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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Dawn of The Dead: 1978

Release date: May 24, 1979 (USA)
Director: George A. Romero
Prequel: Night of the Living Dead
Sequel: Day of the Dead

Screenplay: George A. Romero

"When there's no more room in @#!*% , the dead will walk the earth...and George A. Romero will direct a sequel to Night of the Living Dead". Dawn of the Dead is drastically different from it's predecessor for many reasons. I couldn't tell you which of the two is the better one for this reason. They are both great zombie movies in their own ways. But I don't want to talk about "Night of the Living Dead" because I already did. Let's dive right into the sub-genre that won't stay dead! This is "Dawn of the Dead".

Four people try to survive inside of a shopping mall inhabited by zombies. 
Many wacky hi-jinks ensue.  

The film begins just like any zombie film introducing us to the situation at hand. Romero teaches newcomers what a zombie is without someone shouting exposition...almost. We are also introduced to two people who work in news and two others who work as SWAT's (or police or something like that). These four people will take the audience out of one genre, and into another...sort of. I mean, we all know what a zombie is, right? For whatever reason, the dead rise from the earth and devour the living. The living die and turn into zombies. Rinse and repeat. And this is scary! Mostly a film like this will stay within the confines of horror, but there are certain moments where "Dawn of the Dead" turns into a comedy! And it works for one main reason. The zombies serve a different purpose than they did in "Night of the Living Dead". In that film, zombies appeared at night, at cemeteries, hunting the living who needed to band together in an abandoned house or cabin, in the middle of nowhere. These ideas are very Gothic and dark and they all work. For George A. Romero a zombie movie wasn't defined by how fast the zombies ran. In fact, the focus was on everything but. 

You focus on the characters and their efforts to work together and survive. You focus on the mood and setting, be it cemetery, or shopping mall. Production value is a whole different thing, and if you want a vomit inducing film then practical effects are the way to go, and we'll get to that later. But at the moment those elements are all you really need in a good zombie film. But I think that "Dawn of the Dead" took the genre one step further by having zombies serve as a statement rather than a plot device. The film explained that the reason so many zombies have congregated inside the mall is because is was their basic human instinct to do so. They all traveled to a place where they once felt happy. I think that this idea alone is what made "Dawn of the Dead" a comedy for me. And I can't really explain how even having people being eaten alive by zombies won't take comedic value away from it. If you don't really consider it as a sequel to "Night of the Living Dead", and look at it as it's own world, then you shouldn't have a problem with the differences between the two.

And the shopping mall! What a wonderful place to have all to yourself! I believe that "Dawn of the Dead" is the first to experiment with this sort of thing, because afterwards movies and games have taken this idea to other levels. But it all started in a shopping mall. Maybe the idea of having everything for the taking is capitalizing on this idea of greed, and a need to need things. I think that it's sort of a parallel to how zombies need to consume the living to stay un-dead. And that's pretty cool. I mean, if that's what Romero was going for. I might be thinking too deeply into that, but it might be something to think about.

The practical effects in "Dawn of the Dead" are amazing! They only show up mostly during the last quarter of the film, but it's totally worth the wait. And that isn't to say that the film pays off then, or that someone who doesn't appreciate practical effects isn't going to like it. You're going to like "Dawn of the Dead" if you enjoy a good zombie movie. There's surprisingly more survival aspects in this film than it's predecessor. You spend a little more time loving the characters than you do hating them, I can't complain about the actors...hell, I don't think I can complain about anything. But if I had to find something to nitpick I suppose it would have to be the lack of psychological trauma. I would have liked to see the whole shopping center, where everything's all fake and smiling, be contrasted by someone losing their grip on reality. But maybe I'm wrong, and this isn't the film for that kind of approach. And if I am wrong, then this movie is fantastic. All elements of a zombie film are done correctly and very well, the setting and characters are original, the effects are stunning, and I just love this movie so much! I could write a book about George A. Romero and why this movie is so good, but I guess now I don't have to.


