A very short review of “The Dead” (2010)

Take a look at the movie poster below for the Ford Brothers’ “The Dead” (2010).  It’s problematic for two reasons.

One, of course, is that it contains what is arguably the most unimaginative title in zombie movie history.

Two is its immediate recollection of the marketing art for Zack Snyder’s terrific 2004 “Dawn of the Dead” remake.  It is so similar in composition and color scheme that it makes the Ford Brothers’ film look like a “mockbuster,” whose cover is designed to fool hasty movie renters.

And that’s a shame, because “The Dead” is a fairly decent zombie movie in its own right — I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.  It’s a lower-budget feature, and some of the acting is a bit flat, but this is a movie that does a lot with a little.  The film wisely makes the most of its African setting, and has an intelligent, if slowly paced, story.  It focuses on its two military protagonists’ needs for food, sleep, shelter, fuel and vigilance, during the course of a lengthy overland trek.  That’s refreshing in an era of “Strippers vs. Zombies” (2012), and various fairly lackluster clones of “Shaun of the Dead” (2004).

Best of all, however, is the film’s skilled manner of evoking “slow burn” or “creeping” horror.  The zombies in “The Dead” usually move quite slowly.  They might be the slowest zombies I’ve ever seen.  This might be the anti-“28 Days Later” (2002).  But that makes the vibe here unique among the spate of modern zombie films — and maybe a little reminiscent of George A Romero’s pioneering early films.  If your reaction is like mine, you’ll find it a little unnerving to see them gather en masse at a snail’s pace.

I recommend this.

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Throwback Thursday: Garbage Pail Kids!

Yep.  I snapped up a lot of these when Series 1 appeared in 1985.

I didn’t realize it then, but these were basically an update of the “Wacky Packages” cards and stickers that kids were collecting a decade prior.  Both series were released by Topps.  (Strangely enough, Wacky Packages was actually re-released at the same time that Garbage Pail Kids debuted — I certainly don’t remember that.)

Wasn’t there another series of cards or stickers in the 1970’s that depicted lampooned versions of cars?  I swear I remember at least a couple of those.  “Crazy Cars,” maybe?  Or “Crazy Hotrods?”  Around 1979 or so, I recall finding a card with an illustration of a “Roachmobile” — probably purchased once by my older brother — at the bottom of my toybox.  I would have been in first or second grade at the time, and I remember finding it creepy.

I myself have never seen 1987’s universally hated “Garbage Pail Kids Movie.”  (It has a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s often named as one of the worst movies of all time.)  I saw about 30 excruciating seconds of it on a pop-culture website just recently, and, believe me, that was enough.

I’ve read some confusing information about GPK’s still being produced, on occasion?  I saw several lampooning Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump last year, but I thought it was just some independent artist’s mockup.  Were those produced by Topps, though?

Take a look at the last “Garbage Pail Kid” pictured below — “Adam Bomb.”  That actually was a nickname I came up with for my friend Jason’s younger brother, Adam.  But I’d started calling him that years before the GPK’s arrived — it was just a tough-sounding nickname … like he would up and annihilate anyone who messed with him.  I don’t know if this is a New York thing or not, but if you or your friend had a kid brother, you sometimes gave him a tough-sounding nickname as a joke.  It was usually meant affectionately.  My best friend Shawn, for example had a very young brother named Ryan — we referred to him as “Genghis Khan, Jr.” (another one I coined myself).  But kids from blocks away called him “Balboa,” and they’d address him in their best Clubber Lang impression from 1982’s “Rocky III.”

If all of that sounds sweet for grade-school boys in New York, then rest assured — we had some pretty damned creative pejorative nicknames for various kid brothers as well.  I can’t even write them here.

Man, this blog post today is just all over the place isn’t it?

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“Alien: Covenant” (2017) is a first-rate sci-fi horror show with lots of monstery goodness.

I am part of a happy minority where “Alien Covenant” (2017) is concerned — I keep hearing about “meh” or negative reactions from my friends, but I quite enjoyed it.  I’d rate it a 9 out of 10.

No, this second installment in the “Alien” prequel trilogy doesn’t bring much new to the table.  It often seems like a collection of common tropes, and borrows a bit from previous films in the franchise — especially the first movie in 1979.  Some aspects of it — like a predictable and slightly gimmicky development late in the story — even feel like horror movie cliches.  (I am doing everything I can to avoid spoilers, so forgive how vague I’m being here.)  “Alien: Covenant” isn’t groundbreaking, and it isn’t destined to be called a “classic.”

