Thursday, September 15, 2016


Pandemic (2016)

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After a virus turns most of the global population into violent zombies, medical professionals are highly sought after in survivor compounds. One such doctor (Rachel Nichols) is sent with a scavenging team into the city to attempt to recover another doctor from another team along with a small group of survivors.

So, yeah, it's a zombie movie. It's also pretty much direct-to-Netflix, so my expectations were not terribly high. The set up where they introduced the state of the world and the different classes of zombies (ranging from class ones which are basically just people with colds, all the way to the "rare" class fives which are violent monsters) is pretty well done and sort of deviates from other zombie flicks which kind of just throw you into the fray. It's not necessarily a better way of doing things but in the stagnant pool of zombie cinema it's okay to do something different.

The main characters were sort of interesting as well. They were pretty generic - the woman trying to find her daughter, the man trying to find his wife, et cetera - but they behaved in a way I thought was believable and the acting was pretty good so I cared enough about their struggles that the moments of danger were pretty tense. The class five zombies were freaky looking too so that helped. There were a few nasty kills too which satisfied my gore-lust.

All that is run of the mill shit for a zombie movie though. What was genuinely interesting about this movie was that it went beyond the "everybody got killed and turned into a zombie and now we must survive" archetype and poked at the societal impact of a disease that wiped out a substantial chunk of the population and turned a fraction of people into bloodthirsty ghouls.

It's explained fairly early on that only certain people get to live in the relative safety of compounds, while the rest of the population is left to starve to death in the city. So most of the dangers that the main characters face are not, in fact, zombie related, but rather uninfected people doing what they have to to get food and so on. I know, that has a real "humans are the REAL monsters" vibe, but it's still more engaging than yet another "uh oh, zombies" movie. It gets to the point later in the movie where infected and uninfected are indistinguishable. All in all it's pretty fucking grim. Like 28 Days Later for people who've never seen 28 Days Later.

The movie was made fairly competently, apart from the audio which was terrible - it had that obnoxious quality of being way too quiet to hear the dialogue but also way too loud during the action bits to turn it up. The first fifteen minutes or so of the movie were well shot and aesthetically pleasing.

Unfortunately, this is also a POV movie, intentionally shot to look like a video game. Remember how in last week's review I said that doing first person shooter scenes in a movie is fucking tacky but excusable if the movie is based on a video game? This movie isn't. This is just a movie made by some dude who plays a lot of video games and thought "hey, what if I shot a movie in the first person, that's never been done before".

So in the interest of making a movie revolving around a stupid gimmick, they sacrificed clarity and made one more shaky, incomprehensible mess (see also: Clovervield, Diary of the Dead, Rec, Quarantine, and so on). The really frustrating thing about it was that it didn't even commit to the first person narrative. The movie jumps between first and third person indiscriminately, which completely defeats the purpose of making the fucking thing first person anyway. Seriously, though, why would anybody make a movie where the action scenes are shot in first person so it's impossible to tell what's going on, but large chunks of the other scenes aren't. Like what the fuck are you doing and why. I don't understand.

Anywho, this movie isn't terrible. It explores some less traveled territory but it doesn't break any new ground. If you're bored and cruising Netflix and not completely sick of zombie movies and/or POV movies, it will occupy ninety minutes of your time. It's definitely not worth going out of your way to see though.

4/10 Thumbs Up

Directed by: John Suits.  Written by: Dustin T. Benson.  Starring: Rachel Nichols, Alfie Allen, Missi Pyle, Mekhi Phifer, Danielle Rose Russell, Paul Guilfoyle.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


Doom (2005)

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In the not too distant future, an ancient civilization is discovered on Mars and investigated by archaeologists. Something goes horribly wrong, a lot of people get killed, and a group of marines is sent in to neutralize the threat and secure the area a la Aliens.

I have never played any of the Doom games - my boyfriend tells me they're sort of like Duke Nukem - so I can't really attest to how accurate this movie is to the game series. I know that both the game and this movie include sci-fi elements and monsters and that's about it so this review is coming entirely from an outside space.

