enjoy their demise, but no. I was forced to listen to sometimes barely tolerable dialogue and questionable decision making. Compounding that is the involvement of women whom I had already seen completely naked, thus during their scenes I would drift off to those earlier parts of the film, as nothing they were doing or saying was interesting.

I was intrigued with how the film ended; it was an interesting and comical choice, and it worked for me, given the silliness of the film overall.

This is a zombie film rife with varying degrees of comedy and purely exists as a “fun” ride. Nothing more. Honestly, how fun the ride is, will be completely determined by the mood of the viewer. I didn’t hate it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Random Movie: Scum (1979)

Since this site’s inception about a year ago, our top search keyword has consistently been Scum, the 1979 British-made movie from director Alan Clarke. Considering that previously I knew nothing of a movie called Scum, going into this review, our 200th by the way, I had vague knowledge of the basic story but little else other than it caused a bit of controversy in the UK when it was released.

Taking place in a British borstal, a youth detention facility designed supposedly for rehabilitation and education rather than punishment, Carlin and two other new arrivals to the center are exposed to verbal and physical abuse from both the guards and the other detainees. Carlin, previously the “daddy” of his previous facility, finds it hard to maintain a low-profile as Banks, the leader of the wing, targets him specifically because of his previous internment. He meets another “trainee” named Archer, who sets out to passively cause trouble for the guards by refusing to eat meat, wear shoes, or attend chapel declaring he is an atheist vegetarian. After being sent to solitary for “fighting,” Carlin strikes back at Banks and his cronies to become the new daddy with control over the other inmates and the contraband trade.

I suspect Clarke’s intention in making this movie (actually a remake of a banned made-for-TV production) was not so much to entertain but to educate about the horrors of the borstal system. This is a movie that although it is very well done, it is not very pleasant to watch because of some of the more graphic aspects of it. The abuses of power is the film’s main point of contention as even though it is billed as a rehabilitation facility, there is very little of that present as the guards turn a blind-eye away from vicious acts against some inmates but condemn others. Archer remarks in the film that he thinks they are trying to break his will through the rigid structure, punishment, and backbreaking work. But without any corresponding positives, all the system does is breed violence inside the detainment walls as surviving the abuses takes precedence over staying out of trouble and fulfilling the sentences.

Using most of the same cast and crew from the TV version, Clarke commits to showing the atrocities against the detainees in a brutally realistic way. With several scenes of vicious fighting, two suicides, and the rape of a young boy, I can see why this film was targeted in the UK’s parade of censorship in the 1980s. Yet, unlike other films with graphic violence, Clarke’s film serves a purpose. In a place where speaking out against abuses or questioning the rules will only lead one to more trouble with the other inmates or even with the guards, many of the boys have no way of protecting themselves other than preemptively lashing out. Think of the immortal line in Office Space: “kick someone’s ass the first day, or become someone’s bitch.”

With a physical appearance not befitting his eventual role in the borstal, Ray Winstone plays Carlin as appropriately timid when he first arrives only to become more enraged as he takes over as the “daddy.” Winstone has a calm and calculating look as he is being reprimanded by the head of the borstal only to give way to sheer anger when he lashes out. Mick Ford is good as well playing Archer with a smug, sardonic attitude to subtly piss off the guards. I liken my personality to his sometimes. The rest of the cast members are important to the story as a whole, but only select few really stand out from the mass of oppressed, beaten down inmates. If I had any fault with the movie (other than the sometimes indiscernible, thick accents) is that some of the supporting characters are one-dimensional to the point that it is almost hard to keep up with what is happening to whom.

Perhaps Scum served its purpose to expose the true underpinnings of what happens in borstals. Or perhaps the shuttering of the program a few years after this movie is unrelated. Regardless, for a movie that was at one point banned and is now seemingly popular among the unintentional visitors to the site, Scum is quite a powerful film. And now I hope to either make Google blow up or bring us a ton of traffic.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Scum Marathon – Day 9: Babes in Toyland (1986)

Unbeknowst to me, the property Babes in Toyland was originally based on a 1903 stage performance that yielded two feature films in 1934 and 1961 with a made-for-TV movie which is our entry today. 11-year-old Drew Barrymore is Lisa Piper, who on the way home with her sister and friends in a blizzard, is thrown from the car into a tree rendering her unconscious. The majority of the movie takes place in Toyland, a fictional town from Lisa’s subconscious filled with Mother Goose characters, walking, talking animals, and a sinister man named Barnaby Barnicle who wishes to rid the world of toys.

After interrupting the marriage between Barnaby and Mary Contrary (Jill Schoelen), Lisa meets the citizens of Toyland and is caught in a web of lies and deceit as Barnaby tries to implicate his nephew Jack-be-nimble (Keanu Reeves) in a nefarious cookie heist to take control of the town and the domain of the Toymaster (Pat Morita). With the help of Georgie Porgie (Googy Gress), Lisa, Mary, and Jack set out to uncover Barnaby’s master plan and his deep corruption in the halls of Toyland. Yep, shit just got real.

I didn’t realize this was a made-for-TV movie until after the fact as even though it seemed cheap, there were a lot of name actors involved and some decent effects work on Barnaby’s trolls/minions of evil/whatever. Of course, having name actors means nothing when none of them can act worth a damn. There were some moments with Richard Mulligan that weren’t bad but he swung back and forth between tolerable to outrageous with not much in between. The rest of the actors were painfully bad. It seems silly to pick apart a young girl’s fantastical story, so I will withhold for the most part but there is no reason to have such awful acting even in a kid’s movie. Good thing for Barrymore that as a young actress that she had a few other entries on her resume before this. Even with Reeves, expectations are not too high for him (especially his earlier roles) but he still manages to deliver dialog as only he can like a slow man reading from a cue card ten feet away.

In my minimal research, it seems like all of the Babes in Toyland movies are different in their plot so the movie wasn’t being held to any particular template. It was cute but not particularly in depth and the characters are inept in their attempts to stop Barnaby from rising to power. A large part of the movie consists of the characters being trapped by Barnaby, only to escape and be recaptured minutes later. It gets tired quickly. There are some random songs sprinkled throughout, calling back to the source material I suppose, but they were sparse enough to make it not a musical but a movie where people break into song periodically. If I can commend it for anything though, the kids stayed put throughout the whole movie (almost unheard of in my house) so at least it works better as a family film than most.

Random Movie: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

Written by: PBF

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is quite a different film from its predecessor. I hold the original in very high regard for reasons that were absent from this film. That does not make it a bad film, however.

Through some narration, we learn that Sally, the only survivor of the previous film was able to tell the story of what happened to her, her brother and friends, but goes catatonic afterward. There was a search conducted but no trace of the Sawyer family (Leatherface, et al) was found. However, there continued to be gruesome chainsaw related killings across the state of Texas for thirteen years. That brings us to the present. Two high school kids are travelling through Texas, drinking and shooting road signs. They call a local radio station that they are listening to and start bothering the DJ, Stretch (Caroline Williams). They play chicken with a truck and run it off the road. Hours later, the kids call Stretch again and while on the phone are stopped by the same truck from their game of chicken. The truck runs alongside of them, and Leatherface jumps out. He saws up the car and eventually cuts off half the head of the driver causing the car to crash. The entire event is recorded on an audio cassette (a now dead format that music was distributed on). Lt. Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper) who has been trying to find the chainsaw killers, arrives at the scene to the dismay of local cops, who eventually let him stay. We learn that Lefty is Sally and Franklin’s Uncle, which is fueling his need to find the killers. He convinces the local P.D. to publish an article about the incident in the paper in the hopes to attract any witnesses. It does, as Stretch brings the cassette to Lefty’s hotel room. Not really convinced that it would help, he sends her away. Stretch is also covering at the chili cook off and the winner turns out to be Drayton Sawyer, who tell that his secret is to not “skimp on the meat.” Lefty visits the radio station and convinces Stretch to pay the cassette on the air, which she does, every hour. As he is driving his mobile “restaurant” Drayton gets a call (car phone) from a family member instructing him to turn on the radio. He hears the tape and the Sawyer family make a visit to the station. At this point, the Chainsaw Massacre begins. Again.

To clarify my earlier statement, the reason why I like the first film so much was because of its documentary like presentation and shocking realism. This installment had a much larger budget, was more like an actual horror film, and had much better acting. Again, this does not make it a bad film (especially in comparison to some of the later sequels). However, I really don’t think it was necessary to make this film.

The first film on its own could not have been done any better. We see one incident in which a group of friends are mercilessly killed at the hands of a family of cannibalistic lunatics. It ends, with no real resolve, leaving open wounds on the viewer. It was shocking, and somewhat mysterious in a fascinating way, as this was surely but one of many events like this. That was enough. There was no need to show any further “adventures” of the Sawyers.

That being said, even though the choice was made to make a sequel, it wasn’t a terrible follow up (probably due to Tobe Hooper’s involvement). It is clear that Hooper was placing more of an emphasis on comedy, as there was a lot of insane ramblings spouted off by Chop-Top, the twin brother of the hitchhiker from the first film. He was also a Vietnam vet who may or may not have had PTSD, and a bit of a hippie (what?) which I thought was a bit much. It’s kind of like he was given a bunch of problems to emphasize his lunacy. Killing people and eating them is enough, I get it. Be that as it may, it was not really all that over the top (with the exception of a skeleton on a bomb ala Dr. Strangelove). I guess, though, it was also really not that funny. Just creepy. Which worked.

