Monday, October 31, 2011

Ghostbusters I & II

The following isn't going to be as much of a review as an account of my own personal experiences with these films. But let's be real - you don't need me to tell you to watch Ghostbusters.

For me, Ghostbusters isn't just a great funny film, but really the start of my existence as a geek. I was only three when the movie was released in theaters, so my first viewing of it was when my parents recorded the movie onto VHS from HBO. I'm fairly certain I was six years old. In no time this movie became an obsession for both me and my brother. The library ghost scared us, but after that it was just pure silliness and fun. I cannot possibly count the number of times we watched this movie. We also watched the cartoon faithfully, and owned the action figures, not to mention a real working ghost trap and proton pack that we would take turns catching ghosts with all the time.

This was also where I met my first love. His name was Egon Spangler, and I thought he was adorable and I wanted to marry him and have lots of babies. I even went so far as to insist that my two best friends also pick a ghostbuster to be married to. I imagined us having ten children, including two sets of twins. I had names and personalities for all of them, but sadly I can't remember them anymore. The seeds of me being a writer were planted right then and there.

I eventually left this obsession behind for The Little Mermaid and then Bill & Ted, so there was a large gap for me where I didn't watch either film for quite awhile. It was only on the release of the DVD set that I finally sat down to watch these films again. Imagine my surprise when I realized just how many dirty jokes they contained. I really think that's one of the great things about these movies though, that it can appeal to both kids and adults in equal measure. The only side effect being that I feel a little creeped out for being attracted to Egon now.

I got the chance to go see Ghostbusters during its limited theater re-release this October.  I was a little disappointed that so few people had turned up, there were probably only twenty of us in there at most.  I was also surprised to see how grainy the film looked, considering that it was described as a "digital presentation" on the ticket.  Silly me thought that might mean they cleaned it up.  Though I guess the graininess just sort of adds to the feelings of nostalgia.

Watching it again I realized that a large part of the appeal of the film is that each Ghostbuster is truly likeable in his own way.  My dear Egon is the smart one who figures out how to contain the ghosts and how to defeat them, along with having an obvious weakness for junk food.  Ray is called "the heart of the Ghostbusters" by Peter at one point, and he's not kidding.  Dan Aykroyd's real life enthusiasm for the paranormal really shows through in the sometimes dimwitted but always loveable character.  Winston's no nonsense approach represents the everyman dealing with these crazy situations.  And of course there's Peter, who steals the show and is ultimately the most quotable character in the whole film.  He can be a total jerk, but you also know why Dana Barrett falls for him anyway, because it's really hard not to smile at a guy like that.

Speaking of Dana, I love that once again Sigourney Weaver is playing a strong female character.  She could easily be portrayed as a damsel in distress in this kind of situation, but she's sure of herself and confident, just naturally freaked about the strange things going on in her apartment.  And then there's Rick Moranis playing the absolutely hilarious Louis, though he perhaps is even funnier once he becomes Vinz Clortho.  Annie Potts is also great as the ultra sarcastic Janine, and let's not forget the man we all love to hate, Walter Peck.  Has anyone ever asked William Atherton what it's like to play characters that are so loathed?  I would imagine it has to be a mix of really fun and really annoying at times.

One of the details I noticed while watching it on the larger screen is the moment where the Ghostbusters are in jail and going over the blueprints.  There are some extras in the background who are really going above and beyond, acting as if they are having a conversation that equates to "Can you believe these guys?"  It's hilarious.

I was old enough to see Ghostbusters II when it hit theaters, and I remember being very excited. I can still remember seeing that final painting before the end credits up on the large screen. Whenever it premiered on television we taped it and added that to our movie viewing rotation. It boggles me that this movie is largely judged as not very good, because to me it's just more of the same silly fun.

Watching it again this weekend I still giggled hysterically when the guys powered on their proton packs for  the first time and say "Doe... Ray... Egon!"   The look on Harold Ramis' face, like he's so proud of himself, just completely makes it.  Peter MacNicol is also a great addition to the cast, playing neurotic and creepy all at the same time.

