The Walking Dead 3.14 “Prey” Discussion

Great first scene. Simple and effective flashback that reveals a bit of who Michonne is while semi-answering who her zombie pets were. And then sliding into the Governor preparing his revenge chamber with the leashes was cool.

After that, I didn’t have particularly strong feelings one way or the other about the bulk of this episode. Once you accept the ridiculous odds of the Governor stumbling across Andrea (twice), or that Woodbury is now close enough to the prison that you could walk it in an afternoon, the little cat and mouse of the primary story was nicely staged suspense. The little door moment of triumph was really well done. Go Andrea. And then the reversal comes and it was more “meh” for me than “oh no!”

The best moments, and the parts that were good character and story advancements, were left to the secondary story. The pit trap with the windchime lures was a neat detail. So it looks like Tyreese, Sasha, and Milton, have had enough of the Governor’s nonsense, while Martinez and Allen are sticking with him. I really hope Tyreese was just playing along in that final scene because he was worried about their safety rather than believing another contrived explanation for the Governor’s nuttiness. (But it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been hoped in vain for more decisive characters.)

Earlier in the season it seemed like the pacing issues had been worked out, but over these last few weeks the uneven pacing has returned to some extent. I can’t wait for the showdown and it looks more and more like it’s going to be crammed into a single season finale episode.

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Underseen Gem: In Bruges

So a couple weeks ago I posted about The Brothers Bloom on the eve of seeing Rian Johnson’s new film Looper. It’s deja vu time, because this weekend I’m jonesing to see Seven Psychopaths because of Martin McDonagh’s fantastic and criminally underseen In Bruges. According to imdb.com, it only reached a couple hundred theatres at its peak, and earned less than 8 million at the box office back in 2008. Travesty, says I.

In Bruges is a darkly comedic story about a pair of hitmen (Colin Ferrell, Brendan Gleeson) sent to lay low in the touristy Bruges, Belgium by their boss (Ralph Fines) while he sorts out the disaster that was their last job in London. Ferrell gives the best performance I’ve ever seen out of him a guilt-ridden gangster bored to tears by the idyllic town. Gleeson is strong too, as his conflicted partner trying to make the best of the situation. And Fines is fun in a scenery-chewing role as their boss with anger management issues frustrated by these hitmen who can’t even lay low properly.

The film is full of memorable scenes, colorful supporting characters, and seesawing unpredictably between dark material and funny moments. You’ll find yourself really caring about what happens to these two hitmen in over their heads. It’s one of my favorites of 2008.

The Cabin in the Woods is my Favorite Horror Movie in Years

The Cabin in the Woods is just plain great. And in a way that’s frustrating to talk about because much of the joy is in the discovery. The less you know, the better off you’ll be. And so there’s almost nothing I want to share for fear of revealing some element that you may not know that you could discover for yourself.

Heck, I didn’t even watch the trailer until after I’d seen it. Seeing it recently it shows more than I would have preferred. I read one review that, in retrospect, is startlingly like what I’m writing now. It talked in frustrating vagaries while giving a gushing recommendation and I’m happy it was written that way having seen the film basically from trusting that reviewer and trusting in Joss Whedon’s involvement.

But I’ll at least try to give some sense. First, you have to like and watch a lot of horror movies. The movie is ostensibly about a group of teenagers that encounter a nightmare scenario when they get away from their normal lives for a weekend at the eponymous cabin. But more than that, it’s about movies where teenagers encounter such nightmare scenarios in remote areas. The closest analogue would probably be Scream, where they deconstruct the rules of slasher movies in movie to both humorous and clever effect while still producing an actual slasher movie. Cabin is a similar love letter to a broader array of horror movies including supernatural themes that Scream never broached. And it’s hilarious, smart, and gory. The one thing it isn’t is particularly scary. It doesn’t try too hard for jump scares, or to unnerve the viewer like the recent spate of torture flicks or Japanese (and Japanese-influenced) moodies. You won’t walk out depressed about humanity, or unsettled by some concept or visual that will haunt you.

The film’s happier being a crowd-pleaser. I’m not kidding when I say people were talking in the theatre and it was a good thing. The crowd was engaged, and when someone shouted out “Oh my god!” or “Did that just happen?!” it was more cathartic than annoying.