Watch the Trailer
  Next Review -  Little Miss Sunshine 2006

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Her: 2013

Release date: December 18, 2013 (USA)
Director: Spike Jonze
Running time: 126 minutes
MPAA rating: R
Music composed by: Arcade Fire
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Joaquin Phoenix

Spike Jonze is a...different kind of director. In my opinion he's part of the good kind of different kind of director. And that's a good thing. But he is also in my opinion a very strange person. And that could be a good thing. It was for this reason that I didn't really know what to expect going into "Her"., that's not..."going into the theaters to see "Her", that doesn't sound right either...going into the theaters to watch" I watched "Her: A Spike Jonze Love Story, okay? That's what I'm trying to say. Jeez. Okay, let's do this.
A guy named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with an operating system named Samantha (Scarllet Johannson). Many strange and awkward Hi-Jinx ensue.

   So this movie's set in the very near future where there's a lot of hiked up pants and button down shirts and self aware, self evolving operating systems...I don't see any problem with that. No! No really! It's good! It's good to have a program that can replicate and broaden their perspectives of the world, becoming smarter and smarter. A program who can learn and react to seconds! A program that can emote and understand the human mind better than humans themselves! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!

   But fine! It's Spike Jonze, and he's this really weird guy. I guess from this particular perspective there could be no logical reason for an OS to rise against the human race. I mean no one explains how it works from a technical standpoint (for the most part). So, is Samantha (the OS) a plot device? An unexplained idea used in order to further the story? Well, I don't think so. I mean, Samantha plays a huge part in the story. She is the love interest after all. Although I can see how people might assume that since she, from a technological standpoint, is not developed very much might seem like one. But, I don't think that that's a bad thing so to speak. The only thing I can say in order to justify the vagueness of this evolutionary technological advancement is that Jonze didn't want the audience to have a reason not to side with Samantha's "robot" traits more than her "human" traits. If you explain the science behind her being able to do the things she can do, you lose some credibility for the believable "not-so-far-away" future you have constructed as a setting because using some scientific techno-babble for explanation is not so...professional. Just because it would work in Star Trek does not mean it will work for "Her". This is dating advice I have followed for a very long time. 

   You also alienate the audience from condoning with the socially confusing act of hooking up with a computer. If you were to explain in more detail how Samantha "ticks" you are less likely to be able to wrap the idea of this being a love story around your head...y'know...if you weren't already. But regardless, "Her" is actually very good. It wastes no time in using Joaquin Phoenix's character as a...well...character study of human beings in general. Jonze uses Scarllet Johannson's character as a new perspective on things we find to be normal or acceptable in society. Both actors give excellent performances not just as themselves, but as a unit. And for a film like this, that sort of thing is very important. The illusion of compatibility, challenge, and conflict in a relationship are all executed very well. Like most relationship films (or "Love Stories") the narrative flies between moments in Theodore's and Samantha's life. Although not as heavy handed as say, "Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind" or personal as "Annie Hall" which both work fine to each movie's credit, it certainly is unique enough to stand out among the other, lesser, tearjerker's of the ages.

   The writing is very good as well, playing with Amy Adams' strengths more than any other film I have seen her in. Truly she is in her prime. I really don't have anything negative to say about "Her" other than there being a few missed opportunities (one of which being the lack of incredibly loud controversies on man/robot relations). And maybe I'm not getting the big picture, and "Her" was never really about the future of societal culture, or what defines a human being, or "the human condition" or whatever you want to call it. I liked "Her". She's funny, unique, smart, in a philosophical sort of way, very strange, but very beautiful. So, if you're into that sort of thing you should check "Her" out!

    ...Jesus, you know I couldn't let an opportunity like that pass, right? Of course I have to write something. It's who I am. I interject a lot of my mannerisms into my writing. That way it's like I'm talking to you, as opposed to me writing to someone I don't know. So, you'll have to forgive me. But if you've read up to here, at least you took the time. Thanks.