Monday, April 25, 2011

7.1 RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (2010)

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
Dir.Paul W.S. Anderson
USA

I should admit up-front that I have a soft spot in my heart (and head) for the Resident Evil movie franchise.  I've loved all but the second film, and as you could probably guess, I really enjoyed this one, too.

But first, some history.  Paul W.S. Anderson doesn't get a lot of respect, but I've enjoyed most of his films.  Mortal Kombat is a guilty pleasure (as much for the soundtrack as for the film making), Event Horizon was interesting and scary until the end (I really need to revisit that film), AVP: Alien vs. Predator was a lot of fun (almost as much fun as Freddie vs Jason), and, of course, Resident Evil is one of my favorites.

Anderson didn't direct Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004), that was Alexander Witt (his only directing credit) or Resident Evil: Extinction (2007), that was Russell Mulcahy (Highlander), but he wrote both of  them.  This latest Resident Evil film is actually the first time he's returned to a franchise as a director.

Milla Jovovich returns to play Alice, the star of the franchise (and someone I've had a crush on for fifteen years, since hearing her first album, The Divine Comedy), and is joined again by Ali Larter as Claire Redfield.  Joining the cast this time out are Boris Kodjoe as Luther West, Wentworth Miller (Prison Break) as Chris Redfield, Shawn Roberts as Umbrella Corporation head Albert Wesker, and Kim Coates (Tig from Sons of Anarchy) as creepy film producer Bennett.

A funny note about the appearance of Wentworth Miller: When his character first appears, brooding in the shadows, both Dr. Girlfriend and I thought for a second that it might be Jensen Ackles from Supernatural.  We both said it at the same time and laughed.  Then, today while looking up info about the film, it turns out that in 2007, Jensen Ackles was being considered to play Leon S. Kennedy (from the video games), however the character didn't make it into the film.  Instead, Wentworth Miller plays the new young male lead.

Interesting.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

6.2 LA HORDE (2009)

La Horde (2009)
Dir. Yannick Dahan & Benjamin Rocher
France

Yes, it was a French double-feature last night, and both films were surprisingly good, even though they are very different beasts from start to finish.

La Horde tells the tale of a group of corrupt cops who, after the murder of one of their own, decide to take the law into their own hands and bring down the drug dealers responsible.  As bloodily and violently as possible.  Needless to say, things don't go as planned and they are instead captured by the Nigerian drug lord.  And then the dead rise, as they are wont to do.

This is another example of first-time feature film makers taking a swing and knocking it out of the park.  Well, that's a bit over-the-top.  It's not a home run, but it's a very nicely done film that lays good groundwork as a crime drama before jumping into the gruesome and apocalyptic zombie nightmare.

6.1 MUTANTS (2009)

Mutants (2009)
Dir. David Morlet
France

Let me start off by saying that this film isn't really a zombie film.  Like 28 Days Later before it, this is a plague film that lifts most of the conventions of the zombie genre and puts them to good use.  It's also French, so like some of the other French horror films of the past few years (specifically things like Haute Tension, Frontière(s), and, my favorite, Martyrs), it has some intense scenes of violence and gore, along with a brutally devastating existential dread along for the ride.

And even though the infected are not really traditional zombies, the basic structure of the narrative fits with this Easter Movie Marathon is all about.  It's all about the resurrection, baby.

Morlet directs a script he co-wrote along with Louis-Paul Desanges, and for a first feature-length film, this is very impressive.  The performances, particularly by Hélène de Fougerolles and Francis Renaud as Sonia and Marco are gut-wrenching.  The rest of the cast does well with their roles, but aren't really required to do much more than provide sounding boards for the exploration and development of Sonia and Marco.

In fact, once more characters are introduced, again, as with 28 Days Later, the film begins to lose its focus and its intensity.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

5.2 Canceled

Due to technical difficulties and getting too late a start, Evil: In the Time of Heroes (To kako - Stin epohi ton iroon), had to be canceled.  Which is unfortunate, because we really enjoyed the first film last year and were looking forward to this one.

Plus, it has Billy Zane in it!  That's a mark of quality, right?

F.O.O.M. (Flashbacks of Ol' Marvel) #22: "Smothering Our Babies: Generation X (1996)"

The latest installment of my journey through the history of Marvel Comics Movies is live at Comics Bulletin.  This time, I take a look at the 1996 TV movie, Generation X.  And it's not that bad.  Really.  I swear.


