Wednesday, December 30, 2009

December 2009: Ataque de Pánico!

This month’s short film, Ataque de Pánico! / Panic Attack, has been chosen less because the film is spectacularly original—which it isn’t—than because it comes from Uruguay, one of my favorite countries, and features the total destruction of that nation’s capitol city Montevideo, which is also one of my favorite cities. (I was there most of November, which explains why there were so few entries in this blog last month.)
According to the BBC, Ataque de Panico! was made by Federico Alvarez with a budget of around 300 dollars and then placed on Youtube, where it quickly caused waves and garnered interest—so much interest, in fact, that Alvarez has supposedly now been contracted by Sam Raimi to make a full-length science fiction film with a budget of 30 million dollars. One hopes that the feature-length film will have a bit more depth than just robots attacking Uruguay, but no matter how it turns out I already know I’ll be going to see it. (Uruguay is not the most productive of countries when it comes to films, so I pretty much see anything from it if given the chance.)
In any event, even if the film plot to Ataque de Panico! is a one-liner (“Alien robots attack Montevideo”), Alvarez shows a fine directorial eye in this little short and at least serves the events in a thrilling and eye-catching manner, building the suspense and terror to the only truly logical outcome possible.

Adams aebler / Adam’s Apples (Denmark, 2005)

“Adam, this makes no sense at all. I am a man of science, I believe in numbers and charts. Goddamnit, I wanna go someplace, where people die when they are sick, and don't sit in the yard eating cowboy toast when they have been shot through the head.”

OK, I’ll admit it: I’m a radical atheist. When I grew up, while everyone else had O.J. Simpson as their hero and role model, I had Madalyn Murray O’Hair—God rest her soul. As far as I’m concerned, God—under any name—doesn’t exist; The Bible is not the word of "God" but the word of a bunch of seriously questionable weirdoes, some more intelligent than others, that have hoodwinked a lot people to think that they had a direct line to "the Creator"; and Mary was less a virgin than the world’s first and best used car salesperson—which, in turn, expresses what I think when it comes to whose son Jesus was.
With this in mind, it's easy to understand why one of the worst cinematic experiences I ever had was Lar von Trier's Breaking the Waves (1996 / trailer), which had me gagging in the theatre—although, in truth, I do like Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928 / trailer), from which Trier borrows the last shot in his film (of bells ringing in heaven). It is also the reason why I chose not to see Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ (2004 / trailer), despite it being recommended to me by numerous people as the best gore film of that year. (Were Gibson ever to remake Schindler’s List [1993 / trailer], however, I might go and see it.) OK, it didn’t stop me from seeing the depressing Uruguayan film El bãno del Papa / The Pope's Toilet (2007 / trailer), but in that case not only did the film’s country of origin outweigh the film’s topic when it came to piquing my interest, but the film proved to be subtly critical of the Pope's distance to social realities. Still, given a choice, if a film is about religion, I tend to leave it to others—much as I do lesbian porno films.
Thus, as one might surmise, had I known that Adam's Apples was a pro-religious track, it would have probably never found its way into my DVD player. But stuck as it was between two other horror films (My Bloody Valentine's Day [2009 / trailer] and Perkin's 14 [2009 / trailer]) on a DVD lent to me by a co-worker of the aunt of a friend of my neighbor’s sister, I naturally assumed it would be yet another celluloid fountain of blood. Well, for the most part I was completely wrong—and luckily, if you ask me, for religion be damned: Adam's Apples is a darn-tooting cool film! But then, perhaps that was to be expected, seeing that the previous film written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, the writer and director of Adam's Apples, was the off-the-wall Danish flick The Green Butchers (2003 / trailer).
Adam's Apples tells the tale of a Nazi skinhead asshole—are there any other type?—named Adam (Ulrich Thomsen) who gets sent to the rural church of the county pastor Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen) for some community service. Ivan is all smiles and sunshine, incapable of seeing the bad in life—to the point of being seriously disconnected with reality. Outside the church is a large and fecund apple tree, and in an early exchange between Ivan and Adam about what the violent-prone Adam should do during his time there, Adam sarcastically states he wants to bake an apple pie. Ivan takes him for his word, assigning Adam an apple pie as his task, and from then on the tree seems doomed as it is befallen first by ravens, then by worms, and finally by lightening. Day in and day out Adam awakens to the noise of his picture of Hitler falling from the wall and the Bible sliding onto the floor and opening to The Book of Job with a thud. The more he is confronted with Ivan’s blind optimism, the more he is driven to destroy Ivan's view of the world. But even as he succeeds, the surreally black and humorous events that lace daily life begin to get to him, causing him (perhaps for the first time in his life) to question things...
His skinhead friends show up on the scene not once but twice, the second time resulting in what should be a (bloody) tragedy, but wait! Miracles do happen...
Adam's Apples is an at times politically incorrect but pro-faith film cleverly disguised as an insane horror farce. For much of the film, the viewer is as lost as Adam, unsure whether what is happening on film is really happening or whether someone slipped some hallucinogen in the beer. A well-acted black comedy, the events and dialog are often so dry and odd that one is unsure what the fuck the film is actually about; the occasional scenes of violence are not exactly timid, but with exception of one shocking scene, Adam's Apples is anything but a splatter film.
Absurd, brutal, life-affirming, depressing, funny, surreal, weird—these and other such adjectives are applicable to more than one scene in the movie, often all at the same time. And as a result of the thorough strangeness of the film and events it shows, the occasional lapses in logic—no police, a skinhead who gets shot in the back a couple of times and still walks away, a huge church with a congregation of only the film’s characters, etc—end up hardly being noticeable. The last scene, which involves the shared enjoyment of Take That's version of "How Deep Is Your Love" does sort of take some of the fun away, but within the context of the film the event reflects the most logical conclusion. Redemption, after all, is there for those who want it.
In short: Fans of filmic oddities like Delicatessen (1991 / trailer), Siam Sunset (1999) or Pep Squad (1998 / trailer) or will probably find this relatively excellent film right up their alley, but if you’re more The Ten Commandments (1956 / trailer) type, you might rather watch a lesbian porno flick.

