horror

Repo Men

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Nope, it’s not the car one. Nor is it the bizarre musical version with the similar premise. This is a straight-talking, incredibly violent action-drama about dudes who reclaim artificial organs when the buyer defaults on their payment plan. On the surface, Repo Men is just a gory sci-fi excuse for some close-quarters knife fights (never fear, there are plenty of those). After the sub-prime mortgage collapse and the crude and hostile health-care debates, Repo Men accidentally got a little relevant. Do we loathe or pity the defaulters for not meeting their unfairly weighted financial obligations? Justifications abound for both sides, but Repo Men treads a line.

As for the style and texture, if Blade Runner and Gattaca got together, they would look like this near-future semi-dystopic metropolis. Here is the urban hunting ground where Jude Law and Forest Whitaker do their work, shiny and clean, dark and over-saturated with ads, with high tech everything and a pretty cavalier attitude towards violence. Imagine the paperwork today if your cab was the site of a man having his kidney removed in a technically sanctioned act of murder.

Law’s character is at the top of his game, excelling at work while neglecting the home life. His partner Whitaker is more gleeful at his work, less professional. The property they repossess, the artiforgs, are financed at insane rates, then reclaimed (and ew, resold!) after 96 days of nonpayment. In short, you’re surprised in your home or work or anywhere, zapped, cut, and the goods are bagged, while you are left for dead. The obligatory and de facto waiving of patient rights to an ambulance is a nice touch. It’s not serial killing, it’s perfectly legal, apparently. At least society has the decency to be a little squeamish about it. The tools of the trade allow them to check passersby for default, they don’t even have to wait for the bureaucratic wheel to turn up their next mark. It is jacked up.

One thing leads to another and now Law has an artiforg and he has defaulted on the payments, so he’s on the run. You could drive an ambulance through the plot holes after this point. Evil boss Liev Schreiber offers no employee discount for nonconsensual implantation of their product? Never mind the revelations of how it came to happen later in the movie, what about just obeying the legal rules of the world the film set up? It totally doesn’t matter. We didn’t come to the movies for artiforg tort reform. Law, with some shiny new innards and a sudden capacity to empathize for his previous targets, has got him some problems now, the kinds that are often solved through other people getting killed.

Act II is ostensibly the exciting part, you know, revelatory horrors, hiding out, fighting back, etc. Instead Jude takes up with some random woman from a previous scene (Alice Braga), who is chock full of unpaid merchandise and can totally understand what he’s going through. Interest starts to flag. I hope Eric Garcia’s novel, The Repossession Mambo, on which this film was based, doesn’t suffer from the same digression. At least we have a hilarious Larry the Lung costumed character for the kids!

I don’t need to tell you who’s been assigned to the job of repo’ing Law’s artiforg. I also probably don’t need to tell you that a movie about professional vivisectionists has a ridiculously squibbulous climax involving non-traditional weaponry. I shouldn’t have been as surprised by the weird eroticizing of some painful surgical actions. By the ending the twist of the plot turns into a squirm-inducing twist of the knife. Despite the up close and personal slicing and dicing, Repo Men feels like it’s trying to be a new sci-fi classic like the movies it visually resembles, or even become a serious movie. The random girl side plot takes up too much real estate and the psychological ramifications of the tech and the job get short shrift. Still, you can’t go completely wrong with an Oscar winner chasing an Oscar nominee with a paring knife, and Repo Men gets a good bit right.

MPAA Rating R-strong bloody violence, grisly images, language, some sexuality/nudity

Release date 3/19/10

Time in minutes 111

Director Miguel Sapchnik

Studio Universal Pictures

Your Friday Fix 03/19/10: Ookami Kakushi

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Your Friday Fix 03/19/10: Ookami Kakushi

Genres: Horror, Occult, Mystery

Ratings Ratings
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A remote town called Jouga is home to a pervasive myth about ancient, humongous wolves that once roamed the area. These wolves are still spoken of in local religious ceremonies and even revered as gods. A river divides the town between the old and new districts. It is to be noted that the people of the old district do not think kindly of those who have embraced the more modern culture. The story takes place as two siblings, Hiroshi Kuzumi and Mana Kuzumi, move to the town with their father, Masaaki Kuzumi, to seek inspiration for his occult novels.