Here’s the thing, though — all of the movie’s common tropes are exactly what make fans happy.  Think about it … if you had to name two “Alien” movies as unique or the most divergent, they might be the heady, ambitious “Prometheus” (2012) and the baroquely experimental “Alien: Resurrection” (1997).  Whatever their failings, both of those movies deserve points for creativity.  And they are among the three films that fans hated the most.  (The third here is the smartest and most underappreciated installment, 1993’s brilliant “Alien 3.”)

With “Alien: Covenant,” Ridley Scott gives fans exactly what they were clamoring for — a frightening, gory, space-based horror film with creatively designed monsters and some nasty surprises.  It very much returns to the tone of the first film.  It is even jarringly darker than “Prometheus,” which was defined partly by its moments of cautious optimism.  And, more than any other sequel, it seems directly inspired by the grotesquerie of H. R. Giger’s original, nightmarish monster designs.  I feel certain this movie would have received the late artist’s blessing.  (I could name a certain scene and an excellent surprise story development, but I won’t.)

Michael Fassbender shined in his two roles here.  (He not only reprises his role as the android, “David,” but also portrays a newer model, “Walter.”)  The rest of the acting was roundly good too.

I also found the movie nice and scary.  I, for one, don’t think Scott’s direction of action scenes here is perfect.  (They are harder to follow here, for example, than his beautiful arena melees in 2000’s “Gladiator.”) But they were still effective.

So this return to form made me pretty happy.  I didn’t want another muddled attempt at profundity like “Prometheus.”  Nor did I want a winding, bizarre, arthouse-horror tale like “Resurrection” — that movie was like a poorly written, drug-fueled comic book.  I wanted a first-rate sci-fi horror show with lots of monstery goodness, and that’s what I got.

If I had to pick a criticism of “Alien: Covenant,” I’m surprised to have to point to some less-than-stellar CGI.  This was something I noticed from early trailers for the film, and I’m surprised I haven’t heard another reviewer mention in it yet.  One scene rendered a title baddie about as well as a modern video game, albeit a good one.  Another’s depiction of an upright “neomorph” seemed … fairly bad.  (Fans of decent creature features shouldn’t despair, however — there are still some outstanding monster moments, and no small amount of accompanying gore and goo.)  Have I just become spoiled by the amazing dinosaur effects of 2015’s “Jurassic World?”  I don’t think so … I suggest that the otherwise lamentable “Alien: Resurrection,” with its combination of CGI and practical effects, had far better creature effects than this newest outing.

Of course I recommend this movie.  Maybe I should only do so with the caveat that I am (obviously) a huge fan of the series.  It has been said that I’m easy to please, too — I actually gave a glowing review to “Prometheus” shortly after its release, before wiser minds pointed out to me its sometimes egregious flaws.  (A friend of mine shared with me one of those “Everything Wrong With” videos that CinemaSins produces … it’s a hilarious webseries, but it sure will dull the shine of some of your favorite movies, lemme tell ya.)  Your mileage may vary, especially depending on how much you enjoy horror movies, as opposed to more general science fiction.

Oh!  There is a mostly non-sequitur postscript that I can’t help but add here … yet another one of my movie prognostications was flat out wrong.  It isn’t a spoiler if it’s a far-out prediction that didn’t happen, so I’ll go ahead and share it here … during one of the ads for “Alien: Covenant,” I could swear I heard a character call out the name “ASH!!!!”  (I’ve evidently started hallucinating at the start of mid-life.)  I predicted that the new and robotic Walter would turn evil, and actually become the android named Ash in the 1979 original.  (And why not?  Androids do not age, and a web-based prologue for “Alien Covenant” suggests their faces can be easily swapped out.)  I further predicted that the more human David would be pitted against him in order to save humanity somehow from alienkind.  (These things do not happen.)

I still think that’s a pretty clever idea, though, even if I only accidentally arrived at it.  It would be great if that happened somehow in the planned “Alien: Awakening.”

 

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“Raiders of the Lost Ark” reference in “Alien: Covenant?”

Does anyone else think that the “Alien: Covenant” ship logo looks a hell of a lot like the sculpted top of “Raiders'” Ark of the Covenant?!

Am I just realizing something everyone else has already noticed?  I’m not known for being the first guy to notice important details …

Or maybe both are based on the same ancient Hebrew art or something?

[UPDATE:] Okay, various smart people on Facebook are informing me that while the Bible doesn’t contain illustrations, it does contain a detailed textual description of the top of the ark.  So both movies took their cue from Exodus: 25.  (Thanks, Lisa L.)

NERDS.

Whatever.  I’m still counting this as my own “Sherlock” moment.

 

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