Død Snø / Dead Snow (Norway, 2009)

If one discounts Kill Buljo: The Movie (2007), a dilettantish and unfunny Kill Bill (2003/04) parody that defies logic and patience, then Død Snø / Dead Snow is the directorial debut of Tommy Wirkola–and what a nice debut it is!
Like so many wannabe filmmakers, Wikola tackles the ever-loved genre of zombies for his debut, but unlike most young whippersnappers, he tackles the less-popular sub-genre of Nazi zombies as found in such fun (but usually Golden Turkey) timewasters as Shock Waves (1977 / trailer), Le lac des morts vivants (1981 / trailer), Oasis of the Zombies (1981 / trailer), Night of the Zombies II (1981 / trailer), and Outpost (2008/ trailer).
In fact, the basic concept behind the origin of the Nazi zombies in Dead Snow is surprisingly similar to that in Jean Rollin’s classic non-classic of celluloid junk Le lac des morts vivants, only instead of lying below the waters of a local lake in France, in Dead Snow the zombies lie beneath the snow of Norway.
Luckily, Dead Snow shares little else with Rollin's legendary celluloid mistake and, instead, reveals itself in the long run to have much more in common with another zombie sub-genre, the zombie comedy. But unlike the other most recent zombie comedy—Hollywood's Zombieland (2009 / trailer)—Dead Snow places much less emphasis on witty dialogue and instead goes for blood-splattered gags in a comparable manner to that pursued by Peter Jackson in Braindead (1992 / trailer), the film poster of which is seen briefly on the t-shirt of some of the film's Norwegian zombie fodder.

