Sunday, May 12, 2013
Zombie apocalypse in San Francisco. Something about the water supply. Refuge camp on Alcatraz. Zombies float on over, attack, and drive the survivors back to the mainland where they break into two groups; one (led by Danny Trejo) heads to an evacuation site, the other (led by Mariel Hemingway) to find a scientist (French Stewart) who's created a vaccine. That's about it. Oh, right. Levar Burton. He plays a scientist whose daughter was bitten and therefore stays behind on Alcatraz in an ultimately futile attempt to discover a cure. It's an idiotic subplot that's really just filler and a waste of Burton. As you can probably imagine, most everyone dies. You won't care. You may even be cheering. Yeah. It's one of those.
Aspects of particular annoyance include the pregnant woman on the run in the beginning. She escapes several attacks, ends up hiding in an ambulance on the Golden Gate bridge where she's found by Hemingway's group but then promptly gets bitten by a zombie. They do a C-section, get the baby out, think everything's just peachy, and then the kid changes. They toss it on the ground and stomp its head into jelly. So the whole pregnant woman subplot is irrelevant and stupid. Then there are the endless aerial shots of the city, a city supposedly devoid of non-zombie life, where we see cars and trucks driving around. And so on and so forth...
Acting: Surprisingly awful. Best of the lot is Chad Lindberg as Kyle. Worst has to be Hemingway.
Story: Full of holes and even more unforgivable, boring.
Direction: The most positive thing I can say is that the narrative thread is consistent. Beyond that...yawn.
Production Values: Budget is unknown, but it's definitely a cheapie. On the plus side, it's on film instead of video. On the downside, most of the dialogue had to be re-dubbed. It was filmed in San Francisco and they make sure you know it. Shots of Lombard and Haight and of course the Golden Gate and Alcatraz. Doesn't help.
Gore/FX: It's really pretty gross. Lots of guts and brains and flesh eating going on. The zombie make up isn't bad. The CGI is, though.
Scares: Not so much.
Ending: Four people and a dog live. Flying away on a helicopter. In search of a lab to make more vaccine. For a zombie flick, extraordinarily upbeat. And therefore, extraordinarily wrong.
Verdict: Should you watch Rise of the Zombies? Really, don't. The worst episode of The Walking Dead is ten times better than this mess. In fact, just go watch The Walking Dead again. Trust me.
Rating: 1 out of 5
Posted by Nate Dean at 11:17 PM
Saturday, May 4, 2013
So, plot summary usually goes here. I don't know how. Why, you ask? Because I've seen it and still haven't a clue as to how the chronology works. Were our Everyman heroes Dave and John paranormal butt-kickers before or after the Soy Sauce incident? Or was everything a flashback Dave told to Paul Giamatti's reporter character (who's an elderly black man who's, uh...dead). No idea, and that bothers me. I will soldier on, however, and explain it as I understood it.
There's a new drug on the scene called Soy Sauce. It's black and expands your mind to unbelievable extremes. Problem is, it's actually alive. An invading inter-dimensional parasite that uses the host and then kills it when it's no longer useful (kind of a zombie thing). Buddies Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes) are caught up in the initial craziness and become unlikely champions for our world. John and Dave both take the Soy Sauce. John does die, although not at the end, but comes back to team up with Dave and super famous paranormal researcher/motivational speaker Dr. Albert Marconi (Clancy Brown) in order to travel to a parallel dimension to kill Korrok, a Cthulu-like creature that's behind the parasitic invasion. There's a bomb (of sorts) and a dog makes the ultimate sacrifice. Was Korrok killed? Maybe. Either way, there's enough left over evil to keep Dave and John busy. I think.
The film is narrated by Dave which should help clarify what's going on. It doesn't. The opening scene with him and the hatchets is very entertaining yet makes absolutely no contextual sense. Also senseless is the pale skinny guy with the slugs (don't ask because I don't know). The time travel bits are a little too Bill and Ted and while necessary for the climax, don't fit with the rest of the story. And then there's the girl who explodes into a bunch of snakes, the monster made out of meat cuts from a freezer, and the door knob that morphs into a penis and testicles. A little something for everyone.
