Thursday, April 22, 2010

My Reviews: Week of April 23

It's been a while since I updated this stuff, but here's what I read and reviewed this week:

F.O.O.M. #14: The Punisher (1989)

This week's F.O.O.M. (Flashbacks of Ol' Marvel) takes a look at murder-fest that was 1989's The Punisher.

It's really not as bad as you might think. It's still bad. Just not as bad as you might think.

What Looks Good #305: Flying Nut Punch!

Yeah, you heard me. What Looks Good #305 is up and running and you'd better watch out! There are flying nut punches coming right at you!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mondo Marvel #25 is live!

Oh yeah! That's what I'm talking about! Mondo Marvel #25 - May 1964 is bigger and badder than ever!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Day Nine: Grey Knight (1993)

This is another film that I really wasn't sure about before pulling it up on the old Netflix Streaming.

Grey Knight is a Civil War Zombie film, although the zombies in this are a little bit vampire and a little bit ghost, as well. They can't cross running water, have aversions to silver, and only come out at night.

But, at the same time, they're more like the Nazi zombies of Dead Snow, in that they're agile and fully conscious. And their origins involve African magic instead of your traditional vampire source material.

That said, this is really more of a vampire movie than a zombie film, but it's really not a vampire movie either.

Does that even make sense?

The source of the zombification is part of what makes this both interesting and a little puzzling. Somewhere, underground, live The Makers. And they bring the dead back to life. An African tribe that nobody fucked with, was fucked with by white slave traders and some sort of plague was brought to America. Is it vampirism? Is it zombieism? Who knows.

Regardless, The Makers are over here now, and as the Civil War is winding down, a group of soldiers from both sides are slaughtering people and recruiting the newly dead. Adrian Pasdar (Heroes) is recruited by Ray Wise (Twin Peaks) - at the suggestion of Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now) - who then recruits captured Confederate leader Corbin Bernsen (L.A. Law) to track down his old allies (one of whom is Billy Bob Thornton (Slingblade), sort of).

There are a lot of recognizable names in this (including a short appearance by David Arquette and a large, but silent, part by Cynda Williams (One False Move)), and the director, George Hickenlooper, also directed Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse and the short, Some Folks Call It A Slingblade, which might explain Sheen and Thornton's involvement. It was written by Matt Greenberg, who was also responsible for Halloween H20, Reign of Fire, and the recent 1408.

Okay, that's the pedigree, but is the film any good?

Surprisingly, yes. Although, as I noted, it's more of a vampire/ghost film, it's nicely put together and aside from a few narrative glitches here and there, isn't a bad way to pass an evening. Corbin Bernsen is actually very good as the Southern POW forced to hunt down his old regiment, and is about the only character with an actual development arc. This is his film and he does a fine job with it.

This isn't the best film we've watched this week, but it's not the worst. And for one that actually takes itself seriously and doesn't fall back on easy comedy and gore, it really does stand on its own as one of the better films we've watched this time out. I wouldn't say that you HAVE to see it, but it's not a waste of your time.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Day Eight: Dead Snow (2009)

Now this is what I'm talking about!

I wasn't sure about this one at first, but I'd heard nothing but good things about Dead Snow, a Norwegian zombie comedy pitting a group of twenty-somethings against Zombie Nazis, so we figured we had to fit it in the schedule this year.

And while I don't think Dr. Girlfriend enjoyed this one as much as I did, I think we could agree that it was one of the best zombie films of the 2010 Easter/Zombie Marathon.

Although, to be fair, until the zombies really come out to play, this was bordering on just too tedious and self-aware for my tastes. Now, don't get me wrong. I love it when a film references the classics, even when it's just by doing something cheesy like naming the characters after famous directors (like Fred Dekker did in Night of the Creeps).

It adds to the fun, when you suddenly recognize a name-check or see an scene that echos one from an older film.