The film was well directed and acted and full of gore. Because of this, it felt a bit detached from the first. While the first was well directed, the acting was not that great, and the gore was minimal. In that respect, what it did was continue the story of the Sawyers, in what seemed like a film that could stand on its own. The first one really did nothing for this one with the exception of supplying Lefty with a motive. But that was easily established with a bit of forced exposition early in the film.

I kind of view this as an alternate version of the first film that wasn’t quite as good. Ultimately, I would rather this franchise just be the first film. We don’t really need any more story here, whether it is back story or the continued mayhem.

Christmas Scum Marathon – Day 8: Mixed Nuts (1994)

Nora Ephron typically makes a certain type of movie. That movie: one which I do not care about. Her most acclaimed films run the gammit between romantic comedies starring Tom Hanks to other romantic comedies starring Tom Hanks. A bit of filler movies with Will Ferrell and Meryl Streep fill in the gaps. The thing I was most excited about with Mixed Nuts was Parker Posey, who I learned to love in Scream 3. Sadly, she appears with Jon Stewart in roughly 80 seconds of the movie. At least I had another Scream series vet to bide time with.

Mixed Nuts centers around a crisis hotline on Christmas Eve. Phillip (Steve Martin) runs this help center although needing some help himself with an immanent breakup, a pending eviction, and stupid people surrounding him. His neurotic co-worker Catherine (Rita Wilson) has a friend of sorts Grace (Juliette Lewis) who is potentially nine months pregnant by her seven-month paroled boyfriend Felix (Anthony LaPaglia). The other hotline worker is Mrs. Munchnik (Madeline Kahn), an older, battier woman who derives pleasure from absolutely nothing. When they meet up with Adam Sandler (Adam Sandler) and a cross-dressing Liev Schreiber, attempted comedy ensues involving dog tranquilizers, loaded handguns, and a serial killer.

On the surface, Mixed Nuts attempts to offer to the cinematic gods of yore the joy of an absurdist comedy set around a suicide prevention center at Christmas. After all, what could be better than a Christmas movie about overtly generic characters that endure such crazy situations? Oh, the answer is anything other than this movie. For a comedy, there sure was not too much funny in it. It is surprising that so many fairly good actors showed up only to be stuck in such forced, unbelievable, and very predictable predicaments. There is very little that is surprising about what unfolds in this movie: we have the unrequited love between two office mates, the shrill old woman turns around her ways, and the white trash couple fight a lot. With stock characters, it is difficult but not impossible to create a decent movie but we learn and care so little about the group that it really is inconsequential who shacks up with who, who makes it to Christmas dinner on time, or what will become of them all afterwards.

Given that I’ve never really liked Steve Martin, I wasn’t surprised to find him a bore in this movie that in better hands could have been much better. This was made apparently in the time that he was able to dye his hair but unable to behave in any other way than manically unfunny. At least he was better than the more-often-than-not unfunny Adam Sandler. He plays a ukulele and sings in the traditional Adam Sandler voice. The late Kahn is delightful though even if her character is not. The real star was Schreiber as the gender-bending Chris. Perhaps it is just because I enjoy the actor but seeing him attempt to pull off a woman with such a distinctive voice and stocky build was entertaining.

There are far too many decent Christmas comedies out there that watching this is just as futile as running a suicide hotline. You know some are not worth saving.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Scum Marathon – Day 7: Scrooged (1988)

For a review of Scrooged, I could just point you to the first ever Movie Scum Episode up to the 2:45 mark and that would about summarize my thoughts on the movie. Based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Bill Murray assumes the role of Scrooge as Frank Cross, a deplorably inhumane man who thrives on the mean-streak that everyone else would just as rather ignore. As the president of a major television network, he takes great joy in firing those who rub him wrong and being miserly when we assume that he has all the wealth in the world. Frank is warned of his depraved ways by his late boss (John Forsythe) who also informs him of the coming of three ghosts. The ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future all show Frank something he either wanted to forget or wanted to ignore in the hopes of turning him into less of a douchebag.

PBF said this was probably one of his favorite Murray movies ever (Bill, not the other brothers who turned up here) and I couldn’t agree more. This is classic, kind of goofy yet still serious Bill Murray like in Stripes or Ghostbusters. He plays Cross with a fervently intense hatred toward the world and humanity at large yet still in a comical way. Murray here, even in the early portion of the movie, steers his delivery in a way that hints at farce to take the edge off of the more harsher elements like the fired Eliot Milquetoast Laudermilk (Bobcat Goldthwait) or his suffering secretary’s (Alfre Woodard) family obligations that are trampled by Cross’ agenda. The balancing act this movie pulled off was making Cross insufferable but not to the point that he could not be adequately redeemed by the end of the movie.

To a point, you can almost understand Frank’s dilemma as he is career-driven but to a fault as that has not only cost him his relationship with his only brother James but also his true love Claire (Karen Allen). Murray and Allen have either a cute chemistry or a healthy hesitation with each other depending on the story’s needs in the past or present times. While a great deal of Murray’s shenanigans are more of the self-loathing kind of humor, he gets some great lines and overall scenes such as the over-the-top lunch with the executive ending with his slipping in the foyer. A large amount of the humor also is derived from the first two ghosts played by David Johansen and Carol Kane as the past and present apparitions respectively.

While the story is predictable, that is largely expected coming from a source material that has been adapted so many times over the years. Cross’ transformation from Scrooge to saint is a little uneven but that can pretty much be chalked up to the character’s stubbornness. The ending though sucked hard. Understandably, the film has a limited scope of what the final destination of the character arc is based on Dickens’ story but we did not need to see Cross interrupt the live TV production to ramble on about the goodness of Christmas and the human spirit. Show instead of tell is the old adage but director Richard Donner (wait, Richard Donner directed this?) takes what could have been more powerful scenes between Cross and Claire, James, or his secretary Grace and inflates them into Bill Murray grandstanding in a crowd of thousands in front of a television audience. In a way, I guess that suits the character of Cross as well but there was certainly something off about the last ten minutes of the movie (singing aside). I’m not sure if it was all ad-libbed by Murray or written by a bunch of hacks yoked in from the streets but it was unfunny and almost painful to watch. This was not a good way for such a great movie to end.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Scum Marathon – Day 6: Santa Claus (1959) [MST3k Version]

I briefly considered watching the 1959 movie Santa Claus as originally intended for the Christmas Scum Marathon but the shoddy transfer and awful dubbing turned me off within about four minutes. I was fortunate enough to see that the geniuses at MST3k saw fit to bring their special blend of absurdity and humor to this horrible, Mexican-produced, nightmare-inducing tale of Santa as he battles the Devil. Needless to say, I watched the MST3k version.

While there are several notable episodes that I haven’t seen, I don’t think I’ve laughed so much at an MST3k episode before. Featuring the creepiest Old St. Nick I’ve seen yet, Santa Claus begins with a tour of the jolly old fattie’s celestial castle featuring cliques of children from random ethnicities and 1950s high-tech gadgetry to spy on little boys and girls. As Santa is about to set off on his all night journey to apparently only three houses in Mexico, the Devil is called upon by Lucifer (umm, what?) to rise up and turn all the children on Earth into evil minions of the dark side. Santa is well equipped though with a large satchel of unwrapped, generic gifts, fairy dust to induce sleep, and creepy mechanical reindeer to deliver the presents and restore goodwill in the world.

There are movies that are bad enough to be entertaining of their own right but Santa Claus is special as one of the most baffling movies I have seen (yes, even counting the previously derided Elf Bowling). This is one of those movies like Exorcist II that I cannot fathom how anyone in their right mind thought it was conceived as a good idea. José Elías Moreno plays Santa as you would expect an escaped psychiatric ward patient would with his maniacal laughter and creepy facial expressions. It’s a good thing that the Devil, also called Pitch here, is pretty inept and rather flamboyant for the guardian of the underworld. There is also a giant telescope with a detached eye. And a large pair of lips embedded in Santa’s control panel. Just saying …

The story is pretty disjointed as well as it cautions little kids against behaving badly, scolds parents for abandoning their children, and throws in rather random references to Jesus for good measure I suppose. The commentary of the unwilling human and robots participants is capable of transforming this crazy, piece of trash movie into a hysterical ninety minutes. Even the normally uneven host segments between the Mads and Mike and Co. are brilliant with the dig/in-joke at Joel’s departure, the musical segments, and meeting the Nelsons.

It is hard to fathom that such a god-awful movie could produce one of the greatest MST3k episodes ever. And you might be saying that reviewing a movie spoofed on MST3k doesn’t belong on a movie website like this. If that is the case, go to hell and start your own Christmas Scum Marathon!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Scum Marathon – Day 5: Black Christmas (1974)

Black Christmas is often lauded as being one of the pioneering films for many slasher movie staples. The menacing phone calls, the killer’s POV shots, or the general atmosphere of suspense have all been copied and ripped-off countless times to make watching Black Christmas for the first time is a rather odd experience. On one hand, you pretty much know what is going to happen, beats and all throughout the film, but the fact that it predates even the seminal classic Halloween makes it the template to which most all other slashers were created. Other than true horror buffs, the slasher subgenre is laughed upon and Black Christmas, while an admirable feat in some ways, did not set a very high standard.

