Reading at the Movies: World War Z

World_War_Z_poster World_War_Z_book_cover


Their presence in fiction mirrors the reality in which we reside; a reality that reflects the fact that zombies are everywhere. In fiction they’re a world wide threat bent on nothing in particular except eating people. In reality we just have an over saturated amount of TV shows, books, comic books and concept art that caters our cultures insatiable and weird appetite for these cannibalistic corpses. I’m part of the problem too, I love a good zombie movie and can appreciate the moral and logistical quandaries that they present to those attempting to survive in their world. World War Z is the best zombie story I have ever consumed. Let me be clear, I am currently talking about the novel by Max Brooks in which an unnamed (and certainly not Brad Pitt) UN worker travels around the world AFTER the big Zombie war interviewing survivors. Like anything that becomes remotely popular it demanded a cinematic representation! And so we got a film with the same title….and that’s about it.


World War Z (film) stars Brad Pitt as a UN worker by the name of Gerry Lane whose task it is to finds himself thrust into the center of a massive scale zombie epidemic. He is tasked with finding the origin of the disease with the hope of figuring out just what can be done to stop the spread of the infection. This takes him all around the world, where he observes a few different temporary solutions that various cultures have enacted to help protect themselves…all of which end up failing. It’s a sort of follow-the-bread-crumbs adventure in which Brad Pitt straps magazines to his forearms as a type of makeshift armor to prevent being bit. Honestly that was my favorite part.


World War Z (novel) is narrated by an unnamed UN worker that is tasked with traveling around the world to interview survivors of the zombie war. The novel starts out with the war being over. Humanity won the fight against the zombie threat, but just barely. Each chapter is an oral report of how a different culture or people group witnessed and consequently survived their particular encounter. The accounts range from a colony yuppie campers attempting to flee north in their caravan of luxury motorhomes to a Japanese teenage gamer who must figure out a way to escape from his skyscraper home. Major battles are discussed in great detail and the entire course of the fight is laid out in different styles and flavors for the reader to savor.


Brad Pitt’s starring vehicle hovered around the 200 million dollar mark to make. It was ok. It was an honest to goodness zombie fest in which millions of zombies ran very quickly towards the protagonist at almost every turn. The film managed to gloss over the intricate details laid out in the novel and replace them with faster enemies and bigger explosions. It was a visual effects feast that practically begged you to just switch off the part of your mind that yearns for a plot within a story. Sure there was a goal Gerry was trying to attain, and it had to be done quickly, but it is nestled safely under an enumerable amount of human corpses. It had it’s merits, and while the large scale attacks were impressive to look at, they had little effect on my emotional reaction to the film. It was the tight, claustrophobic scenes that amped up the suspense.


The Novel offered a large series of individual stories that, when combined painted a picture of the full scale that the fictional zombie plague had on a vast number of cultures and individuals. Each account has it’s own protagonist and their own setting. Some read like a pulp adventure novel while others are absolutely chilling in their dissection of human nature. While the zombie threat is ever present and the main focus of the novel, it isn’t the sole enemy. Some accounts take into account the psychological damage associated with seeing your loved ones turned into monsters, it looks at the depravity of humanity, at times allowing for very little room to distinguish between the real horrors of humanity and the fictional horror of the zombies. Unlike the film, the book uses the traditional “slow zombies” and manages to make them terrifying. The narrator of the book takes a back seat to the survivors, the everyday people that did what it took to survive.

The World War Z novel was so good it ought to have it’s own movie. As it stands it does not have that. Aside from a few, almost coincidental similarities, the novel and film that share a name are worlds apart (within the scope of the zombie genre). Where the film was your run-of-the-mill action film with a massive budget, the novel presents you with a great number of individual stories, each interesting and unique, but working together to form the most compelling Zombie story I’ve ever experienced.

