Tuesday, June 28, 2011

28 Days Later: London Calling (2010)

28 Days Later... was a major force in taking zombies mainstream after decades on the fringe, for which it deserves much credit and blame. It was essentially a greatest hits collection of moments from the Romero films mashed up with Lifeforce, which often irked me, but was quite good at times. Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead straight up ripped off 28...'s opening, and I'm sure machete swinging Selena had a lot to do with the creation of katana-wielding Michonne. I guess 28 Days Later... expected payback for one of its few original spins, and decided to bring Selena to Dead's medium.

The first issue with translation is that Danny Boyle's film sold out Selena in the third act, turning her into a damsel in distress to be rescued by Jim as part of his heroic arc. Michonne has never been compromised, even during her rape and torture, so she remains the more fearsome and intriguing character. Second, sequelitis strikes. The comic alludes to events from the first film, and the assumption is that the film's other survivors aren't back for a reason that goes unrevealed. Maybe tragic, maybe mundane, but you can't help wondering where Newt and Hicks are. Third, as referenced, Selena is less herself and more Ellen Ripley. The pragmatist that would chop up her own friends once infected seems to have as her motivation for returning to England a lost love and need for psychological closure. I'm just not buying that. It would have been easy to carry on in England with the film's survivors, since there was room in the conclusion for such elaboration. While I think it's great to have a black woman as the lead figure in an action-horror franchise, I cannot buy into the premise that Selena would willingly put herself back in such a harrowing situation, especially given the stakes and slight resources displayed here.

The scenario put forth is that Selena has been hired as a veteran contributing to an unauthorized investigative party led by a war correspondent looking for the truth about the situation in the U.K. The party consists of barely realized stereotypes: the naive bleeding heart unprepared for the horrors to come, the dismissive tough guy who can't follow the little lady's orders, the member with a personal grudge against our heroine, and the intrepid reporter who puts principles above practicality. You know these fuckers are going to be ground up like the meat they are in short order, and the emotional impact is about the same as prepping a hamburger. Selena has plenty of opportunity to be the know-it-all badass, and she looks especially cool when the light catches the lens on her face mask just so, but it's strictly tropes around here.

By the end of the first trade, which collects four issues for ten bucks, all the pieces are in place to do a long form return visit to the physical journey of the first film. The hurdles of characterization and logic have been overcome so that one of the same characters can do the same stuff again. A desired status quo is restored. If you want your zombie comics to feel like super-hero or action vehicles, the creators do a serviceable job of providing. If you want to supplement The Walking Dead with more conventional writing and art on glossy paper in full color, here you go. The covers by Tim Bradstreet and Sean Phillips are also rather nice. Just don't expect to feel anything while going through the motions.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger Trailer (2011)

A few months back, I raked a teaser trailer for Captain America: The First Avenger over the coals, so I wanted to take a moment to retract some of my criticisms in the face of the final movie trailer. Cap's probably my favorite super-hero, with only the Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman seriously in the running. To date, none of these characters have exactly shined in live action. At least Wonder Woman had a reasonably faithful if thoroughly silly TV show with a appropriately likeable actress. Every single Cap outing to date has pushed the boundaries of embarrassment and transitional liberties, even by the dismal standards of comic book adaptations. While the budget was clearly a vast improvement, the early footage and promotional materials for this try were kind of clunky, so my expectations have remained low throughout the production. Only recently, and most specifically with this extended trailer, am I finally getting the sense this might be the Cap movie I've waited my entire life for.

It starts to turn around with the line, "I could do this all day." You see, the earlier trailers seemed to make a point of portraying Steve Rogers as a nebbish. Peggy Carter punking Steve by shooting at him to prove the shield's resilience was a prime example, but Chris Evans seemed to fumble his way through every shot, even as Cap. Seeing Steve with his dukes up, standing against an aggressor despite his obvious physical disadvantage, is the Steve Rogers I know. Leave that Clark Kent bullshit for other franchises.

Next, Evans' New York accent is more prominent in later trailers, which I greatly appreciate. A lot of people seem to work under the impression that Cap is some cornfed Midwesterner, instead of a hardscrabble kid from an Irish slum. He's an urban, proactive, political hero who punched Hitler back when the guy still had a fan base stateside. I'm finally starting to see that guy in Evans, and a willingness to dive onto a grenade to save his fellow soldiers doesn't hurt.

