Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Night Eats the World


In the beginning of this movie, Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) goes to a raging party at his ex-girlfriend's apartment in Paris, squeezing through the careless crowds and yelling in order to barely be heard -- that he just wants to get his stuff and leave. A pretty miserable situation. Finally his ex tells him to wait in a room in the back for her. While he's waiting he falls asleep, and while he's sleeping -- well -- the night eats the world. That is, the zombie apocalypse rolls through Paris overnight, and when he wakes up in the morning he's the only person unaffected.


For a while -- after the horror wears off and he secures the apartment building from the roaming undead that is -- it seems nice. He collects food, wanders through people's stuff, and plays the drums. He gets everything to himself and is safe enough. He makes "friends" with his zombied neighbor who's stuck in the elevator. But as the days grow into months, the cabin fever, and the mental strain begins to take its toll.

You know how in blockbustery zombie flicks, the heroes are going around from place to place kicking butt and having a crazy dangerous time, and they always seem to come across someone or two, who are holed-up somewhere, too scared to move but running out of resources? They either take them with them, or get them killed, or both. Well, this movie is about the holed-up guy. It's a very quiet, introverted movie, and it relishes it. There are whole long sequences showing Sam exploring and organizing his new domain -- crossing off apartments containing zombies and collecting anything that fancies his interest. He makes make-shift percussion music out of bottles and cheese graters. And he spends long stretches of the film not speaking at all.

Even the zombies are quiet! They don't groan or growl like at all. It's actually unsettling.

I make it sound boring, I know. And maybe it would be to anyone who's there for relentless zombie action and nothing else. In that case, I fully recommend checking out Overlord which is in theaters. This is streaming on Amazon Prime, and much more cater-able to homebodies, but I seriously didn't find it boring at all. It accomplishes interest neatly by not explaining anything to us, so when strange things happen, we discover what's going on along with Sam, and there's always something to think about or notice. It's also about character progression as we see the way Sam's isolation slowly affects him, but we're never sure exactly where things will lead for him; what he'll do, or even what he should do. And yes; there are action scenes too.

If you enjoy imagining scenarios to try and figure what you'd do in that case, this movie's a great example of that. No path seems clear. It's dangerous outside, and inside resources are dwindling. I have to say it didn't lead where I expected it to at first, but where it did lead was, in the end, incredibly satisfying. It had such a clear train of thought, and though the trail wasn't obvious to us the audience until the end, once it makes itself known it's very open about what it's saying. The theme is tried and true -- especially in zombie flicks -- but it is played in a way that's refreshingly honest.

The small scale makes it all very intimate.

The lead is good -- a Norwegian actor I've never seen anywhere before. He keeps things consistently engaging, but I did wonder once or twice what it would've been like if a high caliber actor had the role. It could have become a rather exceptional acting vehicle. Not to say he was lacking, but just that the story could've added more layers with someone out for a great acting challenge. The cinematography doesn't get extravagant or pretentiously artistic, but I noticed a few shots that I really enjoyed the look of. Simplistic, neat framing and color use that complements the story's style.

I assume this had a pretty low budget, but it does what it wants to do splendidly. It uses practical effects mostly for the zombies, and when CGI is implemented it looks indistinguishable. Great quality on all the effects work. And though it doesn't have endless action scenes to deal with there are plenty -- and if anything, their less-frequent occurrences keeps you from getting dulled to the stakes, so even the smaller skirmishes are intense and engaging. The climax ramps it all up higher than I thought possible and deserves some serious props for a smart design, and for setting everything up in previous scenes.

I was really impressed with how well thought-out the plot was, and how well it worked with its theme.

Simple and on a small scale, but much smarter and more thoughtful than its kind generally is. It doesn't philosophize out loud, and definitely doesn't pander, but shows its work and comes away with a conclusion that makes you think, while feeling satisfied by a full, brief, and engaging tale of a single person who finds himself completely alone. Zombies for introverts. I'm a fan.