Spending Quality Time with “Mama”


Thanks to the magic of the movies, we’ve become accustomed to all manner of spectres, ghouls and monsters. It takes far more to spook an audience today than it did in the golden age of the original Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and  Dracula. Blood is simply corn syrup or CGI, and we, the audience, know that. We understand there is no actual danger on the screen that can harm us, so we’ve required more to scare us. This has cheapened the genre into shocking the audience (which certainly has it’s place) or by using cheap “jump scares” to achieve that coveted cash cow genre tag that has become horror. The PG-13 horror movie has become a novelty. It has morphed into the stepping stone for young children to acquire a taste for the more gruesome offerings in the R rating. This wasn’t always the case, and while the things that scare each individual person are as polarizing as the comedy genre, there are some decent PG-13 movies that manage to elicit that icy tingle that crawls uninvited up your spine. Mama is a movie that remained solidly in it’s PG-13 rating, but still gave me that tinge of adrenaline and discomfort that I absolutely love while watching a movie that’s supposed to scare me.


Moma tells the story of a two sisters who survive a tragedy that leaves both parents dead. The two spend (off screen) five years in the woods, being cared for by an entity known as “Moma”. When they are found the two girls are almost completely feral. They have lived like animals through some very critical years of their development. Their uncle and his girlfriend take the two in to raise them as their own, with consequences far more dire than they anticipated.


Guillermo del Toro has a knack for seeking out spooky projects to fund. The Orphanage is one of my favorites in the genre, and was also produced by del Toro. For this film he hands the reigns to Andrés Muschietti allowing them to expand upon the short film he and his sister, Barbara Muschietti  (who co-wrote the film) created. For his first full length directorial movie he created a sleek, spooky and visually fulfilling little dark fantasy feature. Jessica Chastain plays the punk-rock girlfriend to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Lucas, the uncle to the two girls. Seeing Chastain as a “punk rocker” was kind of a strange role, but as the film progressed she made it work, and her character arch was probably the most compelling in the movie. Isabelle Nélisseplays Victoria, the younger of the two sisters and the one most attached to the entity that raised them. She is fantastically creepy. She’s not like your typical scary-movie-evil-child. She’s a little girl that was raised to have animal-like mannerisms and is devoutly attached to her mother figure…who just so happens to be a ghostly and violent apparition. Speaking of the titular monster; Javier Botet manages to pull off some of the freakiest movements since The Exorcist. He is capable of moving his body so dramatically that the only CG needed for the monster was to make the hair flow through the air. The movie employs a fantastic blend of CG and practical effects.


I alluded to the fact that I considered this movie more of a dark fantasy than a horror. I stick by that judgement. It’s an interesting movie, and it’s entertaining but it also manages to spook me at all the right times. It’s fantastically creepy and beautifully crafted. While not the crowning jewel of the horror genre, Moma manages to lend more credibility to the milder horror genre without compromising on it’s premise and execution.


The Thing (2011) The Thing Anthology Part III


We are in a constant state of ever expanding cinematic universes. Successful standalone films are few and far between these days, once something is found to be profitable, it only makes sense to milk that cash cow dry, critics and fans be hanged! If it makes money, you continue to grow the franchise, it’s the way Hollywood has been working. So, it came as no real surprise that in 2011 we were “treated” to a prequel to a very successful (and my personal favorite) sci-fi horror film from the 80’s. The Thing  replicated the same title as the 1980s iteration; an oddly appropriate move given the nature of the monster in the series. The Thing (2011) is the third installment in this quasi-franchise. It started with The Thing From Another World  in 1951, was remade in 31 years later with The Thing (1982) and a prequel to that film leaves us with what is now somewhat of a period piece of a 1980s scientific expedition gone awry. Maybe in 30 more years we’ll get a proper sequel, but I hope not.

The Thing doesn’t pluck it’s story from thin air, but actually has a very appropriate starting point. In the 1982 version, the scientists stumble upon a destroyed Norwegian camp and one huge spaceship encased in the antarctic ice. The Thing (2011) tells the story of just what happened at that Norwegian camp. While we know the events are probably very similar to the horrors that unfolded in the original film, we didn’t know the exact details until this film came out. Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is hired to aid the in the retrieval of an alien spaceship and life form that has been frozen for many millennia. To their horror, the life form is not only alive, but wanting to feed. In standard Thing fashion, it proceeds to eat and replicate the motley crew of scientists in the most horrific and gross ways possible. Paranoia and terror run rampant as the isolated group must attempt to sift the “thing” from the humans before it reaches the general population of the world.