I'm not too thrilled, however, with films that have characters openly referencing and quoting classic films as fans of those films. A cool T-shirt is one thing, but when a character starts commenting on how much their trip to a cabin in the woods is like Evil Dead, and then starts discussing the relationship between Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, it's a bit too much.

I get it. The creators like those classic films. Discussing them inside the narrative of a film inspired by them is too Meta for me.

I suppose it could be done right, but usually, as with Dead Snow, it was just heavy-handed and annoying. Your mileage may vary.

But that's really nit-picking. Once we get past the introductions of the characters, as well as the "fun in the snow" montages, things start to really pick up. The plot is interesting, establishing why there are Nazi zombies running around in the first place, and the acting is effective. There were very few rough patches there.

And the gore effects are superb. As are the kills themselves.

This film brought two things to the table that I hadn't really seen before (or if I have, I've forgotten): zombies that are cunning, devious, and are ready to punch you in the face before they kill you; and a sex scene in an outhouse.

Yes. I did just say that.

One of the characters goes to the outhouse to take a dump, and a lady friend follows shortly thereafter and proceeds to sit on his lap and, um, you know. Never mind the logistics and the weather.

Anyway, it was the Nazi Zombies that really made this one interesting. Their leader, Standartenführer Herzog, orchestrates his zombie troops to converge on the isolated cabin with a motivation that makes them seem more like zombie Pirates than Nazis. All of this leads to a final confrontation between the last survivors and the Nazi hordes. There are horribly violent deaths, horribly violent self-mutilation, and laugh-out-loud moments one after the other.

I actually laughed so hard at one point I had tears running down my face.

Dr. Girlfriend looked at me as if I was a fool.

So, again, your mileage may vary.

But me, I liked this one a lot. So far, it's second only to Pontypool and rivals Night of the Creeps in my book.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Day Seven: Plaga Zombie - Zona Mutante (2001)

Day Seven brings us the Argentinian zombie-comedy, Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone, or Plaga Zombie: Zona Mutante in the original language). I'm really not sure why the American release only translates half of the title.

Oh well.

This is a sequel to 1997's Plaga Zombie, and if I had known that before sitting down to watch this one, I would have searched it out and made a double feature out of them. Only I'm not sure I would have been able to sit through both of them back-to-back if the first one is anything like this.

And after checking out the trailer to Plaga Zombie, it looks like it was. Only with a smaller budget.

So, this is probably the only one you have to worry about watching. If you worry about things like that.

I do. I'm mentally ill like that.

Our main characters are named John West (a western-themed wrestler), Bill Johnson (a med-student, kung-fu ass-kicker), and Max Giggs (computer nerd and completely insane). The actors playing Bill and Max, Pablo Parés and Hernán Sáez, wrote and directed both this film and the original. Berta Muñiz (John West) co-wrote the original with them.

That in itself makes this an impressive little piece of work, if you ask me, but maybe a little bittersweet as well. You see, these three guys have been working together since 1991, making short films, and released Plaga Zombie in 1997 to the joy of Argentinian gore fans. Until the sequel was released in 2001, Plaga Zombie's fans called it the best Argentinian gore film ever.

But for reasons unknown to me (I'm really just too lazy to look into it at the moment), they stopped working together after Plaga Zombie: Zona Mutante.

Anyway, back to the review.

If you like your zombie horror with a healthy dose of slapstick comedy, then this is the one for you. It's gory as it can get, with cheesy effects that bring films like Evil Dead II (with a smaller budget) to mind. And that's definitely the mark they're shooting for. There's very little serious in this one, making it a welcome breath of fresh air after The Zombie Diaries.

Apparently, in the first film we discovered that an alien race had made a deal with the American Government to sample a strange alien virus on an isolated test community. As you could probably guess, this virus turned the infected into zombie mutants and the disease quickly spread, overrunning the entire city. Our heroes, John, Bill, and Max barely escaped with their lives.