Had I watched this movie twenty years ago, I would have been bored senseless. This was during the “dark ages” of my life that I considered Halloween 2 better than the original due to its higher body count. Even now having the appreciation for slow and methodical horror films that don’t rely on frequent jump-scares, I can’t say I really liked Bob Clark‘s ORIGINAL Christmas Story as I also have an appreciate for characters that don’t make me want to hurt myself. Just before Christmas break, the sorority house winds down to only housing a few girls and their drunk-ass house mother. In the midst of looking into the whereabouts of a missing housemate, the girls are stalked by a man who calls himself Billy and is truly insane judging from his obscene phone calls. The local inept police are called in to investigate and we soon find ourselves with one girl and one killer stuck in a house. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

I was pleasantly surprised with how quick everything started off with a disposable sorority girl getting offed pretty early into the movie but the next 50 minutes or so meanders around with just some phone calls and the killer creeping around. During this time, we are subjected to some of the most goddamn annoying characters ever including final girl Jess. Olivia Hussey is quite fetching but she either has one of the most annoying accents or method of delivering lines ever. I literally winced whenever a phone rang and she was around it because that meant I would have to endure her answering it in the most shrill way possible. Margot Kidder is pretty decent as the bitchy, drunk girl but she disappears far too early and has little to do in the climax of the film. Good ol’ John Saxon is present though and out acts everyone around him even during hilariously out of place scenes as when he and another detective rib on a guy for his ignorance of the act of fellatio.

Clark’s entire structure of the movie is quite odd as even though he goes to great lengths to create some truly creepy sequences, these are immediately cut to something different (and mostly irrelevant) entirely which breaks the tension. The story itself is all over the place ranging from the missing college girl, to the prank phone calls, to a wacky search party, to a random cop sitting watch outside the girls’ house (you know that won’t end well). The last 40 minutes or so are the best once the random characters are dispatched and it boils down to trying to nail down the killer courtesy of Saxon sitting tirelessly at a desk and some guy running around in a warehouse full of telephone switches.

Being that it has a 7.3 rating on IMDb, I was a bit disappointed in the film. The horror elements come off well (considering the sheer number of times I have seen them since) but the setup to that is largely forgettable. I have doubts that the recent remake improved on the problematic aspects but I suppose we’ll find out next year.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Random Movie: Altered States (1980)

Written by: PBF

You could call Altered States a love story, because that’s what it is, but you would be doing director Ken Russell and writer Paddy Chayefsky a disservice. For the actual love story parts of it are merely the filler in an absurdly religious and cosmic journey that you really aren’t supposed to take seriously. It wouldn’t be the first disservice done to Chayefsky (at least in his opinion) in regard to the film; he had a some kind of dispute with the film’s first director and he later changed his name (to his real first and middle names) on the film due to his disapproval of it.

Professor Eddie Jessup (William Hurt) is studying schizophrenia using sensory deprivation tanks. At some point he places himself in the tank under the observation of his colleague, Arthur Rosenberg (Bob Balaban). After having hallucinations in the tank and reliving the death of his father,  he becomes obsessed. Fascinated with religious experiences, he becomes consumed with finding the “first self.” He becomes unhappy with the convention of marriage and domestic life, and gets separated from his wife Emily (Blair Brown). He goes to Mexico, and ingests a concoction that causes a number of intense hallucinations, prompting him to take it back to the states where he can study it. “Studying it” simply means that he takes it prior to immersing himself in the deprivation tank and thus combining the two experiences. He then begins to “externalize” his visions, and seems to regress genetically, and then reconstitutes. However, each regression places him further backward genetically, and even seems to “de-evolve” and have visions when out of the tank. He explains this with, “Our other states of consciousness are just as real as our waking states and the drug externalizes them.” His wife and another colleague become quite concerned with his “research.”

The point of the film where I decided I couldn’t possibly be expected to take it seriously is when Jessup regresses to an ape like creature, and begins wreaking havoc, finds himself in a zoo and eats a sheep. That seemed a bit much. Even more so than when he turns into some kind of cast member from an Ah-Ha music video.

The concept of this movie is actually really fascinating. And it does work well in execution sometimes. A lot of the film, though,  was a little too much. Since the characters in the main cast are geniuses, a lot of the dialogue is comprised of words that mean nothing to me, and spoken at times at a pace I did not are to keep up with. I sort of got the sense that this was maybe intentional, keeping with the overall nonsensical tone of events, but it did not work in that capacity. It just kind of made me lose interest in an otherwise normal scene.

The regressions were actually very interesting, except for that ape man scene. With the first regression, he comes out unable to speak, and apparently a “quasi-simian.” He then begins to have visions and change physically. He then has the ape-man episode which only further peaks his curiosity as opposed to scaring the hell out of him. Another episode turns him in to cosmic energy and he witnesses the birth of the human. I found this scene to be quite fantastic, especially as Emily is fighting her way to Jessup through a whirlpool of primordial ooze (or whatever) to reach him. It’s is almost powerful enough to draw a tear as she touches him and brings him back to this world. I understand that the primitive man section was sort of a logical step before this point, but man, it was just really silly. The ending also, reminding us that this in fact, is a love story, is pretty gripping, even though a bit fantastical (and again, reminiscent of an 80′s music video).

But wasn’t the whole thing fantastical? Well, yes, but really only in concept (even though this was inspired by true events). As fantastical as it was, within the context of the film, it fit in nicely.

William Hurt’s performance was quite strong, and impressive for his screen debut. It was directed quite well also, but that doesn’t matter. You are led where Russell leads you and if you can’t keep up or don’t like it, tough.

It’s pretty entertaining, and possibly the most meaningless philosophical film you will run across. As thought provoking as it appears to be, it really is not. Not a bad film to spend an afternoon with.

Christmas Scum Marathon – Day 4: Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)

Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure why I picked Ernest Saves Christmas as part of the inaugural 12 Days of Christmas Scum Marathon. Perhaps it was because Jim Varney was quite comical as Slinky-Dog in the first two Toy Story installments. Or maybe it was nostalgia from the annual tradition of watching it around this time just before the long winter break in middle school. While I can safely say it was much better than Elf Bowling, Ernest’s antics were nowhere close to my fond remembrances of them.

I was shocked to learn (due to my extreme indifference toward him) that Ernest P. Worrell (Varney) was conceived as a local personality for television commecials which progressed into a TV series and no less than ten feature films. Having seen only a handful of those other movies, I cannot speak for the notion that Ernest is an almost self-aware, buffoonish caricature on purpose because his character merely comes off as a combination of annoying and “special.” Here we follow Ernest as he meets Santa Claus, a hot 80s teenage runaway, and some other stuff ensues as Santa attempts to woo a successor to take over the Santa throne.

The first few minutes are acceptable as even Ernest just comes off as a goofy, inept guy who has misplaced, but still good intentions. While his character may have still be the same by the end, I could not tell you as his mugging and vocal inflections get so ingratiating that I became angry whenever we left the more decent, or at least not as annoying characters, to get back to Ernest in some sort of get-up. In fact, I thought about Eddie Murphy a lot during this movie as well. I’m not sure that is relevant either but it still makes me angry.

Sadly, this doesn’t even work as a kid’s movie the way it used to in my day as my three kids who watched it with me could have cared less about anything going on other than debating if the old, bearded man was really Santa and laughing at the goofy fat guy in the warehouse. The story itself is pretty clever with Santa hounding this poor man to take over the gift distribution duties but yet still clichéd with the hot 80s runaway teenager having a change of heart away from her dastardly, Grinch-like gift stealing.

And I take issue with the overall title of the movie. How does Ernest save Christmas exactly? He drives a taxi, puts on wigs and false teeth, and kidnaps two elves while commandeering Santa’s sleigh. If all of that wasn’t enough, this movie should have been enough to put Ernest on Santa’s shit list.

Blake Edwards Dies at 88

Writer, Director, Producer Blake Edwards passed away Wednesday at the age of 88. His death was a result of complications from pneumonia.

Some of his most notable films were Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Pink Panther (and it’s many follow ups) and 10. He was married to Julie Andrews, who appeared in many of his films. She was with him when he passed.

Random Movie: Altered States (1980)


Written by: PBF

You could call Altered States a love story, because that’s what it is, but you would be doing director Ken Russell and writer Paddy Chayefsky a disservice. For the actual love story parts of it are merely the filler in an absurdly religious and cosmic journey that you really aren’t supposed to take seriously. It wouldn’t be the first disservice done to Chayefsky (at least in his opinion) in regard to the film; he had a some kind of dispute with the film’s first director and he later changed his name (to his real first and middle names) on the film due to his disapproval of it.