The best part of this film, of course, is Paul Giamatti, who also executive produced. The scene where Dave shows him the invisible creature in the cage is short but awesome. A number of other scenes are equally cool, but unfortunately, unless you can weave them together into a cohesive whole, you're just going to end up with a mess.
Acting: Williamson as Dave seems to be channeling Topher Grace half the time. Mayes as John does the same but with Sean William Scott. As I said, Giamatti as dead black reporter Arnie Blonestone is the real treat.
Story: The basic idea is sound, but then they kept adding more weirdness that bogged it down to the point of incomprehension.
Direction: I think proper direction may have saved a goodly portion of the film. It can be done. Just needed someone like Tarantino to pull it off.
Production Values: The budget is unknown. I suspect a few million since it does look pretty good. No tell-tale low-budget crappiness.
Gore/FX: There are some gross bits, a few exploding heads and such. Most of the CGI is decent enough (the penis and testicles was pretty lame, though). My favorite FX has to be the meat monster.
Scares: Not really that kind of movie.
Ending: Dave and John shooting hoops...then getting sucked into another dimension where they're tasked to save the day. Again. Odd and not terribly satisfying.
Verdict: Should you see John Dies at the End? It's goofy and different and probably worth a look for the sheer novelty of it. Just don't expect it to make a lick of sense.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Posted by Nate Dean at 8:21 PM
Sunday, April 28, 2013
The filmmakers eschewed opening credits and dove headlong into prologue where a father, helped by some Deliverance extras, sets his teenage daughter on fire to save her soul from a possessing demon. It seemed to work, and so on to present day where five young people head to a dilapidated cabin in the woods not to party but to help drug-addict Mia (Jane Levy) go cold turkey. Joining Mia are her friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas), her estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). A smell leads them to a trap door which leads to a creepy basement where they find fire damage and a book wrapped in barbed wire. Oh, and dozens of decomposing cats hanging from the ceiling. While Mia's outside wandering around in the rain and dealing with withdrawals, Eric (who is supposed to be the smart one) decides to read passages aloud from the book. As we know, it's an ancient book of the dead that's basically an instruction manual for making bad shit happen, i.e. a Pavlovian bell for super evil demons. Mia's possessed after a tree rapes her (sort of) and then we're off to the races, seriously bloody races. Let's see...there's a box cutter, machete, an electric knife, a nail gun, crowbar, double-barrel shotgun, and, of course, a chainsaw. Not to mention shards from a broken mirror and, well, fire. The five friends go to four, then three, etc. Ultimately, Mia takes on the resurrected, soul-eating demon while the cabin burns and it's raining blood. This climax falls under the category "must see to believe."
A few things: there's a slight subplot regarding Mia and David's mother dying in a mental hospital but it's not at all important. If you're a dog-lover, all I can say is, sorry. The soundtrack is impressive. More specifically, the cacophony of music mixed with what can only be described as a civil defense siren whenever shit goes sideways. Very effective and very disturbing. One complaint I have is the utter, and I mean utter lack of humor. Not one line of dialogue written to elicit the tiniest of smiles. You may say, "Look, moron, it's a horror flick. Why should it be funny?" Of course it shouldn't be funny as a whole, but every movie (except maybe Schindler's List) has at least one line, at least one stab at humor. Not here, though, and I think that was a mistake because it's been my experience that juxtaposing comedy and horror heightens the horror. Oh, well. Maybe next time.
For fans of the original: a certain car makes an appearance. You know the one I'm talking about. Can't really miss it...or what's left of it. There's a nice reference to Flint, MI as well as a familiar running-through-the-woods camera technique. The biggest question, of course, is whether Ash or some form of Bruce Campbell makes an appearance. I had my doubts, yet I waited through all of the end credits just be sure. All I'll say is you should do the same. Hail to the king, baby.
Acting: Surprisingly subdued performances enhance the terror. Pucci gets a bit hammy as his character Eric goes a bit nutty. There are a few false notes but they're brief and immediately forgotten.
