Thursday, December 16, 2010


(Fair warning, this review might have a spoiler or two!)


TAGLINE: See the original's.

Same as the original, but with less subtext and more action.

Yeah, I know. But in a welcome example of bucking the trend of mediocre remakes, director Zack Snyder's '04 "Dawn of the Dead" is pretty damn good. It takes the basic premise of the original, but eschews any kind of social commentary in favor of giving horror fans a straightforward thrill ride. Gone is any angst, just a fatalistic kill-or-get-eaten attitude appropriate for the apocalyptic setting.

I know it's strange to say for a remake, but again, yes. It actually even tries to reinvent zombies some for more modern audiences who might suffer from ADD. The most glaring difference between George A Romero's zombies and the creatures of this remake is speed. These are undead creatures, not the postmodern Infected "28 Days Later" introduced us to, but they're no longer slow and shuffling...the Snyder brand of zombie is fast, furious and relentless. Speed is also increased for the story's pacing, as opposed to the thoughtful and methodical progress of the original.

It's almost unaminous among those who see the remake that the pre-credits opening is one of the best parts of the new "Dawn". We're given a ringside seat to the day the undead began to take over the world, as seen from the perspective of a young nurse (Sarah Polley) trying to find safety in the midst of total chaos. The perspective widens when she meets other living survivors (among them Ving Rhames, Jake Weber and Mekhi Phifer), and their need for sanctuary makes them drift to a big shopping mall. As they do their best to shelter themselves from the zombie hordes, they know this adopted refuge can't many ways, the mall threatens to become as much a prison as a shelter. But do they dare make a great escape? And even if they do, will they find a truly 'safe' place, considering the world is coming to an end?

To be a worthy remake of the original "Dawn", it would have been enormously stupid to NOT bring the blood and guts. Thankfully, Snyder and those responsible for the makeup effects more than accomodate the bloodthirsty! We're also given some moments that are disturbing in their own, never-seen-before light. Chief among them, in two words: zombie baby. The very concept should have been so nasty as to be unthinkable, but the new "Dawn" does indeed go there. Even with plenty of setup, watching an unfortunate pregnant survivor go through her stages of infection to die and then become a snarling zombie, and to see her yet-to-be-born baby kick and shift in her belly ominously...ick! :P Outside of that, there's blood and dismemberment and more galore...see the Unrated version on DVD to get all the gore you could possibly want!

A mere handful of survivors get through the zombie hordes...however...!

Malls are nice places to visit, but you wouldn't want to live in one during a zombie apocalypse. Living humans are reeeeeally strange creatures when we make our own fun. Don't discount the jerk among those you know, he might just sacrifice himself to save your booty one day.

Friday, December 3, 2010


"28 DAYS LATER" (2002)

TAGLINE: "The days are numbered."

A guy wakes up to a world where a new kind of zombie is looking for living meat.

Without a doubt. Danny Boyle wrote and directed a parable about the dangers of viral outbreak, a post-apocalyptic film in the vein of "The Omega Man" (which was later remade into "I Am Legend"), and referenced George Romero's "Dead" films in many ways. However, he sought to do so by giving us zombies that for the first time...well, WEREN'T zombies! The creatures in this film might look and act like zombies in the classic primal sense that they're highly antisocial, animalistic, and hunt normal humans with a predatory hunger, but that's where any similarity to the modern zombie as imagined by Romero ends. Not only that, these bastards are as in the pee-yo-pants kind of fast. They aren't even undead, which means a headshot isn't necessarily mandatory. The modern zombies created and established by the "Dead" films officially began to give way in "28 Days later" to the postmodern zombie, or to truly distinguish them, the Infected.

What is responsible specifically is the Rage's literally rage distilled into its purest form by medical experiments upon chimpanzees. In a classic case of paving the road to Hell with good intentions, a group of animal rights activists break in and set to freeing the captive test chimps. Things go very, VERY bad as the activists are infected and nearly instantly become psychotic and savage with rage as the chimps break out. 28 days later, a bicycle courier named Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma in his locked hospital room to a world different and deadlier from the one he remembered. His journey is one of discovery and survival as he puts together what happened and tries to figure out where he and other survivors might find a place of refuge from animalistic psychopaths.

It's good in most every way you can imagine for being the first postmodern zombie movie. Danny Boyle shot the film entirely with digital cameras -- often handheld -- to give "28 Days Later" a documentary-style, you-are-there feel. Taking that route also helped in the daunting task of creating the illusion of a decimated, deserted London. No trick photography or computer effects were used. Thanks to the fast work that digital cameras are capable of and some well-timed cooperation on the part of city and local authorities, each shot was completed fast enough so the film could be made without causing any undue havoc to traffic or anything else. The result is a portrayal of a major world city rendered dead, which is to say the least amazing.

But as much as the atmosphere and the fast pacing of the story helps contribute to making this film excellent, it's driven first and foremost by the characters who we can't help but connect with. Cillian Murphy as Jim is a pitch-perfect everyman we can all relate to as he progresses on his reluctant hero's journey, but counterpoint to him is Naomie Harris, who is truly amazing as Selena, a cool-headed survivor whose heart seems even colder (but it only seems that way!) as she escorts Jim through the wastelands. The moment when she hacks up a particularly luckless fellow survivor after he got infected blood into his cut is a stunner! Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns, and Christopher Eccleston as the super-creepy Major West also deserve the highest praise.

Most of the horror comes from seeing the virtually lifeless devastation in the wake of the Rage Virus, but it's nearly mandatory for any horror film with zombies (live or dead!) to be bloody, and audiences won't be disappointed. There's no dismemberments outside of Selena's hacking a friend to pieces (mostly off camera, blast it!), but things get very ugly at times. More than once Infected tend to vomit up gouts of tainted one case it goes into a soon-to-be-zombie's face. Ick!