While the plot is virtually indistinguishable from John Carpenter’s classic, they manage to throw in a few original ideas that work really well, and of course there are plenty of jump scenes. I especially liked the way they were able to distinguish the humans from the monster in this film. Without giving it away, it was completely different from the last film, but made complete sense in the scope of the universe. The acting was actually pretty top notch, Joel Edgerton in particular did a pretty great job as the American helicopter pilot, channeling Kurt Russell quite well while still managing to be his own character. It was spooky, it was fun but it wasn’t great. While The Thing (1982) was one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, this iteration lacked the claustrophobia and grit that it took to really leave the audience unsettled. The CGI, in particular couldn’t compare to the practical effects used in the 80s in it’s ability to make me queasy. The atmosphere managed to be more comforting as well. The original film used the environment, the dark and the cramped base to make you feel utterly unsafe the whole movie. The base in this film seemed much larger, the weather tamer and the thing itself was far more tangible than it was when it attacked the American base. Instead of revealing it’s monster form only while transforming or going in for the kill, the monster would hunt in the form of a mass of flesh and bones, crawling around on all fours while it actively searched for other people to kill. What made John Carpenter’s Thing so frightening was how it would try to get away unless it was threatened. It would do anything to get away from prying eyes and transform into human form, then try to trick the others.

This was a fun prequel that took new approaches to the similar storyline presented 30 years prior. With a fresh new cast and take on the cinematic legend, The Thing (2011) managed to give some mild scares and some genuinely suspenseful moments. Where it falls short is in it’s presentation of the monster itself. What was an intangible horror is reduced to something that looks like it hopped out of the latest Men in Black movie; also the fact that it’s atmosphere was not the proper material you need to conduct the type of horror that made The Thing as truly horrific as it was.

Part 1 Part 2



A little late for a scare, but here it is!: The American Scream


Observing an individuals interaction with their hobby is one of the most transparent windows into the type of person they are. It doesn’t particularly matter what type of hobby they have, should you find yourself in a position to witness the process of someone laboring at something they love to do, you’re going to get to know them a little bit better. This could apply to anything from building model airplanes to playing in a city softball league. The principles remain the same. There are countless documentaries that follow enthusiastic hobbyists in their pursuit of perfection towards odd practices, but one that was recently recommended to me was especially interesting, and equally fun. It was an opportunity to watch varying levels of Do-It-Yourselfers in action slaving away at making haunted mazes for trick-or-treaters each year.


The American Scream follows three families as they prepare for Halloween. Each of these families has an annual tradition of setting up incredibly elaborate haunted mazes in their backyard and homes. The first family we see shows an obsessed father that works as a software engineer by day and spends the majority of his spare time designing props and scenes for the upcoming holiday. His family helps him and for the most part enjoys the hobby, but it’s not without it’s toll. Next we see a grown father son duo that are kind hearted, albeit slightly odd. Their approach to scaring is not nearly as professional as the first family, but they eagerly piece together props with instructions they’ve found on the internet. Finally we meet a man that, along with the help of his children, chooses quantity over quality for his maze, building props out of just about anything he can get his hands on. We observe these three families as the days count down to Halloween. We observe them as they interact with their passion, and it’s a blast.


The film itself is fairly generic for a documentary. Switching between interviews and fly-on -the-wall style shots, we get to both observe the creation of the mazes in action and hear the families discuss the emotional implications that these mazes represent. But the real fun comes towards the end of the film when the three mazes open up for one night. The entire neighborhood comes out to try the three mazes, and the creators reap the fruits of their labor by basking in the screams of their community.


The entire “haunting” culture is interesting. What is often viewed as weird on the surface can be linked to more “normal” human traits. The fascination can certainly come off as macabre, but it’s not without it’s charm, and that charm lies solely in the individuals that choose to put their strength and effort into a passion project like this. One thing that was brought up was the communal aspect of Halloween. Thanksgiving and Christmas are more family holidays, whereas Halloween is about the community. Behind the makeup and the blood lies a surprisingly warm tale of human kindness.