5.1 DANCE OF THE DEAD (2008)

Dance of the Dead (2008)
Dir. Gregg Bishop
USA

Wow, is my thumb not on the pulse of contemporary horror critics.

This film has been garnering a LOT of praise across the Internet and was chosen by Sam Raimi for distribution through his Ghosthouse Underground label for Lionsgate.  Even those who haven't been that impressed still find a lot of good things to say about the film.  In fact, I've only found one or two reviews that really didn't like it after a few minutes of Googling (which, I know, is not a statistically reliable research method).

So, I'll go ahead and mention the good and then get to the bad below the break. 

Gregg Bishop shot this film on HD cameras for under a million dollars (I can't find more exact numbers) in Rome, Georgia.  The direction is solid.  Bishop has a good eye for staging a scene and the film looks like a lot more was spent on it than actually was.  Based on seeing this film, I actually do want to see his earlier film, The Other Side (2006), which he also wrote.

A brief look at the credits for this film shows that he got a lot of community support for the making of this film, which partially explains how he was able to put a huge number of zombies on the screen.  Really, the credit list for the zombie extras seems to go on for nearly as long as the feature itself.

There are a number of nice gore scenes, and all of the actors play their roles naturally and believably.

And that's where the trouble starts.

Friday, April 22, 2011

4.2 AMERICAN ZOMBIE (2007)

American Zombie (2007)
Dir. Grace Lee
USA

This is the first film of this year's marathon to successfully take on the topic of contemporary zombies with some seriousness.  It doesn't shy away from using humor, but there's a pretty serious, fairly disturbing undertone to the entire affair.  It's also the first film this year with a female writer/director Grace Lee (as well as co-writer, Rebecca Sonnenshine).  Lee graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles film program and was an experienced writer/director of short films before moving into documentary work with her biographical documentary, The Grace Lee Project (2005).

For her first feature-length non-doc film, she chooses to stay close to her comfort zone and produce a mock documentary about the Living Dead among us.  In the world of this film, zombies are real, but they come in three varieties: Feral (we're most familiar with these), Low-Functioning (practically mindless, but mostly harmless corpses used for low-level manual labor), and High-Functioning (the undead with most of their minds intact, can sometimes pass for human).   Lee plays herself in the film.

The idea for the documentary comes from John Solomon (playing himself), a cinematographer and, at least in the film, trauma footage cameraman.  He's not really taken seriously as a film maker, but thinks that by teaming up with Lee, he can finally finish a project.  And not just any project, but a great project.

Spoilers Ahead!

4.1 AAAH! ZOMBIES! (WASTING AWAY) (2007)

Aaah! Zombies! (Wasting Away) (2007)
Dir. Matthew & Sean Kohnen
USA

Matthew and Sean Kohnen have put together a very entertaining first film, and again, most of that boils down to raising enough money to actually realize their vision of a zombie comedy.  With talented actors and good equipment, they are able to make a script that at first seems like it might be just a one-note waste of time, into something really special.

I just wish they'd gone with the original name.  Wasting Away is a lot stronger than Aaah! Zombies!  The stupid name is part of why I've put off watching this film for so long.  I really wasn't expecting much with that name.

Anyway, the main story goes a little something like this:  A group of four friends are infected by a military-developed super-soldier formula that went horribly wrong.  What makes this one interesting is that our main characters, Tim (Michael Grant Terry), Cindy (Betsy Beutler), Mike (Matthew Davis), and Vanessa (Julianna Robinson), and their new comrade, Nick Steele (Colby French), are the zombies.  They just don't know it.

More below the break...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

3.2 HIDE AND CREEP (2004)

Hide and Creep (2004)
Dir. Chuck Hartsell & Chance Shirley
USA

I'll be honest with you.  I went into this one expecting it to be anywhere from lame to awful.  It was advertised as "Even better than Shaun of the Dead" so I went in expecting the worst.  Because, you know, hyperbole like that doesn't do anyone any favors. 

But I am happy to say that I was completely wrong in my expectations.  This film was pretty damned entertaining.  And for a horror comedy, what more can you ask for?

Hide and Creep is a zombie comedy set in Alabama, made by Alabama film makers Chuck Hartsell and Chance Shirley, from a script by Shirley.  According to the film makers, this low-budget film came in at around $26,000, and while it is definitely low-budget, the money was very well-spent. 