No spoilers here, but it depends on which ending you like the most! ;)

Surviving to live another day is not as good as it gets. Always, ALWAYS be careful when looking up. When somebody keeps a snarling, blood-soaked Infected on a chain leash in their backyard like a dog, chances are good that somebody is a little off! Finally, when in a zombie apocalypse, do what your mother told you when going out on a cold day: dress in layers!

Saturday, November 27, 2010


I hope whoever reads this had a truly happy Thanksgiving! :) Now, on with our next installment of ZOMBIE FILMS TO WATCH BEFORE YOU DIE!


TAGLINE: "They're back from the grave and ready to party!"

Uh, I can't come up with anything that tops that tagline! :P

Er, actually, Romero made "Day of the Dead" in 1985, not this film! There was some understandable confusion about this movie and its ties to Romero's zombie films until folks knew the whole score. The original story and concept for "Return" came from John Russo, who co-wrote "Night of the Living Dead" with Romero. Russo retained the rights to any films with the words 'Living Dead', and sought to make "Return of the Living Dead" into a movie. After some negotiations, the late Dan O'Bannon -- he also co-wrote "Alien", "Heavy Metal" and "Total Recall" -- rewrote and directed the film to have a very different tone from Romero's works. How different? Think a horror movie with the undead infused with liberal amounts of comedy!

With a faux advisory that includes "The events portrayed in this film are all true.", the story opens in a medical supply company, where a long-time worker is schooling a knucklehead new hire. It's a place where all manner of medical equipment and supplies, including cadavers, are's definitely the kind of environment where employees need to make their own fun. The older guy runs the newbie through the basics, but then starts spinning a strange yarn: the film "Night of the Living Dead" was based on true incidents...and he should know, since they're keeping the once-reanimated dead in the basement! One thing leads to another, and we quickly discover that idiocy knows no age when they accidentally prompt a leak of mysterious, toxic gas from one of the containers holding the former zombies. And, unfortunately, the place isn't far away from a cemetary...

More fresh meat is added to the mix when the young knucklehead's girl and a gaggle of colorful, punk-infused buddies (hey, the film was made in 1985) go to see him and par-tay! And where do these tearaway kids decide to do it? In the nearby cemetary...and the situation quickly descends into a chaotic party of the damned as newly-awakened zombies start hunting for them. And anybody else who still has a pulse!

This flick will catch you off your guard with how good it is, zombie-lovers. If you have seen it, then you need no explanation. For those of you who do, think of ways to cause a laugh -- not just a nervous giggle -- when horrorshow bloodshed is going on. It's not easy, with the only previous successful example of horror-comedy being Joe Dante's 1984 classic "Gremlins". Dan O'Bannon succeeds too, and in ways that I guarantee you won't expect. Even the conventions that Romero himself originated are turned on their ear!

Case in point: when the gas escapes and brings a dead body in cold storage to life, the knuckleheads responsible call the owner of the company, Burt (Clu Gulager), to fix things. A zombie is a big thing to fix, and they figure they can just destroy its brain Romero-style, and that's that. WRONGO! In a morbid comedy of errors, the zombie nearly gets away, then it WON'T die after it's given a good sharp pickaxe to the skull! And then the pieces won't die after Burt and the knuckleheads cut the body up as everybody's on the verge of pure get the idea! :P

Special mention must be made that this film isn't made for kids, unlike "Gremlins". Exhibit A being the character of Trash, immortalized by Linnea Quigley, who made her name as a scream queen in "Return". For most of the time she's in the movie she's got her clothes off, and even does an erotic dance in the cemetary. And she still has her clothes off after she's transformed into a zombie princess with a taste for brains!

Uh, I believe I said this film isn't for kids. ;) I guess telling you about a zombie getting a pickaxe in his noggin didn't send the message. Rest assured, there's that and more gory stuff besides.

Well, not to spoil things, but a low-yield nuclear blast is involved...!

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions...and by idiots. Nude zombie women give new meaning to the expression 'dead-sexy'. Finally, true love just can't compare to the sweet, sweet taste of brains!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010



TAGLINE: One of the best..."When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth."

The living turn a shopping mall into Heaven, but naughty living and zombies give them Hell!

And for many good the world over call this THE zombie film against which all others must be measured. George Romero followed up "Night of the Living Dead" with a sequel that was the horrorshow equivalent of knocking it out of the park with the bases loaded. Jaw-droppingly ambitious in spite of its budget at the time, "Dawn of the Dead" serves as a cautionary tale of how both zombies and living-kind tend of make American society a mess.

Uh, hello? Don't just take every other zombiephile's word for it, take MY word that this movie deserves to be called classic. It's a rare thing to see a horror film not only give the gore-starved their buckets of blood, but also some real thoughtful commentary on the way things are to chew on.

The film opens sometime after the events of "Night of the Living Dead", and America is finally catching up to the fact that the undead are back and hungry. The only order of the day is disorder: people are leaving a television station like passengers jumping off a sinking ship as a harried government official tries to tell the skeptical host of a news program and his audience about the zombie threat. One of those working in the studio, Francine (Gaylen Ross), doesn't need much convincing before the arrival of her boyfriend, Stephen (David Emge), who offers to take them both out of the city by a stolen helicopter. At the same time, the police launch a raid of a housing project to destroy zombies being kept there by their loved ones. The situation goes bad even before zombies are given a chance to attack some cops...emphasizing that zombies are pretty stupid to go after prey carrying guns. Two of the SWAT members, Peter and Roger (Ken Foree and Scott H. Reiniger), decide to get out while they haven't been bitten. Roger, it turns out, knows a buddy who knows how to fly a helicopter...