Before Hiroshi can even settle in a neighbor girl, Isuzu Tsumuhana, latches on to him, confesses her love, and tells him that they will be together. Mana, who is in a wheelchair, dislikes the situation from the start. Mana does not seem to want to get along with anyone. When Issei Tsumuhana, Isuzu’s older brother, shows up Mana’s attitude changes. Issei also gets along well with their father, Masaaki, whose books he professes to enjoy. In fact, everyone at school and in town are so damn happy to see new people. Everyone wants to know more about Hiroshi, continually pestering him all throughout class.

One student, Ogasawara, tries to drag Hiroshi off to join his activity club, but is scolded by the class president Nemuru Kushinada. For the rest of the day Ogasawara seems jumpy and scared of everyone. Later that night we see Ogasawara running the streets of the town, his eyes glowing red. A group of masked figures stalk him in the shadows cast by a red moon. The leader, a young girl with a giant scythe, strikes him down. Elsewhere, a mysterious man reacts to the death he somehow feels.

The next day everyone seems to react like nothing happened. Nemuru says that Ogasawara “moved away” suddenly. Hiroshi and another newcomer to the town, Kaname Asagiri, discuss the strange disappearance. Both feel uneasy, especially when Nemuru requests a private audience with Isuzu. We see the two girls exchange heated, yet muted words. The only words we are left to hear are Isuzu saying that she will protect Hiroshi.

This series keeps a great deal of its cards hidden at the start of this series, yet shows just enough to get you to play the hand. The mystery of the town and the wolves, demons, and the warnings to keep off the streets at night set a great mood. While the horror aspect of the series is still mild, it is mounting.

Overall Hook Rating: B

Watch part of episode one after the break…

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Read On

Your Friday Fix 01/29/10: Aoi Bungaku

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Genres: Horror, Mystery, Suspense

Ratings Ratings
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Aoi Bungaku varies from its anime brethren by nature of its source. Parts of this series are derived from various classical Japanese works; six in all. The first two episodes comprise half of the story No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai. Episodes 5 and 6 are from In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom by Ango Sakaguchi, episodes 7 and 8 are from Kokoro by Natsume Souseki, episodes 9 and 10 are from Run, Melos! also by Osamu Dazai with episodes 11 and 12 each being their own complete story consisting of The Spider’s Thread and Hell Screen by Ryunosuke Akutagawa.

No Longer Human takes us inside the mind of a monster. Not your average monster, but instead a young man who feels no connection to his fellow man. Yozo Oba grew up the privileged son of a wealthy congressman yet feared upsetting his father. In flashbacks we see Yozo, still a young boy, being abused by a group of women; cowering under his father’s gaze as he challenges his plans for him; and growing further apart from his humanity.

It is not until a boy in his class sees through his disguise that Yozo admits he is a monster, whose visage takes Yozo’s place in the mirror. As Yozo grows up he begins to lie, cheat and steal through life. He lives off allowances from his ever more irate father until he is cut off. It is at this point he meets Tsuneko, working under the name Mayumi, who has been abandoned by her ex-convict husband and has all but lost the will to live.

The two of them spend an intimate night describing their loath of life and decide to commit double suicide. They load up on sleeping medication and leap from an ocean cliff (Tsuneko asks Yozo to push her off). Guilt begins to stab into Yozo after this action and he follows her into the abyss. Yet, he survives the attempt and later recovers in the hospital. His lingering guilt begins to unravel him further and he wishes to attempt to carry out Tsuneko’s wishes to become more human in her next life. He makes a pact with himself to makes this opportunity his second chance at a normal life.

The atmosphere, artwork and story laid out in this half of the No Longer Human story just blew me away. It contains a great deal of internal turmoil and deep psychological insights that really pull you into the characters. I have just put this series at the top of my to watch list.

Overall Hook Rating: A

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Daybreakers

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What? You didn’t hear about this one? It’s 2019, and most of the world is populated by vampires. Sexy, huh? Stephanie Meyer heaven. However, when now the doughy vampires have glazed Monday morning, er, evening stares riding the subway to their tedious accountant jobs, rather than sexy blood-foam raves in underground clubs, you know the honeymoon of the undead is over. Humans have become an endangered species (finite biofuel), and the world of bloodsuckers has to find an alternative (clean bile?) before their blood deficiencies make them devolve into cave-dwelling bat monsters (drill baby drill). Message much? Yes, they tried everything all the other movies and TV shows have tried.