Dead Snow does not start out all that auspiciously. The usual unisex group of seven virtually interchangeable characters drive deep into the snow-covered backlands of the Norwegian mountains for a weekend of fun at a deserted cabin owned by an eighth (whom we see killed in the opening scene). Their inane blather—about classic horror films such as Friday the 13th (1980 / trailer), The Evil Dead I (1981 / trailer) and II (1987 / trailer), and April Fool's Day (1986 / trailer)—aggravates only a little less than the scenes of them having a good time on the snow or in the hut. Nothing new here, much like the later evening visit of an unfriendly local camper (Bjørn Sundquist) who both insults and warns his hosts of the dangers of the region only to wander back to his camp and promptly become the first victim to suffer the very disembowelment he foretold for the teen fodder.
But for all the predictability of the film's first half-hour, Dead Snow begins to find its footing at the point when the handsome stud of the bunch, Vegard (Lasse Valdal), zooms off on his snowmobile to look for his missing girlfriend; after discovering the disembowelled camper, he soon has his hands full with undead Nazis and, in one the film’s many funny gore pieces, Nazi intestines. Back at the cabin things initially remain pretty mundane (the others drink and party and discover some Nazi booty) until a hilariously tasteless sex scene in the outhouse—you notice where his hand had been just before she puts it in her mouth?—and the zombies begin their siege.The ones that had sex are of course the first to go, and what follows thereafter swings between the tension of the hunt and a lot of great sight gags, funny exchanges and blood-drenched humour. The scene stolen directly from The Descent (2005 / trailer) wasn't really needed, perhaps, but aside from that slight mishap the bodycount in Dead Snow grows in enjoyable explosions of plasma and gore even as the film goes (successfully) for laughs. And, unbelievably enough, once the Nazis show up, the faceless young adults actually manage to develop enough individuality that the viewer roots for them, thus making the events a bit more involving as well.
Dead Snow is not a breathtaking, genre-bending masterpiece, but it is some fine, perfectly seasoned gore cheese and as such more than adequately soothes the palate of fans of the genre. Full of viscera and oddball laughs, once you get past the lame start, the only thing Dead Snow lacks that would helped made it even better is a nude scene, something was once a guarantee in any European horror film.

Hard Rain (USA, 1998)

Hard Rain is totally brainless eye candy, a well-made thriller that works in spite of itself. The script is a dramatic abortion with cardboard characterization that lacks all logic or believability, but is high enough on thrills and pace to hide many of the flaws—much like the scripts to Speed (1994 / trailer) and Broken Arrow (1996 / trailer), which also were penned by Hard Rain's scriptwriter Graham Yost.
A definite plus is that none of the actors seem to take the film or themselves too seriously, and the fun they bring to the movie definitely goes a long way. Director Mikaal Salomon’s roots as a cinematographer are obvious in this film, his second full-length film, and his visual talent is fun to watch. In fact, his camera work is often so startlingly good that the viewer cannot help but sit up and take appreciation of the way the scene has just been shot.
A good example of one such shot is the one that opens the film, when the camera pans down the mountain used in Paramount Film company logo, through the rain clouds and over hill and dale, down through the town in one long (computer generated) shot.
Luckily, Salomon's talent goes beyond simple eye candy, as he is also able to time the film tightly enough to keep the rollercoaster ride fast, furious and fun. Like the actors, he too seems to know that while the script is shit the film is fun. A hybrid mixture of crime, action and disaster with a light dosage of romance, Hard Rain only finally truly insults the viewer's intelligence during the last three minutes, when they are forced to witness a totally banal and pointless "good news bad news" exchange between the hero and heroine as the semi-bad hero rows off for Belize. (In truth, a braver and more satisfying ending would have had all three paddling off for Belize and no "good news bad news" banter.)
The long opening pan-shot pretty much sets the situation: somewhere in the Midwest—Huntingburg, Indiana we later learn—where a storm is raging and a damn is having its limits tested, Tom (Christian Slater) and his uncle Charlie (Ed Asner) are armored car drivers collecting the money from the various banks in path of the flood. When the van gets bogged down on a flooded road, Jim (Morgen Freeman) and his men try to rob them; two minutes later Charlie is a floater and Tom has disappeared, dragging the money bags behind him. He manages to hide the money, but the bad guys are hard on his tail.
Eventually he ends up teaming up with the unnecessary female character and romantic interest (Minnie Driver as Karen) and, after greed goes to the head of the local sheriff (Randy Quaid) and his deputies, he ends up working with Jim, whose gang has gotten dusted. And then, just as one deputy has handcuffed Karen to a stairwell to rape and kill her, and Jim and Tom get cornered in a church, the damn breaks....
Sit back, turn off your brain and enjoy the ride. But whatever you do, don't think!