    Life is precious, but it has a terrible survival record. Life is also difficult. Be it attempting to survive on almost no resources in the vacuum of space or driving to work on a weekday morning in rural Ohio. It’s not the severity of the danger or the devastation of the circumstances that test the merits of humanity, it’s how those circumstances are dealt with. Alfonso Cuarón uses imagery that is both awe-inspiringly beautiful while simultaneously gut wrenching and horrifying to focus on the trial of a particular human being. This human has dealt with other, arguably more trying, emotional circumstances in her life, but that’s not what we’re going to watch. What we’re going to watch is a woman attempt to re-enter Earth with all the odds against her. We’re going to watch a woman be pitted against the cruelty and indifference of the celestial elements and come to grips with what it means to fight for survival.

    Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a medical engineer on her first trip to space. While she is having a less than ideal time, she’s comforted by the nonchalant musings of veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) as he enjoys his final space walk before retiring. As they near the finish of the mission, their ship is destroyed by space debris, leaving the two stranded in space with limited means in which to travel. Realizing they must make a trek to the International Space Station in hopes of finding an escape pod. Kowalski, being the senior astronaut keeps a pretty level head throughout, while Stone must dig deep to find courage she never thought herself capable of. George Clooney puts in an ideal performance for his role, but it’s not about him. This movie is about Ryan Stone, particularly how she handles the situations that are presented before her as well as the events of her past.

    Gravity is nothing short of gorgeous. If you find the movie boring, if you don’t like the acting, if you think the premise is far fetched (in my opinion it is none of these things), you have to at least admit to the fact that it is, perhaps, the most visually awe-inspiring space film ever made, providing a greater understanding of the vastness of space in comparison to a single astronaut. The images of space and the views of earth contrasted against the miniscule bodies of the actors involved easily gets the point across that they’re in a dangerous, but incredible surrounding. Watching two actors, Bullock in particular, attempt to survive against all odds is thrilling. Alfonso Cuarón keeps the premise on the edge of believability providing an inspiring look at bravery in the face of the most intimidating surroundings. The dialogue, which is crucial to the success of the film, is both emotionally charged and concise. We don’t get flash backs or long exposition on each of the characters history, we get to watch two people fight with everything they have to live. Arguably, Clooney plays the part a little too casually. Iit worked well. But what does it mean to live? That is one of the questions brought up, primarily through the use of breath taking visuals, that the director asks the audience. Sure, Ryan might survive the ordeal, but if she does, what difference would it make, ultimately, in her life? It’s much more difficult to live than it is to survive.

    Alfonso Cuarón uses some of the best imagery I’ve ever seen in a film, some of which I have no desire to give away in case you haven’t seen the film. It’s not all just pretty pictures, he stages the scenes so we’re drawn completely into the emotional depth of his vision. Using the screen as his canvas, pictures are painted before our eyes displaying both the safety and seclusion as well as the danger and savageness of both space and life. Gravity is a wonderful film, using a near perfect mix of sound, visual and emotional stimulation to present something that is far more than a physical tale of survival. Space is the great unknown, it is where you look to gain perspective on just how small we are. In the same way, Cuarón attempts to give that perspective to his characters. He wants them to know that living and surviving are two entirely different things, one is a passive action, while the other is a brutal and unforgiving fight.

They’re pretty much all the same at this point: Scream 3 and 4

 scream3 Scream4

Scream 1

Scream 2

I didn’t want to have to come up with two separate introductions for Scream 3 and Scream 4 because I watched them both close together and really all the Scream movies have the same premise. Where they long to be different is in their exposition of the horror genre, with each addition we learn film theory regarding the films location in the series. With Scream 3 we get to hear quips on trilogies, while Scream 4, which was released 10 years after Scream 3 relates to the re-boot of a franchise. They’re intriguing little films, and it’s almost like watching a set of serials as opposed to movies in that we have the same core cast of characters surviving a string of horrendous murders in which they’re the primary target. While I may be the minority in thinking that the second film was better than the first, it’s almost universally recognized that 4 is better than 3.