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs


The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an anthology film of six short story segments that essentially is the Coen Bros indulging themselves in brief studies of their particular style, and using to full advantage the Netflix release model, like the masters they are. A lot of people don't care for the idea of movies going straight to Netflix when they could be given theatrical releases -- and I get that, I do -- but if this drastic and controversial change to the distributions of movies is at all a good idea, this movie is exactly why.

It's Coen through and through, but like we've never seen before. (Can that be said of all their projects...?)

Guaranteed if it had been released in theaters it would have underperformed. Probably simply because it's an anthology film and people go to the movies to see big, fleshed out films. And Venom. This film is just a series of vignettes, their only connection to each other being that they're set in the wild west era, and that they all have a Coen signature stamped directly on their forehead. It's not theater material -- but it is perfect material for a quiet afternoon at home. Sweatpants material. The Coens aren't gonna start releasing only to Netflix now I'm sure, but this new model allowed them to release something different, a bit experimental, and proves itself to be completely worthy of existence.

I don't watch many short films, but I have read a lot of short stories. I have a collection of short horror stories that I'm making my way slowly through -- like The Tell-Tale Heart, The Shunned House, and The Metamorphosis -- and this film reminds me of them in the way they impacted me. Those three short stories I thought of off the top of my head out of 30 or 40 and they floated to the top by having such an impact that when I think of horror short stories they spring readily to mind. There are others I can think of if I try; others that I remember when I'm reminded of the title; and still others that I can't recall at all, unless perhaps I read them again.

And so it goes with short films as well. Some moments of this film with haunt me forever.

I don't love any of those short stories. Not in the way I love novels anyway -- but that's totally irrelevant because they're not novels. But I love reading them, and I think about them just as much as I do any other stories that have left impressions on me. I'm fairly certain that I think of The Metamorphosis daily. (I'm not sure that's a good thing.) The point being: brief as they are, they still left a lasting impression that will stick with me for life. And that's what The Ballad of Buster Scruggs in like. It may seem like casual viewing, but you will likely find yourself thinking of the huge moments created within those tiny spaces for a long time.

For me, I'll always remember the title story -- because it's the title and it's first -- it sets a disarming tone and pulls you in with warm comedy, but doesn't feel out of place from the fully dark segments either. The Gal Who Got Rattled is most likely to pop up in my thoughts regularly. It was my favorite, if I can say such a thing. I thoroughly enjoyed Near Algodones for it's perfectly delivered dark comedy and conciseness. All Gold Canyon I'll remember for one fantastic moment, and the satisfying way it ends. Meal Ticket is one of those situations where it makes you understand it so well that you wish you didn't. And The Mortal Remains is last in both orders. It feels so conclusive that its perfect to go last and wrap up.

An impressive line-up. 

Acting is great all-around and its fun seeing so many familiar faces pop up, especially in roles that they'd never get were these stories full-length movies, but what stands out most is direction and writing. There were different themes, characters, locations, and even color palates, but every story still felt very much like they belonged together, because of the clearly presented and consistent Coen tone. There's varying degrees of happiness, sadness, lightness and darkness, but the same tone is always there -- a kind of pleasant, excited dread for what lies just around the bend.

As far as flaws go, the only thing I can offer is that I'm simply not attached to it in the usual way, which, of course, isn't really a flaw at all. I believe it to be fully what it was meant to be, and I believe it had the intended effect on me, but I don't see myself returning to it anytime soon, if ever. There's nothing new to be gleaned, which is why I usually return for seconds. They're very concise stories that give up all their fruit in one dramatic go. And I know how they end, which is the main point of it all to begin with.

They're pros. They know what they're doing, and they do it well.

In the 24 or so hours since watching it, it has returned to my thoughts many times, and that simple but important impact is the best recommendation for this film's quality I could ever give. Like the better horror shorts I've read, these tales are crafted in a precise and bold way, to showcase style, concentrate wit and creativity, and portray neatly closed stories and dramatic irony that are unlikely to fade from memory -- whether revisits to their strange, bleak and warm land is due or not.