One thing leads to another, and the four come together to fly to ANYWHERE that doesn't have zombies running rapshod over everything. At one point, they fly over a party of hundreds of rednecks backed by the military as they set out to do some zombie-huntin in a moment that watchers of "Night of the Living Dead" will appreciate. You might be a redneck if you carry a can of beer in one hand and a big bore rifle in the other..."Zombies are good shootin, yessir!" :D (I might be a redneck saying this, but I'd join one of those anti-undead posses!) As the copter's gas starts to run low, the four come across a shopping mall, and none of them sound like they've even seen one before. (They were relatively new on the landscape at the time, by the way!) They touch down, take one look at the bounty that the mall offers, and decide to make the place into their haven from an increasingly apocalyptic world. They seal off the mall and manage to dispose of every undead inside, but not before losing one of their own. They then begin to enjoy an existence where they make use of any and every resource and piece of merchandise the mall's many stores have to offer to create a new life for themselves, but realize almost too late how empty and, well, lifeless that life is. It's Francine more than the others who understands that latching on to the mall as a home and all of the commerical possessions it has to offer would make them no better than the zombies that doggedly want to swarm upon the mall just because it was important to their consumer-obsessed previous lives. But just as hope springs, a small army of living raiders storm the mall...they let in the zombies at the same time, and all you-know-what breaks loose...

Hell, yes! This film was legendary for its gore, and those under 18 at the time of its release were expressly forbidden from watching it. (Like that honestly would have stopped any minors!) Tom Savini proved to be equal to the monumental task, yet Romero wished that the makeup and effects were tailored to give "Dawn of the Dead" a semi-comic book style. Zombies often had a too-blue pallor to their skin, and blood when spilled was distinctly bright and not necessarily realistic. It still didn't ease the movie's adults-only status, or how gruesome things got in the film. Bites are ripped from flesh, limbs are literally pulled off, one poor bandit gets piled on by zombies and has his guts ripped out as he's screaming...and in a jaw-dropping moment, a crazed cop blows someone's head apart! By the way, there has been some confusion about what version out there is Romero's definitive vision for the film, since there's a few edits of it out there. Rest assured that the version known as the U.S. Theatrical Cut is the one he wanted everyone to see. There you go!

Only two, and only barely...see the movie to know more!

Defining yourself by what you can buy and consume means losing touch with the things that really matter, even life as we know it, along with all the good and bad that comes with life. Or as Tyler Durden said in "Fight Club", you are not your fucking khakis. Plus, if zombies weren't bad enough, there's always living assholes to worry about.

Friday, November 5, 2010


I know. What can be said? Life interrupts again and again. :/ In this case, though, Facebook is also having trouble with groups for some reason. I wanted to create a group devoted to those who like zombies as much as I do, but that won't happen right away. I'm not claiming to be an 'authority', just a fan! Still, I can do something close by listing here the top seven modern zombie (aka Romero Zombie) films ever made and my thoughts on them. I'll be paying homage to Ruthless Reviews by using the template they commonly work with in movie reviews. I'm not being paid for this and I'm giving Ruthless Reviews the proper respect, so I'm not ripping them off. Don't dare claim otherwise!

My first of the ZOMBIE FILMS TO WATCH BEFORE YOU DIE! is as follows.... :)


TAGLINE: "They won't stay dead!"

Flesh-hungry undead rise as the living have a problem just getting along.

Insofar as the first film to feature the undead as a nightmare threat out to consume anyone who still had a pulse, yep! There were movies with zombies before, but the old-fashioned hoodoo-incurred kind dating back to Bela Lugosi's "White Zombie" in 1932. So call it strictly speaking, the first modern zombie movie, with rules and hallmarks of the subgenre established accordingly from launch by the great George A. Romero. The undead in such films have also been called in tribute to their originator Romero Zombies.

Sometimes gold can be mined from low-budget filmmaking, and "Night of the Living Dead" is golden. The entire theme of the story is how a group of very different people react to a nightmare situation, specifically getting stuck in a house surrounded by flesh-hungry undead...and its got a haunting realism to it all, in spite of the extraordinary circumstances. The film starts out in a graveyard where a brother and sister (the brother looks like Buddy Holly with driving gloves) go to visit their dearly departed dad. They're typical siblings, the brother is giving his sister shit, and she's telling him to grow up. Then a tall guy shows up with a strange shuffle-step to his walk...he's an odd duck with a vacant stare, and then he attacks! The brother fights Tall and Creepy, cracks his head on a tombstone, and dies. Maybe. We don't know for sure until the sister finds her courage to try to help her brother somehow...just kidding, she leaves her bro to lie on the ground as she runs off! This girl, Barbra, may very well be The Most Useless Horror Film Character Ever. All she does after she finds refuge in a seemingly empty house with a stranger named Ben (Duane Jones) is look catatonic when she doesn't launch into hysterics over every little friggin thing.

Ben, even though we don't get to know much about him, proves to be more practical and thoughtful than she is by far. We can tell his heroism and utility are tempered by his own nervousness about the situation, especially when he hears over a radio -- as he methodically tries to seal every window and door from the increasing numbers of undead outside -- that mass murder and cannibalism is happening everywhere, as if an epidemic is spreading. He scores bonus points finding a rifle and ammo, but then finds out there are more folks hiding in the cellar! Two of them are a mother and father worried for their daughter, who got bit by one of the undead and has gotten sick. All together now: UH-oh!

The characters eventually discover from the authorities on TV that the recently deceased have somehow come back to life to prey on the living. No one knows how, although one brainiac thinks radiation from a destroyed space probe had something to do with it. But no one knows for sure why this is happening, and the living holed up in the house have to fend for themselves until whenever help arrives. That's where things go from bad to worse, because in order to survive they have to work together, and that doesn't work out. When the World Trade Center was taken down on 9-11, all of New York City and the entire country came together to help one another through the tragedy. "Night of the Living Dead" argues that when disaster happens, humans may either be too dumb, selfish, or fearful to work together for their common good. There is real-life precendent for that viewpoint, unfortunately, which helps make this film stand any test of time.