What is it about the film people don't like?  I don't see Vigo and the slime under NYC to be any stranger or sillier than Gozer with his gatekeeper and keymaster.  Is it the overly positive message at the end?  Given that it's set during Christmas and New Year's Eve, I figure that goes along with the territory.  You can't say that this one is more for kids either because there's tons of adult jokes that flew over my head at the time.  I remember how shocked I was when I watched it as an adult and realized what they really meant during the "Are you sleeping with it?" joke.  I swear I just thought he took it and slept next to it back then.  I will say I do think Bill Murray plays Peter a little more goofy than the previous ultra-sarcastic version in the first film, but I don't see it as bad, just different.

The special features on the Ghostbusters II  disc features two episodes of The Real Ghostbusters.  One is an early episode that explains how Slimer came to live with the Ghostbusters full time in the firehouse, and the other is much later, when the show became Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters and was updated to reflect the changes that happened in Ghostbusters II.  I found the first episode just okay, and the second a bit too stupid to finish.  It successfully killed off any urge I was feeling to possibly buy the DVD set of the show.  As much as I loved it back then it doesn't seem to hold up for me.  I would hear Lorenzo Music's voice and just think of Garfield, for one.  It also reminded me how much the cartoon used to focus on the ghosts, and for whatever reason that just doesn't interest me like it used to.

The good news is the toys are still awesome.  I've got the Stay Puft figure, a scared Peter and Ray (weren't those the best?), as well as a normal Peter and Egon and a Ray who used to have some kind of toy attachments that we've since lost - he looks like he's wearing some kind of gadget armor.

So what are your memories of the Ghostbusters?  Any awesome collector's items you want to show off?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Two Year Anniversary

This blog is now officially two!  Does that mean I'm supposed to get cranky and say "no!" on here a lot now?

It really doesn't seem like it's been long at all.  This blog has now received more than 13,000 page views, which seems rather fitting for an anniversary date so close to Halloween.

Over the past year I've gone through the entirety of the Harry Potter series, done a month long X-men marathon, seen a lot of horror films, completed the Monsters vs Aliens Challenge, and started doing videos as well.  I feel sort of exhausted just looking at all that.

I want to offer a deep amount of thanks to all of you for reading, retweeting, and otherwise sharing this blog.  It means a lot to me that you guys enjoy what I do.  I also love discussing everything with you guys in the comments and on twitter!

What's next? Well, I can tell you that I'm going back on my word when I said I wouldn't do anymore marathons.  The next one will definitely be shorter than the X-men marathon though!  It's coming up in November in relation to a movie release I'm very excited for.  There's also guaranteed to be more X-men, more Batman, and more horror related posts.  I also plan to start doing more video reviews.  I hope you guys will enjoy it!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

Growing up I was familiar with the Frank Oz musical film Little Shop of Horrors, and had no idea that was it was actually a remake. The original film is not a musical, but otherwise shares much of the same plot. It was hard for me to not make comparisons as I watched this one, but I think they both shine in their own ways.

If you manage to find a DVD copy of this film, you'll probably see it labeled as starring Jack Nicholson, which is very misleading. While Nicholson's part is an absolute must see, it's only a small role. If you're familiar with the 1986 movie, it's the same role that Bill Murray plays in that one. He's a masochist who goes to the dentist office in order to be hurt, and he plays it so over the top it's just hysterical. Beyond that one scene the actors are all unknowns, unless of course you've seen enough Roger Corman films that you know the actors he normally works with.

I didn't really know what to expect going in to this film. I had never seen any of Corman's work previously, but I had heard stories. The stories are very similar to what you hear about Ed Wood and Uwe Boll films - using the same actors, reusing sets, story ideas being made up either shortly before or as the movie is being made. Plan 9 from Outer Space is hilarious, but not an actual good film. Imagine my surprise when I realized just how strong this one actually is.