Saturday, November 10, 2018



Overlord is a Nazi/zombie action horror flick that was originally meant to be a part of the Cloverfield Universe, but is now simply a stand-alone original scifi film. I wonder if it had been a Cloverfield would people judge it any differently (read: more harshly), but mostly I'm just glad that it's out there for our viewing pleasure.

If you saw the trailer nothing will take you by surprise, but if you saw the trailer and still want to see this, that won't matter one bit.

In my understanding the Cloverfield Universe was merely a way to brand stand-alone films to appeal to the franchise crowd anyway. But that backfired a bit with Paradox, and franchises aren't as hip as they used to be anyway. The only thing I regret is that this movie couldn't have been titled "Cloverlord." But I digress and there's bloodshed and gore to get to. It's WWII, and the night before D-Day, an American troop parachutes into France to blow up a Nazi radio tower at a church. Under said church there's a secret facility where some Nazi "doctor" is doing "experiments." (Every time, those freakin' Nazis...) To say chaos ensures would be a bit of an understatement.

Cool thing about this movie: it's a bigger release than I was expecting, getting lots of attention for looking like it gave a large budget to its violence, and perhaps also for having J.J. Abrams' name attached as a producer, but it has the cast of an indie film. Seriously, there's not one a-list, or even b-list actor, and the only one whose name I knew was Iain De Caestecker, because I watch Agents of SHIELD. I recognized Wyatt Russell from Black Mirror, and John Magaro from Amazon's Jack Ryan, but couldn't manage to place them until I looked them up. That's unusual for a movie to not try and land at least one person with drawing star-power. But Overlord doesn't need it.

It's got other weirder, grosser things to think about.

Our hero is Boyce, Jovan Adepo, a Private who's been tossed into the middle of the war and is just trying to stay afloat. A classic everyman type lead. He's a good guy, the kind you want to see make it out okay. Rounding out the troop is Jacob Anderson and Dominic Applewhite, and there's a local French girl who helps them out in their mission (Mathilde Ollivier) and a villain's villain to wreak havoc and make menace (Pilou Asbæk). They all have personalities to give then instant definition, and wind up with more development than I expected them to get in the end. But not much more -- this is a zombie thriller after all and you can't slow down a train like that -- just enough to give a little meat and keep us invested.

The real meat of the matter is the action; the scenes or horror and of crazed science fiction. On that score it delivers all that is promised. It's relentless, almost to the point of being too much so, as it attempts a jump scare one or two times but totally lacks the patience required to build the suspense required for the moment. It's too excited to wait. But no matter, as its main talent lies in what I suppose is scenes of body horror. Suffice to say, it gets super weird, super gross, and pretty darn cool at the same time, and it had my widened eyes glued to the screen. Particularly in one extended scene of, shall we say, metamorphosis.

I can only imagine that this was fun to do.

The effects looked excellent, and there was only one shot that looked bad enough to take me out of the movie for a quick second. And the situations the characters get themselves into allow for memorable events easily. I mean, Nazis and zombies -- you'd think the scenarios would write themselves, but they clearly put some effort into getting the story out of the eternal cycle of clichés and it tries its hand effectively at a few different things. It keeps itself concise and focused inside the narrative, and explores the darker, odder corners of bombastic Nazi-punk horror.

No, it's not profound or particularly meaningful -- though it does pause for a small tug on the heartstrings once or twice -- it's there to blow out your eardrums and make as big a mess as possible within its confines, and that it does. It's not even scary. It just channels every effort in to being freaky weird and relentlessly entertaining. I suppose it may be possible to get that as well as they have it and still broaden attention into realms of character and theme, but I can't blame them for playing it a little safe on that score. It certainly makes up for it in blood and explosions, and feels far from boredom if not from safety.

Horizons could've been expanded, but at the risk of making a mess. And not in a good way.

