Monday, December 30, 2013

The Cleanest Looking Zombies You Ever Did See

Max Brooks' epic World War Z is one of the most unique reads I've had in recent years. Part horror novel, part modern social studies lesson, it could be argued to be the very apex of the undead movement of art. Like so many of us who grew up fantasizing about life in the Monroeville Mall, Brooks saw the concept of a Romero zombie invasion as something well worth exploring, in his case, on a global scale. His novel (a collection of 'interviews' conducted with those who survived an international zombie attack) is simply brilliant.

Cue the angry mob of (somewhat justified) torch-bearing bookworms who therefore considered Marc Forster's loose film adaptation to be a blight on mankind.

The cinematic journey of World War Z is a complicated one. When the first script leaked several years ago, the Internet rejoiced like a band of victorious Ewoks over how it apparently captured the spirit and scope of Brooks' novel in a way that could, sources said, redefine screenwriting as we knew it. Fast forward several drafts later to word of the troubled production, now being produced by (and starring) Brad Pitt with a constantly ballooning budget and pushed-back release date.

Eventually, World War Z debuted to admirable box office numbers, decent critical reviews, and a whole lot of anger from its initial fanbase. Brooks casually disowned the film as having nothing to do with his book. Horror fans growled at the PG13 rating. Readers were disgusted by what was a complicated, global narrative being reduced to 'Hot Brad Pitt Fights Zombies To Save His Family.'

I go through this somewhat long preamble to try to explain where I come from in watching and reviewing World War Z. The novel was one of my absolute favorite reading experiences, and something I was eager to share and push on friends who mostly responded the same. A part of me was crushed to learn about the film's dilution of Brooks' worldwide elements. As someone who thinks The Walking Dead would be a better place without the Grimes' father/son dull spot, the idea that such a fascinating and incredibly developed examination of modern society would be boiled down to 'hot dad saves kids' made me angry.

But as I've said about so many films adapted from beloved works of fiction, a movie is its own thing. There can be nothing wrong with using a book simply as a springboard for inspiration rather than blueprint for cinematic translation. For every No Country For Old Men that adapts its source nearly verbatim and works beautifully, there are just as many The Shinings that take the initial story and spin it into something of its own. With great humility, I swallowed a good deal of emotion and tried my hardest to watch Marc Forster's World War Z as something original with no attachment to the novel whose name it shares.

Here's me trying.

Quick Plot: People Magazine's Sexiest Ex-UN Field Officer Alive is enjoying a regular road trip with his wife and two daughters when chaos breaks out on the streets of Philadelphia. Before you can say cheese steak, people are sprinting for their lives as the occasional twitchy infected lurches on their tail to take a bite.

Well, 'lurch' is such a lugubrious word. It's more like they're being set up in the kind of children's toy catapult contraption every kid wanted for Christmas (be it a pirate ship or wresting ring) and instantly SHOT into the still-living's path.

It's almost cool. I'll give you that.

One Mist-y trip to a grocery store later and Gerry is able to get into contact with his former employers who decide to send him on an international journey to help identify a solution to the now world-wide epidemic of fast running zombieism. In return for his risky work, Gerry's family is to be kept safe on a military ocean rig. The military is awesome and completely trustworthy like that.

What follows are a few episodes of Gerry traveling to a few far reaches of the world: South Korea, Israel, and Wales. If you can divorce yourself from the far more global spread of the novel, you can appreciate a mainstream big budget horror (well, action with touches of horror) studio film integrating different nations into its narrative. Yes, it's ultimately the blond haired, blue eyed, apple pie in his beard Brad Pitt who (SPOILER ALERTISHNESS) is the hunk the seven continents need to save the world, but least he gets a cute female Israeli sidekick!

I don't know I don't know I don't know, I moan with exasperation. It's probably impossible for me to fully disarm my devotion to Brooks' novel, making the film 'adaptation' such a disappointment. There are strong elements at play: the film LOOKS and SOUNDS quite good, with some incredibly effective fast-paced attacks in its first and second act. For general audiences whose familiarity with the zombie genre ends at The Walking Dead, World War Z is certainly an exciting way to kill two hours of time. For most of us, this is that film that your coworkers and extended family will ask you about, because after all, you're a HORROR FAN!