The dialogue is sharp and witty for the most part, and the movie moves at a decent pace. There's also a silly chase scene toward the end of the film that is pretty funny. The horror elements aren't bad either, as we see Seymour feed Audrey II actual body parts and watch the plant grow bigger and bigger. It is low budget, so you can't expect anything too impressive here, but for the time period and style of film I think it works perfectly. At only 70 minutes long and in the public domain, this is definitely a film you should check out some time. I highly recommend it.

I also recommend the 1986 version. Ellen Greene, who plays Audrey, has a voice that can get on your nerves, but since it's being played for comedic effect it's really not that bad. With a team like Alan Menken and Howard Ashman writing the songs, you probably expect them to be good, and you're right. It also has much stronger actors, including Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, and the aforementioned Bill Murray. It ends a bit differently than the original film, but I'm okay with both endings. A different ending that was closer to the original was apparently rejected by test audiences, but we're supposed to see that on the Blu Ray release next year.

So the only decade I have left now is the 1980s. The films I've chosen also star two of the actors mentioned in the above paragraph, and if you haven't figured out what I'm referring to by now, then I guess you slept through the 80s. Perhaps you could make a phone call and find out. But who are you going to call?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

It's kind of hard to review a book when you're not finished it yet, but since I'm trying to judge the movies as adaptations, I figured it would be best to split the posts up. I remember feeling on the edge of my seat for most of my first read through, and that's definitely not happening here. I guess knowing already who lives and who doesn't can do that to you. That's not to say the book is badly paced or lacking in action - I did just happen to feel like Harry, Hermione, and Ron agonizing over how to find the horcruxes did go on a bit though. Not to mention the "Was Dumbledore a bad guy?" angle here on display. Suffice to say that if you attempted to cut the book right here, you would feel incredibly cheated. But how about the film?

It's pacing does feel a bit uneven to me. While things do move along quicker in the movie than they do in the book, I still can't help but feel like the middle is just a lot of camping with stuff happening before and after. It is, at least, a decent spot to stop the action on, allowing there to be enough build up and action in the second film, and basically making this film about being on a journey whereas part 2 is primarily all about the final battles.

As far as changes, there really aren't very many. I noticed that a lot of the lines are taken directly out of the book. We're back to how it was with the Sorcerer's Stone, where changes are only made to move things along or amp up the action. The beginning scene is really well done, and watching Hermione erase her parents' memories is really heartbreaking. I would have liked to have seen the moment between Dudley and Harry here, but given how little we've seen of the Dursleys over the last few films, it would be pretty out of place to those who only watched the movies.

I do wonder how confusing it must be for a film only viewer, the way they sort of dump all the information on us. Here's Bill, he got attacked by a werewolf before. You remember Fleur, don't you? Oh yeah, by the way, Remus and Tonks are married now and here's a slight little clue that she's pregnant. This guy's name is Mundungus, you haven't seen him before but he's about to be fairly important in the next 20 minutes. And that's all in just one scene! I do think they handled it as best as they could though.


The whole book is full of deaths and serious injuries, so it's kind of hard to avoid spoilers, but I'm trying to keep my promise until the very end.

Please tell me I'm not the only one who is more upset about Hedwig's death than Mad Eye. I think a large part of the problem is that when we get to know Mad Eye, he's actually Barty Crouch Jr., and from there forward he's just a paranoid protector escorting Harry to and fro. Hedwig, on the other hand, has been with us from the beginning and I think Rowling did a great job of giving her personality. Hedwig's death differs in the film and the book, and I can't entirely decide which is better. In the book it serves as our first real WTF?! moment and makes it clear to us that all bets are off when it comes to who will live or die. In the movie she had been set free, and could have sailed off peacefully to meet up with them later, but yet she clearly loves Harry and wants to protect him. It also serves to make Harry a little smarter, as in the book it is his use of Expelliarmus that gives him away, and really that is a stupid move on his part.