Unfortunately, they were then captured by the FBI and, as this film opens, are dumped back into the city as it is closed off and scheduled to be destroyed. We can't have any surviving witnesses after all.

What follows is a pretty entertaining splatterstick romp as the boys try to survive long enough to decode a government map showing the only way out of town, before everyone is killed. There are a few very nice twists and turns, and the zombie attacks are always fun (even if most of the zombies are just running around, not really attacking anyone) and gory.

Any film gets bonus points from me when one of the heroes twists off someone's arm and uses it as a weapon. The same with pulling out spines or carrying around lengths of intestine to use as rope when needed.

Plus, we even get a little character development, sort-of. I mentioned that Max went crazy, right? Well, when the boys discover another survivor named Max, who also wants to be best friends with John West, will crazy-Max's jealousy tear the boys apart? Or just the new-Max?

Sure, it's all pretty silly. But at least it's intentionally silly. That counts for something.

It's stuff like that that pushed this film a little higher than three stars, but not quite into the four star range. So, on a free scale, this would get 3.5 stars from me. On Netflix's scale it gets 3.

Day Six: The Zombie Diaries (2006)

So, after watching these films, I'm going over to Netflix and rating them. The only problem with that is there are no half stars. It's all or nothing, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.

Because of this, more films are being ranked at 3 stars than actually deserve three stars. I'm giving 2.5 and 3.5 star movies 3 stars.

This is one of those cases.

The Zombie Diaries is a low-budget, independent British horror film shot entirely on hand-held cameras. It functions, as the title suggests, as a video diary of people going through a zombie plague outbreak in England.

It's not a bad idea. Hell, George Romero himself used the exact same idea for Diary of the Dead, which was released at about the same time as this film.

Zombie Diaries is a very quick exercise in nihilism at only 80 minutes long, so it's definitely worth the time to watch, however, be warned. It's really only the last 40 minutes or so that are anything interesting or original.

Which is why I'd rank this at 2.5 stars on an actual scale.

The set-up is slow and boring, as we follow around characters that we don't really get to know, thanks to the limitations of the plot device of filming with hand-held cameras. You see, our camera work is coming from a news crew on their way to interview a farmer about having to kill all of his chickens in response to an oncoming virus. Of course, everyone in the farmer's town is dead and zombified, but for some reason they wait until dark to come out and chase our "heroes" out of town and into the woods.

That occurs in one of the recurring annoying "I'm running through the dark carrying the camera" sequences.

At the same time (sort of), another group of people are trying to survive, and as luck would have it, videotaping the whole thing. This second group is even less compelling than the first, as the actors are less successful with their improvising. Oh yeah. A lot of this film is improvised dialogue, according to the Wikipedia site.

After putting off several urges to stop the DVD and go to bed, Dr. Girlfriend and I were rewarded with the back half of the film.

We discover another group of survivors; this time a group that is organized and trying to make a life for themselves. This is where the other two narratives converge and we find out what's happened to those characters.

And what's happened is pretty messed up. This is what raised this from a 2 star film to a 2.5 (or 3, according to Netflix). I'm not going to tell you too much about it, and be warned, the Wikipedia page spoils the ending (which is why I'm not linking to it).

But I'll just say this. Of all the films we've watched so far, this is the most nihilistic and the one that takes itself the most seriously. There really isn't anything humorous about anything in this film. None of the characters have any real personality beyond reacting to the zombie situation. We don't know who these people were before and we don't find out. The only character with much personality is a dick.

The whole thing is bleak and boring until you get to the last half. Then it's bleak and interesting and decidedly disturbing.

Which almost makes up for the first half.

So if you've got a little over an hour to waste, this is an okay way of passing that time. But there's really not much here you haven't seen before, the gore effects are okay, and the acting is passable at best. There's a kernel of a good idea here, but the urge to use hand-held cameras and justify it in-narrative kind of spoils the whole thing.

I'd much rather have seen a traditionally structured and filmed movie with this plot.