There's no new ground broken here, and the only bold experimenting is done by those crazy Nazis, so it's not going to make tremendous waves or anything, but that hardly matters as it accomplishes what it set out to do. It's a crazed, bloody, and bloody fun time, taking advantage of its setting, utilizing the potential of the villains it has ready on hand, and putting a neat twist on the creation of the undead. If that sounds like your cup of tea-- or perhaps I should say: If that sounds like your type of bone-crunching bloodbath -- then Overlord is unlikely to leave you unsplattered.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Upcoming Movie Roundup - November

In October I got to the theater to see Venom (review), which I didn't care for but have no enmity towards either, and Bad Times at the El Royale (review), which rocketed up to be my #3 movie of the year!

I never got around to First Man, so that's my top priority now, and hopefully I'll have time to catch up before November's interesting movies get here. There aren't any absolute must-sees for me this month, but I wouldn't be surprised if I wound up seeing one or two.

What looks good to you? Happy November!

Bohemian Rhapsody
Nov 2nd; PG-13
Full disclosure, I'm not much a Queen fan particularly, but I am a fan of 70's/80's rock. I'm also a fan of Rami Malek (ever since Larry Crown) and word is that he's great in this. Word is also that the movie around him isn't so great, but I get a sneaky suspicion that expectations of this being an Oscar contender may have heightened the disappointment. Just the PG-13 rating is a good indicator that it wasn't exactly vying for a best pic nom. The trailer is very groovy and if the film is like that, I expect I'll get a kick out of it someday. I'd be there for the music mostly anyway.

Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Nov 2nd; PG
Twelve-year-old me would've been all over this. Now, if I ever sat down to watch it, it would be in the hope that it's so stupid and horrendously bad that I could just laugh at it for 2 hours. I actually want to see Keira Knightly embarrass herself with that pink hair and those eyebrows and that voice. Does that make me a bad person? I realize it's a movie for kids, but actually good kid movies are good adult movies too, and really, if they were serious about doing an updated twist on The Nutcracker, this is the absolute LAST way I'd want it done.

Nov 2nd(limited); R
Coooool. Small budget scifi that still looks good; doesn't try to push the limit of what they can cohesively accomplish, but sticks to what makes all stories compelling: the human element. Character. That's what trailer makes it out to be, anyway, and I'd love to give it a watch. Scifi always seems to be best used as a catalyst for drama and conflict instead of being the main focus itself.

Nov 9th; R
Now this is interesting. This is the J.J. Abrams-produced WWII zombie film that was originally meant to be a part of the Cloverfield Universe. (So they say.) But the Cloverfield part has been ditched. I suspected that choice was made after The Cloverfield Paradox got such a terrible reaction. Like they didn't have confidence in this movie's quality and didn't want to keep making bad Cloverfield movies. BUT, this movie's getting great reviews so far. I wanted to see it even before I saw the trailer, but after the trailer I didn't expect this good a reaction. I guess zombies and Nazis are a pretty fun combo!

The Girl in the Spider's Web
Nov 9th; R
I've never seen a Girl with a Dragon Tattoo film before, but this is the closest I've come to wanting to see one. If they keep on making these movie (I dunno how much source material there is) they won't have to bother with trying to make James Bond a girl. I guess these movies are much more mature and thriller-y than Bond, but this trailer definitely has that kind of appeal. Also I bet Claire Foy is awesome in it. AND I caught a glimpse of the young German actress who plays the deaf girl in Dark, and it's so cool seeing actors from Dark outside of that show, even if it small roles.

Outlaw King
Nov 9th; R
I watched the trailer and was still confused about who exactly the outlaw king is. Robert the Bruce? Either I'm bad at history or he was kinda obscure. But okay, I can dig it. Medieval, Scotland, war, kings, knights. Not huge on Chris Pine, but there's plenty of other people there too. And it's Netflix, so lazy afternoon watch it is!