It gets better. One thing leads to another, and the solution to the fuel — er, blood — shortage transforms from creating an alternative (see: HBO’s True Blood) to eliminating the demand via a cure for vampirism. Get it yet? Hint: it involves the sun. No oil for blood! What’s truly notable about Daybreakers is how it takes a really great idea that also happens to be a swinging two-by-four of a modern-day allegory, in a genre that has been sucked dry by every major media outlet, and still make a movie premise that feels interesting and new, shot in a groovily-realized and plausible world. For this alone, Daybreakers deserves your attention. The problem is that eventually it succumbs to the very pop cultural burdens that it took up in the first place.

Ethan Hawke is a vampire hematologist working for a delectably spooky vampire CEO, Sam Neill. Hawke is his usual undead self, but Neill seems to be having real fun. Enter Willem DaFoe who, despite being human here, is even more sceneivorous than the cartoonish vampire he limned in Cirque du Freak. Daybreakers may have a facepalmer of an allegory driving its plot, but it truly is beautifully shot and designed, with a cool, stimulating score driving the pace. The dark, desaturated grimness of the eternal night of a world of vampires and the feverish Acting! of the mobs of extras create a believable post-vampirism world.

It’s actually hilarious that these ex-humans hunted their human prey to near-extinction, and not just for the “oh yes we do consume too much” reminder. They are even less fit in a Darwinian sense then the Ebola virus, in that vampires not only destroy the source of their sustenance, they create more competition by doing so; and if they do not feed, they turn into…bats, kind of. Despite all this, Daybreakers manages to paint a pretty real-feeling alternative world of the near future. The human species might be endangered, but greedy human nature won’t go down without a fight. It’s not the most brilliant vampire movie ever made, but it’s the best one of 2010.

MPAA Rating R-strong bloody violence, language, and brief nudity

Release date 1/8/10

Time in minutes 138

Director Michael and Peter Spierig

Studio Lionsgate

Disney's A Christmas Carol

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This story is well-enough known that I will indulge in some spoilers, mostly because some elements of this movie are beautiful and innovative, and some just plain did not belong. The aggregate score makes it a rental, because the highs were very high, but the lows very low. First of all, all performance-capture technicians should be so lucky as to have a face such as Jim Carrey’s to use for source movement. Like Andy Serkis before him, Carrey has fine control of his expressions, and his entire physical instrument. As a result, the character of Scrooge is a wonder to behold. You can almost feel the veins pounding with ire behind his dessicated skin. Carrey plays him with real heart, real bile, real fear.

That said, why would you then skimp on every other character — even the other ones played by Carrey? Sure, Scrooge is the reason we’re here, but you spoil us with a rich, nearly photo-realistic performance and then bust out faces like the kid in the first Toy Story movie (admittedly with better texture mapping)? The uncanny valley looks all the deeper when you’ve got the mountain in the same shot. Also: stop making the characters look like their voice actors. Sure, it helps identify their player, but that’s what credits are for. When you give us Colin Firth’s voice coming out of a creepy Colin Firth waxwork, it’s even more jarring than say, Cary Elwes’ voice coming out of a portly stranger. OK, huzzah for the casting reunions from Princess Bride and Liar Liar. Give everyone with a substantial speaking part a new face and put a ton of dots on them too, or don’t do it at all. Poor Gary Oldman could really have worked Bob Cratchit to the maximum.

London is a beautiful place to fly a camera through when rendered with such loving Dickensian detail — people and streets, chamberpots and shops, sweeps and urchins. I imagine in 3-D it would be even more swooping and gorgeous. But then the creepy robots sing their stiff-mouthed carols — even with adorable character design they just disturb next to Scrooge’s twitching nasolabial folds.

The reason to remake this story in CG is to explore storytelling techniques that you couldn’t do as well or easily with live-action, right? Not just to jump on the 3D bandwagon. Right? Not just to find ways to poke things into the faces of the kids in the audience and go “Wooo Dickens is COOOOL!” Right? Of course I expect some expansion from the relatively intimate story, but some of these elaborate showcases felt like someone wished he made a different movie and decided just to keep the idea. I am glad I didn’t see it in 3-D because the camera poking was pretty egregious at times.

