Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Top Ten Zombie Movies

In anticipation of the release of Zombieland this Friday, I figured I'd take this opportunity to finally compile my definitive list of the top ten best zombie movies. I have high hopes for this movie -- which looks to be little more than two hours of Woodie Harrelson killing zombies and making jokes -- and hope it can find a place on the second version of this list.

10. Land of the Dead
This isn't the weakest of George Romero's still-chugging-along series of zombie movies, but it is the least brilliant of all his good ones. But it is a good one, even though it pales in comparison to Romero's original trilogy of film. There are some great set pieces in this film and contains Romero's trademark direction and snappy dialogue. It's also notable for being the first -- and, at this point, only -- Romero zombie film that has actual actors you'd ever recognize from any other film, including Dennis Hopper as the biggest douche bag ever.

9. Dawn of the Dead (Remake)
Considering my love for the original Dawn of the Dead, I had no faith that this film would be anything more than an insult to fans like me. Luckily, I was dead wrong. All of the subtext, substance, and social commentary from the original are stripped away in favor of nonstop, gore, action, and thrills, but who really cared about any of that crap anyway? I love Romero's movies, but I don't watch zombie movies for any kind of commentary on the human condition. I want to watch people's heads blow up.

8. Evil Dead Trilogy
All things considered, these films (the first two in particular) are absolutely brilliant and should rank higher in terms of quality than most of the other films on this list, but I held it back to #8 because they are only zombie movies in the most literal sense. I'm probably even risking a lot of flack for including them on this list at all. But come on... the monsters in this movie are reanimated corpses called "deadites." They're zombies. Anyway, these movies are brilliant, incredibly funny, and wickedly scary.

7. Zombi 2
I'm going to attempt to tell you the weird, convoluted history of Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2:

To begin with, there was no real film called Zombi, so Zombi 2 isn't actually a sequel to anything. George Romero's Dawn of the Dead was released in Italy as "Zombi," so (long story short) Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci decided to make a zombie film and call it "Zombi 2." I'm going to give that some time to sink into your brain. But, regardless of its odd and somewhat disingenuous origin, it's still an awesome zombie movie. It's a bit slow and has way too many scenes of people talking (when they should be getting eaten by zombies), but it's an absolutely must see for two scenes:

#1. The scene where the zombie shoves a woman's face so a giant splinter of wood goes right into her eyeball is quite possibly the most gory, disgusting thing I've ever seen. It's absolutely incredible. It's the kind of scene you'll have to rewind a dozen times after seeing it for the first time. If you're into that sort of that, that is.

#2. There's a scene where a zombie fights a shark. And I'm pretty sure it's real. I don't mean that an actual zombie fought a shark, but that a guy dressed like a zombie got into a tank and slapped around an actual shark. I've seen this movie a few dozen times and there's no other possible way they could've filmed it. That's an actual actor pushing around and biting a real shark. It's just about the best scene in zombie movie history.

6. 28 Days/Weeks Later
Yeah, I know the "zombies" in this movie are infected with some virus and aren't actually the living dead, but whatever. They're zombies. I lumped these two films together because, frankly, neither one has enough action, gore, and scares to stand alone against the other films on this list, but when taken together, they are quite satisfying and complimentary companion pieces. Both films have amazing first halves but falter a bit toward their ends, but they are still incredibly gripping, incredibly thrilling zombie films. I like 'em.

5. Shaun of the Dead
For the most part, I'm not a fan of "funny" zombie movies, of which there have been a great many over the years. They usually aren't very funny or the least bit original... but this one is both. I think what sets this film apart from the other "funny" zombie movies is that it isn't really a parody so much as a comedy that stands alone as something funny all by itself. You don't have to know the cliches of the genre to enjoy the jokes in this movie, since it's just a straight up hilarious comedy. And then, somewhere toward the end, it actually gets incredibly tense and pretty scary as well. And there's some really fresh ideas and a lot of gore.