Vier Schlüssel (West Germany, 1965)

Vier Schlüssel opens with a funeral, over which the voice of the dead man cynically intones about how nice the attention is. Then, reminiscent of Sunset Blvd. (1950 / trailer), the story is told in flashback of how he came to die.
The weekend has arrived and the bank director Rose (Walter Rilla) awaits the arrival of his daughter Sylvia (Monika Peitsch, also seen in Der Bücklige von Soho / The Hunchback of Soho [1968 / trailer]). As normal, the four keys needed to open the bank vault are handed out to four different faithful employees for the weekend. In no time flat, Rose is at the mercy of the suave, unscrupulous Alexander Ford (an excellent Günther Ungeheuer) and his henchmen. First recalcitrant about revealing who has the keys, Rose's tone changes once the bad guys get his daughter in their hands. One by one the various keys are procured, though none prove easy to get, with at least two people dying. (Two others are also left unconscious and possibly dead.) Time gets tighter and tighter, but finely the bad guys get to the bank, Rose and Sylvia in tow, and the vault is opened. But if things went bad before, now the shit really hits the fan...
Director Jürgen Roland, along with writer Wolfgang Menge, holds a place of honor in the history of modern German television for creating Germany's first criminal series, Stahlnetz, which ran a good ten years after debuting to great popularity in 1958. Primarily a television man, Roland, who died in 2007, also took on the occasional cinematic assignment, including the Edgar Wallace films Der rote Kreis / The Crimson Circle (1960 / trailer) and Der grüne Bogenschutz / The Green Archer (1961 / trailer) and a few tawdry "Hong Kong" films, Heisser Hafen Hong Kong / Hong Kong Hot Harbor (1962) and Das Mädchen von Hong Kong / From Hong Kong with Love (1967). (The Hong Kong movies, as well as the films of a similar series based in St. Pauli, are among the least-popular of the many forgotten low budget, campy and wonderfully entertaining franchises of the numerous German film series produced in the 1960s. Other franchises of the time also include such favorites as the Jerry Cotton movies, the Fu Manchu movies, the Winnetou movies, the Dr. Mabuse films and, of course, the legendary Edgar Wallace movies.)

In the middle of the busy 1960s, Roland also made this film, a surprisingly effective, serious and relatively well-made thriller narrating a well-planned bank robbery in Hamburg and how it (of course) goes wrong. Based on the novel by Max Pierre Schaeffer, tight and well paced, the film is also very much a product of its time, and time itself has also made the movie an interesting social studies of (West) German society in the mid-sixties. Throughout the movie, Roland interjects in passing the posters, speeches and election songs used by the various political parties actually running for office at the time, their glowing praise for the country's standing an ironic play against the criminal actions taking place. To paraphrase what Alexander Ford—the main bad guy of the movie—says at one point, "The Wirtschaftswunder has passed us by, so we want to take it. (The Wirtschaftswunder, or "economic miracle," is what the German's call the period in the 1950s and 60s when, still recovering from the war but working hard, the German economy took off to new, unheard of heights, helping to make the country the economic power it is today.)
Another aspect of German culture that comes to surface in Vier Schlüssel that probably strikes many people today as odd is how so many people are willing to risk their lives—indeed, a couple actually die doing so—to stop the thieves from stealing money that is not only not theirs but probably insured as well. (Ordnung Muss Sein!) As an added attraction, Roland even filmed the airport arrival of one character at the very moment The Rolling Stones flew into town, complete with a 3 second shot of Brian Jones in the limo—but no Mick Jagger, oddly enough.

For years a mostly forgotten film, seldom if ever seen or even shown on late night television, Vier Schlüssel is now available on DVD.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Thinner (USA, 1996)