The best thing I can say about this movie is that it actually defied my expectations here and there. Within the first fifteen minutes I figured it was going to be a riff on John Wyndham's The Last Lunarians at best, or John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars at worst, and it managed to do something different from either of those which is commendable. As well, I was surprised that the singular female character in the movie (Rosamund Pike) was the sister of one of the characters rather than a love interest. Finally, I didn't expect Dwayne Johnson's character to deviate from the stoic, gung-ho sergeant stereotype so that was another bonus.

I liked what they were trying to do with the look and feel of the movie - it had that grimy aesthetic of darker sci-fi, like not everything looked shiny and new and high tech, and some of the props, like the skeletons in the archaeology lab, were cool to look at. The monsters were not too bad although they weren't overly interesting to look at. They were sort of big and slimy and violent and not too different from other big, slimy, violent monsters. The technology in the movie was pretty standard, except they had this "nanowall" that was sometimes a solid wall but also sometimes a door which was cool and at one point provided an interesting way of trapping a monster. Ultimately though I feel like the art direction fell short in a lot of ways. It wasn't bad by any means but it wasn't especially exciting.

As well, I liked what they were trying to do with the overall sense of something weird and unnatural going on, but like with the art direction and monster design, they missed the mark a little bit. Partly because I had little to no emotional interest in the characters, partly because nothing that happened inside the research facility was that weird. A movie like this should have at least one scene that makes me extremely nervous and/or uncomfortable and this didn't do either.

There's a three or four minute scene in first-person shooter style which was tacky as hell but I liked it. If I hadn't know that this movie was based on a video game I would have found it really stupid, but I looked up Doom and according to Wikipedia it was like the very first first-person shooter game so that's a cute way of representing the original idea.

As I mentioned earlier, none of the characters were good enough to warrant an emotional investment, not that any of the characters were particularly important to the plot, but I literally gave no shits about whether people lived or died. There was exactly zero chemistry between Rosamund Pike and Karl Urban making their brother-sister relationship (estranged or otherwise) unbelievable, and even less chemistry between Dwayne Johnson and everybody else in this movie.

One thing I gotta hand to Johnson is that his acting seems to have improved over the years. This was early in his career, back when he was still being credited as The Rock and dinosaurs roamed the earth, and watching him cycle between two facial expressions - neutral and somewhat perturbed - is painful.
Neutral (Source)
Perturbed (Source)
The pacing is also not good. It's a good thirty minutes before anything even happens and then it's just a space zombie which seemed like a waste of half an hour of build-up. Then after that, there were these long ass scenes where nothing was going on, punctuated by half assed jump scares It didn't help that all of the parts of the facility in which almost the entire film was set looked the same so I had a really hard time figuring out where in the building the characters were and by extension what was going on.

The other thing that was weird was that it was almost as though the characters knew that the movie was totally out to lunch. Like there's this scene they're de-fibrillating one of the marines that got attacked by a monster, and the Rock interrupts to basically say "hey, what happened to the dead guy that was here earlier". The dead guy had disappeared in a previous scene which surprised the characters but they apparently didn't do anything about it. Then after buddy is pronounced dead, instead of addressing the problem of where the hell did that other dead guy go they start yelling at each other about one of the monsters that they killed and brought back to the lab. It's a weird scene and pretty much sums up how random and arbitrary the pacing is.

I also felt like the filmmakers were trying to say something about judgement and the battle between good and evil but it didn't come up until late in the movie and as such was not a very prominent theme.

Furthermore, I felt that the whole movie really got bogged down with too much military protocol stuff. It was like somebody watched Aliens and was like, yeah, that's great, but there's not nearly enough detail about how marines do things. Like, the thing that made Aliens a great movie was not that there were marines in it doing marine stuff. The only people who are really interested in military procedure are people who are in the military, and I'm sure they found this movie glaringly inaccurate.

The same rationale applies to the sciencey stuff. First of all, nobody cares, second of all people who do care (like me) don't appreciate the effort the writers went to to make the movie sciencey. Like the whole thing about how the martian race was super strong and super intelligent because they had twenty four sets of chromosomes instead of our piddley twenty three. You know what else has twenty four sets of chromosomes? Fucking potatoes.

Anyway, besides irritation over the chromosome thing, I didn't have any strong feelings about this movie. It wasn't good by any means, but it wasn't bad enough that it was fun to watch.