This Christmas Carol also doesn’t seem to know its audience. Between goofy chase scenes and glossing over some of the better poetry of the novel, and genuinely scary, profound moments of self-discovery on the part of Scrooge, I’d say they may also not have read the book. I would never take a child to see this — the sections with Jacob Marley and the spirit of Christmas Yet To Come are quite scary and effectively done. Future was portrayed as only a silent shadow, its bony hand sliding along reality to point the way for Scrooge…unless it pokes, black and glistening and fakey, into the 3-D realm, ruining the beautiful and haunting effect. After the Ringwraiths and Dementors and depictions of Death over a century of cinema, I was so pleased to see something different for Christmas Yet To Come…and then frustrated. Did I mention the ridiculous, gratuitous chase scene? Chase. Scene. Future does not chase you and shrink you and — Zemeckis!!!!!

The Ghost of Christmas Past was handled like a human candle, a creative and different interpretation of happier times and the ephemerality of memory. He and Christmas Present are also played by Jim Carrey (Future may have been as well, but there was no face to animate), and Past had an inexplicable Irish accent and a hissing whisper, the blame for both of which I can only lay on director Robert Zemeckis’ shoulders. It was such a lovely idea of a candle and then ruined.

And then we come to Christmas Present. As we know, Present is the boisterous, merry love-of-life spirit of jolly, earthy goodness and generosity. They got the general look of him right (oddly including the petulant forehead wrinkle that Carrey fans will recognize as his impish look, not his expansive humanity-loving look), but the booming warm laugh is instead incredibly horrible and fake and creepy. If this was meant to be a Scrooged-type cynical commentary on how artificial our seasonal bursts of kindness are before we slide back into 11 months of selfishness, well, it didn’t work. It looked bush league. His laugh was unsettling and creepy and not at all merry, and it ruined everything else: the cornucopia of generosity, the hale spirit astride the wonders of the world, and the truly lovely way he showed Scrooge his part of the spirits’ presentation. This scene would have been the most effective in 3-D, but if I had seen that petulant wrinkle shake out those kidnapper-van laughs in 3-D, I might have fled the building. Present repelled me right when he should have been washing us in the wassail of what Scrooge is missing. Again, this ancillary character wasn’t given full animation of his face, despite being based on rubberface Carrey.

I wish I could cut a montage of the sobering and well-thought-out segue from Present to Future, the swooping flights through London and Scrooge’s face. But I cannot. Wait to watch it at home with some warmth to ward off the chill.

MPAA Rating PG

Release date 11/6.09

Time in minutes 96

Director Robert Zemeckis

Studio Walt Disney Pictures

Paranormal Activity

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Not unlike its inevitable comparison film, The Blair Witch Project, one of the most exciting things about Paranormal Activity is how while you are watching it, it feels real enough that you feel unsure whether it’s a movie or a found-footage presentation.  I dissected various actions and moments in the film, searching for the cinematic mechanical justification behind an action (for example, handling sound recording throughout an entire house) in the beginning, while this movie worked up its head of steam.  It played very naturalistically and felt justified and normal, and I was able to abandon myself to the fun.  (Or is it a snuff film?)  The whole film is 98% two people, Micah and Katie, shot entirely within their San Diego home (a very fancy one for persons of their apparent income level), shot completely with a fancy-but-still-consumer-grade digital movie camera.  It feels very much like what it purports to be — Micah wanting to capture on film weird things that have started happening to them in their home.

The performances are unselfconscious when appropriate and very natural, which is the most convincing aspect of the movie all around.  From their dialogue to their at-home wardrobe to their blood-curdling screams, it feels and sounds very real.  Also, the cinematography is consistent with that which would be managed by an online trader who just got a fancy camera, so if you had queasy problems with Blair Witch or Cloverfield’s shaky-cam, you might want to skip this one.  Realism and grounding everything else besides the actual scary thing in reality is what makes this film work.  If you can manage the shakycam it’s a very nicely crafted, slow burn of a scary movie.  It’s organic style means no hackneyed tension release mechanisms that sustain the audiences of most narrative horror films.  Ahhh!  It was only the cat.