Inserting Dobby into the scene where Kreacher retrieves Mundungus makes sense, because film viewers haven't seen him at all since the Chamber of Secrets, and it functions as a nice reminder of who he is before his big final moment at the end. As I said in my Chamber of Secrets review, I didn't really like Dobby. So imagine my surprise that when I read this book the first time, I was crying so hard for him. Even on the second reading, I got a bit misty eyed. It is so much worse in the film for me. I sobbed for him when I saw it in the theaters the first time, and I wasn't much better on my second viewing last night. It's so well done, I think you have to be a pretty stoic person not to.

Wormtail doesn't get his end in the film, but I think that was probably a rating issue. Seeing a man strangled by his own silver hand would be pretty gruesome. The timing of Voldemort gaining the elder wand is also a little off, but it makes perfect sense why they rearrange it here. The end result is still that he gets to it before Harry can do anything about it, so that's really all that matters.

Less than a month to go before Deathly Hallows Part 2 is released on DVD/Blu ray, and I think I'm going to make it! Actually, at the rate I've been reading it is entirely possible that I may finish before it's out, and I'm going to have to do my best to keep everything fresh in my head so I don't forget what's changed and what's not. Deathly Hallows the book really is a quick, easy read, and not just because it is shorter that the few preceding books.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cannibal! The Musical

When I originally chose a 90s era horror comedy, I decided I was going to see if I could actually sit through Dead Alive. However it's not available on Netflix Streaming, and I didn't want to pay to rent something I might very well turn off before the end. Perhaps one day, when I'm not feeling so squeamish, I'll take the risk.

In having to go back to the drawing board, I realized there was a film I had added to my Netflix Streaming queue ages ago, but had never actually watched yet. I imagine it was my love of South Park and BASEketball that made Netflix suggest it for me, as this is a film made by Trey Parker and Matt Stone while they were still film students. It is far more black comedy meets musical than a horror film, but there's no denying there are definitely horror elements here.

With the very first opening scene, I started to wonder if I had really chosen a "safer" choice. We watch a crazed cannibal maniac taking bites out of a group of other people. Of course it's hard not to laugh here, as watching him rip a rather fake looking arm off a man and then proceed to beat him with it can only be seen as comical. It turns out this gory moment is actually just a "reenactment" of what the prosecutor is telling the court at Alferd Packer's trial.

This is in fact based on a true story, as Alferd Packer was a real guy who was tried for killing and cannibalizing his companions on a trip from Utah to Colorado where they got lost in the snow, something we're all a little more familiar with as a Donner party situation. It is of course a loose basis, as given the time period and Packer's changing confessions, no one really knows for sure what happened. And of course, it's a comedy, so you can't expect true accuracy here anyway.

The film doesn't have the same hilarity as the finer episodes of South Park or the aforementioned BASEketball, but there are definitely some strong moments that show the potential of these future comedy superstars. The songs are done in the same style that South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut would later follow. It's a kind of tribute to musicals like Oklahoma! and Pollyanna, with over the top and absurd lyrics. The same rude, crude humor that has made them famous shows itself here with the song "When I Was On Top Of You." It's about his horse, of course, what were you thinking of?

One of the things that tickled me the most was when the traveling group runs into the "Nihonjin" tribe, a supposed Native American group played entirely by Japanese actors who speak Japanese to the characters. It's just the perfect kind of silliness, with a nod to the fact that Indian characters in westerns were rarely played by true Native Americans, that just hit my funny bone perfectly.

The horror doesn't really show up again until the cannibalism occurs, about halfway through the film. The group suggests that they should act like the Donner party and eat their dead companion to survive. Once he is gone, they are still hungry and wondering who they should eat next. Packer goes out alone to try to find help, and when he returns he finds all but one of his companions dead. This is based on at least one of the confessions Packer gave in real life. When Packer faces off against Bell, the remaining companion, the gore is once again ramped up to comedic effect here. I believe the official term is "splatstick" and while the guys were performing on a very low budget, it is indeed hilarious. If there's any scene of the film you need to see, this one is it. The squeamish need not be concerned as it definitely rests heavily more in the comical realm than gross.