4. Dawn of the Dead (Original)
Not much to say about this one, other than that it's probably most people's pick for the best zombie film of all time. I love it to be sure, but it's obviously not my all time favorite since it's only at #4, but number #4 of all time is still really, really exceptional.

This film is just brilliant. It has become so popular and beloved because -- zombies and gore aside -- it's just a great story that's well told. After the first Dead film, Romero decided to write a sequel where, for all intents and purposes, the zombies had won and taken over the world. This was a brave, bold choice and this was a brave, bold movie. Just watch it. It's a lot of fun. It's just too bad Romero didn't really know how to end it.

3. Return of the Living Dead
This movie is both the funniest and the scariest zombie movie I've ever seen. Even more so than Shaun of the Dead, this film finds the perfect balance between over the top, almost cartoonish scenes of pure slapstick comedy, and the overall tone that is just incredibly claustrophobic, unsettling, and depressing. The zombies in this movie eat brains because, we are told, being a zombie is pure agony and only the taste of brains gives them any comfort at all. Also, once your a zombie in this film, you're a zombie forever. Shots to the head just slow these zombies down. The only way to stop them is to burn them, but even that causes more trouble than it's worth. The world presented in this film is the single bleakest, most terrifying universe I've ever seen.

Well, except for the scene where the hot punk chick does a striptease in the cemetery. That scene was pretty inspiring.

2. Day of the Dead
Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead introduced us to the zombie plague and let us know how some of the population were dealing with things. Day of the Dead lets us know what the military is doing about it, and it sure ain't much. This movie is just crazy good, and it's a completely underrated masterpiece in my opinion. Night and Dawn are rightly deserving of their place as acclaimed works of horror art, but nobody cares about Day, even though it's the most exciting and clever zombie film ever made. It's just an epic film full of amazing characters and brilliant ideas.

It also has the best death scene in movie history:

1. Night of the Living Dead
NOTLD is the Citizen Kane of zombie movies. It didn't invent zombies or even create the genre of films, but it popularized them and introduced the main tropes for which the genre is most well known. But who cares about that? It's just a good movie. It's scary and engaging and fascinating and funny and sad and awe-inspiring.

It's Night of the Living Dead. It's just the best zombie movie ever made, which means it's one of the best movies ever made.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Video Clip of the Week: Rick Moranis

Remember when Rick Moranis used to be the funniest guy in the world? Maybe he still is.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Why Nerds Love Zombies

Vampires are popular with chicks and goths and gay guys because they represent sexuality and repression and some kind of forbidden love and lifestyle choices. But only nerds love zombies. I speak not only as a nerd but as a zombie fanatic, and I'm finally going to reveal why such stories strike such a huge cord with my nerd community.

And that isn't to say that nerds are the only people who enjoy or even love zombies. Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later, etc, were all very popular, universally praised movies, but most of the movie-going public only saw one or maybe two of the countless zombie movies that get churned out year after year, month after month. Nerds see all of them. It doesn't matter that -- for all intents and purposes -- they are all the same movie with the same plots, set pieces, and story arcs. Zombie movies are a little like Dragnet in that only the names have been changed. Even vampires can be popular to more than just goths and girls because the concept of vampirism is one that has been open to many different interpretations and conceptual ideas. The biggest change that has hit zombie films over the past half century is that now sometimes they run fast.

So why do nerds like stories about zombies? Because the world presented in these stories is little more than an exaggerated version of the world nerds already live in. Consider: These stories are about scared, paranoid loners who are terrified to leave their homes, so they board up their windows and doors, only go out when they are sure they won't run into anybody, and run at the first sign of strangers who only want to tear them apart limb from limb. You know, just like how nerds live now.

In fact, if anything, nerds want to live in a world where everybody else is dead, because that means we'll be able to finally play videogames and read comics all day without having to go to work or be bothered by out nextdoor neighbors. Sure, we'll have to avoid zombies, but we can still break into Barnes and Noble and read as many books and Playboy issues as we want without fear of having some kind of awkward, forced social interaction. And in these movies there are always hot girls among the last survivors of humanity. And considering how most girls tell us nerds they wouldn't date us even if we were the last man on Earth, this would be a great way to finally call their bluffs.