The bursts of activity (paranormal) are varied and unpredictable and hit your various reptilian brain centers in different ways.  If you normally find X scary, but chortle your way through Y, you’ll get a dose of both.  The sound design also contributes a great deal to the proceedings.  A nearly-sub-aural rumbling announces that something is coming, and your body learns to tense up when it hears it.  (This was no fun at all driving home.)   It’s all very low-tech — some sounds could literally be a group of grips lifting and dropping a couch — and this makes it feel even more convincing.  Unearthly screeches or banshee music or gooey tentacles would kill the mood.  Nothing is scarier than what we can imagine for ourselves.  A creak of a stair caused by nothing we can see — heebie jeebies!

Katie and Micah are a believable, likable couple, knocking around their gorgeous, immaculate house, and they sell the smallest moments for full price, especially Katie.  Don’t bother holding out for a stinger at the end of the credits — that menacing rumble will only end with the MPAA rating.  Paranormal Activity is edited almost clinically, like an evidence tape, and with none of the framing or vanity-screen time Blair Witch sometimes betrayed.  I’ll tell you one thing, it’s not the scariest movie I have ever seen, but it’s probably the most efficient and insidious.  The noises in my house never seemed so loud or inexplicable as they do after seeing this.  It’s a great scary treat and the filmmakers should be rewarded with your business.

MPAA Rating  R-language

Release date 9/25/09 limited

Time in minutes 99

Director Oren Peli

Studio Paramount Pictures

Zombieland

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Like any proper spoof (not like Date/Scary/Epic/Dance Movies, actual
spoof), Zombieland serves also as an example of the genre it’s
spoofing. Unlike the inevitable comparison with the British Shaun of
the Dead, this movie feels less like a spoof and more like a
straightforward zombie movie with just some comedy thrown in. Zombie
movies already have some comedy in them, so the line between the
“serious ones” and this one is fine indeed. It’s funny, but it’s not
outrageous or satirical or genre-skewering or anything like that.
It’s more acerbic and snappy.

Told mainly from the perspective of Jesse Eisenberg’s character
“Columbus” (as in the destination in Ohio), we learn how a skinny,
neurotic drink of water like him has managed to be one of the few
survivors left after a truly cataclysmic spread of undeaditude. In
fact, our young lead’s reliance on the hard and true rules of
surviving a zombiepocalypse are pretty much what anyone his age or a
bit older (like, Woody Harrelson’s age) would already take as read as
how one would survive. Like Jamie Kennedy in Scream, Eisenberg sticks
to the basic principles and they work. His survival is thorough and
long-standing, more routine than terrifying at the point we join his
story. Throughout the movie, Eisenberg explains the various rules he
adheres to, which are then amusingly graphically presented and used as
visual punctuation whenever employed.

Naturally, others have survived by less meticulous but no less
effective means. He runs into the wonderfully over the top Woody
Harrelson, gleefully massacring his way across the country to find a
Twinkie. (It is funny to see Mr. Hemp and Compost firing a huge gun
out of a Hummer.) They later meet Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin,
jaded streetwise urchins all. They make their way through distrust
and moaning hordes to a huge set-piece finale, a hyperbolic spree
seemingly created as the central point of Zombieland. In fact, the
movie’s title and its focus on this climax makes me believe that the
whole movie was created just to bring us to the carnival of carnage.
Spoiler alert: zombies get blowed up real good.

Eisenberg’s character from Adventureland is now in Zombieland, with
only the wisdom of his numerous near-brushes with death. I almost
didn’t recognize Stone; she was a sexy teen vixen in Superbad, a
hopelessly tremulous nerd in House Bunny, and now she’s a cavalier
cool chick here. It’s funny/sad that her resume, if viewed by someone
who had seen none of these movies, makes her look like a B-Movie
bimbo. Stone’s chameleonic comedic capacity, her hot-yet-accessible
appearance, and the fact that all three of those movies were surprise
critical and audience hits — all this tells me that she’s in for the
long haul.

Harrelson is playing to his go-to tough redneck type, but with a comic
edge and a truly creatively brutal side. If the mayhem weren’t
against voracious undead cannibals, it would be disturbing. As it is,
it’s pretty much videogame level appreciation of the novelties of
application and the unapologetic hyperbole. And finally (well, not
finally, but we’ll leave that last survivor as a delicious marshmallow
surprise) we have precocious angel Abigail Breslin. Always acting
beyond her age, she’s one of the few 12 year-olds who can possibly
pull off her character’s deeply-ingrained cynicism and instincts. I
got flashes of her in Signs and Little Miss Sunshine while she rolled
her eyes at a poorly executed kill. Adorable.