Tom Holland proved his stuff in the late 1970s by providing scripts for such fun stuff as television’s The Initiation of Sarah (one of four writers needed to flesh out a really cheesy Carrie [1976 / trailer] variation, featuring Morgan Fairchild, Shelley Winters, Robert Hays and Tisa Farrow!), Class of 1984 (trailer), Mark Lester’s 1982 remake of Blackboard Jungle (1955 / trailer), and Richard Franklin’s entertaining body-counter Psycho II (1983 / trailer). In 1985 he was finally given the chance to direct one of his own scripts, and the result was the mildly entertaining teenage vampire thriller Fright Night (trailer). While Fright Night is good, Holland actually only secured his place in the history of modern horror films two years later with the third film he directed, also from his own script. No matter how low he might ever go, no matter how many bad or mediocre films he might one day make, Holland has the honor of having co-created, in Child’s Play (1988 / trailer), one of the horror icons of that decade, everyone’s favorite bloodthirsty and erudite doll, Chucky.
Regrettably, he seems to have shot his load with that film. For since then his projects have been passable at best, and have even sunk as low as the idiotic television adaptation of Stephen King’s The Langoliers (1995 / trailer), a dramatization of the trials and tribulations of Mr. & Mrs. Packman with rabies. Why Holland would choose to return to Stephan King—or, in this case, “Richard Bachman”—as a source for another film the year later is a mystery only he can answer.
King, this century’s Herman Melville when it comes to the number of pages his turgid novels usually have, has been trying to write The Great American Horror Novel for years. As a result, he has cranked out more second-rate crap than the whole rest of Maine has yet to shit, little of which has translated very well onto the film. True, there were excellent film adaptations of Misery (1990 / trailer), Dolores Claiborne (1995 / trailer), Carrie (1976) and Dead Zone (1983 / trailer), but the passable adaptations are easily outnumbered by the likes of Pet Sematary (1989 / trailer), Christine (1987 / trailer), Maximum Overdrive (1986 / trailer) and the numerous unbearable television mini-series that regularly flicker across the small screen. At this point in time, King, undoubtedly the most filmed author ever, spits out so much verbiage so quickly that one has little time or interest to read the book before the film comes out. Thus, any comparisons between King’s novel and Holland’s film are rather pointless. The question can only be, is Thinner the movie any good?
Well, it isn’t exactly bad. True, the story is full of holes, none of the characters are likable and the motivation of virtually everyone is questionable at best (if not completely inconsistent), but Thinner does feature some good special effects and make-up, not to mention an oddly pervasive oppressiveness as well as one skin crawlingly sick kissing scene. Besides, any film that features a half-way decent performance from Robert Burke can’t be that bad. Burke might be excellent for such entertaining arthouse fodder like The Unbelievable Truth (1990) or Simple Men (1992 / trailer), or even for such artsy fartsy horror excursions like Dust Devil (1992 / trailer), but there is a reason that he is primarily a bit-part actor or star of such crap as Robocop III (1993 / trailer): he can’t really act. In Thinner, however, he obviously tried to—and the results are okay.
Burke actually holds his own against Joe Mantegna, an Italian character actor whom time has proven to be much better than his inauspicious start in Xanadu (1980 / trailer) ever indicated (the scenes were all cut). In Thinner, Mantegna plays Richie Ginelli, a machinegun toting Mafioso that fat slob of a lawyer Billy Halleck (Robert Burke) gets off of some charge at the film's beginning. Soon after we are introduced to the band of gypsies parked across from Town Hall in the little Maine town, including Tadzu Lempke (regular television character actor Michael Constantine) and his hot-stuff daughter Gina (Kari Wuhrer, the silicon upholstered hot thing best remembered as either Abigail on TV’s Swamp Thing or for dying by getting too close to Jon Voight’s crotch in Anaconda [1987 / trailer].) They get driven out of town, but later on, while driving home from some restaurant and getting a blowjob from his wife Heidi (Lucinda Jenney), Billy accidentally runs over and kills Tadzu’s oldest daughter. At the trial, of course, Billy gets off much too lightly, so Tadzu places a gypsy curse on him. Low and behold, the fat slob begins to lose weight—and no matter how much he eats, can’t stop doing so. Soon he finds out that the cop and judge that helped him get off so lightly were likewise cursed and are also both suffering terribly—one getting advanced acromegaly, the other advanced dandruff. And to boot, is his wife screwing around with the local doc or not? A mere wisp of a man searching for the gypsies and hiding from the cops (that wife and doc, convinced that he is bonkers—or maybe to make sure he doesn’t get the curse undone—have sicced on him), in desperation he turns to Ginelli for help. Ginelli might believe in curses, but that doesn’t stop him from helping....
The character Ginelli seems more narratively convenient than realistic, but he serves his function, and is probably the most charismatic person in the film. Billy’s constant pleading for Ginelli to not to spill more blood rings hollow considering both his prior actions and what he does once the curse is “lifted.” The anger of the gypsies might be justified, but never do they act in such a way to gain any sympathy from the viewer. All that aside, while the level of tension is never that high because of the general predictability of the events, the acting and makeup are top notch, and there are moments of truly great, dry humor. And again, if the big kissing scene doesn’t turn your stomach, then nothing will.
Oh yes, lest we forget: Stephan King also does his mandatory three-minute appearance in some incidental part.

