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Live in PA, have family + 3 kids.
What else can I say to complete strangers? ;)
I Am Legend (2007)
Excellent adaptation proving there is still heart and soul(s?) in the big movie business.
After skimming the book, and having watched the previous two attempts at I Am Legend, I went in hoping for the best, but expecting mediocrity, (or something like the two recent Resident Evil films)... But I was quite surprised and entertained by what I experienced. Though it's true that most of the CG in this film is not very good, it's apparent to me that CG isn't the film's selling point, or what it leans on for merit. It's a well acted, well paced, well directed, and well adapted piece. Honestly, the 'monster' aspect never needed to be front-and-center visually for it to be effective. I thought it was implemented very well (largely in the dark and ultra fast moving scenes where the imagination can assist).
I was hoping for a departure from "The Omega Man", which I thought was an incredibly silly film of what I consider to be the "A-Team variety". But, for the first 30 minutes or so, there were just so many analogs to Charlton Heston's performance that it was getting predictable (though the Will Smith version is hardly as pompous as Heston's). Very quickly, though, I forgot all about that concern and the movie really came into it's own. Smith's character, the environment, and the adversary were all quite different and very well conceived.
I was also expecting vampires (a genre that I'm no big fan of), and was pleasantly surprised at what I found in this film's antagonist to be (which is 28 times more endearing to me than vampires).
The third and probably most detracting thing I was expecting from this film was for it to suffer from the standard droll devices of a big-budget blockbuster: the requisite love story, Rambo shoot-em-up action, and a dialog-over-story plot basis. Oh, and not to mention headlining a traditionally "feel-good" star actor that could probably run for president one day. Fortunately, none of these normally ever-present problems intruded to ruin this film. And though it was indeed an uncharacteristically dark role for Smith in several ways, he pulled it off brilliantly.
Maybe it could have been a little longer, answering more questions and allowing more of the psychodrama to filter in, but it's possible that would have spoiled the excellent balance of jump-in-your seat action vs. the plot/tension building interstital scenes. The theater I saw this in was packed with plenty viewers from the younger crowd (it's hard to believe this film is only PG-13 in the US). However, the entire theater was completely silent and caught in the grip of the films action, story line, and excellent pacing.
I noticed a lot of people taking advantage of what could be considered the 'comic relief' of this film. However, I found some of the 'humorous' parts less than laughable, and more disturbing than anything. When you see this, really try to understand this man's environment and then you will probably better understand his psyche.
I will look forward to more from this relatively unknown writer/director team.
Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
Okay as a Road Warrior style post-apocalyptic film... But a great zombie franchise sequel? Not so much.
In the not too distant future, viral weaponry research and development goes all wrong. What follows is an entertaining vision for any fan of zombie pandemic stories or just plain world/human survival style films. The first film in this franchise is decidedly the best with as-believable-as-can-be ideas, nifty effects, a decent (not over-the-top) story. The second and third films, however, move pretty far away from the basic zombie survival story and much further into character-based stories with a focus on splinter/spin-off concepts like wildly comic book/cartoonish science fiction elements. So if you enjoy movies that are based on comic books or video games that will require you to accept a lot of really over-the-top ideas (like superpowers, supernatural powers, CHUD-style mutation, magic, etc.), then you will still enjoy the latter two films since they are not bad on that merit. They're also okay as general apocalyptic survival stories. However, as a fan of the zombie genre, if you were expecting a solid continuation of the basic story of zombie infection from the first film, these sequels will let you down. The Romero-style zombies in these films are really just extras that apparently just needed to be in the background making room for more intense and faster (though much less believable) antagonists. Maybe this is because films like 28 Days/Weeks and Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead have done much to turn the volume down on lumbering old-style zombies and Paul W.S. Anderson felt that he needed to crank up the action factor.
In RE3, our heroes finally figure out that moving to near the arctic circle would be a good move (you know, COLD + ZOMBIE = IMMOBILE ZOMBIE), and decide to hoof it to Alaska after learning of a possible isolated colony of survivors there. There are a number of new twists on the infection (you will be thinking of Bud The Zombie and/or Bud The CHUD at a few points), and there will be more Boyle/Snyder style zombie goodness to contend with mixed in with the normal zombie hoards.