Another thing worth mentioning is it’s not a “twist” movie per se. It’s not like Sixth Sense (feel free to insert your favorite offender) where once you know the twist there’s little incentive to revisit the film. It’s about discovery and building on the situation they set up in the very earliest frames, before the title even. I walked out intending to buy it the day it’s released for the home so I can watch it again, and share it with anyone willing to invest the time that I couldn’t convince to see it on the big screen. I hope you aren’t one of those people…

Five Favorite Zombie Movies

Between watching 28 Days Later again, reading Steven Knight’s Left with the Dead, and sketching out an idea for a new short story, I’ve had zombies on the brain. So here’s a little list of some of my favorite zombie movies excepting zombie movies that already made my favorite horror/comedy movies list. Several of those would have easily made this list had they not been there, but there’s little fun in repetition. In no particular order…

28 Days Later
Since it’s fresh in my mind and the primary catalyst for thinking about zombie movies we’ll start with this movie that technically isn’t a zombie movie at all. The foils here are still alive and infected with a rage virus. But they function basically like zombies, and the movie is built around all the tropes of a zombie move aside from dying first so close enough. The setup may be a twist, but the rest falls right in line. Danny Boyle has made a lot of great movies in a variety of genres. Shallow Grave, Transpotting, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours are all fantastic too. Even Millions is a very good kid’s movie. It’s hard to single out his best movie but 28 Days Later is in the running.The opening, with Cillian Murphy waking up from a coma in an empty hospital, and empty London, is haunting. Act II is just as strong as the film goes through its zombie apocalypse survival sequence. And then the movie takes a beautifully unexpected turn as the survivors reach the relative safety of a military base.

Night of the Living Dead
It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but George Romero’s film sets the stage in almost every way for what we think of as a zombie movie today. I can’t recall a zombie movie since that doesn’t include or intentionally play against the basic concepts in this film. And it’s creepy despite its age, old even when I saw it years ago sitting in the dark alone late at night. The black and white only adds to the atmosphere. The final scene is gloriously bleak.

Zombieland
This is hands down one of the funniest zombie movies ever. If Shaun of the Dead didn’t exist, it’s easy to argue it would take the prize. It’s gruesome at times, but not particularly scary. While lacking straight up scares, it is incredibly clever and has characters with real charisma, characters you’re rooting for rather than waiting to see get eaten and that carries the film a long way, through a climax that isn’t as strong as the rest of the film. But despite the slightly weak ending, I really love this movie and can barely believe I didn’t even note it in the honorable mentions of the horror/comedy list. How could I forget? (In hindsight, I think swapping this and Return of the Living Dead between lists might be more representative.) Anyway, Ruben Fleischer’s feature debut is unusually assured and shot inventively particularly in the earlier stages. Jessie Eisenberg plays a thinly disguised neurotic Woody Allen cypher and his list of unexpected rules for surviving the zombie apocalypse are a running joke that even manages to pay off at the end. Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abagail Breslin are equally strong in their roles as the rest of the survivalists. And the second act features a cameo that you really, REALLY do not want to have spoiled before you see it in context because it’s one of the funniest scenes in recent memory.

Army of Darkness
Ash and his chainsaw return for their third Evil Dead film with a movie that originally had a much cooler name in Medieval Dead. Ash goes from hero to zero in this installment when he is thrown back in time and accidentally releases the army of the dead on Lord Arthur’s keep which is woefully unprepared to fight back. The movie mostly plays the situation for laughs and it’s not much of a surprise when Ash is once again the reluctant hero by the end.

Dawn of the Dead (2004 remake)
Romero fans freaked the hell out over this movie playing fast (literally!) and loose with the zombie lore of a film they treasure but I found it energetic and incredibly effective. Maybe I would feel differently if I’d seen the original. Alas, it remains a gaping hole in my zombie filmography. The first fifteen minutes are terrifying and set the stage for something that’s clearly not intended to be a retread of the original despite being slapped with the same name. Zack Snyder’s debut feature (like Fleischer’s) runs out of steam a bit as it moves along without ever dropping below pretty good. The cast does decent work in time-limited roles due to the number of characters holed up in the shopping mall waiting to be eaten, but the atmosphere and set pieces are the stars here anyway and they shine.