Spawn (USA 1997)

The debut film of Mark A. Z. Dippé, a filmmaker who you have probably never heard of but who went on seven years later to make the fabulously titled Frankenfish (2004 / trailer). Currently, 13 years after Dippé's film version of Todd McFarlane’s popular comic character failed to make a lot of waves, a sequel—the eponymously named Spawn II—is in the works to revive and reimage a film franchise that never was. A good time as any to take a look at the first flick, the one that bombed...
Government assassin Al Simmons (Michael Jai White) is weary of his job, unable to see what good it brings and tired of taking out too many innocent bystanders when fulfilling his contracts. Sent by his boss Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen) on one last job, Simmons gets double-crossed, with both his boss and rival assassin Jessica Priest (Melinda Clarke) showing up on site not only to kill him but to make sure he knows who did it. (Typically comic book plotting: The Big Boss showing up at a location he would never go to just to have one last gloat over the man he is out to kill.) Wynn has long since made a deal with the devil, promising to release a deadly, incurable virus so as to hasten the end of the world. In hell, Simmons also makes a deal with the evil one, promising to eventually lead the armies of darkness in exchange for being able to return to earth. Back on earth as a burnt monster four or five years after his original death, Spawn slowly masters the superpowers of his cape and “necro-flesh” as he sets out to revenge himself against Wynn. All the while, as the evil Clown (John Leguizamo) constantly intrigues between the two, forever trying to get Armageddon rolling, the tired but good protector of earth Cogliostro (Nicol Williamson) attempts to get Spawn to choose the path of righteousness, to take his place in the fight against evil.....

Providing the viewer is not the type of person that hates caped superheroes, and despite all the bad word of mouth by disappointed fans, those less familiar with Todd McFarlane’s comic character upon which the film is based—and thus unhampered by any expectations—will find Spawn a somewhat predictably plotted but nonetheless visually exciting film that took full advantage of everything that computer animation had to offer in 1997. Although the film really doesn’t make that much sense, its pervading visual styling goes a long way in making it enjoyable; the few minutes added to “The Director’s Cut”—or whatever you want to call the R-rated version—don’t really add much more to the film other than a bit more violence.
Fun and entertaining, Spawn suffers only from a trite plot and script that has all the depth, logic and development of the most generic comic book of the late Bronze Age. But then, in the original comics Spawn had issues and issues to develop and grow as a character, whereas the film has but only 98 minutes. The combined scriptural involvement of McFarlane and co-scripter Alan B. McElroy—the latter being the writing talent behind Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988 / trailer) and Wrong Turn (2003 / trailer)—weren’t enough to give much substance to their material or prune it of clichés.
These flaws, however, are well balanced by the faith the director and cast appear to have had in their material. Everyone involved, from the director down to the actors, seem to be giving all they’ve got—which sometimes isn’t very much—and that helps carry the film past many a normally unforgivable plotting sin. John Leguizamo as The Clown excels, his obnoxious talkativeness fitting the character perfectly, allowing him to spit one tasteless one-liner after the other more quickly than Lori Petty in Tank Girl (1994 / trailer). (Gotta love that maggot-eating scene—what an actor won’t do today. Remember when John Waters had to substitute raisins for cockroaches in Desperate Living [1977 / trailer]? Those days seem over with forever—though it is still doubtful a mainstream actor will ever go the extremes that Divine did in Pink Flamingoes [1972 / trailer].)
Former cult sex-pot Melinda Clarke flits across the screen much too briefly as Jessica Priest, doing another one of those sexy, S&M-tinged characterizations that she looks perfect for. Perhaps she isn’t really as much fun as she is in The Killer Tongue (1996 / trailer), in which she sports a deadly, possessed and talking tongue, but her early departure in Spawn is nonetheless lamentable. Martin Sheen tries hard to achieve a level of camp nastiness as Jason Wynn, and though he is fun enough to watch, he hardly comes close to being half as fun as, say, Treat Williams in The Phantom (1996 / trailer).