There were, however, some hold-out thematic elements from the first two films. There are zombie Doberman pinchers, creepy hologram girls with British accents, plenty of zombie-around-the-corner jump-in-your-seat moments, and of course Alice either naked or in hot Road Warrior-style tactical gear. There is the terrible T-Virus infection, and the perfect anti-virus strait out of the X-Files. There are new hints at the answers to old questions, and some new things to think about that still relate to the basic T-Virus. And without a doubt, there's the recurring theme of the evil big corporation (The Umbrella Corp. A.K.A. Halliburton + Merck + United Healthcare) which caused the mess but has managed to out-survive governments and massive population decimation. The moral here? What happens when a capitalistic society allows a private entity to become too powerful? The evil private scientists always plot to rule the world at the expense of the common population.
Anyway, I don't go to the theater to see films often, but I try to make it to the big-budget zombie flicks... However, on the merit of being a zombie film, I could have waited for this one to roll to DVD...
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
The only real zombies: caught between death and heaven.
When I first saw this film as a 12 year-old (what were my parents thinking?) I was unimpressed and recall thinking the movie was stupid. Now that I have done some research into the Vudu (the politically correct spelling) Tetrodotoxin zombies (and have begun to enjoy zombie theory in general), I appreciated this film much more.
Though there are some cheeseball scenes (which I would expect in any Wes Craven film), I think this one was was intended to be taken serious, and some of these pre-CGI effects are done very well. The topic of real zombies has been an interesting subject since US armed forces veterans began bringing stories of the "zombie powder" Vudu traditions back from Haiti in the early part of the last century. Movies like White Zombie and several books detail the application of this medical condition into forced labor or worse.
While Serpent and the Rainbow was entertaining, it's not likely that real zombie powder is standardized in such a way that it's efficacy will follow any reliable pattern, such as the Soap Opera-style "rules" described by the good doctor. i.e.: total zero vital signs, a 12 hour effectiveness, etc. Additionally, this type of toxin will generally leave it's victim severely brain damaged, and most likely good-for-nothing. So, this film takes a bit of creative liberty, and a good imagination will help you enjoy it. Though it's nearly 20 years old, not much is dated (even most of the effects), and it's still a fun viewing now.
Snag it on your DVR!
Shaun of the Dead is elevator music in comparison...
So over-the-top and only gets better...
This zombie film/zombie comedy (I think the movie Dead and Deader coined the term Zomedy) is so over-the-top, and only gets worse (better?) as you progress. Though there is a lot of fanfare about this title now that Peter Jackson is a recognizable name, it's not Peter's name attached that makes this a great film in it's genre. Before watching this, I thought "Oh well, if it's terrible, it's only 97 minutes of my life and I can get some work done while I watch"... After the first 20 minutes or so, I never decided break from the movie.
This is a film that employs so many zombie clichés that it's really incredible. It creates new ones that have been used by other films, and exploits zombie pre-1992 scenes for excellent comic (and general shock) effect. As you begin to think you've seen the last over-the-top effect or idea, it only gets more incredible. The turning and kill scenes really get more and more insanely campy, but in the best of ways. You can feel the ballistic gel squishing. You can hear the hand-in-the-turkey foley art... Classic! Then it has the audacity to try to create familial drama after you are already invested in the extreme campiness. Imagine Evil Dead, but GOOD! Genre fans will love it, casual movie-goers will try to take it seriously and may hate it.
Not a terrible "epic" style movie.
I would argue that there weren't many genuinely original concepts, other than simply shedding some light on Kazakh history. Basically a live action, feel-good version of the Prince of Egypt cartoon, trading Egyptians and Hebrews for nomadic Muslims. But that being said, it was decent and crisp.