Directed by: Andrzej Bartkowiak.  Written by: David Callaham, Wesley Strick, based on the video game series developed by id Software.  Starring: Karl Urban, The Rock, Rosamund Pike, Razaaq Adoti.

Thursday, September 1, 2016


R.I.P.D. (2013)

A Boston police officer (Ryan Reynolds) is killed in the line of duty by his partner (Kevin Bacon) over some pieces of gold they found at a crime scene. Upon dying, he is enlisted in the “R.I.P.D.”, which is exactly what you think it is, and becomes the partner of a crusty wild west law man (Jeff Bridges). Together, they return “deados”, that is, people who died and stayed on earth instead of going to the afterlife, to Hell. Basically, it’s Men In Black but with undead monsters instead of aliens.

I am a huge sucker for stories about dead people doing jobs – my favourite show ever is Dead Like Me – so I figured this movie would be right up my alley. And this movie does not disappoint insofar as it is a movie about dead people doing jobs. It disappoints in a lot of other areas, though.

I liked the idea that the afterlife is a big bureaucratic department, I haven’t seen that done to death yet. I also liked that they didn’t specifically mention Heaven and Hell (although they are implied) and that whoever is in charge of the afterlife is only given as the Department of Eternal Affairs, which is as cute and punny as the title of the movie.

The repartee between Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds, and Jeff Bridges and Mary Louise Parker, and Jeff Bridges and everybody else in the movie is clever and mildly entertaining but didn’t really make the characters any more appealing or less boring. They were pretty much just cardboard cutout vehicles for the writers’ delightful banter.

The “deados” were sort of interesting – their whole deal is that if a soul stays on earth after it’s supposed to leave it rots and eventually turns into a monster which can only be seen when exposed to cumin (confirming my suspicions that there is something wrong with people who don’t like Indian food). The monsters they become reflect their character, so for example one guy who is a snitch ends up with a huge mouth, and Elvis is grotesquely obese.

That doesn’t change the fact that “deados” is a really stupid name for a thing. I would even go so far as to say it’s stupider than Dead Like Me’s “gravelings”, which is saying something. I get that calling them something cooler like, say, “deadites”, would draw an undeserved connection between this movie and Evil Dead but still, writers literally get paid to make shit up, they should at least be good at it.

Apart from the innovative view of the afterlife and the reasonably okay monsters, though, this movie is actually pretty boring. The non-banter dialogue is boring, the special effects are boring, even the music is boring which is something I never thought possible.

The characters are boring, Ryan Reynolds was a pretty stereotypical conflicted good guy, Jeff Bridges was everything you expect from the grouchy mentor, and Kevin Bacon was predictably evil, going so far as to do evil things just for the sake of doing evil things. Like, why would he kill his partner when he knew that the R.I.P.D. was a thing? Surely to god if he could wangle the gold out of the undead police’s evidence locker he could wangle it out of anywhere. The only character I found even remotely likeable was the chief of  ghost-police (Mary Louise Parker), because she was sassy and probably also because she didn’t have a lot of screen time.

The story is just Men In Black by way of Dead Like Me with some elements of Bladerunner and an ending that felt like somebody took all the fun out of Ghostbusters. It was like the filmmakers were just slapping scenes together from other movies – there’s even this thing where the characters say “relax body” before doing something a living person would not normally be able to do, much like the “there is no spoon” line in The Matrix.

Despite the fact that the writing does show a slight glimmer of intelligence, a lot of the humour is pretty stupid. For example, Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds don’t appear as their living selves to mortal eyes, instead humans see them as Marissa Miller, and James Hong, respectively. It’s kind of funny the first couple of times it comes up, I guess, but the joke (if it can really be called a joke) gets absolutely milked to death by the end of the movie.

The truly painful thing about this movie is that it’s a pretty good idea and has some potential, but completely, and knowingly squanders it.  There’s even a scene in which Jeff Bridges tells Mary Louise Parker “don’t be a cliché”, which is a piece of advice I really wish the makers of this movie had taken.


Directed by: Robert Schwentke.  Written by: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi, based on the comic Rest In Peace Department by Peter M Lenkov.  Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Baker, Mary-Louise Parker, Stéphanie Szostak.