Scream 3 has Sidney Prescott in a protective environment where she’s haunted by the memories of the past few years. On the set of the latest Stab movie, a fake film based on the events of the previous Scream movies, characters start getting killed off in the order that was intended on the script. Sidney comes out of hiding to aid in the investigation, and we’re treated to duplicates of each character running around getting killed (thanks to the actors portraying the Scream characters.) As fun as it sounds, Scream 3 suffers from an uninspired and tired script, giving up on most of the film commentary that made the first two so enjoyable and succumbing to the tropes and tirades of a traditional slasher film. It’s not without its moments, but essentially we’re dealing with a fairly generic slasher/mystery movie.

However, Scream 4 attempts to get back into the swing of the Scream roots by revamping the rules for a newer generation. At this point in film history, Scream isn’t the only spoof of the horror genre, and it certainly isn’t the only one to lampoon the slasher genre. Taking into account this quasi-enlightened period in film history, we’re treated to the most bloody and confusing opening in the franchise. The opening sets up the tone for the rest of the movie. Yes, we’ve seen most of this before, but returning to the series so much later adds a breath of fresh air. We’ve had three films to get to know our primary players, and it’s fun to see where they’re all at in life. Returning to the town where it all started, Sidney soon realizes that another ghost face killer is out to get her. She, however, has been through this enough times to know how to stand her own. Sidney, along with Gale and Dewey (who are now married) attempt to apprehend and protect their friends and family, especially Sidney’s cousin and their group of friends who seem to be targeted this time around as well. Feeling perhaps a alittle too much like a holiday special than a full blown feature film, it still manages to hit the right notes to let us know that maybe this whole “reboot” thing is a good idea.

And I certainly hope the studios think so too. Scream, despite it’s weak moments, is one of the most solid horror franchises to date, each with a surprising level of depth and creative writing, they’ve tended to be both scary, funny and, to some extent, thought provoking. They’re created in such a way that it’s easy to see the thin mask of source material overlaying the sharp critique. Given that Scream 4 was absolutely meant to be a re-boot, I can only hope that Scream 5 gets it’s chance on the big screen; or even the little screen, at this point it’s like Scooby Doo with a decent production value.


*Edit* according to wikipedia that whole TV show thing is actually happening next year, so, yay.

Laughing at “Scream 2”

 Scream 2

Part 1 Part 3

It’s no secret that I love horror comedies. Tucker and Dale vs Evil, Cabin in the woods, Army of Darkness are fantastic examples of a genre being able to simultaneously deliver on what is expected of it while offering up some serous lampooning at the cliché tropes that dredge some of it’s other offerings down. There are unspoken guidelines of the horror genre, and what is credited as one of the first real meta-horror films in the way that it critically looked at slasher movies by looking at itself was Scream. Scream is interesting because it not only was funny and well written, but it introduced us to a new icon of the horror genre, the easily recognizable “Ghost Face” has become a Halloween staple. Perhaps the best scene that describes the vibe of the movie is when a character, while watching a horror movie, yells at the woman on the screen to look behind her. Unbeknownst to him, the killer is sneaking up behind him, while his warnings to the woman on the screen go unheard. Scream was perhaps the first of its kind in the way it directly commented on it’s own actions. And then they made Scream 2.

Scream 2 picks up with Sidney Prescott is now in college, attempting to forget the horrific events that took place 2 years prior. Her attempt to leave the past behind her becomes increasingly difficult when a pair of students are killed in a screening of the movie “Stab” a fictional film depicting the events surrounding the first massacre… essentially, Stab is Scream 1. It soon becomes apparent that the ghost face killer is back to finish the job. The fun thing about this series is that it’s just as much a mystery as it is a horror flick. We’re introduced to a plethora of characters and we know, from experience, that the killer is mingled in somewhere. The movie progresses with blood and genuine scares and of course, some quality criticism of the very movie we’re watching.