Story: The intervention twist is interesting if not humorless. I guess they couldn't completely copy the original.
Direction: A somewhat plodding first act is more than made up for by the remaining two.
Production Values: A $17 million budget is an absolute fortune compared to what Sam Raimi and crew had to play with in the original but still relatively small by Hollywood standards. Even so, the film looks anything but cheap. Quite impressive.
Gore/FX: Ah, yes. Here's where most of the money went. No CGI, they did carnage the old fashioned way which means more realistic. I can't even begin to explain how much blood there is yet surprisingly it's light on what I consider heavy gore. That is to say, no eviscerations. However, there is just about everything else you could imagine. The licking of the box cutter was the only scene where I had to momentarily look away. Maybe I'm weird, but the final battle where one-handed Mia's using the chainsaw made me smile. It was awesome.
Scares: For the uninitiated, probably quite a few. I didn't jump although I came quite close numerous times. Especially the bit with David and Mia in the flooded basement. Jeepers.
Ending: As I've said, the final confrontation is epic. I must say I was surprised that someone lives. Well, maybe not super surprised since there had to be sequel considerations. And, of course, there's the bit after the credits. If you're a true fan, it's worth it the wait.
Verdict: I won't even ask the question. Of course you should see it. Despite the heavy tone and lack of humor, it's a hell of a lot of fun. One might even say...groovy.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Posted by Nate Dean at 8:17 PM
Sunday, April 7, 2013
During the attack on bin Laden's compound, soldiers discover the psycho has been fiddling about with biological agents and run into a handful of his "experiments." They eventually kill the leader and load him into the chopper; however, while over the Arabian Sea, he comes back to life and the chopper goes down. Guess who walks out of the sea craving human flesh?
Flash forward to a rag-tag unit of mostly American special forces soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan. Nearly all U.N. military personnel have pulled out due to the rise in undead combatants and non-combatants. There is no global pandemic, rather it's a controlled program run by terrorists who are creating the zombies and using them as weapons. Like walking IEDs. Osama coming back was the miracle they were looking for to justify their hatred of the West. Or something. The soldiers' mission is to find the terrorists' HQ and call in an air strike to wipe it off the face of the earth. Complicating their mission is Derek (Jasen Wade), an off balance yoga instructor who flew to the Middle East on a personal quest to kill bin Laden and his sister Dusty (Eve Mauro) who chased after him and wound up needing rescuing. After they all find each other, the group makes it to the enemy camp and the final battle is waged.
As with most movies featuring a tight-knit group of soldiers, the disparate personalities are accentuated. The tough-as-nails commander (who's killed almost immediately), the token Brit doctor, the lone woman who's very good with a sword, the pretty boy who likes to take his shirt off, the comedian with the nickname Joker, etc. What impressed me the most was their easy chemistry and the subtle humor that never seemed forced. I also loved the fact that two of them get into an argument over whether or not zombies poop. The film, then, is more of a tongue-in-cheek offering than a serious foray into the genre, which is the only way it works. And as such, it works quite well.
Acting: Wade is a bit over the top as the goofy Derek. Sword-wielding Tomboy (Danielle Churchran) is too stiff. Other than that, performances are all right Surprisingly all right, in fact.
Story: Ah, yes. Well...okay, it's pretty stupid and rife with plot holes, but as it's not meant to be taken seriously, this deficit becomes mostly irrelevant.
Direction: I won't go so far as to say it's deft, but it certainly isn't awful.
Production Values: The budget is unknown, yet it's obvious they had some money to play with and most that probably went to the bazillion rounds of ammo fired. The majority of the film is exteriors shot in Utah and they look good. It's hard to screw up outside shots. So no complaints regarding the technical aspects.
Gore/FX: Pretty much what you'd expect. Lots of head shots with CGI blood splatter. Not an overabundance of zombie munching, though. Overall, on par with what you see every week on The Walking Dead. I did like the big gun that made the zombies literally explode. Groovy.
Scares: One or two minor ones. I don't think it was much of a priority.
Ending: More people live than you might think. It borders on happy. I know. Weird.