Professor Eddie Jessup (William Hurt) is studying schizophrenia using sensory deprivation tanks. At some point he places himself in the tank under the observation of his colleague, Arthur Rosenberg (Bob Balaban). After having hallucinations in the tank and reliving the death of his father, he becomes obsessed. Fascinated with religious experiences, he becomes consumed with finding the “first self.” He becomes unhappy with the convention of marriage and domestic life, and gets separated from his wife Emily (Blair Brown). He goes to Mexico, and ingests a concoction that causes a number of intense hallucinations, prompting him to take it back to the states where he can study it. “Studying it” simply means that he takes it prior to immersing himself in the deprivation tank and thus combining the two experiences. He then begins to “externalize” his visions, and seems to regress genetically, and then reconstitutes. However, each regression places him further backward genetically, and even seems to “de-evolve” and have visions when out of the tank. He explains this with, “Our other states of consciousness are just as real as our waking states and the drug externalizes them.” His wife and another colleague become quite concerned with his “research.”

The point of the film where I decided I couldn’t possibly be expected to take it seriously is when Jessup regresses to an ape like creature, and begins wreaking havoc, finds himself in a zoo and eats a sheep. That seemed a bit much. Even more so than when he turns into some kind of cast member from an Ah-Ha music video.

The concept of this movie is actually really fascinating. And it does work well in execution sometimes. A lot of the film, though, was a little too much. Since the characters in the main cast are geniuses, a lot of the dialogue is comprised of words that mean nothing to me, and spoken at times at a pace I did not are to keep up with. I sort of got the sense that this was maybe intentional, keeping with the overall nonsensical tone of events, but it did not work in that capacity. It just kind of made me lose interest in an otherwise normal scene.

The regressions were actually very interesting, except for that ape man scene. With the first regression, he comes out unable to speak, and apparently a “quasi-simian.” He then begins to have visions and change physically. He then has the ape-man episode which only further peaks his curiosity as opposed to scaring the hell out of him. Another episode turns him in to cosmic energy and he witnesses the birth of the human. I found this scene to be quite fantastic, especially as Emily is fighting her way to Jessup through a whirlpool of primordial ooze (or whatever) to reach him. It’s is almost powerful enough to draw a tear as she touches him and brings him back to this world. I understand that the primitive man section was sort of a logical step before this point, but man, it was just really silly. The ending also, reminding us that this in fact, is a love story, is pretty gripping, even though a bit fantastical (and again, reminiscent of an 80’s music video).

But wasn’t the whole thing fantastical? Well, yes, but really only in concept (even though this was inspired by true events). As fantastical as it was, within the context of the film, it fit in nicely.

William Hurt’s performance was quite strong, and impressive for his screen debut. It was directed quite well also, but that doesn’t matter. You are led where Russell leads you and if you can’t keep up or don’t like it, tough.

It’s pretty entertaining, and possibly the most meaningless philosophical film you will run across. As thought provoking as it appears to be, it really is not. Not a bad film to spend an afternoon with.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Scum Marathon – Day 3: Elf Bowling: The Movie (2007)

In an effort to shy away from the mainstays of Christmas movies for this marathon, I turned to Netflix to deliver a nice package of obscure holiday fun. What it delivered was quite possible the most painful movie I have ever experienced. Fuck you movie!

Elf Bowling is apparently based on a computer video game of the same name that I have never heard of. In the game, Santa is pissed at his unionized, striking elves and apparently uses them as bowling pins. Seeing 82 minutes of that would have been far more entertaining. In a bastardized retcon of the origin of THE jolly old fat man in a red suit, Santa transforms from the captain of the Stinky Toe into ol’ Saint Nick that we know him as after his crew stages a mutiny and pushes Santa and his brother Dingle Kringle overboard into the freezing ocean waters. After thawing, Santa enters into a contractual agreement with the native elves on the North Pole to deliver the toys made by the elves as long as working conditions are happy. Dingle is tired of being upstaged by his brother and concocts a scheme with a couple of penguins to remove Santa from power and relocate the toy-making operation to Fiji.

To be honest, if I wasn’t in a crunch for a Christmas movie today, I would have turned this shit off in the first ten minutes. For a CG-animated movie made just a few years ago, the animation was embarrassingly bad. Being that I had never even heard of this fucker before watching it, I wasn’t expecting Pixar-like animation or story telling. But this literally looks like someone managed to hack a Nintendo 64 to create the visuals that look and move like stop-motion props carved out of wood based on a story that a drunken father tells his children on Christmas Eve. I’m not even sure what demographic is being targeted as there are some jokes that are a bit too overtly lewd for a children’s movie but a story and characters so woefully undeveloped that I fathom kids would be the ones most likely to to tolerate it.

Between the sheer absurdity of the story, the mild, cartoonish physical violence, and the random musical numbers, this was either created by a bunch of guys who’ve either never seen a movie or conversely seen way too many as it is all over the place. And someone should have sent them a message that having a song and dance espousing the virtues of slavery or a dark skinned elf rapping about wrapping probably isn’t the most appropriate in a family film. But then again, no one else is going to seek out this trash other than me so why bother?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Scum Marathon – Day 2: A Christmas Story (1983)


So, I finally sat down and watched A Christmas Story. Well, I guess it would be more accurate to say I finally sat down with the express intention to watch A Christmas Story in one continuous sitting. Without the distractions of wrapping presents or the extended-family-induced alcohol coma, I was able to actually appreciate the movie without it being beaten into my head every two hours courtesy of cable TV.

Directed by Bob Clark, the genius behind Porky’s and Baby Geniuses, the story centers around cute little Ralphie who wants nothing more for Christmas than a Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle despite the numerous warnings of shooting an eye out. The treasured BB gun is merely the common thread that holds together the various segments about Ralphie, his slightly deranged parents, and the dreams and crushing realities of being a nine-year-old.

What always got lost in the barrage of the Christmas Story marathon is the perfect way this film captures what it is like to be a kid at that age. Even though you or I grew up decades detached from the 1940s setting, many of the unforgettable memories of that age seem to be universal. You have absurd fantasies, aloof parents, and maniacal bullies peppering the humdrum life of going to school, doing homework, and marveling at adults and the questionable things they do.

The fact that this movie is so highly regarded almost thirty years later is a testament to the source material from Jean Shepherd (who also narrates) and Clark’s ability to weave mostly unrelated plot points into the story. A Christmas Story is nothing without the flagpole dare, the dangers of ingesting soap (and causal child abuse), or the atrociously tacky lamp the Old Man wins as a Major Award. While each are funny on their own, the blending of these side stories makes the film all the more relevant as it is told through the eyes of a child.

The biggest asset to the film was the nuclear family: Darren McGavin as the Old Man, Melinda Dillon as Mrs. Parker, and Peter Billingsly as Ralphie. In performances that channel almost every mother and father in existence, Dillon and McGavin are able to flip from standard parental moments of yelling or chastising to glowing at the reaction to a gift or comforting after a rough day. Some of these more poignant moments I hadn’t previously picked up on but they go miles escalating this story beyond Christmas about the trials and comfort of family.

It is almost disconcerting that A Christmas Story is so ubiquitous, especially this time of year. Its overexposure leads to more focus on the commercial-worthy bits with the deranged department story Santa and the savage beating of Skut Farkus as opposed to the real heart of the story. At least now I can keep things in context when I undoubtedly see the entire movie in three minute segments over the next few weeks.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Scum Marathon – Day 1: Die Hard (1988)


I hate to quote the same thing in less than a week but Digger posited in his previous marathon that Predator is “without a doubt one of the greatest action movies of all time.” Die Hard certainly deserves a spot on that list as well and perhaps not coincidentally is directed by the same man: John McTiernan. You all should know the story very well so I’ll keep the synopsis short. John McClane is a NYPD cop. His estranged wife lives in L.A. and works for a powerful foreign firm. McClane flies in for Christmas. Terrorists take over the building which houses a shit ton of money. Pure entertainment for the next two hours ensues.

It may not be your go-to movie for Christmas like Elf or the Muppet Christmas Carol but Die Hard is not only an awesome Christmas movie in its setting and references but also a damn near flawless action movie. In fact, I would almost consider this the anti-action movie in that the normal conventions and clichés that are commonplace today are nowhere to be found here. The plot is solid, the terrorists are not simply one-dimensional, and the one-liners aren’t corny. It helps that Die Hard is lauded for pioneering some of the more outlandish action stunts in succeeding movies but the point still stands.

Unlike the mindless popcorn, ‘shoot-em up’ movies we suffer through nowadays, Die Hard is always on its A game. Bruce Willis‘ McClane is not the supercop that the later sequels made him out to be. Here he is just a guy in a wife-beater with no shoes stuck in a perilous situation, with nothing more than his cunning wit and whatever ordinances he swipes from the folks rendered dead by his hands. While the effects are extraordinary, there is nothing (save for Karl’s Christ-like resurrection) that strains logic or pokes at your fragile suspension of disbelief.

Besides McClane and Alan Rickman‘s chilling classically-trained, high class Hans Grueber, the rest of the supporting actors are crafted in the vain of actual human beings, not disposable plot contrivances. The fact that the main baddies have more depth and personality than most anyone in … Zombie Strippers(?) is commendable and even Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) has a more satisfying arc than characters with an entire two hours devoted to them.