In most cases, that means you won't like it. World War Z is to the zombie genre what The Big Bang Theory is to geekdom. It's more than appealing to the mainstream, but those with a deeper identity to the subject matter will just find it empty. There have been plenty of PG13 horror films that have surpassed their youth-friendly rating to still provide scares, but for a movie about a mass zombie invasion destroying the entire planet, it just seems like we all deserve better than a hot American saving the world without seeing a drop of actual blood.

High Points
Self slingshot-flinging zombieism is neat enough in being something completely new

Low Points
Wow, what a climax

I don't mean to insult the asthmatic population, but can we please agree that children with severe breathing conditions in need of holy grail-esque inhalers are a tad forced in cinema?

Lessons Learned
Those annoying children's toys that make battery operated sounds can be surprisingly useful when identifying key features of a zombie virus

Apparently, we are in no way past the point of 'please turn off your cell phone' courtesy announcements before launching super dangerous missions involving the undead

Cardio, cardio, and cardio

Well, considering my below freezing temperature expectations, World War Z was certainly better than it could have been. On the other hand, considering its source material, World War Z was nowhere near as good as it should have been. Brooks loyalists should stay away, but those who enjoy action horror will certainly find this to be a decently made, and for a good 2/3rds of its running time, well paced little mainstream hit. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Holiday Cheer 'n Stuff

In honor of this week's watch of Bones, I brought in a special guest star to wish all Doll's House guests a very merry and bright xmas:

Enjoy the cheese, loved ones, presents, eggnog, Silent Night Deadly Night series marathons, cheese, movie theater trips, snow, cheese, cats being confused as to why you're home and not at the office, and cheese that comes with the day.

I'll be kicking back with said cats, loved ones, cheese, and in case I didn't mention it, cheese. Enjoy yourselves and revel in the naughtiness!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Snoop Doggy Bones

Aside from directing episodes of some of television's best shows, Ernest R. Dickerson is a filmmaker with two outstandingly fun credits to his name: the Billy Zanetastic Tales From the Crypt Presents Demon Knight and the all-star Most Dangerous Game blast Surviving the Game

The man has a nice touch.

Quick Plot: A group of industrious teenagers decide to turn a long-abandoned slum house into a hip and hopping nightclub. What they don't know is that said facility was once the home of Jimmy Bones, a man who ruled the '70s with pimp style and a heart of gold. 

Sadly for the community, Jimmy was murdered by some crooked cops and aggressive drug dealers, leaving his neighborhood to crumble and the love of his life (Pam Motherf*cking Grier) alone with a daughter that grows up to be none other than the terrifyingly ageless, deadly expressionless Bianca Lawson.

Can we talk about Bianca Lawson for a moment? Most folks would recognize her as Kendra Dee Vamp-ir Slayer, aka the Blight On Buffy Season 2. Young'ns might identify Lawson as Maya, the bisexual teenager who helps Emily Fields come out on ABC Family Channel's Pretty Little Liars (not that I, a 31 year old woman, watch it or anything...). 

Even if you aren't a fan of a YA-series-based television show that values fashion as much as mystery, you have to be able to appreciate the fact that this mediocre-to-dull actress is still playing a teenager nearly 20 years after giving Sarah Michelle Gellar a (thankfully) temporary sidekick. 

End of my 'Biance Lawson Is Probably a Vampire' theorizing. 

Time to start the 'Pam Grier Just Keeps Getting More Awesome' lecture-

Actually, I guess we can get back to the movie. Which sadly now much lead to the 'Snoop Dogg Is Fine When He's Not Talking' sigh. Especially when the talking involves rhymes. Or rhyme-ishes, whichever.

Bones, you see, has been laying undisturbed in the slum building-soon-to-be-turned-into-a-happening-nightclub. When the teens move their equipment in, they accidentally resurrect Jimmy (or a dog does it; I'm not that observant really) who now, in his supernatural ghost spirit form, is ready to wreak revenge on his killers. Those who get in the way are simply collateral damage.