More than enough blood was spilled for Romero's landmark first "Dead" film, my friends, but you'll have to get past the fact it's in black and white. Also of note is that zombies in this movie look pretty much like everyone else! Outside of being messy eaters, they don't have decomp or anything to mar their appearances. Blame the low budget. However, being recently dead, it looked like some were being prepared for burial in one kind of formal dress and another, or got out a morgue in their skivvies or less; we see at least one butt-nekkid undead shuffling around! Since this is the first modern/Romero Zombie movie, it's the first time living folks had to learn one must shoot the undead in the head or at least take enough swings with a blunt weapon to their skulls to put them down for the count. Although a humble movie, it'll still catch the uninitiated off guard with some grisly moments. At one point, two of the living get to a pickup truck to escape, but it goes bad the pickup truck explodes and burns the couple to oblivion! But as bad as that was, the undead converge on the cooling wreck and start snacking on the medium-rare remains; the camera lingers on their eating the cooked flesh of a couple of characters who were alive not long before, which is pretty disturbing. But that's nowhere near as disturbing as when a little girl among the group dies from her infected bite, turns into a zombie, and kills her mother in a slow, brutal stabbing. The fact the zombie-girl used a weapon to kill her mother should be noted, as no zombie before or since ever showed that much intelligence. Afterward, the fact zombies were as stupid as they were hungry would become a benchmark to the sub-genre.

In this inaugural case, only the movie-goer is left to remember the tale.

Definitely stuff for those who see the glass as half-empty...the living will always have a problem relating to or even trusting one another, especially when things go to shit. If you see a loved one shuffling with a pack of zombies, don't give them a hug, RUN! Beware of gun-toting rednecks. And last but FAR from least: shoot em in the head!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Yep, I'm finally back with something to say.

That hasn't been the case for some time, I know...I just haven't had a lot to say here, even with all of the B.S. that's happened in the world since my last posting I could have made a few comments about. (Some things, like the World Cup, I couldn't have cared less about, even to write "I couldn't care less!") Call it another writing dry spell for me -- I've had my energy in so many other things, including writing a new book, I couldn't get it up to add anything new here for a while. Was I neglectful? Maybe...I did make a commitment to keeping at least a semi-regular blog, and I sure haven't passed with flying colors. But I don't want to bore the crap out of folks by writing something each and every day, and chances would be good that THEY couldn't care less about my feelings. For those of you who do care, like Geri and Yen, I'm truly sorry and at least I'll have more posts this year than the last, as I promised!

Besides, if any of you look upon this neglect unkindly...remember there are those out there far, FAR more neglectful than I would ever even attempt to be.

Take BP, for instance.

You know what they've done, or better to say what they were stupid and neglectful enough to let happen, if what's been aired out in House Committee hearings is true about BP's rush to get the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig up and running so they could make their money as soon as possible. You also know how virtually useless they have been until recently -- that's changing, one hopes -- to cap off the damned spill. No one knows how long it's going to take to clean up the damn mess, or how to calculate how this disaster will affect the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico and the southeastern coastlines of the United States.

Hell, compared to THAT, I'm the model of politeness with my blog!

I can't help but wonder at times if this is the way the world is going to end. Not with a bang from a Third World War (which is ever in the realm of possibility, dammit) or some inexplicable apocalypse a lot of people fear might happen in 2012...but instead a whimper will come with the end as a result of neglect from greed or, on the other side of the spectrum, outright laziness. I hope with all my heart neither one happens ever, but neglect on the part of those who directly determine our future from parents to multinationals makes my hope waver a bit.

Friday, April 30, 2010

"NO, Joe!"

I thought it was worth it to follow up on my previous blog about my affection for the 80's animated series "G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero!"...and give you my two cents on the live-action movie from last year. Yeah, this blog may seem a little dated; I thought it might be when I finally got to see the film in December, and passed on doing it then. But some things I have to get off my chest, and anyway some of you probably haven't seen the film. This is both review and warning to you!

If you're one of America's typical moviegoers, don't expect a lot from "G.I. Joe". It's another popcorn movie from Stephen Sommers, the same guy who brought us the first two "The Mummy" films. (The original was very good, but falling far short of clear inspirations like "Raiders of the Lost Ark", and the second was to be expected...more of the same!) Those films were pure popcorn entertainment, the same as your typical blockbusters since "Star Wars" and "Jaws", when Hollywood decided that Summer was their prime time for drawing film fans to the theatres. Bear in mind that "G.I. Joe" is no different and wasn't made to be anything less than a brief explosion of eye candy and thrills. The intelligence behind it is questionable, though, just like most blockbusters: for one thing, it asks us to accept on its face the history between the good and evil principals, and the coincidental events that bring them all together! It's one thing to suspend disbelief when we learn about a past relationship between Duke and the Baroness, but to know the lead good guy also knew the lead villain and...! I'm stopping right there so I don't spoil too much. Not only that, the twist involving the high-tech bomb shelter that sets up the FAR-too-open ending is more than slightly improbable. Just chuck logic out of the window as you's worth it to see a couple of great action set-pieces that show the impressive yet strangely soulless wonder of computer generated effects. Oh, Marlon Wayans wasn't anywhere near as annoying to me as many said he was, but that's only because I've seen much more annoying performances than his! And Dennis Quaid? I remember him back in his heyday in films like "Dreamscape"...he was phoning in his performance for this movie!

Other than that, there isn't much to say...

...except for this second half of the blog, which is for my fellow fans of the original animated series!