Given that it was made in the ’80s, Die Hard does not look or feel dated other than the terrorists that look like they could start a pop band called “The East German All Stars.” (There’s a reference there by the way.) Of course, there are standard movie elements like the requisite douchebag characters, namely Ellis and the police chief, but even they get away with lines and delivery that are on point with some of the funnier movies I’ve seen. In fact, I could probably watch Paul Gleason‘s delivery of the line “For chrissake, he could be a bartender for all we know” on a loop and not get tired of it.

It’s unfortunate that I haven’t watched this movie in so long because it is, in the simplest terms, a veritable masterpiece.

Merry Movie Scum Christmas!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Random Movie: Zombie Strippers! (2008)

I wasn’t sure how much entertainment I would derive from Zombie Strippers. Even though it came recommended by Movie Scum friend Kat, I’ve seen too many low-budget (and big-budget for that matter) zombie movies that are completely forgettable due to many filmmakers’ use of clichéd zombie tropes or laughable production values or horrendous acting. Zombie Strippers delivers more than I expected but not without a number of gripes.

Considering the title and the presence of “adult entertainment” star Jenna Jameson, you might not be surprised to see equal amounts of nudity as in a late-night Skinemax movie. I wonder if the grand plan of writer/director Jay Lee was to make a soft-core porno but include zombies to increase the sales potential. Through the poorly attempted satiric prologue, we learn that George W. Bush is President for a fourth term, public nudity has been banned, and science has created a virus to reanimate fallen soldiers. When the virus is unleashed, an infected “soldier” makes his way to the most conducive place to work off a zombie bug: an underground strip joint run by Robert Englund. The soldier (ironically named Birdflough) bites Jameson, turns her into a zombie, mayhem ensues.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Random Movie: Predators (2010)


When I first heard about a Predator sequel being made, it seemed like there were daily updates for the members of production, the cast, and then the release date approximately two weeks later. I may be truncating the timeframe a bit but it came together rather quickly in my swiss-cheese-like memory. The concept had promise with the predator foe, hunting in groups, having the homefield advantage against a rag-tag gang of militants and ne’er-do-wells. Sadly, while that premise is accurate, the final product, or at least half of it, leaves much to be desired. At least, until you watch the original Predator.

In his recent Monster Scum marathon, Digger proclaimed Predator to be “one of the greatest action movies of all time.” While it has been far too long since seeing the original to agree or disagree, Predators however follows its source material far too closely. Straight down to the music by John Debney which is almost a carbon-copy of Alan Silvestri’s great score from the original, I felt a great sense of deja vu while watching Predators, either to the original or to any other generic action movie. We start with Royce (Adrien Brody) free-falling into a jungle only to run into other people of varying ethnicities and backgrounds as they try to figure out where they are and why they are there.

It doesn’t take long for standard action tentpoles to come in effect as the group is hunted by the trio of Predator-folk. From being split up during an attack by weird alien dog-things, a trap being set for the humans in which Classic Predator™ appears, and the group being picked off one by one, I was completely detached from the first half of the movie. It literally feels like the original Predator with just a modicum of tweaking to avoid outright plagiarism. When the group meets up with Nolan (Laurence Fishburne), a previous victim stranded on the world, it gets on track with a bit more originality. It helps that Nolan is almost completely insane from being stuck on the alien planet for so long that he has concocted an imaginary friend to combat the loneliness.

The back half of the movie turns around as the human prey decide to turn tables on the Predators led by Brody. When it was first announced, I had my doubts about Brody as an action hero but it works here with Royce being rather cunning in the thick of it and pretty much an ass to boot. Royce’s main concern is survival and getting to the aliens’ ship and if things are not conducive to his plan (mainly Topher Grace) he is more than willing to cut ties and move on. The rest of the humans are pretty flimsy in the characterization department but certain things can be overlooked as Yakusa-member Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien) and Russian Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov) are pretty bad ass in their respective ways. Even though Walton Goggins’ death-row inmate Stans does not offer much assistance in the kick-assery, he gets a few good lines in as comic relief. Topher Grace annoys the shit out of me for some reason and I cannot buy him as a doctor in any capacity so his Edwin did nothing for me. And Alice Braga is pretty enough but does not come off as a hardened Israeli sniper.

For as interesting as it was to set the movie on an alien planet, it added little to the story that could not have been accomplished on earth. Early on as the characters are trying to figure out their location, Braga’s Isabelle remarks that she has seen many jungles but not this one. Problem is, even with the beautiful cinematography, it still looks like any jungle we’ve seen before. Other than the Predator’s dogs and the other creatures that are dropped on the planet with the humans, it is just a bunch of people running around in the woods that could as much be in my backyard as it is elsewhere in the galaxy. And even though there are three predators (not the dozen or so that the trailer would make you think) they mostly play tag team with only one going after the group at a time.

I expected more from this being produced by Robert Rodiguez and directed by Nimród Antal who was hand-picked based on his previous works. It’s competently produced, beautifully shot, and the cardboard cutout characters do their part in the story. But I would recommend seeing the classic original instead. It has a bit more heart and originality and without Topher Grace.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Random Movie: The Brood (1979)


Written by: PBF

David Cronenberg has said that The Brood was inspired by the custody battle for his daughter that he went through with his ex-wife. After watching this, my guess is that the process was unpleasant.

Frank Carveth’s (Art Hindle) wife Nola (Samantha Eggar) is under the care of Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) who practices a questionable form of therapy called Psychoplasmics. Dr. Raglan encourages his patients to “show him” their emotions, which generally will physically manifest somehow. For example, at the beginning of the film we see a session in which a man is speaking to his father (Dr. Raglan is acting as the patient’s father) and takes his shirt off to reveal sores of some kind that have developed as a manifestation of his feelings toward his father. This practice places Raglan as a genius to some, however, not to Frank. Nola, like Raglan’s other patients stay in a facility, and Candy, the Carveth’s daughter regularly visits her mother there. On one occasion, after picking Candy up, Frank notices bruises and scratches on her back. Furious, Frank confronts Raglan and threatens not to take Candy to visit her mother any longer. Raglan advises that this would be inappropriate at this point in Nola’s therapy and also makes it clear that he cannot legally do that as his wife is there legally and has every right to see her daughter. This causes Frank to seek legal counsel to file suit for psychological damage to his wife. We observe through sessions in which Raglan is acting as various members of her family, that her mother beat her as a child and her father did nothing about it. While discussing her mother with Raglan, he tells her to “show it” and as she is releasing her rage, her mother is murdered by something or someone while taking care of Candy. Similar events occur while discussing her father and Candy’s teacher usually. As Frank tries to piece together what the creatures are that are killing people in his family’s life, he speaks to 2 former patients of Raglan, one of whom has cancer and blames Raglan. He learns that something sinister involving his wife and Raglan is happening and he must stop whatever it is, so that he can save Nola and protect Candy.

This film is hard to categorize. I hesitate to call it horror, only because that usually conjures up images of gallons of blood, intense psychologically disturbing events and the like. There is some blood, and some disturbing scenes, but they are not in rapid succession. Nor are they on the grandiose level one may assume hearing the word “horror.” There is some tension, but most of the time spent in between deaths involves investigation, so you will not be on the edge of your seat much. However, the film does manage to keep the viewer interested, if nothing else, out of sheer curiosity. It becomes clear that the killers are somehow being controlled by Nola, and at first we only get obscured shots. Once we see that they are deformed children of some kind, it’s pretty much a lock that we are going to see this thing through to find out what the hell the deal is with them and what the connection is to Nola. I found the explanation of this to be quite intriguing. Also, after watching the film it seems sort of obvious, and yet you would have no reason to think it which I thought was really well done.

I must hand it to The Brood; recalling it, it seems like I would have found the film slow and perhaps even boring. Yet it was not. There is something in every scene that will keep interest; whether it is Robert Silverman’s performance as the odd, cancer stricken Hartog, the frightening smack of an object against some poor person’s skull or just the camera shot. And yet you hardly notice it at the time (well, except for the skull bashing). I don’t claim that Cronenberg kept me mesmerized at the same level that Fincher seems to do. Fincher almost seems hpynotic whereas (here) Cronenberg sort of softly put his hand on your shoulder without you realizing, yet you pay attention just the same.

The performances are satisfying, the story is interesting and the score is quite good. There really isn’t anything wrong with it, but it will not stand out as exceptional. Just a decent film.

I can certainly recommend it, but I feel the casual movie goer may find this a little more boring than not. Then again, I wouldn’t call David Cronenberg the casual movie goer’s director.

Monday, December 6, 2010

TV Scum: The Walking Dead — TS 19

S01E06

While I am thankful that AMC gave Frank Darabont a chance to bring Walking Dead to TV screens, I have to curse their apprehension at the beginning with only a six episode order for the first season. Not only does that cut things short before really establishing the tone and direction of the show, but this episode was pretty lousy as a season finale but would have been much better if we did not have eleven months to go before seeing the next installment.