In the end, Spawn is an example of a perfectly entertaining but generic comic book adaptation, but due to its somewhat larger-than-normal budget and game actors nonetheless delivers more than what might be expected.

Zombieland (USA, 2009)

Considering how much attention this flick has garnered, and its popular success, it seems almost a waste of time to write yet another on-line review of what is probably the most successful zombie comedy made to date, but seeing that wasted time is an integral aspect of A Wasted Life, a review of Zombieland for this blog also seems oddly appropriate. Not that it'll have all that much new to say, though...
So, to briefly recap the basic plot of Zombieland for those of you have had your heads stuck up your butts for the past weeks, months, year: Zombieland tells the tale of four survivors in a world long gone zombie. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is a typical overly cautious but observant geek that has proven to be remarkably adept in surviving the zombie holocaust, and he serves as the narrator of the film, verbally injecting pithy observations of the disappointments and hopes of his life, how to survive zombies and – once too often – meaningful and heart-warming observations about life, friends, and family. Trudging down a highway he ends up hooking up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a loud, fearless, and aggressive redneck with a hankering for Twinkies and a penchant for snakeskin jackets like that worn by Nicholas Cage in Wild at Heart (1990 / trailer). In no short order they get bamboozled (twice) and then hook up with Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), two con-artist sisters heading west to go to an amusement park called Pacific Playland which, for some odd reason, they're convinced is empty of zombies. Arriving in LA, after a short stopover at a name actor's house (which allows for a short guest appearance of the said actor), the four end up at Playland, which proves to be empty of anything but zombies...
Is the film any good? Sure. Is it funny? Sure. Is it bloody? Sure. Is it entertaining? Sure. Is it all four all the time? Well, not really, but it's still more than worth watching.

Zombieland features excellent and truly funny dialog as well as some amazingly good acting for such a low-concept movie, but for a zombie comedy the flick is, well, actually rather empty of zombies. For all the zombie gut-munching and killing with which the film starts, once the introduction of the state of affairs is finished the highways, byways, and streets remain remarkably vacant for a nation of 308,122,046 people (10 Dec 2009 at 1 PM German time) and growing in which everyone has seemingly gone zombie. Should the situation not be closer to that of Dawn of the Dead remake (2004 / trailer) or even the original Night of the Living Dead (1968 / trailer) than, say, the non-zombie post-apocalypse flick The Quiet Earth (1985 / trailer)? True, there are occasional run-ins along the way as Tallahassee and Columbus search for Twinkies, but where are the teaming millions? Even when they reach Hollywood, a land full of zombies in real life today, they are confronted by little more than one undead Charlie Chapman and a handful of undead extras.
The result is, but for the beginning and the end and a few intermittent scenes, a zombie comedy that is often more comedy than zombie – and a far cry from the superior Shawn of the Dead (2004 / trailer), the film that director Ruben Fleischer states as having inspired him to make his undead comedy, and a film that didn't shy from blood or having zombies kill characters. (Shawn, in turn, is pretty tame in the blood department when compared to the granddaddy of all zombie comedy movies, Peter Jackson's Braindead / Dead Alive [1992 / trailer], a great film made too early for its time.) OK, the number of zombies does increase once the sisters do their great act of stupidity – namely, turning on the electricity of the Playland – but even then the population of Zombieland seems to be substantially less than, say, the current population of the Vatican (the smallest country in the world, with had a population of 821 in 2007).
Perhaps it seems to be knit-picking to complain that a film as well-acted and funny as Zombieland fails to consistently deliver in the zombie department, for indeed the film's lack of consistent blood and guts and undead violence doesn't stop the film from being highly entertaining. It's just that the flip-flopping the film does from zombie flick to non-zombie flick back to zombie flick makes it a slightly uneven ride, and the viewer can't help but notice that the film actually does begin to drag during more than one of the non-zombie stretches, despite the great dialog. This never happens enough to make the film bad, perhaps, but it is just enough to be noticeable.
That said, Zombieland is a mostly fun ride and good for a lot of laughs, and if you haven't seen it yet you truly should. Just take all the raves the film has gotten with a grain of salt: Zombieland is very good, verging on excellent, and for that it does deserve good word of mouth, but it doesn't really deserve the unadulterated raves it's been getting. Go expecting a masterpiece and you might be disappointed; go expecting a decent ride, and you just might like it. And if you do like it, and you haven't yet seen either Shawn of the Dead or Braindead, it is really time to catch up on your zombie comedy film history – for whatever technical flaws those two lower-budgeted films have in comparison to Zombieland, they nonetheless both have way bigger balls.