So much so, in fact, that I am now dying to see their follow-up film, Interplanetary.  It's tagline is "Monsters.  Mayhem.  Mars."  For more info on that and their other projects, check out the Crewless Productions website.

But what about Hide and Creep?

Spoiler Shields Up!

3.1 EXHUMED (2003)

Exhumed (2003)
Dir. Brian Clement
Canada

Well, this is the first dud of the bunch this year, but it's not for lack of trying.  Writer/Director Brian Clement does everything right in what is probably the most adventurous film of this year's marathon.  However, the end result is a perfect example of one's eyes being bigger than one's stomach when it comes to low-budget film making.  It will still look good on his resume, though.

Exhumed tells its story in three parts.  The first is in medieval Japan, the second in 1940s America, and the third in a weird grab-bag apocalyptic future.  That, in itself, is an impressive attempt.  The stories are all linked in what is, ultimately, a time-travel narrative that, with more money, better actors, and someone who knows how to handle professional lighting, could have been amazing.

Hell, just someone on lighting duties would have made this much more enjoyable, as most of the film is underlit and at times its nearly impossible to tell what exactly was happening.  Which is too bad, because Clement obviously loves film and film making.  There are enough references to classic films in this one to write a book about, and the combining of three distinct genres into one overarching plot is a great idea.

Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I think better lighting would have made me like the film.  As it is, I can't really recommend it as much more than a noble failure.

Although, just listening to the description of the film makes me want to see it remade, a la Evil Dead 2.

Spoilers ahead!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

WALKING DEAD Season One Recap

As I type this, the DVD set of the first season of THE WALKING DEAD is on sale at Amazon for $9.99.  That's practically too cheap to pass up, even if you're only slightly interested in checking it out.

If anyone's curious, here's what I thought about the season, episode by episode:

1.1 "Days Gone Bye"

1.2 "Guts"

1.3 "Tell it to the Frogs"

1.4 "Vatos"

1.5 "Wildfire"

1.6 "TS-19"

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

2011 EASTER ZOMBIE MOVIE MARATHON IS ON HOLD

Tonight's viewing is canceled so that we may raise a glass and watch some classic Sarah Jane adventures.  And probably cry a little.

R.I.P. Elisabeth Sladen, 19th Apr 2011



The BBC Press Release.

It is with much sadness that we can announce Elisabeth Sladen, the much-loved actress best known for her role as Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who and CBBC's The Sarah Jane Adventures, passed away this morning. She was 63.

Lis first appeared as Sarah Jane in Doctor Who in 1973 alongside the Third Doctor Jon Pertwee and stayed for three and half seasons working alongside Jon and the Fourth Doctor Tom Baker. She returned to the role on numerous occasions over the years and, in 2007, was given her own spin-off series on CBBC - The Sarah Jane Adventures - where she would appear alongside new Doctors David Tennant and Matt Smith.

The Sarah Jane Adventures brought Lis a whole new generation of fans who grew up to love her alien-busting adventures. The series was hugely popular with fans young and old and won this year's RTS Award for best children's drama.

Controller of CBBC Damian Kavanagh said tonight: "I'm deeply saddened and shocked by the news of Lis' untimely death. Lis brought joy, excitement and a sense of wonder to her many fans in her role as Sarah Jane Smith. She was adored by our young audience and I know all of them will miss her as much as I will."

The creator of The Sarah Jane Adventures Russell T Davies said: "I absolutely loved Lis. She was funny and cheeky and clever and just simply wonderful. The universe was lucky to have Sarah Jane Smith; the world was lucky to have Lis."

Steven Moffat, Doctor Who's Lead Writer and Executive Producer said: "'Never meet your heroes' wise people say. They weren't thinking of Lis Sladen.

"Sarah Jane Smith was everybody's hero when I was younger, and as brave and funny and brilliant as people only ever are in stories. But many years later, when I met the real Sarah Jane - Lis Sladen herself - she was exactly as any child ever have wanted her to be. Kind and gentle and clever; and a ferociously talented actress, of course, but in that perfectly English unassuming way.

"There are a blessed few who can carry a whole television show on their talent and charisma - but I can't think of one other who's done it quite so politely. I once showed my son Joshua an old episode of Doctor Who, in which Lis appeared. "But that's Sarah Jane," he said, confused "In old Doctor Who. From years ago. How come she always look exactly the same?" It's not a comfort today, of course, but children will still be saying that fifty years from now."