Now safely inside the CDC in Atlanta, the group (they really need a catchy name like Apocalypse Avengers or something) meet Dr. Edwin Jenner, the lone scientist left studying the zombification disease after everyone else fled or checked out. At first Jenner is fairly welcoming (as much as a man carrying an automatic weapon can be) offering hot showers, food, and beds to sleep in. He explains what is known about the disease and how it affects the brain before rendering the host dead and resurrecting the brain stem to drive the mindless munching on flesh. But we learn that when an ominous countdown hits zero indicating they are out of fuel, the entire building will disintegrate. Jenner’s first foul as a host was not informing his guests of their impending doom.

Meanwhile, courtesy of a pre-credits flashback, we learn that Shane is not as much of a tool as we thought showing him attempt to get the still comatose Rick out of the hospital before believing he had died. After telling Lori as much, I hope the Lori and Shane drama ends here as it is rather getting on my nerves at this point. That flashback was a high point of the show however as it is entertaining to see the characters in the thick of the zombie outbreak and I hope that makes a comeback with the second season ala Lost. We don’t need half the episode dedicated to previous events but a quick sequence that shows Daryl was drinking moonshine and coming across his first zombie would be a neat weekly addition to further the backstory.

I was about to totally write off the show when Andrea and Dale were threatening to stay behind and give up the fight as Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn continue to absolutely own the screen when they are on with more emotion and subtleties than you can get in an award-winning movie. Fortunately, this week’s co-writer Darabont chose the right thing and got them the hell out of there.

The episode ultimately felt disposable as it offered little reason to head to the CDC in the end. Jenner’s explanation of how the virus/bacteria/diety-wrath affects the human body was neatly presented but offered little to nothing that we already knew. There is no definitive cause and no cure in sight as every other disease-research center has likely been leveled by doctors who run lights and air conditioning like it’s another day on Earth. The character of Jenner did not really make much sense considering that he was purposely vague when it didn’t really matter like on account of the test subject’s identity. Even letting the group in knowing that he only had a limited amount of emergency fuel left was quite a dick move to seal their fates even if he had fairly solid reasoning.

For a season finale, I will say I was left underwhelmed. The entire season has stayed consistently excellent in certain aspects like the acting, the direction, and the production value. But the story comes and goes between excellent and merely passable and sadly this episode was more the latter than the former. Like a typical season finale does, it establishes more questions than answers provided but as we are guaranteed at least another thirteen episodes, I am not bothered by that too much. I just wish I didn’t have to wait.

Random Movie: Jonah Hex (2010)


After it came and epically failed at the box office this summer, Jonah Hex was branded as a grade-A turkey, damning the goodwill Josh Brolin has earned over the past few years and further nailing the coffin of Megan Fox’s movie career. I started watching expecting a bad movie but upon it’s conclusion I wonder, did I actually watch a movie? Clocking in at a thankful, yet still puzzling 81 minutes with credits, Jonah Hex probably would have been a worse movie had it not been so hurried to its conclusion. For that we can be thankful I suppose.

From what I gather reading about the source comic series, the origin of Hex is similar but damn if we’d know it from the movie. Under the command of Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), Hex is a Confederate soldier who breaks rank after refusing to slaughter United States civilians and kills Turnbull’s son in the process. Hex is then forced to watch as his wife and son (I think?) are burned alive by Turnbull for revenge before being scarred and left for dead. Hex becomes a ruthless bounty hunter with a knack of speaking with the dead, Turnbull becomes a maniacal and fluffy-looking man who wants to destroy the United States, and Will Arnett plays some guy that I swear was going to break out dancing to The Final Countdown. Oh, and Megan Fox plays a prostitute.

Likely due to its impossibly short run-time, Jonah Hex feels nothing more than a story concocted of action pieces primarily with half-realized moments in between. The script by the absurdly named duo of Neveldine & Taylor does not wish to dwell upon the “boring” stuff like Hex being tormented over his family’s brutal killings or the oddly exposition-laced resurrection of the dead. Instead all the talky parts exist just to differentiate between which old-timey thug Hex is chucking an ax into or which town Turnbull is blowing up by some contraption called a “nation-killer.” Even the character of Turnbull is pretty interesting in theory as a Confederate general who is so incensed about the reunification of the country that he is willing to level towns or blow up trains with women and children to further his agenda. Again, all of this though is lightly glazed over in quick bits of dialog that are punctuated with explosions. Perhaps I should have watched Crank or Gamer to get a feel for what is to be expected from the screenwriters.

While my searches yielded no results, there has to be large chunks of this movie on the cutting-room floor as it makes as much sense to make a big budget summer movie that is less than an hour and a half as it does to give me $40 million to piss away. Brolin plays Hex decently although his performance here does not come close to some of his recent output (notably No Country For Old Men). While I posit it would be challenging to perform with half of your face covered in prosthesis, Brolin does it pretty effortlessly and does a good job selling a man with nothing to lose (even if the script did not help him much).

For all of his character’s intricacies, Malkovich is either bored or high on something as he looks villainous and acts villainous but there is no effort or even passion in his performance. Megan Fox is exactly how you would expect Megan Fox to be: nice to look at and borderline okay as an actor but totally superfluous in the story as the reluctant sidekick. Confusingly, some decent actors (Wes Bentley, Lance Reddick, Jeffery Dean Morgan, the aforementioned Arnett) pop up at random intervals to exist only as padding or exposition in a scene or two to be quickly forgotten. While there is technically an overarching story with Turnbull lashing out at the President and the United States, it is clear that a cohesive story was the last thing on the screenwriters’ and director Jimmy Hayworth’s mind. Neither was an authetic-ish western movie either as the score by Mastadon (yep, as in the band) was obnoxious and out of place as I typically do not connect horse riding and screeching guitars together.

Even if Jonah Hex was a competently made movie (it’s not), its brevity and large narrative holes would leave much to be desired. But again, based on what we had in that brief film, I shudder to think of what we did not see.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Random Movie: The Keep (1983)

As I scrolled through the Jesusflix offerings the other day, I came upon this gem and thought “A Michael Mann movie with Scott Glenn, Ian McKellen, and Jürgen Prochnow? How have I never even heard of this before?” The short answer to that question is that The Keep is truly awful.

Mann must have learned much in between this and Manhunter, such as how to construct a decent story. Taking place in a Romanian village in 1941, the Keep is a mysterious fortress of some sort that some German soldiers decide is a good place to hole up in. Even though they are specifically warned by the caretaker not to molest any of the silver crosses embedded in the walls, two soldiers unearth a passage to the walled-off inside of the structure only to have their faces blown off. Meanwhile, another group of German soldiers lead by Major Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne), this time wearing the SS armbands which remind me I probably need to pay more attention to history, arrive after the death of many of the first group to take over control from Captain Woermann (Prochnow). Also meanwhile, an old Jewish man and his daughter are called from a Nazi war camp to help unravel the mysterious deaths of the German troops. Still meanwhile, vampire/android/androgynous thing Glaeken Trismegestus (Glenn) is traveling to the Keep to dispatch of the evil that is inside. As you can tell, the story is just a tad fragmented.

Based on a novel by F. Paul Wilson which I can only assume was much more coherent, Mann crafts a story that I can only describe as baffling. What could have been an interesting movie with a brigade of troops being attacked by a supernatural presence is horribly botched here as there are many different stories going on with very little intersection and none of which make much damn sense. The German soldiers are shacked up in the Keep we assume for wartime purposes but they are not really doing anything other than stringing lights and getting killed. Glaeken is, I assume, supposed to be the hero but he does not show up until thirty minutes in, is largely MIA until the finale (save for a random sex scene), and poorly developed to the point that we don’t know (or really care) who he is or why he wants to kill the Keep monster-whatever. The most interesting aspect of the story though was of Dr. Cuza (McKellan) who is so enraged at the German army that he joins forces with the monster to bring them down without stopping to question if he is unleashing more harm than he seeks to destroy.

The unfortunate thing about Cuza’s storyline is that McKellan was quite simply horrible here with a performance that consists mostly of yelling and screaming like a senile old man. He is in good company though as short of Byrne and Prochnow at times, the acting ranged from laughable to depressing to watch. And just like Glaeken, we really know nothing of these characters and most of them are around just for random off-screen kills anyway. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the disposing of one-dimensional characters in a horror movie, these deaths added nothing as there was honestly no tension or suspense throughout the whole movie. I chalk this up to the fact that the monster is specifically targeting the German soldiers, most of whom are douchebags anyway, so we are pretty safe to assume that nothing bad will happen to a character that we may have some attachment to. I also attribute the complete lack of horror elements to the score by Tangerine Dream which swung wildly from somewhat cool to horribly out of place in anything other than a techno-color light show.

Reading around after seeing the movie, there seems to be an underground following of this movie but for reasons I cannot comprehend. I will give Mann credit in that the aesthetics are pretty impressive and I enjoyed the use of widescreen to create spectacular shots in the bowels of the castle. Also the special effects are overall pretty good once you consider the time it was made and lack of money it was likely made with. With a little more focus and a lot more professional acting, this could have turned out to be a decent horror flick awash in 80s cheese instead of a wasted ninety-five minute affair (probably close to 80 had there not been as much slo-mo).