Overall, the film felt a little dry to me. There's some really great scenes, but it sort of drags in between, and the songs are not as strong as their later South Park efforts. I think it's definitely a must see for anyone who is a fan of Parker and Stone, but the rest can probably skip it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

When looking through a list of horror comedies from the 1970s, I figured I had two main choices. The two that stood out the most were Young Frankenstein and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I loved Young Frankenstein, but I decided it was time to give another chance to RHPS, which I've always had a distant relationship with.

Rocky Horror always seemed more like an event than a movie when I was growing up. People would spend their Friday nights putting on costumes and going to one of the more rundown theaters in the area, where I heard they would shout at the screen, throw things, and haze people who were brand new to the experience. This last part guaranteed I would never go, despite how curious I was about the whole thing. I had no interest in being humiliated just because I was interested in what the whole thing was all about. It's possible that the true experience is no where near that bad, but that's certainly how people made you think it was.

At some point (I can't remember the year anymore) VH1 got the rights to show the film, and they started it off by playing it repeatedly one weekend. I tuned in out of curiosity, but quickly turned it off, completely baffled as to what the big deal was. I caught scenes on and off as I flipped through the channels that weekend, but it just left me shrugging. I figured it wasn't for me and I just left it at that.

However with this theme I decided to give it another try, especially since my knowledge of classic horror and B movies have grown quite a bit since then. I was still a bit unsure if this truly counted as a comedy film, so I asked Twitter yesterday, and got an affirmative from nearly everyone who answered.

I think my skepticism for that fact is that The Rocky Horror Picture Show is not the type of film that is meant to make you hold on to your sides laughing hard throughout. It is campy, absurdist humor drawn out to the extreme. The main characters spend the majority of the movie in their underwear, the cast is full of strange looking people, and bizarre things happen throughout.

There are some genuinely funny scenes that made me laugh, but they mostly were all gathered in the middle of the film when Dr. Scott shows up. After the silly dinner party though, we're back to just strange scenes held together by musical numbers. I think perhaps that's what stops me from calling the film truly funny. Musicals are already naturally absurd due to the fact that they are set in a world where people often feel the need to break into song or dance in order to express their emotions. Does the setting of a mad doctor's castle automatically make it more funny than one set in Oklahoma?

As a tribute to B movie films, it handles its job well. Dr. Frank-N-Furter is a fun campy rendition of Dr. Frankenstein, played excellently by Tim Curry. Susan Sarandon does well as both the damsel in distress and the good girl gone bad, and Meat Loaf makes the most of his brief scene as Eddie. For whatever reason I found myself really drawn to the character of Columbia, played by Nell Campbell. Her voice definitely makes her hard to miss, but she also seemed like the most tragic of all the characters and I couldn't help but feel for her.

I think when it comes down to it, how you're going to feel about this movie has everything to do with how you'll feel about the music. "Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me" has been in my head pretty much the entire time I'm writing this review, and it's starting to get a little annoying. I enjoy Tim Curry's performances, but the style of music just doesn't grab me. I'm not a huge musical fan in general, so that shouldn't be a surprise.

So in the end, the result is still the same - this movie is not for me. I'm still glad I watched it though. It's a fun part of both musical and B movie history that I think everyone should watch at least once.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Monsters vs Aliens Challenge: The Fly (1958 & 1986)

It's sort of hard to believe I've reached the end of this challenge. I also wish I would have known ahead of time how I was going to feel about this movie, because I don't like ending the series on a bad note. I don't like writing negative reviews at all really, but I guess when you sign up for a challenge you don't really have a choice.