Another positive is that there's less preaching from Stanley Tucci's Erskine about how great Steve Rogers could be, and more of Captain America showing that potential. Instead being the butt of jokes, Steve shows wit of his own. Even Tommy Lee Jones managed to elicit a chuckle out of me. Instead of a bunch of isolated scenes and bland stunts, there's a greater sense of the overall story, which seems to be more than by-the-numbers origin stuff. Cap's on trains, Cap's on planes, Cap's riding a hog ahead of a massive explosion, Cap's tethering toward a mountain castle, bursting through a window. Finally, there's a sense of scope, and the Star Spangled Avenger kicking ass on a global stage. Instead of stiff, staged looking action, there's multidimensional action spectacle and some motherfuckin' shield slinging. As much of a believer in period authenticity as I am, it does not hurt that all of this occurs with Tool's "Forty Six & 2" playing.

Most importantly for me, I finally feel like Captain America will be more than a late arriving addition to the Marvel Studios heroic roster. I've been afraid that he'd be played as an underwhelming stuffed shirt, obligatory in setting up the Avengers film. After Blade, Spider-Man, Thor, Daredevil and even Tim Roth on the Super Soldier Formula in The Incredible Hulk, I wasn't confident the filmmakers could show what Cap brings to the table. While still not as acrobatic as I would like, the movie seems to portray a human fighting machine who is constantly throwing his muscle behind highly effective body blows. Even more than Hemsworth's Thor, Evans' Cap hits the hell out of people with a clear aim to disable on initial impact. Basically, Captain America looks like a bad ass, it's about damned time, so fuck yeah I'll pay to see it in the theater!

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Frank Review of "Deadgirl" (2008)

The Short Version? Zombie fuckers.
What Is It? Horror.
Who Is In It? Nobody.
Should I See It? Hopefully not.

There is a certain type of movie, with American Psycho being my go-to example, that I respect without in any way enjoying. These are movies that are solid technically, with fully functional screenplays and sometimes downright exceptional acting performance. However, they are also miserable, joyless slogs, or else they leave me feeling unclean or maybe just dead inside, and I don't want to see those movies again. Deadgirl is one of those films.

The lead characters in the movie are a pair of moronic losers whose pastimes include ditching school to break into an abandoned mental hospital and smash shit. One day, they find a nude woman wrapped in plastic and chained up in a cellar. One of the guys, out POV character, wants to release her and call the police. The other wants to fuck her from now until she dies off on them. The second boy wins, through violence and intimidation sure, so from that point on the "hero" isn't one, despite some good intentions and inept interventions. The major complication is that the rape victim is also one of the infectious flesh eating dead, with predictable consequences.

You should be able to plot out the rest of the movie in your head. Will the scumbag teenagers "share" their zombie fuck doll? Will there be some deviant sex acts related to necrophilia? Will someone get their dick bitten off? Will there be a doomed romantic subplot? Will things progressively get worse until there's a mound of corpses and remorse? Will there be a black humored twist at the end? Yes, yes, dear god yes.

Aside from the subject matter, there's nothing wrong with the picture. It gets to all the places it needs to go with the correct performers involved. It's a steady cam indie, but it's slick enough for your high definition television. There is some explicit female nudity, but it isn't all titillating, and the sex is similarly off-putting. I don't think it's transgressive or leering enough for the deranged viewer, but it's too disgusting and drab for the less adulterated. It's an intentionally mean-spirited and dark film with unlikable characters. It may be your bag, but not mine, and my humor tends to be as gallows as they come. This is base for the sake of being base, and will likely play only to the types of creepy, charmless, unimaginative assholes it portrays.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft (2008)

Joe Hill is Stephen King's kid, and decent enough not to trade on the family name, even though both parents and a sibling are famous authors. He doesn't really need the nepotism, because he's inherited King Prime's ability to really draw a reader into the characters' less than desirable situations, without the hindrance of constantly writing about demonic greasers or writers from Maine. Hill does focus in on maladjusted adolescents, although more The Body than Carrie, and he's great at bringing in light fantasy elements to balance out the grim horrors. Artist Gabriel Rodriguez contributes to that balance, as his basic style is very cute and friendly, so you really feel it when somebody gets an ax buried in the back of their skull.