Transmorphers (USA, 2007)

(Updated 24.07.2023) Yet another title rip-off of a big-budget Hollywood release by The Asylum, the infamous z-grade production company known for, well, making tacky low-budget versions of big-budget Hollywood genre films. ("Mockbusters") At least in title, Transmorphers tries hard to ride on the coattails of the success of Michael Bay's brainless and explosive Transformers (2007 / trailer) and, going by some entries on imdb, the strategy obviously works. (I.e.: "I only stumbled onto this movie after having mistaken it for Transformers. That was disappointment number one. Well, being the sci-fi fan I am, I saw it through anyhow.")
Trailer to
In our case, however, we'll admit that we watched this film specifically because it wasn't the Michael Bay film (which we shall probably never watch) and was a The Asylum release. At our recent Bad Film Night (our first since we went to Uruguay in November for vacation), in search of a film of similar quality to that of, for example, Raiders of the Damned (2005) or Webs (2003), Transmorphers was chosen from the long list of trash collected by a fellow bad film fan due to the flick's pedigree, title and total lack of name stars. All things considered, we felt sure Transmorphers would be a trashy film.
And in this sense, we weren't really disappointed, despite being served less a tacky version of Transformers than a tacky version of Terminator Salvation: Alien Matrix on Independence Day, a film that hasn't even been made yet.
If there was any disappointment involved, it had to be that the film was really more bad than trashy, for bad is always better when it's liberally seasoned with trash. Sure, Transmorphers features lesbians, androids, drugs and robot wars — and even a mildly unexpected plot twist — but despite such fine basic ingredients, Transmorphers never fully embraces its scuzzy roots and never gets as trashy or sleazy as it should.
For example, not one gal gets naked; even the token catfight of the film has the babes (of uneven aesthetic quality but equal thespian inability) keep their military-issue beaters on, to the great detriment of a scene that could have truly made the film. Furthermore, there sure ain't no blood or guts, and while the acting and explosions are all properly and laughably third-rate, the film remains unduly dialog-heavy and action-thin for a movie as air-headed as this one.
But, on the plus side, the two or three sets used are wonderfully cheap and the CGI scenes of transmorphers at battle are so hilariously inept that they always generate a laugh, as does the last segment of the film, the "big" final battle against the alien robo-noids, during which the total lack of budget and acting ability of everyone involved achieves an oddly endearing apex.
To briefly describe the film itself, Transmorphers is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi war film. Set some 400 years in the future, earth has long been conquered by an alien race of shape-shifting robots — the titular (badly animated) "transmorphers" — while the last remnants of humanity live in a city deep underground. Forced to take a stand due to the continuing encroachment of the transmorphers, a renegade soldier (Matthew Wolf as Warren Mitchell) is brought out of deep freeze (literally) to lead the final battle. Though not pleased that his big love Karina Nadir (Amy Weber, whose face seems to indicate that no matter what the future holds, plastic surgeons will always find employment) is now married to redhead General Van Ryberg (Eliza Swenson), Mitchell puts together a team to try to inject some sort of computer virus into the transmorpher central control, a plan that proves more complicated than expected...
According to the website foywonder, Transmorphers — originally made under the title Robot Wars — was, at the time of its release, unbelievably enough, "the most expensive movie The Asylum has ever produced and probably their most ambitious too." Assuming that to be true, Transmorphers merely supports the thesis that The Asylum was, at that time like now, not only seriously unambitious but also, unlike now, seriously strapped for cash.
But in regard to cash back then, Transmorphers obviously did well enough, for two years later The Asylum followed it with a direct to DVD prequel, Transmorphers: Fall of Man (trailer), a film that is required viewing for older bad film fans if only for the fact that it features the low budget return of the sorely missed B-film beauty Jennifer Rubin (Screamers / 1995). One hopes she gets naked in it, finally...
Transmorphers — Carnage Count: