Zombie apocalypse and anything vampire seems to be the hot ticket out of Hollywood these days. The subtext that we prey on each other and that life is a precious and fragile thing is a piquant notion that gets magnified to its fullest when examining how man comports himself as civilization crumbles.
Sans rules and with limited resources, what would you do? Snatch and grab, help out or hole up doomsday-prepper style?
That’s the special sauce that makes any apocalypse-cum-horror flick grip the road. Real people, supernatural horror, deep shit. George Romero’s seminal “Night of the Living Dead” was more about the dynamics and dissent among a band of survivors barricaded in a farmhouse than it was about the throng of shambling flesh scratching at the walls. Decades later, guys such as Danny Boyle (“28 Days Later”) and Zack Snyder (the 2004 remake of Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”) got the nifty idea to make the dead move at warp speed. Continue reading
“This is the End” may be the most meta vanity project ever to come out of Hollywood, where things meta usually don’t fly unless Charlie Kaufman is involved. The film, co-written and co-directed by Seth Rogen, has Rogen playing Seth Rogen, or the asshole extrapolation of himself. James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride all do the same. Baruchel is the out-of-towner visiting Rogen in Los Angeles. Baruchel despises L.A. and just wants to hang out and smoke weed and watch 3-D TV, but Rogen pries him off the couch and drags him to a house party at Franco’s manse.
Pot humor and pop-up party guests such as Rihanna keep the slow-moving premise (Baruchel also hates Hill and is a bit of whining wet noodle to boot) alive, though there are nuggets of WTF humor that snap you out of the stupor, including Michael Cera (yup, the anemic, sweet wimp from “Juno”) doing blow and getting a rim job in the bathroom while sipping an effete cocktail he seems to relish more than the sex act. Continue reading
Zach Snyder’s always been big on bluster and pizazz but a bit lacking when it comes to the essentials of storytelling. Take “300” or “Sucker Punch,” which made for titillating trailers set to edgy, esoteric rock (Nine Inch Nails’ “Just as you Imagined” layered on clips of the Spartans battling Xerxes in “300” may be the greatest music video/movie trailer of all time), but when it came to holding an audience’s attention for 90 minutes, only fanboys and cultists who dug Gerard Butler’s CGI-enhanced abs and righteous barking, or Babydoll and her bustier-wearing ilk beating down misogynistic ogres, could go the distance – because that was all there was: alluring visuals and sound bites, sans the bite.
One major early steppingstone was the 2004 remake of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” which featured an eclectic cast (Ving Rhames and Sarah Polley) and zombies that could run at full tilt. Danny Boyle had done that bit before and better with “28 Days Later …” and there’s really no one who can out-shamble Romero in the walking dead genre he pretty much invented. But sure enough, in the maddening, flesh-ripping mayhem, Snyder had carved out his niche as a hyperactive visual stylist. Continue reading
The second collaboration between writer/director Zal Batmanglij and writer/actress Brit Marling is a lot like their first, “Sound of My Voice,” only flipped on its head. In that thriller Marling played the adored icon of a cult (she alleges to be from the future) that gets infiltrated (or close enough), and in “The East” she plays an espionage expert who infiltrates a cult to thwart their anarchistic activities.
The premise of a wonk working for a private intelligence firm to protect corporations and the like from social terrorists, unscrupulous competitors and till-fleecing insiders is intriguing and builds nicely at the onset. It’s just the mechanics and fruition that get the pink slip. Continue reading
People say marriages are work, but the reality is that relationships are work and, married or not, they become more work when you add kids to the mix. Such is the situation in which we find Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (the ever graceful Julie Delpy, who bares all, or most, for her art). It’s now another nine years since they reconnected in Paris in “Before Sunset” and have produced a set of curly-haired twin girls – who put zero strain on the couple, as they are always asleep or being watched by others. But Jesse, as we learn in a mini shocker, also has a preteen son and a problematic ex-wife, and to add to matters Celine has been offered her dream job in Europe. Driving through the Greek countryside on a family getaway, the debate du jour becomes whether Jesse should move to Chicago to be a positive influence on his son, who is going through a rough patch, and should Celine take the job, and, if so, should they collectively move to Europe?
Most people would envy such heavy choices, but this is the third (and perhaps final) episode of Richard Linklater’s “Before” series and another cheeky exercise in endless talk, philosophical what-ifs and passive self-indulgence, which isn’t bad, mind you, it’s just not a real thing for most people. Continue reading
I like Will Smith, I do, but I can’t say I am liking his choice of films as of late. Sure, the upcoming “Winter’s Tale” has a ton of firepower to it, but Mr. Smith purportedly turned down Django in “Django Unchained” because he felt the role wasn’t a lead. Then there’s that rumored remake of “The Wild Bunch” that has the Peckinpah faithful hearing fingernails on the chalkboard, and now this ill-advised project with M. Night Shyamalan, who’s made exactly one quality film, a few intriguing follow-ups and been on a disastrous slide ever since.
If you’re wondering why the actor, who holds an obvious penchant for sci-fi, would jump in the water with a man on his last breath, the answer is likely his son. “After Earth” is not a Will Smith movie, but a Jaden Smith movie. The young thespian held his own with dad in the underrated and wholly affecting pull-yourself-up drama “The Pursuit of Happyness” and was effective in “The Karate Kid” reboot. But this, this is Jaden’s coming out party, a big-screen bar mitzvah for Papa Smith to declare to the world, “My son is an actor.”
Well, not so fast, Will. Continue reading