Filming locations seemed really great, like LOTR - The Two Towers without any need for CGI! As for rating/violence, it could have almost been PG13 in the US, but I liked this fact. It was a clean-ish film that likens back to the spaghetti western. No over-the-top violence, sex, swearing, or embellishing for the sake of a Hollywood audience. While this generally comes off slightly cartoonish, it was refreshing.
As for the language, I would swear that it seemed to be filmed in English and dubbed in Kazakh. In fact, I don't usually mind a dubbed movie (especially Spanish or Japanese for some reason), but half-way through this film, I realized there was an English audio track and switched it over, and I was more engaged.
The horse work was pretty amazing, I thought.
Again, overall, this film seemed to have all the filming quality of an expensive Hollywood movie, but brought a niceness that's less common in contemporary film (Note: guaranteed NOT to hold the attention of most American youth).
Once the fight begins, blink only with one eye.
This is in the same vein of many "against all odds" historical films like Troy, Gladiator, and Braveheart. It's yet another celluloid testament to the fact that the few brave can affect the tide of time and history. The truth is that without this brand or kind of bravery, the world would be different, in fact, in this particular case, the democratic or free world might not be... or would at least be different that it is. It's interesting that Xerxes actually threatens to burn every Greek parchment. This truly would be a hit to any free society of today.
It's possible that watching "Last Stand of the 300" is a prerequisite for this film. It wouldn't spoil it (if you're wondering). If nothing more, it imparts much gravity to the events of this movie. The true back-story is really something that changed the world, and is in most 10th grade history lesson plans.
I liked the cast of relative unknowns (I wouldn't dare say B-listers!). The physical appearance/tone of the characters and the presence they relate to the audience is very important. In fact, type cast actors or the possibility of bringing reference to other movies into this film could have ruined it. The only character I might have considered recasting with a better-known actor would be that of the Captain (I would have voted for Tom Sizemore).
I only have two negative comments (maybe robbing the film of a star each): 1. The splattering blood/wet sponge foley art that is in many scenes really drew the quality down to that of a complete graphic novel knockoff, or the surreal environment of Sin City. But maybe that's just a Snyder trademark, and is excusable.
2. The dialog. Some of this script is right out of any other 20th century war movie... I'm glad that at LEAST there were were no Schwartzeneger one-liners.
I don't know or care where Zack Snyder came from, but his work is already legendary by my estimation... and I get the feeling he's just at the foot of the mountain.
Watch "Last Stand...", Then get this movie.
Unexpectedly very well done.
About as believable as any good zombie film, Isolation excels at pacing, thorough examination and explanation, and coming full circle with all of the concepts it presents. Something that so many similar movies fail at.
If you are looking for a mindless slasher, watch something else, though there's slightly creepy nuances that beckon back to films like Alien. If you need that human relation-based plot, there might be enough here to keep you satisfied, but the film doesn't rely at all on developing side-stories of love and emotion. Characters have seemingly realistic reactions and make understandable decisions (unclouded by the need to make irrational decisions for the sake of building tension in the script). Scenes follow-through to conclusion and don't seem edited for time.
Isolation leaves no main plot thread unresolved, and stylishly elaborates on the scientific as well as horrific ideas as they presented. I don't think this will be a widely appealing film, but it didn't take any wrong turns. I don't recall any advertising for it. This might mean it's less Nike and more sandal, but there is a time when sandals are practical.
It's every bit as intelligent as the best X-Files episodes, and I wasn't able to find any cheese in the effects, though I half-anticipated it to devolve into Critters or a Texas Chainsaw movie. It didn't, however, and was able to maintain it's integrity throughout.
I thought it was a gamble when I chose to rent this over a well-advertised title. But I now feel it was entertaining enough and well worth picking up.
The Hills Have Eyes II (2007)
What you get without hiring a military technical adviser.
As the film opens, I found myself wondering if I was about to experience something GOOD from Wes Craven.
If you like lots of sloshing "hand-in-the-turkey" foley art, unlikely military situations, and cheesy def lepard songs, you will love this needless remake.