Zombieland is a road movie, a little meta-commentary on zombie movie
mayhem, and an extremely violent and pretty funny comedy. Come on,
zombies, what more do you need?

MPAA Rating  R – zombie horror violence/gore and language.

Release date 10/2/09

Time in minutes 82

Director Ruben Fleischer

Studio Columbia TriStar

Your Friday Fix 7/17/09: Umineko no Naku Koro ni

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Umineko no Naku Koro ni

Genres: Horror, Occult, Mystery

Ratings L2 Ratings
L1
R3
R2
R3
R3
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Umineko no Naku Koro ni Image 1A pleasant breeze blows over the small private island, Rokkenjima, in the autumn of 1986. It’s the season for the annual meeting of the exceedingly wealthy Ushiromiya family. The family patriarch, Kinzo Ushiromiya, is nearing the end of his life and the family wishes to discuss plans for the family assets. Each of Kinzo’s children are heads of industry and all clamor for the reigns. A storm brews outside, ominous.

In a dark room, secluded from his squabbling offspring, Kinzo yells and thrashes about by a stormy window. He knows his end is near and entreaties Beatrice, a witch who granted him his families wealth, to return to him once more. Their deal is reaching its end, and the final bill come due. Outside… the most innocent soul on the island, Maria Ushiromiya, is left alone in the rain by her mother. She is increasingly despondent over her daughter’s odd mannerisms, but does not know how to control her anger of this situation. It is to this girl that Beatrice first appears.

Umineko no Naku Koro ni Image 2Gathered inside for dinner, the entire family continues to posture and plot. When the desert course comes, Maria stands and announces that she has a letter Beatrice wishes her to read aloud to the family. While every family member knows of this person by name, none truly believe she existed! Maria looks possessed as the addresses the gathered family. She informs them of the contract created between herself and Kinzo. She speaks of the wealth granted, and now what payment has come due.

The game set in motion, Beatrice (by way of Maria) informs everyone that she will take back her gold and everything the family owns as interest unless someone can uncover where Kinzo has hidden this wealth. In the foyer of the mansion exists all the clues they will need to complete this daunting task. There too, is a time limit on this game… overnight 6 people (four family members and two servants) are killed and mutilated. Their bodies are left in a shed, adorned with runes of a sort. The end of the Ushiromiya has only just begun.

Overall Hook Rating: A

Drag Me To Hell

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Oh, Sam Raimi.  You know you’ve made it when the unique flavor of your early low budget films still describes your core style even when you have a huge crazy budget (for another example of this see the films of Kevin Smith).  With Drag Me To Hell, Raimi makes a “classic” Sam Raimi movie, for better and for worse.  Mostly worse.  Drag Me is old-fashioned in interesting and unexpected ways, from the score to star Alison Lohman’s appliances to boyfriend Justin Long’s entire character, and including a general lack of commitment to any kind of modern sensibility of fun or scariness.  Plenty of things exist just to serve the film, in obviously silly ways.  Who else but a Raimi lead would have an anvil, much less store it hanging from a chain?  Especially a twenty-something girlie-girl mortgage banker girl.  Except for all the trademark gross-out silliness, this movie could have been released in 1960.  But then again, we DO have the trademark gross-out silliness: expectorating terrible things, shooting body parts at people and stuff at body parts, and icky embraces, with the camera at a 25 degree angle, is familiar to the point of near-impatience.  Don’t forget the mucus, very important.

As the heavy, we have a very spooky gypsy, played with ferocious sincerity by TV veteran Lorna Raver.  Raver seems to be trying so hard to legitimize her first major role in a motion picture, and by extension the rest of the movie, I feel bad about how little I enjoyed the film as a whole.  She herself is pretty enjoyable, until she’s forced to go along with Raimi’s particular fetishes.  Lohman does all she can, which is act pretty, determined, surprised, nervous, brave, helpless, etc. as called for by the hokey, dorky story.  At one point she’s desperate enough to break a cardinal rule of Good Guys, the next she can barely summon the brain power to operate a motor vehicle.  There’s nothing wrong with hokey or dorky as long as either the story is interesting (see: Fido) or the dorkiness serves a purpose (see: Showtime’s musical Reefer Madness).  What Drag Me To Hell fails to accomplish is an unselfconsciousness that would let the movie be fun rather than look like it’s trying to be serious while also trying to capture the campy fun spirit of a shoestring production (see: Evil Dead 2 for a Raimi counterexample).  By the time you have Justin Long trying to generate all the gravitas for what is ostensibly something very life-threatening and profoundly scary — “I don’t know what I believe in any more” — you’ve ventured beyond any possibility of self-parody into just lazy.  And no Bruce Campbell cameo?  Come on, you’re not even trying, Sam!