The Fly (1958)

Like many 50s sci-fi films, The Fly is the story of a scientist trying to do things man wasn't meant to and dealing with the consequences. I think that's a fairly simple plot that nearly all of us can understand, especially in a world where technology advances farther and farther each decade. One of the problems with this movie is that it feels the need to talk down to us about it for far too long.

As the movie starts, the scientist is already dead. His brother, played by Vincent Price, gets a phone call and goes over to their factory to discover his brother crushed by a hydraulic press and his sister in law apparently guilty of the murder. Just telling you that, I bet you already know exactly what happened. Yet this movie feels the need to draw out scenes of the wife saying she doesn't know why but she did kill him, and debate on whether or not she knew how to operate the machine, etc. She's also obsessed with finding a white headed fly. Finally, after 30 minutes of sitting through this, Vincent Price convinces her to talk and we flashback to find out what happened.

Scientist Andre Delambre has built a teleportation machine. It originally works for inanimate objects, but when he puts their beloved pet cat through, it disappears. That poor cat. It also bothers me that his wife and son never seem to notice she's missing. Anyway, after tweaking the machine a little, he manages to keep a guinea pig alive and therefore assumes it's all ready for humans. He tests it on himself, but unfortunately a fly sneaks in there too and they swap heads and a single arm.

You would think the brain would go along with the head, but apparently not. For awhile at least, he's able to think and types out messages to his wife. He keeps his head hidden under a sheet so she can't see how hideous he is. Finally, after an hour and fifteen minutes into the movie, we get the reveal and a wonderful blood curdling scream from the wife when she sees him.

I know I've complained about this many times throughout the challenge, but I just can't understand it. If you're going to go through all the effort of building these masks and effects, don't you want to show them off?

The other thing I found a little odd as I was watching it was the fact that the fly slowly taking over his brain meant that he was turning evil. These days we mostly just think of flies as annoying pests that are attracted to garbage. But it is worth mentioning that Beelzebub translates to "Lord of the Flies" so at least at one point or another people felt differently.

Beyond Vincent Price, who is enjoyable in pretty much anything he's ever done, the main redeeming moment of this movie is toward the very end, when we see the fly that now has a man's head and arm. Its tiny cries of "Help me!" along with its rather creepy appearance are really well done for the time period. Unfortunately, I spent most of the rest of the film just wishing it was over already.

The Fly (1986)

However, had I known what was coming, I think I would have relished all that slow moving preaching. The one thing I had always heard about this version of The Fly was that it was gross. The effects in this movie are in fact disgusting, nauseating, and squirm worthy. Rather than a head/arm swap, the scientist, called Seth Brundle here, is merged with the fly on a genetic level, and slowly takes on more and more fly qualities as the movie progresses. At first it's just some breakouts on his face and some coarse hair on his back, but then his fingernails fall off. And we're forced to watch him pick off every single one (Okay, I totally looked away after the first one, so I could be wrong here. But who could sit through that? Yuck.) Puss oozes off him, he vomits acid because that's the only way he can eat, his teeth fall out, one ear just flops off while he's talking one day... it's really bad.

Perhaps even worse is the story. With no introduction what so ever, Brundle walks up to a woman at a party, played by Geena Davis, and asks her if she wants to go back to his place to see his invention. She's a journalist looking for a big story, so she follows him. He manages to teleport one of her stockings, so she's all impressed. She goes back to a guy who runs a science magazine to tell him about it, and we eventually find out this is her ex-boyfriend. It's the most pointless subplot ever, as she thinks he's a jerk but then acts like they're friends whenever the plot calls for it. I'm usually not one to think about the bechdel test when it comes to movies, but would it have killed them to insert a female friend in here for her to talk to later? Anyway, it quickly becomes a love triangle as after attempting to teleport a baboon and having the poor thing come through without its skin, she seduces Brundle. I guess she loves gross things. She babbles some nonsense about the appeal of flesh, and somehow this makes him realize what he needs to do to fix the machine.