Scream 2 really amps up the meta feel of the series. For example (and this could potentially be a spoiler, but you know it’s going to happen almost as soon as the movie starts) the opening scene is of an African American couple attending the screening of Stab. Their conversation is, as is most of the conversations in this film, about movies. Specifically the role of black characters in the horror genre. An often mocked trope is that the black person always dies first. The couple walk into the movie theater, where almost everyone in the theater, thanks to a promotion being run by the studio, almost everyone is has donned the costume that the killer wears in the movie. As the pair watches, we realize that what they’re watching is almost an exact replica of the opening scene in Scream just with a different actress. The scene ends the way anyone watching the movie knows it will, and as the woman screams the title flashes on the screen and we know exactly what to expect and it already feels like a better movie than the first one.

This movie has one huge advantage over it’s predecessor, and it’s an advantage that is normally a detriment to a series; it’s a sequel. The series takes the self awareness we enjoyed in the first movie and eases it into a more comfortable, natural setting. With the characters in college, a number of them indulge in classes such as Film Theory and Theater, the absolute perfect outlets to talk about what the audience is watching. This movie sounds like a thesis paper on the horror genre, and the effects it has on society. The wit is sharper, the jokes hardly fall flat and the killer has an even harder time getting their kill, but ultimately gets plenty as they get closer to their primary target; Sydney Prescott. Those that survived the original movie have pivotal rolls in this film as well and they all do a fantastic job adding to both the comedy and the creepiness of the film. Neve Campbell, as Prescott, attempts to perfect her signature look of half terror half sadness, something that she only improves on in later movies. David Arquette returns as Dewey the incredibly loyal but kind of dim cop. And Courtney Cox returns as reprises her role as Gale weathers.

With more material to work with and a richer back story and characters we’re already acquainted with, Scream 2 surpasses the original in both suspense and humor. Where Scream was a pretty good movie, Scream 2 I absolutely loved. It was the perfect setting for this series.

Battle Royale vs The Hunger Games

BR index

     Since the premise of the first book in the Hunger Games series was first read, comparisons to the popular Japanese manga and film, Battle Royale have been made. Essentially, both premises can be summed up the exact same way: The government is upset at their people, so they force randomly selected children to compete to the death in a widely publicized spectacle. The details concerning the two separate works begin to show the differences in approach, but essentially that premise is what gets people interested in either franchise. Literally, I had no intention of reading The Hunger Games until someone said “It’s just like Battle Royale”, then my interest was piqued. In the human thirst for competition, something dark lurks. No one really wants to see children compete to the death, but it gets them curious as to how and why someone would describe it. A couple thousand years ago, this was basically a widely accepted practice, righ? But I’m not going to get into the mess of a discussion surrounding the morality of such literature, instead I’m going to explain the differences that these two films (we’re going off of the films, not the manga or novel) have.

     The Hunger Games is certainly a more popular franchise, at least in North America. The story paints a bleak dystopian feel where most of the land’s inhabitants live in poverty, the remnants of a failed rebellion are now forcefully suppressed by the evil President Snow. To remind the nation of their rebellion, every year one child from each of the 12 districts is chosen to compete in “The Hunger Games” a televised event in which, after much pomp and circumstance, the kids go at it until there is only one left. While the premise of the movie “kids fighting to the death” may be what got the attention of many, we don’t actually get to the fighting until the latter part of the film. Instead we’re given an inside look at the residents of District 12, where Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist, is from. We see the suffering of the poor, we see the injustice and the social commentary runs wild before we get to the “juicy stuff”. It’s a smart move. I’ve expressed this in regards to horror movies, but it stands here; we need to know our characters before we kill them in order to have an attachment. Jennifer Lawrence delivers a great performance as Katniss, allowing us to get to care about her before her potential death. Once inside the arena, we become extremely conflicted knowing that the majority of the characters are going to die. Some we’re ok with, others leaves the audience with a gut-wrenching realization that this isn’t going to have a happy ending, regardless of if Katniss wins.