The first remake (2006) caught my attention because it actually took the directorial/writing latitude of allowing bad things to happen to everybody, while keeping the hero survivors at a minimum. This one has few of those qualities, far less situational tense drama, and pathetic military sense.
I tried to figure out if the horrible military accuracy is intentional (considering it IS a National Guard unit), or if it's just the lack of competent oversight (I couldn't find any military adviser in the credits or here). Probably the latter. The uniforms and gear were put together well at first (though everything was obviously new, that's a possibility for reservists/Guard).
Anyway, it's a testament to how lacking in content this film was that all I did was analyze technical detail like the freshmen foley work and military blundering. In fact, they should have left the military aspect out of the film if they didn't want to do it right.
It's not nearly the original, and as with most sequels, fails to capture anything of value from the first film, nor add any new intelligence vector.
The Mars Underground (2007)
As Excellent a documentary as it is wonderful propaganda.
In terms of information (concise, lay information at that!), this documentary was spot on. I found it on my DVR from the Discovery Science Channel (I routinely record "space" night every week). Though the film tends to focus on all of Robert Zubrin's theories exclusively, it's a great poster tool for pushing the agenda of manned space exploration past the moon. I suspect the film's title is a reference to the Mars society, and not to Mars geology (which is what I was thinking at first). Although I'm not a member of the Mars society, but I do agree with the case for Mars in general, and this was more exciting than an hour of watching the Mars rovers slowly dig an inch into Mars' surface.
Although I like to consider myself pretty familiar with these topics, this documentary really gave me insight into the history and primary concepts of the argument for Mars that I never really knew before. The Mars Underground actually answered many questions that I knew to ask from my experience that I would have thought would go unanswered in this short documentary. In the first few moments, I was already asking about radiation, provisions, bone mass loss (due to gravity), and the overwhelming cost of a short Mars trip only to throw around some dirt and plant a flag.
Dr. Zubrin's very bold plans really throw standard convention and the tendency to inject too much bureaucracy into a simple project. His almost shoestring budget and nearly arrogant propositions are aligned with the same thinking of the Apollo missions, Christopher Columbus, and other major pioneering ventures. But it's what is needed to take that next step and step out of our reductionist couch comfort to do what's right for humanity in the name of life itself.
The Shadow Walkers (2006)
Very poor acting of most every character. Goofy effects and makeup.
That about sums it up, so rather than really reviewing much more, here are the high (low?) points:
In the stolen plot devices category:
1) Chemical gas knocking out genetics lab employees (who wake up with temporary memory loss): Resident Evil
2) Tedious dance across thin object bridging an abyssal drop while evading or escaping: The Poseidon Adventure (new one), The Fellowship of the Ring, most any action film with an elevator scene, and many others... (take your pick).
3) Immense facility to provide perfect settings for zombie confrontations and on which the world's safety from pandemic tragedy relies on containment of said facility: (entire Resident Evil franchise).
4) Somewhat sentient zombie-like antagonists that have very human memories and abilities, but still want to kill everyone: Every poorly-done A-Team variety zombie film ever made.
Other random poorly conceived or implemented ideas:
1) Doctor or Lab tech (white coat staff) wearing fishnet top.
2) General Death Star-like abyss of a "Genetic Containment Unit".
3) Blatantly stealing "You are one ugly Mother..." from Predator.
4) Having a survivor maintain a fist-fight with an obviously superior "infected" (or whatever you want to call it) mutated human who's saliva would only infect the survivor as he hits it.
5) Adding generic porn-film quality soundtrack by an 80's soundtrack band in an attempt to sound like Slipknot in Resident Evil or somehow appeal to a younger party crowd.
6) The very much cliché idea that Big Bad (not to mention always bungling) "Military Industrial Complex" is of course responsible for the inevitable mess of genetically engineered zombie hordes every time.
7) Use of the word "Prion" in the script in an attempt to impart some sense of intelligence or scientific reasoning.
8) Adding the genetic mutation of fangs and long, sharp claws to the film's antagonists, only to have them very carefully avoid using them in nearly attack every scene (presumably to avoid having to have makeup/effects re-apply them when they pop off/out).