After another baboon turns out fine (Where is he getting them from? Is there a baboon shop somewhere?) he goes through, but of course the fly is in there too. He becomes superhuman at first, and we endure a long scene full of a gymnast pretending to be Jeff Goldblum and doing flips. Then it is implied that the two of them have sex for a really long time, and he still doesn't finish. He wants her to go through the machine so she can be superhuman too (he doesn't know about the fly yet) but she's scared. So he picks up a chick at a bar, impressing her by arm wrestling a guy and breaking one of his bones so it goes through the skin. But she won't go through the machine either, so he's back at square one. This is about when all the ultra disgusting transformation stuff starts happening.

Geena Davis finds out she's pregnant, and wants to have an abortion because she's afraid the baby will be a fly baby. We know this because she has a dream sequence where she births a giant maggot. When in doubt, just assume this movie is going for the most disgusting way possible to show you anything. "Brundlefly," as he is now calling himself, wants to save the baby and therefore kidnaps her to stop her from having the abortion. Creepy ex-boyfriend who thinks no means yes now becomes the hero who is out to stop Brundlefly with a shotgun, except he gets hit with acid in the hand and then ankle so we can watch them melt.

Geena Davis manages to convince Brundlefly not to kill him, and that's when everything gross up to this point becomes mild and tame as we watch the last of the human parts slowly but surely fall off him to reveal a fly creature underneath. During that whole sequence I was squirming and shouting "nightmare fuel!" in my head, but once the actual fly creature was shown, I actually thought he was kind of cute by comparison. This is how this movie can warp your mind. Anyway, after badly acting by crying, "No, I can't!" Geena Davis blows the fly creature's head off and the movie ends as abruptly as it began.

Both of these films have sequels, but I think I would need alcohol and payment in order to sit through them. Apparently, there is yet another remake coming in 2012, starring Charlie Sheen and Robert Downey, Jr. It looks to be a closer remake to the 1958 version, in at least they are using the Delambre last name.

The reason I had to sit through these is Dr. Cockroach in Monsters vs Aliens. He is voiced by Hugh Laurie. I've only ever seen one episode of House, but his performance here does tempt me to see more. The character is largely your typical mad scientist type, but that doesn't make him any less entertaining. This scientist actually transformed himself on purpose, though he wanted the strength and endurance of the cockroach, not its appearance. It sort of works as a nice nod to the 1986 The Fly, though I'm not sure why anyone would want to acknowledge such a horrible movie. There's a really fun sequence in this film as Dr. Cockroach gleefully tries a few experiments on Ginormica to try to get her back down to normal size.

So what happens now that I've completed the challenge? It's safe to say there will be more viewing of silly 50s horror and alien sci-fi movies in the future, but I probably will only stop to review the ones I actually enjoy and think you should watch.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Shaun of the Dead

Is there anyone out there who doesn't love October? The weather is awesome and all our thoughts tend to drift to Halloween, one of the best holidays ever. Lots of other people out there are celebrating the month with horror themes and some are even performing the daunting task of doing a new review every day of the month! I'm not even going to attempt to do that, but since Halloween is a Monday this year, I thought it would be fun to do a different horror movie review every Monday. Since the genre is quite large, I decided to narrow it down to horror comedies and pick one for each of the last five decades. As you can probably tell by the title of this post, I'm not going in chronological order.

I was first exposed to Shaun of the Dead when I was still being a complete wimp about horror. After hurricane Katrina I was staying in a camp house that had been graciously offered to my family as a place to stay in the two weeks before we were allowed to go back home. It was in a fairly remote location, as most camp houses are, and could have been the setting of a horror movie itself, with the bayou right behind the length of camp houses that was sure to contain alligators and one rickety bridge you held your breath as you drove over to get to the nearest grocery store. The cable was also terrible. I don't know if it was stolen from a neighbor or just that the lines were that bad in the area, but we watched the news in faded colors and wobbly lines. We were obviously forced to occupy our time with other things, and beyond the one and only Monopoly game I've ever finished in my life, I believe my brother actually went and bought a cheap DVD player on one of our excursions into town. I bought the first season of Lost and watched it all in one weekend, and he had gotten Shaun of the Dead.