     Then we have Battle Royale. Requiem Mass Dies Irae will forever be engraved in my mind as the opening music for this film. The intensity immediately sets the tone for the film, which is essentially “You’re going to get what we promised you.” The kids wear necklaces that explode if they’re in the wrong zone, for crying out loud! The movie wastes no time in delivering one of the most chilling openings I’ve seen to date. Not in that it’s scary, but the morbid contrast of showing the winner of the previous battle being surrounded  by the press. As the crowd parts we see the winner as she’s being whisked away to get cleaned up. It’s a young, maybe eight year old girl. She’s sitting down with her head down looking at the teddy bear in her arms. She’s drenched in blood, probably not her own. As the cameras get closer, she lifts her head revealing a huge grin. Battle Royale wastes no time getting to the point. A randomly selected school class is selected for Battle Royale each year with no prior notice. Our class in this film is on their way home from a field trip on a big bus, when they’re all knocked out with sleeping gas only to awake at orientation. They’re told they have three days to kill each other off or they all die. Supplies are handed out and they’re sent on their way. This movie crams an odd mixture of high school drama, horror and comedy together. It doesn’t carry as weighty as a social message behind it, opting to show how each of the children involved handles their situation. The fact that these kids all go to school together means you get to see some real clique rivalry go down.

     It’s odd that two pieces of film with almost the exact same premise can be so vastly different in their presentation. You’re going to get a movie tamed down in the violence department, but amped up in the drama department with The Hunger Games. Whereas Battle Royale is going to throw about 500 dramatic situations stemming from school crushes, bad home life and academic aspirations. It’s comical at times and pretty sad at other times. The two are exclusive from each other, I’m not going to say one is better than the other, but I will say they’re both quite entertaining; albeit for entirely different reasons.

Prometheus wasn’t THAT bad.


     Sci-fi junkies can be some of the most forgiving people when it comes to bad dialogue, corny circumstances and poorly executed character acting. However, they can also be the most cut throat and critical lot to ever screen a movie. Prometheus had high expectations, there is absolutely no denying that. Ridley Scott hadn’t given us a sci-fi flick since the 1980s, and those were legendary movies that remain icons of the genre. So, flash forward to 2012 and we’re suddenly presented with a film that, for all intents and purposes, is in the same universe as Alien. Reception for this movie was mostly positive, but there is a large group of people that were severely disappointed. It receives flak for a number of reasons, namely the, often times idiotic, actions of the characters in the film. Bare in mind, this is a movie about scientists traveling further than humanity has ever gone in an effort to find aliens that could have potentially started life on earth. That is a premise that’s perfectly accepted, but the actions of those on the team are what ruined the movie.

    First of all, lets talk about the crew that’s been recruited for this mission. Astronauts they are not. The majority of the personnel aboard are experts in very specific scientific fields, few, if any of them had careers in terraforming and/or space exploration. It’s frustrating how stupid some of their actions come across, but guess what? humans aren’t nearly as bright as we’d like to let on. Sure these are educated individuals, but they’re fresh out of their cryo-tanks and rip roaring and ready to get exploring! A mixture of excitement and wonder is more than enough to convince me that their mistakes, as dire as they were, could happen within the scope of the movie. By the reading on all their fancy instruments, everything was A-ok, and remember, they’re scientists, they live by their instruments. People found themselves frustrated with David, the human like robot that attempted to blend in perfectly with the rest of the crew. Gripes are often made about him doing things that didn’t make logical sense. I chalk this up to his AI being set to camouflage itself with the rest of the crew. He can only do what he’s programmed to do.

    Another problem was with the alien race itself. Apparently a large portion of the moviegoing audience found the aliens that created humanity to be pretty dumb. It baffles me that this is even a problem, not because I agree that the aliens are dumb, but the fact that they are an entirely different race of beings that operate on a vastly different plane of cultural and physical existence. I could understand if we were dealing with another culture of humanity, but to gripe about the fact that the actions of an alien race doesn’t make sense to you to the extent that it “ruins the movie” is a bit far fetched. Not enough exposition is in the film for the audience to fully grasp that reasoning behind the aliens actions, nor is there enough for us to know why they reacted the way they did. Honestly, I’m glad for the lack of information, it would have been a much longer movie if they had attempted to explain the fine details of alien reasoning and technology. Some things are best taken at face value, this certainly was one of them.