Verdict: Should you see Osombie? Despite the many negative reviews floating around out there, I liked this movie. True, it's not a great movie but it's definitely worth 94 minutes of your time.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Posted by Nate Dean at 6:39 PM
Saturday, March 16, 2013
A rich guy dying of cancer lets two competing paranormal investigative teams have full access to the most haunted place in America, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, in order to prove or disprove the existence of an afterlife. The scientific group that tries to debunk everything has its own TV show and is led by Jack (Josh Folan), a not so subtle rip-off of Zak from Ghost Adventures, and this investigation is to be their 50th episode, hence the title. The religious group has a psychic medium and staunchly believes all the activity is demon-related. Guess who's right? So they investigate and experience cold spots, creepy voices, shadow figures...and the ghost of a murdered nurse who straps a team member to a table in order to give her shock therapy. Another spirit snaps the neck of the psychic. Hmm. Don't see that on Ghost Hunters. Anyway, it turns out a serial killer who was transferred to the asylum opened a portal to hell while at the West Virginia state penitentiary and hell came with him. The survivors dash back to the jail's basement to confront the demon and, of course, success hinges on whether Jack now believes in the power of God to smite evil. Or some such bullshit.
Critique time, and I honestly don't know where to start. It's like a cornucopia of suck. OK...towards the end as they're dashing to the jail, there's about two minutes of aerial shots set to elevator music. Why? Hell if I know. Maybe somebody lost a bet. Both the guys from Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters have investigated Trans-Allegheny. What's in this movie is so painfully not Trans-Allegheny that I wanted scream. And when you think of ghost hunting shows, what comes to mind? Night vision cameras that make everything that funky green color and first-person perspective, right? Nope, not here. So that's one of many major tension-building opportunities missed. Instead, the static cameras show us spirits walking around that, ironically, seem to be made of static. Just dumb. But perhaps the most ridiculous of all is the demon they find in basement. It's surrounded by what's supposed to be hellfire and is a lame stereotype sporting horns, devil eyes, and pointy teeth. I tried not to yawn....or punch the screen. I'll deal with the rest of the film's problems below; however, I want to mention that this is a lesson in less is more. Don't show the demons or ghosts. Do show shadows and objects moving on their own. Focus on the creepy-ass atmosphere and how scared everyone's getting. And if your goal is to get an audience to believe they're watching "found footage" of a paranormal investigation gone horribly wrong, don't add a music soundtrack for fuck's sake. Good Lord...
Acting: Some of the worst I've had the misfortune to witness in quite some time. The one person who's not awful is Chris Perry as Jack's friend Damon.
Story: It bothers me they used Trans-Allegheny. This is a legit haunted asylum and really is considered the most haunted place in the USA, so the way it's portrayed here borders on blasphemy. The rich dude with cancer is contrived and silly and unnecessary. The plot holes are bigger than the portal to hell, I swear.
Direction: Started out mostly not terrible then as soon as the investigation commenced, it fell apart in a big damn hurry. Narrative cohesion was not a priority. The running time is only 78 minutes, yet it feels like twice that.
Production Values: They didn't film at the real asylum, fine; but with a budget of $1.3 million, they could have at least tried to find a place that didn't look like an abandoned Motel 6. It's on film, not video, which is good, yet also somewhat strange given the subject matter.
Gore/FX: Very little blood. The CGI demon is cartoonish and laughable. The ghost of the murdered nurse looked all right.
Scares: Surprisingly, there is one. And one only.
Ending: Cancer guy watching the unaired footage (that we just saw) and crying. Why? 'Cause he's been such an asshole that he knows he's going to burn in hell. Um...a bit of a stretch, but OK.
Verdict: Should you see Episode 50? I can think of no circumstances under which you may find yourself where this movie could plague your screen. Well, maybe if you've been trapped in a satellite by an evil scientist and two snarky robots are your only companions. (If you have no clue what this means, then Google MST3K. You'll discover I'm being very humorous.)
Rating: 1 out of 5
Posted by Nate Dean at 10:34 PM