Keith Jones, Director, BBC Cymru Wales, said: "The Sarah Jane Adventures has been one of the most successful children's programmes on television in recent years - and without Elisabeth Sladen it would not have happened. A brilliant presence on screen and on set, she brought the excitement and energy of the Doctor Who family of programmes, of which we are very proud at BBC Wales, to a whole new generation. She will be missed by all at BBC Wales who worked with her."

Roger Carey, who represented Lis for many years, said. "She was not just a client, but a dear friend. She was so positive about life and her natural energy was intoxicating. She couldn't believe her luck when her career was resurrected in her own series."

Lis had been suffering from cancer. She leaves behind a husband, actor Brian Miller, and her daughter, Sadie.

BBC press office 0208 576 1865

Monday, April 18, 2011

2.2 SHOCK WAVES (1977)

Shock Waves (1977)
Dir. Ken Wiederhorn
USA

I went into this one not expecting anything at all.  To be honest, I expected it to be awful.

But as the credits came up, I was reminded that Peter Cushing and John Carradine were both in the film.  So it couldn't be all bad, right?  Absolutely.

This film was co-written and directed by Ken Wiederhorn, who's credits aren't amazing, but does include Return of the Living Dead Part II (which he also wrote), which I enjoy more than anyone else I know.  He's also responsible for directing episodes of Freddy's Nightmares and 21 Jump Street

Along with Peter Cushing (who also played Grand Moff Tarkin in a little indie film that same year) and John Carradine (who will always be a favorite of mine for his role in Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex  * But Were Afraid To Ask), the film starred a young Brooke Adams, who would bust out the next year in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and also star in Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven and Cronenberg's The Dead Zone.

That's enough of a pedigree to catch my interest.  And as it turns out, this isn't half bad.

2.1 PSYCHOMANIA (aka THE DEATH WHEELERS) (1973)

Psychomania (aka The Death Wheelers) (1973)
Dir. Don Sharp
UK

This one had a bit of a slow start, but the ultimate payoff was pretty nicely executed.

Psychomania is a zombie film without any traditional zombies.  Instead, what we've got is a story about devil worshipers and a resurrection that is more about the will than anything else.  The film was directed by Don Sharp, director of The Face of Fu Manchu (1965), The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), and a few Avengers (1968) episodes amongst other works.

Even though this is well beyond the time when the flesh-eating zombie had been introduced to horror culture, Psychomania is something more along the lines of traditional UK occult horror.  It's the sort of film where a guest appearance by Christopher Lee wouldn't be entirely unexpected.

The story centers on Tom Latham (Nicky Henson), the leader of the motorcycle gang The Living Dead.  Tom's mother made a deal with the devil years earlier, and although we never really get a real idea about just what that deal involved, by the end of the film we discover that Tom's fate is intricately tied to it.  But what about the zombies?

1.2 PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965)

Planet of the Vampires (1965)
Dir. Mario Bava
Italy

The second half of Sunday night's double-feature was the classic, Planet of the Vampires, an Italian film based on the short story "One Night of 21 Hours" by Rafael J. Salvia.  This film was directed by the legend, Mario Bava, who is best known for the films Black Sunday (1960), Black Sabbath (1963), and one of my personal favorites, Danger: Diabolik (1968).

The film is another science fiction approach to the zombie genre, telling the story of the crews of two spaceships that have crash landed on a foreboding, unexplored planet, while attempting to investigate a mysterious repeating signal that may be a sign of intelligent life.  Oh, it's a sign all right.  The planet is inhabited by bodiless beings who can take over the bodies of the unconscious, or the dead.

And as you can probably guess, mostly they take over the dead.

So the title is a little misleading.  There are no vampires to be seen here.  It's all zombies, baby!

1.1 THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING (1965)

The Earth Dies Screaming (1965)
Dir. Terence Fisher
UK

The first film in the 2011 Easter Zombie Movie Marathon is a golden oldie from 1965.  We decided to go with a chronological order for this year's films, so as the week goes on we'll get closer and closer to the modern conception of what a zombie film is.

But for this first night, we're really dealing with a variation on the classic Voodoo zombie, only with a creepy British Sci-Fi twist.

Terence Fisher is probably best known as the man who almost single-handedly redefined modern UK horror with his run of classic Hammer Horror films, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Horror of Dracula (1958), The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Mummy (1959), The Curse of the Werewolf (1960), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), and many, many others.

In 1965 he directed The Earth Dies Screaming for Shepperton Studios in London and filmed in Surrey.