    While Prometheus isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, no movie is. The biggest complaint on my end is why two character attempt to run from a rolling disk-shaped crashed spacecraft by running directly away from it when a few steps to the left or right would have done the trick. While the problems are there, they aren’t glaring. Prometheus more than delivers on the visuals. We’re talking one of the most breathtaking films to look at in recent memory, building worlds that are equally frightening and beautiful. Perhaps those that were disappointed were so because of a standard they expected to be met. While Alien and Blade Runner had decades to soak into the public consciousness, the expectations for this film was for it to do the same. This was a poor use of expectations when going into a movie, one that more often than not sets you up for disappointment.

The Strangers


 THe strangers

I am a fan of being frightened in movies. I’ve mentioned it before and I probably will every time I review a scary movie that I enjoyed watching. The two most influential scary movies in my life are Jaws and The Thing. Jaws focuses on an unlikely set of circumstances, yet managed to prevent me from drowning at the beach at a young age because I was far too afraid to go in past my ankles for the better part of a year after watching it; to this day I’m convinced my mother let me watch it solely so she could feel more at ease when we visited the ocean. The Thing appeals to my love of the mysterious, the supernatural and the terrifying. Carpenter’s Lovecraftian film of unimaginable horror is smart, bloody and chilling. Both of those movies were received very well by critics. I have become increasingly hard to genuinely scare when it comes to movies. As various horror movies dance their way across my eyes, I find that I enjoy and appreciate the well made ones, but it’s getting harder to get that horror feeling in the pit of my stomach when I watch whose sole intent is to spook me. In 2008, however, a movie came out that did not impress critics. It was cliché, often times submitting itself to the horror tropes common of slasher flicks that had been seen many times before. However, The Strangers was a movie that, for the first time in a long time, reminded me what it felt like to be afraid while watching a movie.

The “home invasion” sub-genre of horror was hardly a new thing when The Strangers rolled in to theaters… which is a big reason why I didn’t see it in theaters. I picked up the DVD, on a whim, used at blockbuster for about four bucks. I went over to a friends house and we dimmed the lights an put it in with no expectations. Slowly, as we’re introduced to the characters and their situation I felt the creeping, crawling feeling of fear find its way in the pit of my stomach. I wasn’t just uncomfortable with what was happening on the screen, I was scared. Scared for what would happen to the characters and scared that maybe something like this could potentially happen to me someday! The movie centers around a couple reeling from earlier, emotional (but not horrific) events. What is known at first is that the pair drove from a friends wedding late at night to a romantic, secluded, cabin getaway (of course it’s a cabin). The two are, for all intents and purposes, heartbroken and, at first, we don’t know why. As the night progresses, strange occurrences escalate into full blown nightmare fuel. All methods of communication and escape are cut and these two people that we took the time to become emotionally involved with, are fighting for their very lives in a scary and secluded scenario.

There is an intrinsic value in getting the audience to connect with the characters in any genre, however with horror it is absolutely essential. What I like so much about the introduction to The Strangers is the level of emotion placed on the two main characters. The event that puts them in such emotional turmoil isn’t traumatic, it isn’t that someone dies or anything like that, but it’s deeply personal and intimate, something that is shared from the get-go with the audience. The film style is simplistic but incredibly effective at keeping us hooked. There is no real melodramatic background music, no over acting, simply two people dealing with an emotionally difficult situation. What some might consider a slow start is exactly what made this movie so scary for me. The difficulty in getting the audience to relate to a set of people in a horror film before terrorizing them is astronomical. Why? Because rarely do horror filmmakers take the time to connect us with their piece of art. That intimate tone used to get us to sympathize and relate with the characters? That stays the whole movie, but when the emotion switches from something sadly personal and into something personally horrifying, we’re right on the same page as Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) as they make that uncomfortable transition.

The movie is atmospherically superior to most in it’s genre. The tone is claustrophobic and isolating, we know that there should only be TWO people in this cabin, but we know there are more. Sure we see some tried and true cheap scares, but honestly in this instance it added to the whole ordeal, at least for my money. People aren’t always scared by the same things, especially in movies. I will never, ever understand the fear some people exhibit towards the Child’s Play movies. Give this the correct viewing environment for maximum fear and you may be surprised. For me, that environment is alone, in the dark, at night and close to the screen. A horror movie isn’t going to do much unless you yield all of your senses to it, and The Strangers is no exception.