In (possible) fairness to the movie, some of the unanswered questions or characterizations may very well have been there but the transfer and audio on Netflix were horrendous to the point that entire lines of dialog are unintelligible. This could be due to the fact that the film is nowhere to be found on DVD (but on a $200 VHS from Amazon if you’re interested) but honestly, the whole package was shoddy so I would not be surprised if the audio was that bad originally.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

TV Scum: The Walking Dead — Wildfire

S01E05
Just as a quick recap of last week’s review, I didn’t like Vatos primarily because it was less about the great characters and more centered around silly, nonconsequential twists and standard zombie stuff you can see anywhere. Ironically, that episode was also written by the comic’s writer Robert Kirkman so I had expected much better. In fairness, it was not Flesh Freaks or Who’s Your Caddy bad but still kind of disappointing.

This week though had everything I expect, want, and salivate for in a Walking Dead episode. Primarily, it centers around the aftermath of the zombie attack last week as there are not only dead zombies and dead humans to deal with but also tree-hugging Jim as an in-betweener who was bitten in the mele. Rick decides the best course of action is to head back to Atlanta (haven’t we done this before?) in hopes to find a cure for Jim at the CDC. Shane however wants to trek to a military base under the assumption it is more heavily fortified and not overrun with the walkers. A great debate ensues between the alpha males of the group over their next destination as it is clearly not safe on top of the mountain any longer. The group decides to forge on with Rick back into the City of the Dead only to discover things outside the CDC are bleaker than they could possible imagine.

Right off the bat I loved this episode, primarily because of Laurie Holden and her amazing performance as she sits over her soon-to-be zombified sister’s body mourning the loss. We hope and pray and worry that Andrea is reasonable enough to know what to do when Amy inevitably awakens. When the act is finally done by Andrea’s hands, it is heartbreaking to say the least for both character’s accounts. Not to mention we also had the debate over what to do with Jim as Daryl is ready to put a pick-ax in his skull before he turns and Glen is adament about burying the normal dead instead of burning them like the … dead dead. This show thus far has worked the best, not necessarily with total zombie carnage (although that is enjoyable too if done well) but in the quiet areas of reflection. Here we have Rick looking for validation of his plan with Lori and as Rick and Shane get into family matters in the woods. Watching the pain and sorrow and sheer terror of these characters is something that was largely missing last week. While Shane is dubious at best (has good intentions but maybe a bit unstable and hard-headed), Rick’s presence I can see will become a sticking point with the group at some point (yea for the second season pickup!) as he has good skills and insticts but has perhaps not experienced enough terror in the zombie uprising to fully appreciate the danger that he wants to take on. Only time will tell.

I understand the need for some exposition on the zombie outbreak and the resulting apocalypse and I don’t dislike the introduction of CDC scientist Noah Emmerich for that purpose. But so far, any new knowledge has been shared with the audience as the characters are learning it, seldomly focusing on anything but our core group. When the research videos started playing, PBF and I were momentarily confused as it was not only pretty random but in the vein of an entirely different show for those few minutes. As the group is now in the hunkered-down CDC building, that would have been better saved for next week’s season finale which again looks like all hell will break loose.

BONUS: Zombie Kill of the Week
It’s a tough choice this week with a tie. One is not technically a zombie kill as Mrs. Ed takes out likely years of pent-up rage on Ed’s no-longer-functioning skull with a pick-ax. The other is the aforementioned single gunshot by Andrea as she holds her zombie kin close, apologizing for her extended absence in her life.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Random Movie: Love and Other Drugs (2010)


Note to filmmakers: If you want me to almost instantly hate your movie, go ahead and begin with the Spin Doctors‘ ubiquitous song Two Princes from over a decade ago. Yes, Love and Other Drugs is a “period piece” set in the late 1990s in the background as the direct-to-consumer pharmaceuitical business starts booming with the development of wonderdrugs to treat everything from depression to male … specific problems.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Jamie Randall, a smooth-talking salesman who is likely to talk his way into your pants while buying a stereo (well, not my pants but still). In an effort to prove his worth to his medical-oriented family, Jamie takes a job as a pharmaceutical sales rep for Pfizer. In his travels shadowing Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria), Jamie meets Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), a young woman who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Maggie is your typical romantic comedy outcast with her art and proclivity for casual sex. However Jamie is further attracted to her after his initial rejection and their once apprehensive relationship blossoms into … do I really need to finish the rest of the recap?

Co-writer and director Edward Zwick has had some success in the past with award-winning Glory and Blood Diamond but there is nothing in L&OD (too lazy to type it all out, sorry) that you have not seen in another relationship movie, sans the Parkinson’s aspect. As such, it is not a bad movie but completely forgettable by the time you have finished watching. If someone made a MadLibs for romantic comedies, this movie with fit it with a T (the primary reason I don’t like these movies anyways). You have the jerky, self-involved guy who comes around to responsibility and love, the free-spirit who cannot commit to a relationship, the plucky character for comic relief, and a life-altering event that makes the previously jerky guy come chasing after his love and professes his desires in a cliched conversation just before the closing credits. Replace Maggie’s Parkinson’s with leprosy or a club foot and the outcome of the movie does not change.

Gyllenhaal and Hathway perform well with the stock characters that they are given and I must admit to liking the budding stages of their relationship as they have a playful banter between them. There are some laughs as well, mostly centering around the leads’ sexual behavior and Jamie’s new toy to sell: Viagra. Azaria is woefully underused however as his comedic chops are diluted to lusting after women and the “little blue pill” to compensate for his lack of drive professionally. Hands down the most annoying part of the movie (other than the sheer predictability of it all) was Josh Gad as Jamie’s brother who is apparently rich from developing medical software, yet sleeps on Jamie’s couch for some glossed-over reason. His character was the aforementioned plucky comic relief guy but as a cross between Jonah Hill and a really annoying asshole, Josh (the character, not the actor) added absolutely nothing to this movie already bereft of ideas. Although, I did want to punch him repeatedly in the gonads while he was on screen so I guess that was different than a typical movie.

Given the heaviness of the story around Maggie’s medical condition, one would expect that a movie centering around how a person lives in such shape would address the notion of how that affects the relationship in question. While the spouse of a Parkinson’s sufferer gives Jamie the idea that it is a life of misery and he is best to walk away, we never really see how her affliction impacts the relationship as she is still in the early stage of the disease. The characters follow all the standard trappings of such a movie and at the end, it is implied that he accepts her no matter what will come, thus robbing the story of any real weight that it might have had if we followed them down their long, strenuous journey ahead. In short, it’s a cop out of an ending but I would suppose that fits the movie just fine.

Monday, November 22, 2010

TV Scum: The Walking Dead — Vatos

S01E04
Thus far in the series, we have seen a good number of zombies (mostly in the first episode) but little zombie violence as necks and arteries are severed from the living buffet for the undead. I like this approach as the ending of this episode mostly came out of nowhere in what was otherwise another leisurely adventure in the apocalypse.

After discovering that Merle had obviously watched Saw too much (or he didn’t think about cutting off only his thumb), Rick and company discover that he is wily enough to cauterize his stump, yet stupid enough to go empty-handed (too soon?) into the urban jungle filled with the walkers. While trying to retrieve Rick’s bag o’ guns, some no-good gang-like fellows pummel Daryl and kidnap Glen before Rick and T-Bone can come to the rescue. As they initiate a trade with the rapscallions, our hero group discover that these hoodlums really have hearts of gold as they fortify and protect a nursing home and its elderly denizens. Meanwhile back at camp, a weird guy Jim is scaring people by digging holes and thus Shane decides he must be taken into custody and restrained. How dare he dig those holes…

I must say, I didn’t find this episode as good as the preceeding three. It seemed more written in the sense of a traditional zombie tale than the well-rounded and restrained episodes we’ve had so far. The most irritating aspect here was of the gang-like guardians of the elderly. We know in an end-of-the-world scenario, there are going to be assholes who take and hoard for themselves and this show has not had a problem with creating douche-bag characters with Merle, Ed, and Shane to an extent. But apparently it would have been too much to have a gaggle of young-ins holding people hostage and threatening bloodbaths for fun or their own amusement so they were given a sympathetic motive that Rick could relate to and give up his firearms for.

***SPOILERS BE HERE***
Meanwhile, the writing was on the wall when Andrea revealed she has a special gift for Amy’s birthday as I cannot think of a happy birthday/special occasion in a zombie story. I would expect in a more casually written series that the cute girl would meet a sad demise just before her whatever-th birthday but having cute little Emma Bell (who I knew was only in a handful of episodes anyway) step out of an RV into the arms of a hungry zombie almost seems out of place. Also, dumbass Ed yelling at his wife and kid to leave him alone as something stumbles around pawing at his tent was just stupid. Goodbye Ed.
***END SPOILERS***

The cinematography is still excellent, mostly surpassing similar stories left and right, and the acting is still wonderful with the standout again here with Laurie Holden but all of the depth and heart of the series was mostly absent here with an affair that is just a paint-by-numbers zombie attack.