It must go without saying that to fans of the original animated series, the filmmakers got so much WRONG translating "G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero!" to a big-budget flick. It's annoying enough that they diluted the original patriotic themes from the series just to make the most people happy across the world. The movie was set for release at a time when the rest of the Earth seemed to have a problem of perception with America -- namely that they didn't like my country. If the makers of this film were really sensitive, they wouldn't have made a film based on patriotic themes in the first place! Instead they made G.I. Joe into a multinational U.N.-approved organization. That isn't a big gripe for me, but for a film to bend over backwards to be sensitive is just plain dumb. I thought filmmaking, like other art forms, were about freedom of expression...not going out of one's way to keep folks from getting upset! What made "G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero!" distinctive was its patriotism and its themes that good will always win out with enough grit and when one thinks about others before themselves. The series ended each episode with a moral, even! Any potentially politically incorrect distinctiveness is discarded in favor of a bland, vanilla-flavored world. It doesn't help that the performances in this flick were so bland, too! Rachel Nichols, for instance, turned Scarlett (a firebrand who at her best measured up just as well as any guy character in the series) into a brainiac who has problems communicating with people! Dull! And I've already gone into the way the film complicated what was once a straightforward good-versus-evil dynamic, and I won't go there again. In short, there probably never would have been a 'right' time for "G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero!" to be remade into a film. But drop its identity for the sake of P.C. bullshit and don't invest a friggin whit of effort in anything but special effects, and...sigh, you have a typical Hollywood blockbuster.

Fans like me expected too much. Fortunately, we still have the original animated series -- patriotic and un-P.C. content untouched, thank God! -- on DVD to watch again and again as an alternative. Hell, the current and future generations of kids can be shown the show and get away from a world that flat-out refuses to keep shit simple. The original series wasn't a product of the Devil or anything, just an enjoyable romp that gloried in red, white and blue because back then unlike today, America was seen with hope instead of derision by the rest of the me a sentimental fool, but maybe my country will be looked upon kindly again sooner or later. And unlike Hollywood films of the present day, each episode made at least an effort to tell a good story with a positive message for the kids at the end. For all of that, I also have a great fondness for "G.I. Joe: Resolute", which essentially was a sequel to the animated series, and continued the story of the never-ending battle between G.I. Joe and Cobra. "Resolute" was for fans like me, and also updated the story into something much darker and mature, an adventure were not all of the Joes (or even Cobras) would live to fight another day, and while the patriotism was muted, it was still there.

Now you know...and knowing is half the battle!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tiger, Tiger, burning...too bright?

Early this afternoon, I watched Tiger Woods prepare for his first shot at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia. It wasn't exactly my choice. My mom was in the same room and wanted me to turn it to ESPN to watch, so what could I do?

It seemed like EVERYBODY wanted to watch that. Some call it the second chapter of Tiger Woods' career. You'd think the way some have inflated this event, it ought to be called the second coming of Tiger Woods. The guy might as well be Jesus, the way people follow each and every little detail about a man who is both the greatest golfer of his generation and celebrity superstar. That in spite of the little fact that ALL HE DOES THAT'S NOTEWORTHY IS FRIGGIN' GOLF!

I reached my saturation point for Tigermania LONG ago, back when they made a big deal that this was a black guy who was all but conquering a supposed 'white man's game'. But Tiger is so damn good at golf he went beyond any political correct bullshit. It got to the point where it seemed like he could do no wrong...that all he touched turned to gold. But again, all he does is play golf. It's not like he's could shape world events, like President Obama. He's a sports celebrity. But Tiger's celebrity far eclipsed his chosen sport long ago, as well. He isn't just someone to be admired because he's so damn good, he's become virtually exalted. He's become a personality for others to worship.

That can make a fall from grace all the more painful.

When I'd heard of his extramarital scandal, my first thought was that it seemed out of character for Tiger to do something so damn stupid. He has a beautiful wife and family, and I thought by default that everything was cool with his personal life. I also had to think, why is all of this 'news'? Again, he's a golfer -- a great one, one must admit -- but his scandal was subject to more analysis and coverage than the earthquake in Haiti! How am I in a world where a sports celebrity's personal life is more important than a major world event?

I'll be damned if I know how.

This is my world, though, and I gotta live in it. Fine, a golfer is center stage in the American consciousness. Whatever. But let's focus a little, okay? Let's not get stupid if we can't help but be obsessed.

I have to ask that -- maybe plead that -- because of a FOX Sports article I chance upon online about a week ago. Jason Whitlock reported about a Vanity Fair expose of Tiger, and the one responsible for this airing out is of a disgruntled lawyer who once worked for the golfer. I won't dignify him by saying his name here, but he claimed to try to be Tiger's advisor to avoid doing something dumb, like stepping into the deep shit of a scandal. This advisor who claimed to have the celebrity sports pro's best interests at heart said that Tiger was unwise to follow the example of sports celebrities like Michael Jordon and dive into excess and sin.

Jason Whitlock all but said 'bullshit' to such statements, and rightly so...he said it was "silly, naive and dishonest." But then Jason went on to say that the one who's really to blame is Tiger's late father, Earl Woods. Instead of raising a good man with strong values, Earl sabatoged the process from minute one with his own bad influence as a chronic womanizer...not only that, he was on record declaring Tiger would 'change the course of humanity' be a superstar and gain every imaginable glory and indulgence accordingly.

Maybe Jason had a point...but he was also wrong.

And again, let's not get stupid. Blaming anyone else for Tiger Woods' fall from grace is useless, because in the end there's only one person to blame for his cheating on his wife with more than one mistress. Even though such things have no right to be 'news'. The only one who's at fault for what Tiger did is Tiger himself. No one else can ultimately take credit for his being a great golfer, right? Trying to blame someone else for what a person does wrong is denying that person any responsibility for himself and his own actions, first and last. If you're going to worship anyone, at least we can do it with some intelligence and give both credit AND blame where it's rightfully due.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Women Warriors, Part Three: MICHELLE YEOH

I've already talked about Yukari Oshima, the actress who was my most prominent inspiration for "Hell Knight" and its main character, Yuki Hinomoto. I've spoken of the actress who co-starred with Yukari often, the supercute and uber-tough Moon Lee. It's inevitable that I talk about the undisputed queen of the classic 'Girls With Guns' films of the 80's...Michelle Yeoh.