Also -- and this is where it might get a little weird -- most nerds think that zombies are a threat we might actually be able to fight off. If I have to go toe to toe with a werewolf, I'm gonna get eaten. Frankenstein's Monster would rip my head off. Dracula wouldn't just kill me, but he'd fuck my girlfriend and then kill me. But a zombie? A zombie is a slow, shuffling corpse that just needs to get banged in the head real good. There's a chance I could take a zombie.

Of course, these are just my theories. I could be wrong.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Jay Leno Show

I'll give this show credit for one thing: It got me to watch a Jay Leno show for the first time in years. Even more than that, it got me to watch two Jay Leno shows in a row for the first time in a decade! That's not to say it's all that good, but that I was curious... and that it's on an hour and a half earlier than the Tonight Show. Turns out, that makes a big difference.

As it turns out, watching the "new" Jay Leno Show out of curiousity was a bit of a curious premise, because the only thing really surprising about it was the lack of any real surprises. For all intents and purposes, this is just the Jay Leno Tonight show without a desk. This isn't all together a bad thing, since Jay Leno has been doing this for over 20 years and he's gotten pretty good at it. Sure, I hear a lot of people complain about Jay because he's not as "edgy" or whatever as some of the other talk show hosts, but whatever. All I need is for a host to be witty when a quip is needed and quiet while a funny guest is talking, and nobody is better at either than Jay. He's wittier than Dave and he's actually able to shut the hell up for a minute and let the guest be funny, unlike Conan who thinks because his name is in the title he's the only one who should get any punchlines. So I like Jay, but never so much that I'm willing to stay up and watch his show.

Now that he's on at 9:00pm here in Minneapolis, well, I'm probably not going to make that much of an effort to watch his show on any regular basis either, but it's nice to know it's there in case I ever get bored and need something else to watch. And I'm not one of those people who complained about how he's taking time away from primetime dramatic shows, because I don't really watch those. If it wasn't Jay, it would just be some CSI: Disneyland clone that I wouldn't watch anyway.

As for the two episodes I watched... I'd give them both around a B+. They were both consistently, but never so much that I was at risk of falling off of my chair. Jay is a funny, likable guy who has great writers, but that's also part of this problem. I like interviews that feel real, and his show works bits and prearranged acts into his interviews far too often. The same goes for his "man on the street" bits, which either rely too much on making "real" people look stupid or feel way too forced and set up, like in the premier episode where Jay meets a baby who has an irrational fear of Conan. Sorry, didn't buy that, although the baby was very cute. It's also weird that whenever Jay interviews "real" people on the street, 99% of them are young, sexy girls. I'm not complaining about that, just making a point about it.

So... all I have to say is that there isn't much more to say. If you liked Jay's Tonight Show, you'll like this because not much has changed. If you hated it, you'll hate this for the same reason. But if you don't care either way, it's there and it'll make you laugh if you happen to tune in. But I'll still probably watch Food Network or that GT Express 101 infomercial again instead.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Patrick Swayze 1952-2009

Rest in peace.

Video Clip of the Week: Plethora of Pinnatas

Youtube is a wonderful website that allows millions (billions?) of people all over the globe to create their own videos and share them with the world. But I don't watch that shit -- not even the videos I've made! -- and neither does anybody else. I use Youtube to watch clips from movies, shows, commercials, or whatever else I remember from my childhood. Some of the clips I remember are better left in the past. But some -- like this one -- hold up and are even more funny than I remember.

So starting with today, I'm going to start posting a videoclip of some sort every Monday. It's something I think I can stick to because it requires very little work on my part other than cutting and pasting.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fast and Furious

I rented the latest Fast and the Furious film the other day, and thought it was a pretty good movie and a worthy entry into the series. If you liked any of the other films -- and if you liked even one of them, I don't see how you couldn't like all of them, since they are all the same movie -- you'll like this one.

I don't really think there's a lot more I can say about this movie, so I'm going to give my overall opinions about every film in the series:

The Fast and the Furious
The first -- and maybe even the best -- film in the series. I missed this film when it first came out because it didn't get much hype, Vin Diesel wasn't famous yet, and I was a poor college student who didn't get out to the movies much. I finally rented it on DVD -- and I remember it in my memory as one of the very first DVDs I ever rented -- and thought it was awesome.

I mean, what's better than an awesome movie car chase? It was a no-brainer to make a movie about underground car racing. Throw in a lot of fighting, explosions, the Yakuza, and a star-making performance from Vin Diesel, and you've got a movie classic. This isn't my absolute favorite film in the series, but maybe that's because it's actually kind of a good movie. It has a story with a beginning, middle, and end, a decent script where the characters actually follow story arcs that change them for the better over the course of the story, and a director who actually attempts to tell a story with some amount of subtlety. The next few films are all cartoon versions of this film, but while that may make them dumber and derivative, it makes them a little more fun.

But Vin Diesel is awesome. And the rest of the cast are all a lot of fun too.

2 Fast 2 Furious
This movie is about 1,000 times better than it should've been. A sequel to the Fast and the Furious that doesn't have Vin Diesel? No offense to Paul Walker, but nobody watches these movies to see his attempts at acting. And I actually like Paul Walker. But somehow... this movie works. I give most of the credit to John Singleton's direction, who is a ridiculously talented director who deserves a much better career than the one he's stuck with. But Hollywood is fickle which benefits people who want to watch dumb racing movies with actual directors behind the camera.

Anyway, this movie is much more entertaining than Boyz N the Hood.

This movie is dumb to be sure, but it has better racing sequences than the first film and a story that better embraces the inherent stupidity of this genre. The only thing that keeps this film being the perfect FF movie is the lack of Vin Diesel. I like Tyrese a lot and think he did a great job, but come on. He's no Vin Diesel. This movie needed Vin Diesel.

But at least it had Ludacris.

Tokyo Drift
I think of this movie as "Fast and Furious Lite" or even "Fast and Furious Babies," since it is ostensibly set in the same "universe" as the other films, but details the lives of a bunch of high school kids living in Tokyo. This movie also has Yakuza and some shady bad guys, but at the end of the day, it's just a coming of age story about a guy who loves to race fast cars.

So... it's an odd fit for the rest of the series, but it's actually a really good film all things considered. The story almost makes sense, and the racing is actually integrated into the plot far better than it is in the other films. The characters in this movie race for the sake of racing, instead of the plot setting up some ridiculous situation where Paul Walker had to enter some race in order to capture a drug dealer. That got old real fast.

And this movie has some of the best racing I've ever seen, with the "drifting" style really setting itself apart from the pack. This is cool stuff. And while this movie still doesn't have Vin Diesel -- it doesn't even have Paul Walker! -- the cast is still really good. I think Lucas Black is a fantastic actor who should be more famous than he is, and Bow Wow isn't as annoying as you'd think as the obligatory black friend. Nathalie Kelley is probably the most beautiful woman in the entire series, and Sung Kang's performance as Han is probably the most engaging and likable character since the disappearance of Vin Diesel from the first movie. In fact, Han is even more likable and fun than Diesel's character.

I actually reviewed this movie when it first came out. You can read it here.

Fast and Furious
First of all, that's just a lazy title. They should've been braver and called it "The Fast and the FOURious."

Anyway all of that brings us to this film, about which I've already said all I can in that first paragraph above. It's a good Fast and the Furious movie that attempted to return the series back to its roots, which is both good and bad in my opinion. I can understand why they went back to the series roots, since Tokyo Drift was far and away the lowest grossing film in the series, but it was also one of my favorites. Also, Vin Diesel comes a lot cheaper these days than he did when 2 Fast 2 Furious went into production. And Paul Walker comes even cheaper.

Storywise, this is the weakest in the series, since I honestly didn't really know what was going on, what the characters intentions were, or who the villain really was for most of the movie. It was just a mess. But bringing back director Justin Lin (of Tokyo Drift fame) was a good decision, since his talent for directing amazing racing sequences pretty much makes him the best F&F director ever. He's also notable for being the only two-time F&F director, for whatever that's worth. He puts a a lot more CG into his films than the other directors, but considering how the films have been coming out for close to a full decade now, that's to be expected. Every film has a lot more CG now than they did in 2001.

This film definitely feels more like the completion of the true trilogy than Tokyo Drift did. I think of Tokyo Drift as more of a stand-alone side story than a real part of the series. It is interesting to note that this film actually took place before Tokyo Drift. We know this because of the cameo by Han, who talks about how he's going to move to Tokyo because he heard that the racers are doing a lot of "crazy" stuff over there. Also, Han died at the end of Tokyo Drift (spoiler!!!!) so it had to come last chronologically for obvious reasons. None of this is the least bit important, nor will most people even notice or think about it. I'm just a nerd who's seen too many Fast and Furious movies.

And while I may have seen too many of these movies, I hope they keep cranking them out. The next film in the series should come full circle and have Paul Walker and Vin Diesel travel to Japan to meet up with the cast of Tokyo Drift.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


The trailer for Jim Cameron's upcoming epic Avatar went online a little while ago, and after watching it maybe a half dozen times, I still don't know what to think. It's a mostly dialogue-free teaser to be sure, so it's probably not the best introduction to the film, but I was still expecting... more. But that's only to be expected since the hype created by Cameron and the studio said it would be the most technically advanced achievement in movie history to date.

And maybe it will be. I certainly have faith in Jim Cameron, both as a storyteller and as a special effects pioneer. Afterall, he was the man whose Terminator 2 dazzled the world with some of the first CG effects a full 2 years before Jurassic Park. And he has proven to be a master of the science fiction/action genre with such films as Terminator and the Abyss.

But still... it looks like World of Warcraft, only not quite as cool. Maybe it will be amazing in 3-D -- and all firsthand accounts attest to that fact -- and maybe I'll even see it in 3-D, which would be something special because it's an "advance" in recent filmmaking that has overextended its welcome, in my opinion. I can't remember what film I saw recently, but when my girlfriend and I purchased tickets, we were given a choice of 5 or 6 dollars for the regular showing or over 10 dollars (!) for the 3-D version. Thanks, but no thanks. We'll be Luddites and stick with the regular version. First of all, I wear glasses so having to wear 3-D glasses over those is annoying. Second of all... come on. I don't need to pay double the price just to see some crap shot into my face over and over again.

And don't get me started on the recent popularity of showing blockbuster movies in Imax theatres. Those aren't just ten dollars, they're about 14 dollars. I saw Speed Racer in Imax because I was at the Minnesota Zoo and figured I may as well see something on their Imax sceen as long as I was there. It was definitely a cool experience and the movie looked and sounded great, but it wasn't worth 14 dollars. And I even liked the movie. The thing about Imax is that the best seat in the house is about 10 times better than the best seat in a regular theatre, but the worst seat in the house is about 1,000 times worse than the worst seat in a regular theatre. There are about twenty good seats in an Imax theatre, but all of the others have crazy distortion where the picture looks warped and you have to crane your neck to see anything.

But we were talking about Avatar. I think it looks cool. I'll see it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Inglorious District

I saw a couple of movies recently, and since my girlfriend told me that my reviews are way too long and impossible to read, I'm going to give my brief thoughts on both of them. Let's see if I can stick to it.

Possible, but minor, spoilers follow:

District 9

I didn't really care for this movie. As a film, it was a pretty neat, great looking action film, but as a work of science fiction, it fell flat. What can you say about a science fiction film where the humans act more alien than the beings from another planet?