After an enormous personal tragedy, the Locke family relocates to (okay, okay) Massachusetts, which sure is in New England. Anyway, the kids are left to roam a gothic house full of keys and doorways to all sorts of peculiar places. Ghosts of the past haunt the family, and some are quite hungry for those keys, so that the kids live in constant peril. Even during the "getting to know you" characterization and slow build, those threats hang over the proceedings, urging the reader on, and keeping them worried about their fast friends.

Ever the bane of modern storytelling across all mediums, Welcome to Lovecraft is just the first of multiple volumes. There's enough resolution in this book to allow it to stand on its own, but it's hard not to resent the lingering questions and unfinished business. Things also look to get progressively more fantastic, so there's some danger of coming unmoored from the fairly realist setting here. Regardless, I'm reviewing the book that is, not my concerns about what comes after, and recommending that you try it for yourself. The hardcover is especially winning, with its inbound cloth bookmark, but this is enough of a page turner that I doubt you'd need it.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Frank Review of "American History X" (1998)

The Short Version? Racism is Bad, but also, shamefully, kinda hard core.
What Is It? Drama.
Who Is In It? I Am Jack's Prelude to Tyler Durden, John Connor, Captain Sisko, Papa Gellar, the mom from the Vacation movies.
Should I See It? Yes.

Having seen four of the five performances nominated, I'm going to say Ed Norton should have won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his alternately chilling and affecting work on this film. Derek Vinyard is a young man so devastated by the murder of his passively racist father that he falls prey to a surrogate actively pursuing a Neo-Nazi agenda, for which Norton serves as a poster boy. Derek helps build a small army of white supremacists and leads them in hate crimes, until a particularly harrowing confrontation forces the character to reevaluate his direction. Edward Furlong plays younger brother Danny, following in Derek's footsteps as best as he can, and giving the actor's best performance to date. The supporting cast is fantastic in roles of varying size, including Beverly D'Angelo, Elliott Gould and Guy Torry.

Stacy Keach is rather arch as Vinyard's mentor, chewing the scenery in his relatively small part, but he's fun as the primary villain of the piece. In fact, in a movie about recognizing shades of gray, every one of the "bad guys" is drawn as unrepentantly heinous. From Fairuza Balk's vile Venice Beach Eva Braun to Ethan Suplee's loathsome slug of a grunt, you're either misguided but easily swayed to righteousness, or you're possessed by demons that will never be exorcised. Ass-fucking convicts are all hopelessly corrupt and preening enough to telegraph their inclinations, while the African-American adversaries are a black mass of interchangeable aggression units. The only people of color are the magical Negroes sent to guide Derek to the multicultural promised land. It's hard to not see an anti-racist film as being racist itself when the only two blacks not on the business end of Derek's hatred can be written off as "the good ones." Avery Brooks tends to grate as Dr. Sweeney, the double PhD who'll bring the fight to racism with his gravitas, his multi-pronged social work, and his assignments of papers with pretentious names like "American History X." Brooks comes across much in need of a cape and tights, and serves as the figurehead for the more preachy, Afterschool Special elements of the film.

The parts of the movie that work best are the black and white flashbacks, which focus on the wrongs committed by Derek, their motivations, and his slow journey toward recognition. The color segments are more about recriminations, broad gestures, and sermonizing. They basically catch the dummies up with the message, just in case there's a segregationist camp that reads the film as being about a promising radical tragically cut down by the manipulations of the Zionist machine or whatever. Despite its flaws, American History X works very well, and I'm sure that if I bothered to put together a list of my favorite movies, it would make the top twenty-five. It was one of the first DVDs I owned, and I'm hopeful we'll see a more robust edition someday that addresses the different cuts of the film, backstage drama, and the movie's surprisingly lasting impact thanks to a slow, steady crawl into the American popular consciousness.


  • Deleted Scenes There are only three, but one is quite long and very relevant. I wonder how many more there would have been in Tony Kaye's cut.
  • Theatrical Trailer Yes, it's that barren of special features. It's a pretty crumby trailer too, with cheesy music and emphasis on action and preaching. They do their best to hide how much of the footage is in black and white, as well.
  • The Cast & Crew Those little text pieces they used to do on DVDs before people reminded the makers that they hate to read.


Blog Archive


Surrender The Pink?
All books, titles, characters, character names, slogans, logos, and related indicia are trademarks and/or copyright of their respective rights holders.