Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Review of "Shaun of the Dead" (2004)

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Señor B.B. Stache greets you:
The Winchester Pub at the End of the Universe.

This movie has been in the top 3 most played media on my DVD player over the last two years (the first two being Criterion's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the episode of Family Guy when Brian become a drug sniffing police dog). It has all the right elements in the "w-right" proportions (sorry about the pun).

Shaun (Simon Pegg) is a pre-Carousel everyman working at a dead end job. Translation : 29 year old appliance salesman. He lives with 2 roommates that are the antithesis of each other. One is Ed (Nick Frost), the overweight, slightly lecherous, fart-making, gorilla impersonating, pot smoking (coincidental) underachiever. The other is Pete (Peter Serafinowicz), who is a type A personality. Shaun also has a counterpart, his girlfriend ,Liz (Kate Ashfield), who has never met his mother and wishes they could spend more time alone together (without Ed - how oxymoronic). Diane and David are Liz's friends, a.k.a. Ed's counterpart. Rounding up the cast is Shaun's Mom and Philip "He's not my dad. He's my step-dad." (Bill Nighy).

Shaun can be characterized much like Ed Norton's Fight Club character. In the modern world, Shaun is just ordinary or worse, mediocre. In the extraordinary circumstances he has been placed in, he excels, or perhaps find a purpose. The information about what is happening is in the background of the movie (newspaper headlines, TV new reports, unusual people activities,etc.), however (in a fashion typical to modern man), tends to be ignored or dismissed until it has to be taken care of on a personal basis. It is an interesting commentary/relationship on the over-saturated senses of modern humans and the media creators. It is also in line with the "zombie" genre explanation of why things are happening.

Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright continue their writing/directing magic from Spaced. They bring along most of the cast with them as well (Nick, Pete, Jessica Stevenson, and a couple others now credited as "zombie" extras). The dialog is great. It is sharp, full of humor and double-sided. The two provide a lot of homage to everything from Grandmaster Flash & John Romero to John Carpenter & video games. The movie is a great mix of horror, comedy and dramatic moments. There were moments I shed some salty drops and others when I was spasming on the floor laughing. Humor in the face of bizarre and terrifying moments is the overwhelming theme.

There are more quotable quotes and scenes than I have the space or time to write out. Also, it might detract from you enjoyment of the movie. My three favorite moments would have to be :

1) Zombie Acting 101

2) The choreographed zombie beat-down to "Queen-Don't Stop Me Now".

3) Introductory title sequence where the mundane activities of the extras are choreographed to "I Monster-Blue Wrath".

If you haven't seen this movie, I don't know what else to say that will convince you that this is one of the best movies of the new millennium. I you have seen it, then bugger off. Maybe you should go back and see it one more time, since its obvious you haven't had your fill yet. Get stuffed !!

Review of "Cry Wolf" (2005)

Cry Wolf (2005)

Written by the co-authors of Robot Monster and the "infamous Bobby Ewing is in the shower and not dead" episode of Dallas.

If you have seen Robot Monster or that infamous episode of Dallas, where a whole season was a "dream", then you will know what's going on in this movie. This has only two possible outcomes : 1) you love been lead astray along long twisty, dark avenues that lead nowhere and seemingly come out of left field or 2) you are angered, outraged and throwing your remote at the TV for the very same reason.

This all takes place at an elite boarding high school, where 8 elite students are bored with their "elite" existence. The 8 are made of a clichéd range of elite students including the misunderstood troublemaker, the sport-jock-meat-head, the I-think-I'm smarter than everyone else and even "the alternative" I'm doing this to get back at my parents. They play a game where they deceive each other to gain points. It is taken to an extreme, when they all agree to come up with a new game based on the events in town (a woman is shot in the face and her body is dumped in the woods). They decide to create a spam email, in which they fabricate a serial killer and his modus operandi.

This build up is typical, predictable and boring. It takes more than 1/2 the movie to get to the point where we start to wonder :

1) did the killer magically appear through some mass belief ("we-think-therefore-we-are" principle), or

2) is there a real serial killer out there and

a) did he just happen to read one of these emails and become interested or b) was it just cosmic fate where the fictional and reality coincide in the same place (Twilight Zone principle).

3) or the realization that this movie is going nowhere, and we know it's going to annoy us to no end, yet we want to stick around for the car crash just so we can throw anything within reach, at the screen.

Both Bon Jovi and Gary Cole make appearances in the movie, but you wouldn't really take notice due to the bad accents, limited screen time and canned dialog. There really isn't much to this movie. It is trying to "thrill" us, the same way a magician at a 6-year-old's backyard birthday party would pull a rabbit out of a top hat. I say for the sake of your home entertainment system, and your mental state, you avoid this movie and instead read a book or perhaps perform ritualistic body modification on yourself. Anything is better than watching this.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Review of "Runaway Train" (1985)

Runaway Train (1985)

Señor B.B. Stache greets you:
Manheim vs Ranken

I clearly remember the VHS cover of this movie at my local video store (the fore-mentioned mom and pop local video store). I also remember bits and pieces of it from late night cable. With all this exposure, one would think I would actually get to see the movie in it's entirety. Initially, I didn't expect so much passion and depth from this movie. It also seems like this might be an homage or definitely inspired by Jules Dassin's Brute Force.

The movie revolves around a "lifer" inmate (John Voight) at an Alcatrez-like prison in the wilderness of Alaska, run by an sob warden (crazy-eyed John P. Ryan). The warden had Manny (Voight) in a solitary cell, a cell that was welded shut, for three years. The warden is forced to release him after Manny wins his litigation in this matter. Everyone knows, the warden included, as to what Manny is going to do next. Escape or Die Trying !! The escape leads to a train yard and then to a train. Did I mention it takes place during an Alaskan winter ?

This movie has it all. It first starts out as a prison movie. It is very gritty and graphic. It then turns into a escape/heist picture, complete with sidekick (Julia Robert's brother). After the conductor falls off the train, it turns into the Towering Inferno disaster movie on a train. Through all this it is still an action movie. On top of all this, it layered with Shakespearean undertones mixed with Nietschian frosting. John Voight's performance as Manny is simply amazing. I would definitely characterize it as one of his best. Manny is the grit and the experience. He is juxtaposed by the relative innocence and idealism of his sidekick, Buck (Eric Roberts). The warden is the other major player. He acts as the pursuer and yet admires and fears Manny. They are more alike than each gives the other credit for. The train becomes a small stage (or maybe a petri dish) for the human race to play it's game out on.

The finale is filled with everything a heroic epic needs. There is sacrifice, glory, determination, perseverance, freedom and a little bit of sadness. We don't actually see the finale. We just fade to gray and white. I don't think anyone could have done it better. I highly recommend this movie for fans of true cinema.