It began with a wonderful premise: A ship full of aliens lands appears over South Africa and the humans have to figure out how to house, feed, and take care of these extraterrestrial refugees. A great premise that, unfortunately, just wasn't thought through to any satisfying extent. It simply wasn't believable that the greatest scientific event in the history of humanity would be considered as this kind of after thought, with the ship all but ignored and the aliens abandoned to live in shacks with all but no supervision, scientific study, or any attempt at quarantine.

And then the "plot" reveals itself with one of the worst "macguffins" in he history of science fiction: A fluid that -- for no explained reason -- is able to both power the alien spacecraft and rearrange a human's DNA so he turns into one of the aliens. Huh? When the main character got infected with this fluid and began to change, I assumed that this was the intended use of what was probably some kind of alien bioweapon. But, as it turned out, the entire plot of the film was just an unexplained, unintended byproduct of the fluid's actual use as a fuel source. I'm sorry, but that's just bad storytelling.

And then the rest of the film just never clicked. Everything just felt rushed and glossed over in order to make events unfold and characters act in the way that the screenwriter -- and not logic -- intended. One of the worst examples of this was the terrible assault on the MNU headquarters, an operation the characters said would be so impossible that it was virtually a suicide mission. But all of a sudden the two characters were there, in the vault, and then back to District 9 in the span of about five minutes. Why was it so easy for the most wanted man in the country to continually sneak into and escape from what should be the most heavily studied and fortified "district" on the planet?

But the special effects were fantastic and the main actor was quite good. It's just too bad his character was given no depth, personality, or heroic qualities. Don't believe this hype. This movie kind of sucked.

Inglorious Basterds

Now this one I liked, even though it was even weirder and more impossible to believe than District 9. It was awkwardly structured, incredibly drawn out, and had as much historical accuracy as a pot head's history 101 final exam, but at least it was ridiculously entertaining. It's definitely a Quentin Tarantino film.

To begin with, this wasn't a film about the "Basterds" at all, but really three or four short films all strung together with little to no connection until maybe the very end. In fact, the Basterds are in this film for maybe a half hour to 45 minutes tops, which is actually fine since they are the least compelling characters in the film. Brad Pitt is wonderful and quirky and compelling and everything I hoped he would be in a film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, but all of the other Basterds have maybe ten or so lines between them. Some of them are given names and one or two are even given a brief attempt at a personality trait, but that's about it. For the most part, they are just a bunch of gruff looking guys standing behind Brad Pitt as he recites hilarious dialogue. If I have any complaints about this film, that would be the biggest one: In a film that clearly tried to be epic in scope, there are really only two or three characters that are the least bit three dimensional or likable in any way, shape, or form.

But, again, it doesn't matter at the end of the day because it's all so much fun. Tarantino's talent for dialogue has reached a new high, in my opinion, since almost the entire film is told and unraveled through extended one on one conversations between the characters. This was an especially impressive piece of writing and direction considering how most of the dialogue is German or French. The decision to have every character speak in their own native language was a brilliant decision that lend some realism to a period piece that in no other way felt the least bit real or authentic. Nazis are so much more terrifying when they are actually speaking German, and not in some posh, effete British accent.

And speaking of Nazis, Austrian actor Christopher Waltz's Colonel Hans Landa is the best Nazi I've ever seen in any movie. And by that I mean, you know, the worst. This guy is so good at being creepy and evil and brilliant and charming that he completely stole the movie and will have you waiting on the edge of your seat for him to come back on screen. His opening scene in the farm house was one of the most exciting set pieces I've ever seen, even though it was just two men talking to one another across a table. The fact that Waltz was equally brilliant in German, French, Italian, and English was astounding. If he doesn't get an Oscar nomination, I'll be shocked.

At the end of the day, the film didn't really come together at the end as well as I would've hoped, with a big military operation that just rang hollow and false in too many ways, The heroes never really did anything remotely heroic, and weren't even vital to the overall story's flow or purpose. They existed just to be a cliched homage to war films like the Dirty Dozen. And that's fine, because the film they were in was so well done and fun, but think of how much more brilliant it would've been with a little more time and effort put in. But, I loved it. It wasn't Tarantino's best, but it was probably his most fun.