Far from a great film, Bones is a surprising amount of fun once it finds its foothold in its blacksploitation roots. While the modern teen stuff meanders, the adult cast (many with strong '70s roots like the divine Ms. Grier) helps to keep the tone refreshingly throwback. Like some of Dickerson's other work, Bones wobbles over the line of horror and comedy, and would probably have benefited from committing stronger to the latter. By the time Snoop Dogg is holding the decapitated but still smack talking head of his enemy, Bones has made its decision.

High Points
Sometimes, just existing is something special. In this case, who'dve thunk to make a blaxsploitation-inspired horror comedy in 2001?

Low Points
Ah, 2001, a time when practical effects were occasionally still celebrated, making the simultaneous use of atrociously dated CGI all the more glaring

Lessons Learned
Cigarette lighters provide about the same amount of light as turning on a switch

Some holes just can’t be filled

Nothing is quite as flammable as a polyester dress from the 1970s

A gangsta of love don’t eat no fried chicken (when a CGI human-faced dog says it, you know it's true)

Speaking of Pretty Little Liars, did you know that four can keep a secret if three of them are dead?

Look! It's-
American Mary herself, Katharine Isabelle in a fairly wasted role as the hero’s stepsister

To my knowledge, Bones had a pretty bad reputation as being laughable. While Snoop Dogg trying to act is kind of ALWAYS laughable, the film itself is a perfectly fun time, and those with affection for blaxsploitation will find a lot of little bonuses to enjoy.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A House Hunting We Shall Go

2013's House Hunting was recommended to me (and others) via my Feminine Critique cohostess snowball Christine Makepeace. Despite her disparaging remarks about one of my favorite recent horror indies YellowBrickRoad, I figured I'd take her word that this was a good newbie.

Let's see.

Quick Plot: Two imperfect families searching for a new house happen upon the same bargain-priced steal located not at all suspiciously in the middle of nowhere. The Thomsons, led by the always welcome character actor Art LeFleur, are recovering from the tragic death of their daughter and the ongoing surliness of their teenage son. 

In the other corner are the equally complicated Hays. Patriarch Charlie (since he's played by Marc Singer, he will hence be known as The Beastmaster) didn't waste much time following his wife's suicide in marrying Susan, a younger nurse who doesn't get along so well with Emmy, his teen daughter. The families are accidentally united when a young woman without a tongue runs in front the Hays' car, causing an accident and lots of confusion. All seven hop into the Thomsons' wheels to get help, only to find themselves driving in circles until the gas runs out.

Now trapped on the property, the Hays and Thomsons find that the empty house has a few treats in store for them, including a daily serving of a can of 'stewpendous' beef stew that mysteriously appears every morning. Trying to walk towards the road never ends well, with family members finding themselves right back in their makeshift prison or worse, talking to darker versions of their psyches. Considering a few of the houseguests have fairly unhappy memories lurking just under the surface, this doesn't end well.

House Hunting is the first full-length film by writer/director Eric Hurt and it demonstrates remarkably mature instinct and skill. The cast (a mix of unknowns and vets) all contribute believable, carefully balanced performances that establish real, if deliberately unextraordinary people. There are a few surprisingly effective jump scares that never force themselves on the viewer, and a whole load of fascinating mystery just out of our reach.

Oddly enough, the film House Hunting most reminded me of was the aforementioned (and incredibly divisive) YellowBrickRoad. Both smartly feature casts of mixed ages, avoiding the typical teenagers-in-peril tedium and offering more interesting character dynamics. Both films are set in a seemingly benign location that has slyly trapped its characters, leaving them ripe for vicious and violent cabin fever. While I enjoyed the oddness of YellowBrickRoad a little more, I will easily concede that House Hunting is ultimately a far more satisfying watch. 

I mean, Beastmaster!