Drag Me To Hell is mildly scary at parts, slightly grosser than that in other party, occasionally novel (see aforementioned old-fashioned touches), often poky, and finally pays off with a terrible, frowny goat puppet.  I really can’t recommend it.  Despite the fact that I support the idea of comedy horror, I do generally ask that it contain at the very least either comedy or horror, both preferred.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/22/09
Time in minutes 99
Director Sam Raimi
Studio Universal Pictures

Comments Off on Diary of the Dead

Diary of the Dead

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George Romero. George George George. You created a mini-genre out of what was at the time an oddity: a monster movie (specifically zombies, for their unique properties) which also was a statement about modern day life. Countless follow-ups by you and others continued this trend and made Zombie Movies an event worth collecting friends for. You wrote the rulebook. You were a pioneer. Sure, Land of the Dead was a little dorky, but it was a hoot and a half. This Diary of the Dead of yours is just rewarmed leftovers from the past 13 years of filmmaking (from To Die For, as my sage companion noted, through Cloverfield).

One of the most tragic things about Diary of the Dead is the moments that are flashes of inspiration. It’s like someone sat down with a compendium of the lore and said, “Ok, what hasn’t been done?” and then did it. Our band of survivors being the cast of a student-grade mummy film? Awesome. A zombie dispatched at the same time its victim suicides with a scythe? Sweet. Um…there were a few others but I already can’t remember. My point is, the humor is always there, lurking under the surface, in any zombie movie, but here it’s used for evil rather than for good.

Our filmmakers are shooting a mummy movie (the original proto-zombie, yes George we know it was you who invented the modern-day zombie) and the world goes hooey. Nothing new there, of course. The MESSAGE is that the cameraman doesn’t stop filming, even when fleeing, even when seeing things that would make a sane person respond by perhaps fainting or screaming. The camera is passed between participants — even participants who yelled at cinematographer #1 to stop filming already — to get better coverage..

“But wait,” you might interrupt at this point. “You freaking LOVED Cloverfield. That’s the same thing.” And for the record, I enjoyed Blair Witch as well. For one thing, the latter two films used the cameras as if the character were really using the camera — dropping it, running with it, addressing it directly, sneaking around with it, dropping their camera hand to show the ground or their leg at a moment when a character would do that. The characters are filming in Cloverfield because they think there should be a record of this event, and also to remain emotionally detached from their terror, and out of Gen X-Y habit, perhaps as well. Later it’s their only connection to “not here.” In Blair Witch, of course, they were specifically documenting what happened to them in the woods, so it was more of an obligation to record everything even when it was a burden. Diary of the Dead is a hackneyed attempt to hijack that convention with none of the justification and all of the moralizing.

Also wrong with DotD: There are forced interviews and unaccountable hostilities among the players that are unclear. And then there are the horrible horrible characters who say terrible terrible dialogue just past the ability for us to mock them. There’s even an older, weary pseudo-statesman professor, British of course, whose dialogue literally smacks of narration no matter what he says. It hurts to watch. My companion recalled Gus Van Sant’s culturally prescient 1995 film To Die For, where Nicole Kidman’s character had a pathological need to be on television in order to exist (I am paraphrasing) and every meta-narrative since then has been more and more diluted from that message. See also: the reality-TV boom.

Diary of the Dead, even for zombie diehards like my little group (we watched Shadow: Dead Riot, for pete’s sake), was not very good at all. I mourn. The rating is Catch the Network Premiere for the few bits that were fun and creative, but it will never be on network television, so…

MPAA Rating R-strong horror violence and gore, pervasive language
Release date 2/15/08
Time in minutes 95
Director George Romero
Studio Dimension Films