Not long after the decade started, Michelle won the title of Miss Malaysia. To be a beauty queen is often a sure ticket for future fame and stardom in Far East countries, and she gravitated to Hong Kong. After meeting filmmaker and actor Sammo Hung, Michelle wanted to follow the lead of actors like him and Jackie Chan and dive into action films. She was given the chance by headlining the actioner "Yes, Madam!", which Sammo produced in 1985. Like Moon Lee, in spite of the fact she wasn't formally trained in martial arts, Michelle's dance background gave her the solid foundation she needed to at least be able to learn bone-busting moves quickly as she went along...fight choreography also wasn't much different from staging a dance sequence.

"Yes, Madam!" was something revolutionary...even in a film market where women had taken leading action roles before, some still needed to be convinced. With the support of her co-star, American actress and martial artist Cynthia Rothrock, this film convinced in truly spectacular fashion. The ladies could kick ass, and this film started the trend that exploded in popularity only two years later with Yukari Oshima and Moon Lee's "Angel". Yep, "Yes, Madam!" started the 'Girls With Guns' subgenre of Hong Kong action films!

Barely a handful of high-quality films later, however, Michelle retired from films after marrying businessman and film financier Dickson Poon. (Ah-ah, no jokes! I'm sure you thought of plenty funny to say about a name like 'Dickson Poon', anyway!) For better or worse, the marriage lasted only three years, and Michelle returned to action films with a bang by co-starring with the legendary Jackie Chan in "Police Story 3: Supercop". Fans couldn't have been happier to see her back, even though it must be said that doing her own fighting and stunts in action movies (especially in Hong Kong) can be hazardous to anyone's health. Michelle was subjected to a nearly crippling injury, in fact, during the shooting of one film, "Ah Kam".

In spite of pitfalls and pain, Michelle continued to ascend until she achieved international recognition. She received acclaim for films like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", and even became a certified Bond Girl in "Tomorrow Never Dies". In more ways than I can say, Michelle Yeoh earned her title not simply as queen of the 'Girls With Guns' movies, but perhaps of all action a truly fine wine, she's only gotten better and more beautiful with the passage of time. :)

Friday, March 26, 2010

The coming clash...

I've stated before I've come to disdain Hollywood's trend of churning out remakes. I refuse to talk about it until I'm blue in the face -- or type until my fingers turn the same color -- because how much can I say about it? Okay, I can say PLENTY about it! My concerns about Tinseltown's lack of creativity are starting to build again. Yep, another remake is coming. But for me and a lot of movie lovers, it isn't just any remake.

In 1981, I went with my family to see "Clash of the Titans" at the movie house. I didn't know much about it, being a young spud. I knew I loved certain kinds of movies, though, and what I did know about this film got me excited. Stop-motion animation, and call it 'antiquated' if you want, was IT back in the days before computers. I had seen the legendary "King Kong" on syndicated TV by then, as well as classics featuring the effects wizardry of Ray Harryhausen, like "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad". I just saw "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" again recently, and you really have to think about it to appreciate how much time and effort went into such truly special effects.

It showed how much effort went into "Clash of the Titans"...even today, if you let a kid of fairly competent memory retention see it with mindful parents (there's nudity in a couple of scenes, a first for a film like this!), they and their parents would be impressed by the visuals of the majestic Pegasus, fearsome Medusa, and the almighty crap-yo-pants sea monster called the Kraken. The Kraken itself was the centerpiece of the effects of the film, as much a payoff in this film as the T-Rex was in Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park". However, it could also be called KINO (Kraken In Name Only) yet not in a derogatory way, because it sure as hell didn't look like an oversized octopus as its name implied. It looked BETTER! And fans of the film like me can't kid the uninitiated: the special effects overpower the story and very nearly the actors, even with the likes of the late, great Sir Lawrence Olivier and Burgess Merideth, Harry Hamlin, and Maggie Smith in the cast. One can even say that the story was written exactly so Harryhausen and the filmmakers could make it one of the biggest films to feature stop-motion ever.

The film was indeed big...some critics weren't high on "Clash of the Titans", but audiences loved it. Ever since, it went on to legitimate 'classic' status among films. In this day and age of supposedly seamless computer imagery and effects (you still gotta suspend your disbelief, kids), this film was made in a day and age when physical props and sets were still in vogue and built by hand, and the feeling of seeing the ancient world come to life is more keenly felt here than in a more recent movie, like "300". For better or worse, however, since "Clash of the Titans" is a classic and its appreciation has been passed to younger fans since, it was almost inevitable it go through the potentially painful process of being remade.

And the time for that remake, whether we like it or not, is approaching fast. However, to its credit, "Clash of the Titans" is promising to be a very different animal from its inspiration. The creative forces behind the film, which include director Louis Leterrier, have affirmed themselves as having nothing but love for the original film. They even went to the legendary Ray Harryhausen himself for his input, which shows at least they have respect for their source material and those responsible for it. We've still got Perseus, illegitimate son of Zeus, leading the hero's charge, along with characters like Andromeda, Calibos and Cassiopeia. We know that monsters from the original, like giant scorpions and Medusa, will be back. So will the Kraken...and this Kraken is as different from the original beast as the 1981 version was from an ocotpus. Hades is the new villain, and the whole thing promises to be a bit darker in comparison to the original, even though the story is close to the same.

Nothing will change my love of the original "Clash of the Titans". The forces behind its remake seem to know they're in the shadow of something that fans across the world haven't stopped loving even could say that the Fantasy film might always have a place in films, just like Westerns. (As long as they're done right!) BUT! I've got my doubts. My biggest one is of the guy who plays Perseus...a good friend of mine, Momiji, said that Sam Worthington is pure crap as an actor, and nearly ruined another little film he was in. You might have heard of it, it's called "Avatar"? I haven't seen it yet, but I don't doubt my friend's judgment...he isn't the only one who thinks the guy can't act for shit. That's something I have to see for myself, but I don't doubt it's true. We've already been subjected to Keanu Reeves, and Sam might be following in his talent-lacking footsteps.

