A short review of “The Bay” (2012)

“The Bay” (2012) deserves credit for its effort to give viewers a detailed and well developed, found-footage science fiction-horror movie.  In depicting a brutal parasitic infection eradicating a small coastal town, writers Barry Levinson and Michael Wallach appear familiar with the basics of epidemiology and public health.  And they make nice use of a time-honored sci-fi standby — pollutants causing small organisms to mutate into large ones.

Levinson and Wallach are ambitious too.  “The Bay” follows a number of intertwining narratives winding through the entire town,  making use of more than a dozen actors and innumerable extras.  Some of those actors are quite good — especially those portraying emergency professionals, like the local emergency room doctor, the staff for the Centers for Disease Control and the bureaucrat from the Department of Homeland Security.  I think a story with this scope, and with this many characters, would have made a fine ecological techno-thriller novel.  The filmmakers really do serve up a thoughtful, serious cautionary tale that is sometimes frightening.

Despite its strengths, however, “The Bay” is still encumbered by some noticeable flaws.  There’s little structure to it, the pacing feels off, and we follow so many characters that it is hard for the viewer to get to know any one of them.  There is a news reporter whose point of view serves as a framing device, but she’s performed with little energy by the main actress, and her character isn’t scripted to be terribly likable to begin with.  Parts of the film feel redundant, too.  Levinson (who is also the director here) keeps replaying footage and key dialogue, and it’s a poor choice.

All things considered, I’d rate “The Bay” a 7 out of 10.

 

TheBay

A short review for the pilot of “The Last Ship” (2014)

So I finally got around to checking out “The Last Ship” (2014), and while the pilot didn’t immediately have me hooked, it seems like a decent show.  I’d rate it an 8 out of 10, and I’ll probably continue watching it.

I was surprised I’d heard so little about this program … it’s a big-budget, post-apocalyptic military science fiction series, but none of my fellow horror or sci-fi nerds mentioned having seen it.

The plot setup seems like something that would please horror fans — a virus eradicates 80 percent of the world’s population, and a lone American naval vessel elects to remain at sea.  (They’re fortunate enough to be carrying a civilian virologist who was tasked by the fallen United States government to develop a vaccine.)  And there are hints that the show’s writers would do well scripting a frightening TV series — there are a couple of nice flourishes for a serialized horror show right here in the pilot.

But the story’s horror elements are minimized in favor of a more mainstream, safe-for-general-audiences techno-thriller.  And that’s not a bad thing, because it succeeds as a such.  The show is based on a 1988 novel by William Brinkley, and it’s produced in cooperation with the United States Navy.  (The destroyers U.S.S. Halsey and the U.S.S. Dewey stand in for the fictional U.S.S. Nathan James.)  It seems smartly scripted with respect to both virology and how the military works.  I’m barely literate in either of those subjects, but what I watched seemed coolly authentic, and that entertained me and held my attention. So while I might not recommend this to fellow “The Walking Dead” fans, I’d definitely recommend it to fans of Tom Clancy.

The directing is pretty good, the story moves along quite quickly, and the action scenes in the pilot are surprisingly ambitious and effective for a TV show.

The acting, I suppose, is average — though it’s always fun seeing Adam Baldwin on screen, and the square-jawed Eric Dane seems well cast and shows promise as the ship’s commanding officer.

The dialogue and character interaction are average at best.  This isn’t high art when it comes to human storytelling.  There are some pretty predictable character tropes, and a few exchanges are so cheesily melodramatic that they nearly insult the viewer’s intelligence.  Dane’s commander faces off, for example, against a beautiful, independent, female scientist who doesn’t like following orders … gee, I wonder if we’ll see any romantic tension there?

Still, this looks like a good enough show, if its pilot is any indication.  The good outweighs the bad, and I’m glad I heard about it.

 

The_Last_Ship_Season_1_poster

A few quick words on the Season 3 premiere of “Fear the Walking Dead” (2017)

I’m going to go ahead and commit horror-nerd heresy here … at this point, I think I enjoy AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead” more than “The Walking Dead.”  The characters feel more “real,” and the stories move far, far faster.

Last night’s first episode was a hell of a lot of creepy, disturbing, pathological fun — enough for me to give it a 9 out of 10.  And to make it a little cooler, we’ve got a couple of terrific “that guy” actors in supporting roles.  The first is “Band of Brothers” and “24” alumnus Ross McCall, the second is “The Following’s” Sam Underwood.

Good stuff!

 

 

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.

the-dead-1464333825197

“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.”

 

IMG_20170323_0950491

A few quick words on “Seoul Station” (2016)

If you enjoyed last year’s excellent “Train to Busan,” then check out its animated prequel, “Seoul Station.”  They’re both directed by Yeon Sang-Ho, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this movie.  (I don’t usually prefer animated features — even the truly impressive anime classics.)

But this was worth a watch — and it even had some moments of real tension toward the end.

 

ps0sh5sx

 

A tiny review of “Dead Rush” (2016)

“Dead Rush” (2016) isn’t quite as bad as other reviewers have made it out to be; it’s a passably entertaining zombie feature that I’d rate a 6 out of 10.  It occasionally rises above its central gimmick to create a few moments of suspense and emotion.  (The gimmick here is that the entire film is shot from the point-of-view of one man in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.)

That point-of-view device does wear a little thin by the end of this feature-length film … and I’m a found-footage horror movie fan who usually doesn’t mind that sort of thing.  This movie might have been better overall if the viewer weren’t required to follow those “shaky-cam”-type visuals for quite so long; my understanding is that it was adapted from a well received short film.

If there was one thing that bothered me the most, though, it wasn’t the POV.  There is a recurring shot in “Dead Rush” that I liked a hell of a lot, involving the main character’s memory of a loved one.  It’s made even better when it is rather creatively used as a framing device at the film’s end.  A little reflection, though, made me remember that this shot seems to crib a little too much from a similar effective recurring shot in 2011’s “The Grey.”

What the hell … if you need a zombie horror fix, you could do worse than “Dead Rush.”

 

dead-rush-poster-768x1084