High Points
House Hunting never has to overtly tell us what's causing the horrors to happen. We get flashbacks, we get conversations, but we never need to absolute acknowledgment of 'this is happening because of this and this.' It says a lot about Hurt's writing that he is able to convey the complete picture without having to resort to any dumbing down

Low Points

...although it does lead me to wonder what the second pairs of families introduced in the last scene did to deserve their presumed fate

Lessons Learned
The first rule of real estate: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably involves ghosts and death and gross beef stew and that kind of unpleasant stuff

The only thing worse than being cooped up in a house with no TV or Internet for a long stretch of time is being cooped up in a house with no TV or Internet AND one of those impossible jigsaw puzzles that taunt you with their difficulty

Canned beef stew might taste like death, but its nutritious contents will help to keep your hair looking decent and shiny for a few months

Now streaming on Netflix Instant, House Hunting is indeed a surprising treat. This isn't the scariest or most innovative film, but it's solidly made and able to sidestep so many of the standard tropes we've come to expect with modern horror. Give it a go.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Putty Up

Let's get this out of the way: I like--not love--Dario Argento.

I understand and appreciate his contribution to genre cinema. Suspiria is something of a masterpiece. His support and connections helped make Dawn of the Dead be all that it could be. I’ll admit that I’ve yet to see some of his more respected early efforts (Deep Red, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Four Flies On Grey Velvet among them) but regarding his middle-career streak (Tenebre/Phenomena/Opera), I come up in a rather scandalous category of meh.

Maybe I should just wait to reserve any complete judgment until I see his long-awaited Dracula 3D. Word on the street is it’s a hit!

Quick Plot: A young model named Celine is abducted by a yellow tinted mad man with a thing for disfiguring and killing beautiful women. Luckily for his latest soon-to-be victim, Celine's sassy flight attendant sister Linda will stop at nothing to save her. For Linda, that mostly means tracking down Adrien Brody's tortured Inspector Avolfi to crack the case before it's too late.

Giallo is, I guess, a giallo, save for the fact that doesn't really tease you with a mystery to the killer's identity. 

Well, maybe it does?

See, for some sort of creative/silly/yet sort of entertaining reason, Brody does double duty as the earnest hero and mumbling murderer. Now anyone who's ever caught a glimpse of Adrien Brody only to feel as though his one-of-a-kind schnozz has poked them in the eye might be wondering 'How can you possibly disguise a man with a face as singular as Adrien Brody?'


I'll spoil a question that you might otherwise be distracted asking for Giallo's 90 minute runtime: no,  Putty Brody is not the secret long-lost twin of Non-Putty Brody. Nor is Putty Brody supposed to be Non-Putty Brody in a putty disguise. Nope. He's just playing two parts a la Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood or Frank Morgan in The Wizard of Oz

Except with about 85% more putty.

You’re probably now thinking “how can you possibly get back to a semi-serious discussion of this movie when all I can think about no wis putty?” I feel your pain. And answer simply with this:

You can't.
High Points
Dummy violence! It's a giallo and it has dummy violence! THAT'S A GOOD THING!

Low Points
So. That was an note of ambiguous hope to end on eh?

Lessons Learned
Italian policemen were never taught how to take a pulse

The more puttied your face is, the further back your memory goes. This calculation does indeed lead to the conclusion that if your face is made entirely of putty, you can remember your life in your heroin addicted mother's womb

When considering what to be when you grow up, remember a hidden bonus of the occupation 'fashion model': you'll probably be skinny enough to squeeze through a chained door when trying to escape a mad putty-faced serial killer

Perhaps it explains my clumsiness as something blood-related: Italians are not very good at walking, at least if it involves passing another person without crashing into them

Randomly Aggressive Product Placement
Because watching a movie about a man who slaughters pretty young women ALWAYS puts me in the right mood for snappy Diablo Cody dialog

Look, I'm not calling Giallo a good movie. But unlike a lot of other gialli, it didn’t bore me. Many diehard Argento fans will call it a true shame, but as someone who’s never been overly impressed by the filmmaker’s output, I don’t see it as being THAT bad. It’s more that he never quite improved from where his run ended in the mid-80s. Fog up Giallo to make it look like it was made in 1987 and try to tell me it’s that much worse than Opera

Or just don’t watch it and save yourself an argument. The choice is ultimately yours.

Kissy kissy.