I was apprehensive to watch it, but he assured me there was only one really gross scene, and he would let me know when it was coming. I am so glad I didn't chicken out. I absolutely love this movie. It's hilarious, has a great story arc, and is surprisingly emotional in parts. Start to finish, it's just a beautifully well done movie.

What makes this movie so strong is that at the heart of it, it's about a guy (named Shaun, obviously) who has let himself sort of coast through life up to this point at the age of 29, and is now being forced to pull himself together and make a plan for his future. It just so happens that the night his girlfriend dumps him for having no direction is also the night the zombie apocalypse happens. Shaun gets to prove himself by trying to keep her and their group of friends alive through the chaos.

As much as I love this movie, I hadn't watched it for quite awhile before I watched it again for the review. I'm actually happy about that, as the jump scares (most of which are legitimate and not at all cheap) still got me. It was also fun for me that I've now seen Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, so that both the line "We're coming to get you, Barbara!" and that one gross scene in the film had a lot more meaning to me this time around.

Edgar Wright shows here what he proved later with both Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs the World, that he is truly a lover of film and knows how to pay tribute to genre, all while injecting it with a great amount of humor. I love his quick camera cuts to move the plot along and I love the music choices throughout as well.

One of the best things about the movie for me is the way it approaches the idea of a zombie apocalypse from such a realistic level. Showing us how people resemble zombies on the first day is not only funny, but true, and it makes sense when Shaun doesn't truly notice what is going on once the zombies are there. Since we're watching a film, we know right off the bat that the strange woman in Shaun's backyard would be a zombie. But if you found someone staggering around your backyard, wouldn't you assume they were drunk too? And then of course, there's the matter of what do you use to disable them? I love that they grab all manner of objects from inside the house, desperate to find something, anything, that might hurt the zombies. What albums would you refuse to part with? I certainly wouldn't give up the few Beatles records I have.

The realism leads to something that is a nice change of pace for these types of films - for the most part, you're not yelling at the characters for doing something incredibly stupid. Of course Shaun will want to leave his safe zone to rescue his mother and the woman he loves. It's natural for his mother to insist on taking along his stepdad, even though we all know what's going to happen to him. Speaking of, Bill Nighy is just fantastic here. He plays an excellent jerk, and then in that last moment before he turns, he really does make you sympathize with the character and feel for him. Penelope Wilton is also great as Shaun's mother, and her later "I didn't want to be a bother" moment is just absolutely heartbreaking. I don't think you go into a slapstick horror comedy expecting to get so attached to characters as you do here, and it's a really refreshing change. Even characters designed to annoy you have enough human elements to feel like real people. I can't heap enough praise on the entire cast for pulling this off so well.

I think my absolute favorite part of the movie, and I'm sure I'm not alone, is the "Don't Stop Me Now" fight/dance scene. It is at once absolutely hilarious and yet also great action that gets you all jazzed up for the characters.

There is, of course, a fair amount of blood in the movie, but I like that a lot of the really nasty stuff happens off camera. Beyond the fact that it allows you to use your imagination while you hear those sickening thuds and squelching noises, as a movie that is primarily a comedy, a splatterfest isn't really necessary. The one particularly gross scene works well as a parody of Dawn of the Dead, though I'll admit before I knew about that film I didn't see any particular purpose for it.

I think more than anything, this film is a great "gateway drug." If you've got a friend who doesn't like horror, promise to warn them about the gross parts and sit down to watch it with them. I guarantee you they'll be so busy laughing they won't mind. Make it a double feature with Zombieland and afterward they just might be asking you to pull out those other zombie films you own.
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