Regardless, I want to believe Leterrier and those behind the coming remake have the respect and creativity necessary to dodge the hurdles and pitfalls other filmmakers have all but ignored when it comes to making a good remake. Will this be the first good remake we've seen in a while? Even if it isn't, we've still got the classic to watch again, and it'll always be with us. The fact it's been remade period is proof.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Is there such a thing as a 'better' zombie?

Those who have a love for certain things like to obsess about the little details OF that thing at times. I must admit I'm one of them. Some things I enjoy are horror films and novels, and one of the most potent sub-genres of horror (especially in films) has been stories with zombies. You know. People back from the dead with attitudes that make Oscar the Grouch look like Emily Post, decaying every second after they've climbed through the earth from their graves, and with that very special jones for eating the flesh of the living. "When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth." Zombies aren't just the ultimate agents of death, looking to take as many lives as possible and worse, infect them with the never-quite-explained virus to make the living join the undead ranks...such monsters are as much a metaphor for Death itself as the unstoppable serial killers of cinematic legend like Jason Voorhees and Michael Meyers.

I've loved zombie yarns since Roger Corman's classic "Night of the Living Dead" (1968), even though I'd fire a blast of double-ought from a shotgun into the face of any undead that might appear for real and have me as a midnight snack. That would never happen in reality, naturally. I hope! Although "Night of the Living Dead" set the standard rules all zombie films followed since, I'll be the first to admit that some of those rules required some explanation. The undead only go after living or just-killed flesh? How long can the bastards shamble around, anyway? And why does destroying their brains -- preferably from long-range with a bullet -- put them down like a stake in a vampire's heart? Their brain cells have to be dead already! I did put a little logic to zombie lore in my short story, "Mother's Day". (Which you'll also find here in my blog. Shameless self-promotion done!) I placed a more definitive cause to the effect of a possible undead plague, and exactly why such creatures like living human flesh so much. Hey, would YOU wanna take a bite out of rotting flesh? Zombies sure wouldn't, and there you are! But unless there's a supernatural element to the story that keeps dead flesh well-preserved, logic can only go so far in stories about the undead. For one thing, if there were a zombie apocalypse, it would be pretty damn short considering that necrosis is a fact of both life and death. Given enough time, a zombie would dessicate into a heap of goo and bones...if the living could hold out in shelters and defend themselves long enough, the problem would literally take care of itself.

Some have done their best to redefine zombies -- or, well, make them scarier as time has passed horror stories, though, especially in films. It started small with 1985's "Return of the Living Dead" in which some of the undead -- those recently taken from life only to, er, 'wake up' to a more animalistic existence and prey on the living -- as not quite being as slow and decrepid as a rotting zombie that just broke from the graveyard dirt. Yep, zombies as fast as a human, and that is scary as hell. Zack Snyder took that same tactic portraying the newly-zombified in his remake of the classic "Dawn of the Dead" in fact, as time passed in the narrative, the undead looked worse and got slower as decay set in and their muscles, joints and more fell to rot along with the rest of their bodies. But it was filmmaker Danny Boyle who honestly DID redefine what it meant to be an animalistic flesh-eater.

In "28 Days Later", Boyle took prevailing concerns of a future pandemic and combined it with the tropes of zombie films. The result? The 'undead' of his horror epic weren't dead at all: they were normal (is there such a thing?) everyday people who got infected by a bloodborne virus of pure, total rage. Think about that, and what happens to a normal person who gets infected by a bite. One moment you're okay, and the next you feel like your blood is literally burning and everything you are, your very identity, what makes you you is eradicated and replaced by a rage that makes you as pleasant as a tiger infected with rabies. All that is left in the mind is pure animal drive...the very worst parts of that drive, in fact. It's the demolition of society, morality, and civilization itself by the ultimate of the uncivilized. Those aren't zombies that hunt in packs at night looking for the living to feast on...they're wolves with zero conscience, and those who have still have logic and soul in them can feel sorry for the infected, but they'd better stay the HELL behind barricaded doors and armed for bear or one of those packs will find and batter, rend, and yes, even eat them alive. "28 Days Later" not only provided much-needed food for thought about viruses but rewrote the rules for zombie films even though again, technically, it ain't a film about the undead. It can be called a zombie film, though, since those subjected to the Rage Virus are no different from zombies...except they're alive and their primal drive makes them what I like to call fast-movers.

As a gamer, I've seen both kinds of zombies in video games. In games from "Resident Evil" to "Dead Rising", the undead are indeed that, brought back to life by genetic engineering or other mysterious ways. Other games have followed the example of Danny Boyle, like "Left 4 Dead" and its sequel, where the survivors must fight off the animalistically infected by tooth, claw, and shotgun. And pills! :D (Those who know and love "Left 4 Dead" will understand that last bit of humor!)

But is there such a thing as a 'better' zombie as time continues to pass? At the heart of the religion and the mythology most know of voodoo and zombies in real life, they are those brought back from the dead to act as servants of the living. In our popular culture, from books to movies to games, the undead serve only their own primal, savage hunger at the expense of those still alive. There has even been a sea change to what actually makes a zombie, all to make that kind of monster more frightening, as the more supernatural and shambling flesh-eaters seem to be giving way to a trend to create the fast-moving infected of a terrible plague that could burn the civilized world down. Which kind do I prefer? Whether they make me think or not, as long as the zombies are scary, fans like me won't get enough of them and the heroes who try to keep themselves from becoming snacks to monstrous appetites!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Favorites of a Video Game Geek #2: Firepower

This will otherwise be known as the blog where I assure, "Nope, I'm not dead!"