BONUS: Zombie Kill of the Week
With more zombies comes more headshots (and still the ever impressive special effects) but the only standout I could recall was Mr. Baseball-bat-to-the-head-equals-gratuitious-splatter zombie.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Random Movie: The Lost Boys: The Thirst (2010)

Written by: PBF

Ah, sweet 81 minute running time. How you make the pain so much easier to take. Actually, The Lost Boys: The Thirst is not as bad as The Tribe. In fact, it would be borderline not bad at all if they would just get rid of the stupid action movie hokey lines. And the crap “Cry Little Sister” cover.

While Alan Frog was absent from the last film, he was referenced by Edgar who says that he knows what it’s like to lose a sibling to the undead or some such verbiage. The opening of The Thirst, shows us “5 years earlier” in Washington where a really old senator half vampire with vampire teeth dentures is about to feed on a congressman is interrupted by the Frog brothers. They save the congressman but Alan (again played by Jamison Newlander) gets turned in to a half vampire. We go back to the present and Edgar (Corey Feldman) gets an eviction notice and one week to vacate his trailer. Still talking like Nolan’s Batman, he goes to a comic book store to sell some of his collection. As if sensing the need for exposition from the viewer, a famous blogger named Johnny Trash comes in and irritates Edgar’s friend Zoe who explains that he is in town to cover a rave. When Edgar gets back to his trailer, he finds a woman named Gwen there who wants to hire him to find her brother Peter. Peter went to a rave hosted by DJ X in Ibiza (guess who is hosting the rave that’s coming to town?) and has not been seen since. These raves are held all over the world, and ravers are given “the thirst,” which they think is a new hip drug, but in fact is vampire blood. Essentially, DJ X is creating armies of vampires all over the world. Gwen informs Edgar that DJ X is possibly the Alpha vampire (and killing him will return all halves back to human). Edgar turns this down. He does, however go to visit Alan to discuss the situation. Thank God, just like us, Alan has no idea what happened to characters from the first film so Edgar can tell all of us. Here is the skinny on that: During the credits of The Tribe, Sam (Corey Haim) shows up as a vampire and confronts Edgar. The go at each other and the credits continue to roll, leaving us unsure as to what happened. Edgar tells Alan that he killed Sam, after he became a full vampire. Because of this, Sam’s brother Michael and Star no longer speak to him. Laddie, the child half vampire that Star looked after in the original, apparently now has a family and leads a normal life. Interestingly also, in another reference to the first movie, Alan sustains himself as a half vampire by drinking animal blood. He is a taxidermist, like Sam and Michael’s grandfather was (which is a main point of argument for those that believe that Grandpa was half vampire). Alan wants nothing to do with this task as he believes that no one knows who the Alpha vampire really is, and there will just be someone else who they believe is, and it is a never ending cycle. Edgar decides to take the job anyway, but Gwen has hired Lars, a reality show host, so they are now partners in this task. So the group: Edgar, Zoe, Lars (and his cameraman) and Gwen (who is the author of a popular series of vampire novels) load up on weapon and formulate a plan to rescue Peter (oh yeah, that’s what they were doing).

The Thirst is kind of interesting. For those of you that are unaware, there is a comic (4 issues) called The Lost Boys: Reign of Frogs that takes place between the first 2 films. Also, there was or is talks of making a Frog brothers television show. After watching this film, I can almost see how a show would be good. I would need the Frogs to be recast, as Feldman and Newlander have lost all acting ability, but I would not mind seeing Edgar and Alan regularly as a spin off of the original film. This franchise gets steered in to spin off more than sequels, but it just isn’t working. The Thirst is a big bag of references to the original film. When not being treated to exposition explaining unanswered (and possibly unasked) questions to fill in the gaps between 1987 and 2010, we get flashbacks to scenes of the original. The explanation of what happened to the characters was fine, but the flashbacks were annoying. This is clearly the further adventures of the Frogs, and the original is now but one (albeit the best) chapter in their adventure. Let’s focus on the present. In fact, while we are at it, let\’s lose The Lost Boys title as well.

I cannot tell you how much I HATE action movie one liners. The Tribe and The Thirst are riddled with them. You know, what? Stop making them largely comedic anyway. They are not as funny as the original and they don’t really need to be. Nothing wrong with a little bit of humor, but the comedy is over emphasized by lines that would be better suited in Commando.

These films were possibly a good idea, and perhaps 15 years ago they would have been much better. Feldman looks old, and the storyline would be better suited to younger actors, as well would a lengthy series, whether film or television. With the success of The Walking Dead, it is very possible that a well executed series about the Frog Brothers could be just as well received. The end of this film hints at another sequel, and perhaps it will be better. We are given a clue as to what the subject matter would be, and this would further detach it from The Lost Boys “family” as it were. This would surely make the quality better as I would have to assume the constant references would be done away with as we watch the Frogs take on new challenges.

So, it is not crap. In fact, it is a springboard for many interesting concepts. I find that the possibilities this film could lead to are more interesting than the actual film, and perhaps that’s what carried me through to the end. Rightfully so, it apparently ignored the second film, with the exception of two references (unfortunately, one of which actually requires a viewing of The Tribe to understand). However, just because it is not crap, does not mean it is good. Unfortunately it is more bad than good, but there are some moments that are genuinely entertaining. I say, stop making films, change the name and make a show. It will work better.

Random Movie: Land of the Dead (2005)


Written by: PBF

Land of the Dead is the last Romero “Of the Dead” film before the series gets sort of rebooted with Diary of the Dead. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), it is the last one that was fairly decent the whole time.

The dead now outnumber the living. In Pittsburg, most, if not all of the survivors have fled to the city. The city is enclosed by rivers and an electric fence, which is patrolled by military. Within the city is Fiddler’s Green which is where the rich dwell. It has luxury living, a mall, restaurants. Outside of Fiddler’s Green is where the poor people live. People are hungry, ill, and cannot afford medicine. Riley Denbo (Simon Baker), possibly the prettiest man of the zombie apocalypse, and Cholo DeMora (John Leguizamo) are the commander and second in command (respectively) of the Dead Reckoning. The Dead Reckoning is a gigantic mobile assault vehicle that is used to travel out in to the apocalypse to retrieve supplies (food, medical, etc) and distribute them to the poor back in the city. The vehicle has armor, multiple cameras, an arsenal of weapons and can fire fireworks or “sky flowers” in to the air. The zombies are fascinated by the fireworks and will stare at them rather than feeding. One zombie, who was a gas station attendant, seems to have broken the hypnosis that ensues and starts communicating with other zombies. Eventually they become unaffected by the fireworks and even learn to fire weapons. The “lead” zombie then zombie convinces the rest of the undead to follow him toward the city. Denbo and DeMora have decided that this night will be their last night commanding the Reckoning. Denbo will take his car to Canada, and DeMora will try to get his place in Fiddler’s Green. He brings cigars and champagne to Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), the man who runs the city (and whom DeMora has been working for) and explains that he has saved enough money to move in to Fiddler’s Green. Kaufman declines his request, and fires him. Pissed, DeMora then takes the Dead Reckoning with the crew (sans Denbo) out of the city. He tells Kaufman (who has not paid him for his services) that unless he gives him $5 million, he will blow up the city. Unwilling to negotiate, Kaufman hires Denbo to retrieve the Reckoning and DeMora, either alive or dead. Denbo, Charlie (burned by a fire, slightly retarded) and Slack (hooker, played by Asia Argetno) were all arrested following a shootout. Denbo agrees to the job under the condition that Charlie and Slack go with him. Kaufman agrees and further supplies him with three more people: Manolete, Motwotwn and Pillsbury. As they head out of the city to find DeMora, the ever evolving zombies move toward the city.

Perhaps it was my disdain for the last 2 I watched (Diary and Survival) that cause me to come in to this with no expectations and a little bit distracted. Whether it was that or sloppy story telling, it took a few minutes for me to get a grasp hold of what was going on. There are a lot of story elements to keep up with and they don’t entirely connect in to fluidity until the Reckoning is stolen. Even though this made for a choppy pace, the story is quite intriguing and engages you enough to still understand it until it picks up. Again, social commentary abounds, and I find it interesting (and quite believable) that even after a zombie outbreak, humans would still be separated by class.

The film is certainly better acted than the following 2 (which for some reason I viewed before this one) and the zombies are still somewhat frightening, much like the social structure they are attempting to destroy (eat the rich!). The film is simply well balanced in all aspects, something that is definitely lacking in Diary and Survival.

I am actually more angry at Diary and Survival now having watched this. It really would have been interesting to see how far evolved the zombies become, and what happens as a result. This is abandoned with the regression in timeline (despite the use of Alan Van Sprang who plays 2 different military characters throughout all 3 films), although in Survival, the inhabitants of Plum Island are attempting to make the zombies “learn.” I questioned the significance of doing that in my review of Survival, as they were merely being taught to eat animals rather than humans. However, in Land, they are learning on their own, and their attack of the living takes on a more personal meaning as they are attacking the humans that are attacking them, and not simply looking for flesh to eat (eventually). This could have led to a more organic co existence (rather than forced, as in Survival). For example, the zombies may have turned to only dispatching dickheads, instead of everyone. Or it could have led to a smarter zombie that eventually was responsible for the complete eradication of the human race. All of this is moot, as we are left with 2 of the worst zombie installments ever. Better luck next film.