I know it SEEMED that way since I've been away from making an entry for so long, especially after I made my promise of more entries here this year. :( But! I am back, I was never dead, and I will be here more often. Seriously. Stop laughing! >:(

What can I say? It wasn't just the case crap got in the way, I had a general malaise from writing. (I have been writing for my book and researching every chance I could...the blog fell to the wayside as a result, tragically.) Again, though, I'm back. :)

Let's talk shooters.

No, not the kind you drink, buddy. First-Person Shooters. In the world of video games, the FPS has been subject to great criticism and moral outrage by non-gamers for their violence. Gamers like me, meanwhile, know the FPS as a genre of video game that has enjoyed dramatic evolution since "Wolfenstein 3D" (which I've talked about before) and has generally raised the bar for quality for the industry in general. These games put you INTO the game and help create both connection and immersion into the game's characters and environment. You'd have to play some bonafide classics like the "Half Life" series to understand what I'm talking about. I feel the desire to share with you two more recent examples of the FPS that knocked me on my duff, and in a good way...and both are for the Xbox 360. And no, I won't be paid for my testimonial, either. Dammit!

(What I have to say is also from the perspective of the single player experience...I don't make enough money or have the time to play any games online with others. Yes, I know I'm missing out on a lot. Don't give me any shit!)

First was "Halo 3", appropriately enough the first game I played for the 360. Appropriate because that out of an already-considerable library of titles, this one embodies the console the most in the hearts and minds of gamers. The fact the previous two installments of the series were the highly praised and best selling standard-bearers of the 360's black and blocky predecessor helped a lot. "Halo 3" continued the trend and concluded the story of the Earth-Covenant War, the Master Chief aka Spartan-117 -- the John Wayne of future gunslingers -- his search and rescue of Cortana, and the mystery of the Forerunners and the Halo ringworlds (it doesn't answer EVERY question to the mystery, though...that's what more sequels are for!), and the conclusion is as bittersweet as it is triumphant only because it had to have an ending. Every moment of this game is damned pretty. Not in a anorexic model kind of way, but a "Holy crap, that's awesome!" kind of way. The action is relentless and pauses only for a few seconds here and the gamer can catch their breath, I suspect. On more than one occasion before my brother and I split for the console a couple of months ago, I had to wonder: couldn't "Halo 3" have been made for the original Xbox? Not long after I started playing, even without delving into its multiplayer, I realized the answer was a very big 'no'.

Strangely enough, the general structural blueprint for how one progresses through this game isn't far removed from the previous games. This IS 'combat evolved', but outside of driving and flying and blasting Brutes to dust with a tank (fun, fun, fun!), you don't get to do...well, more. Think I'm kidding? SLIGHT SPOILER IN THE NEXT SENTENCE...YOU WERE WARNED! The final stage of the game is where you drive a Warthog to beat the doomsday clock, just like the original "Halo"! Could this game have been made for the Xbox, anyway? Again, big 'no'. It's safe to say Bungie and Microsoft said 'nay' to changing anything about the control and gameplay mechanics, which were pitch-perfect in the first two games, and are again here. I enjoyed this game and will play it again, without a doubt. But maybe any real evolution to the games will come in the next true sequel to the series? We'll have to see.

"Bioshock", fittingly enough, is also something of an evolution, but in a direction that confirms that the uninitiated have no idea how creative video game makers can be. Ah, what a long, strange, dark and thoroughly satisfying trip this was! I can't go too much into the story, which is what drives this game, only because it's best you not be prepared for the stunning turns it takes. The general premise can be best described as this: literally drop into an undersea city unknown to the rest of the world to experience Darwinism at a frightening, genetically-engineered level. The law of the jungle meets Frankenstein. Part of the lure of this game is you can be as nice or as ruthless as you want, like "Grand Theft Auto", in the unique gameplay dynamic between the player and the Little Sisters, sweet little girls who are essentially small storehouses for a unique substance you need to survive. If you're a teddy bear like me and you'd never hurt a little girl, you'll become emotionally invested toward the need to help them instead of 'harvesting' them to build yourself up.

HOWEVER! In order to get to a Little Sister, you've got to bop your way through the most jaw-droppingly scary mini-boss ever created for any kind of game: the Big Daddy, a lumbering DNAgent who looks like a deep sea diver...FROM HELL! The initial reaction you'll have to the first time you run into one of the Bouncer types of Big Daddies as he escorts a Little Sister will be, "Pfft! What a slow-walkin' ox! And is that a drill he's got instead of a right hand? I've gotta be faster than he is, and I can blast the guy from long range! There has to be a catch...?" Even if you're careful, NOTHING will prepare you for how damned ferocious this guy is when you piss him off. Seriously, my first reaction to this behemoth when I tried my luck was, "What the...! Oh, no way...HOLY SHIT!" Then I was dead. When I realized every Little Sister I had to find had one of these brutal guardian angels at their sides, I knew I was in for a wild ride. With solid control and unique gameplay mechanics involving both weapons and Plasmids, graphics even better than "Halo 3" (the water alone is a thoroughly amazing achievement...yes, I said water!), scares that easily rival "Resident Evil" and even "Silent Hill", a truly compelling and twisting story, and a gothic world that looks like Steampunk mixed heavily with an Art Deco afficionado's nightmare, with a chilling musical score and mood to match, "Bioshock" is a game that truly sucks you in like a whirlpool to the ocean depths. Yes, there's already a sequel out. And yes, I'm gonna buy it when it drops in price!

A nerd more famous than me, Adam Sessler, once said that video games are more fun than people. He was kidding, of course...I think? I'm no introvert, I do get out into the sun often, and I like people. When they're not stupid. But I'm tempted to say that truly great games like "Halo 3" and "Bioshock", along with other examples of the compelling First-Person Shooter genre, are serious competition.