Time Freak
Nov 9th; PG-13
Look y'all, Asa Butterfield and Sophie Turner are doing an About Time movie, but for kids! So, extra focus on the time-travel gimmick, more traditional and cliched romance, and cheaper comedy efforts. For some reason, I still wouldn't mind watching it.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Nov 16th; PG-13
Haha, can you imagine if they called this "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Crimes of Grindelwald"??? They should have. Just commit to it, ya know? Anyway, I watched the first one and enjoyed it so I guess I'm in for this too. I'm not super excited about it in any particular way, but I've never been a big Harry Potter person to begin with. I liked era setting, and the character of Newt, and Jude Law as Dumbledore should be neat. I never thought I'd say this but I think I'm going to miss Colin Farrell as the bad guy though.

Nov 16th; R
This one's got a cast on it! Wowee. But I don't understand what the plot is? Some ladies' criminal husbands are killed so they decide to pull of their next planned heist? Why? Did the bad guy guy murder them because they robbed him, so they decide that's the best way to get revenge, or...? If the impression I'm getting here is right I'm not sure I'd be able to pull for our (anti?)heroines, but I guess I'll keep an eye out. What a cast.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Nov 16th; R
The Coen Brothers have made a Netflix film. That's it, y'all. There's no going back now. Netflix allows for different types of movies, though, you know? This isn't the sort of flick people would be rushing to the theater to see, but because of Netflix it still got to be made -- without altering to be more appealing to the theater crowd -- and I'd be surprised right out of my boots if it isn't a good, fun, western time. An anthology film apparently, of several short films, all set in the wild west. I'm all the way on board!

The Clovehitch Killer
Nov 16th; NR
Charlie Plummer is doing a "My Neighbor is a Serial Killer" movie -- but even more dramatic, because it's not his neighbor he suspects, it's his father. This trope gets done quite a lot, but rarely as well and as real-life as it looks here, and after Lean on Pete I'll watch anything that kid tries his hand at, so I'm 1000% there for this movie. Seriously, the trailer looks great. Moody and intense... human drama over excessive thrills... coming of age elements... Plummer is probably great in it too, but what else is new?

Nov 16th; NR
Okay, so Ansel Elgort has dissociative personalities, one good one bad. The bad one's dating a girl, but then she breaks up with him to date the good one. Hahaha, well, I guess it's not a weird as cheating on one of the personalities. Wow I can't even keep a straight face typing this I bet the movie is golden I need to see this. Reviews so far skew positive though... so maybe it's genuinely decent, who knows. The trailer's definitely taking itself seriously. I'm not sure if I can.

Ralph Breaks the Internet
Nov 21st; PG
Oh hey. This actually looks good. For some reason I was expecting immediately obvious tragedy and downgrading but now I'm on the hook until the truth is revealed. It very well could still be tragedy. But they have a solid premise going that demands world expansion, and they're playing Rick Astley so they have to be a certain level of in the know concerning the pop culture they're going to be dealing with... idk... it might be good. If I ever feel like it's not, I probably will stay away though, because I kinda loved the first one.

Green Book
Nov 21st; PG-13
I tire easily of movies that purposefully take on the subject of racism, simply because they tend to serve to divide more than unite -- but judging from the trailer, this movie does the opposite of that, showcasing a positive side of things that can come through the negative, by focusing on the friendship between the two characters. This looks like a really good drama, with good performances and sleek, rich look. And they'll be piano music too I expect, so that'll be nice.

Robin Hood
Nov 21st; PG-13
You know that guy on YouTube who does trick and fast archery? Practical application and close-quarter stuff? This is a take on Robin Hood inspired by him I bet. I would be fairly surprised if it turned out to be critically praised or regarded flick, but that doesn't mean I'm not interesting in watching it. Quite the opposite. Robin Hood adaptations don't need to be exceptional pieces of film. It's action/adventure entertainment, and the sooner filmmakers understand this the sooner we can have an exceptionally fun Robin Hood movie. This may not be it -- but it could be. Taron Egerton and his fun screen presence will likely at least make it not a waste of time. And then there's Ben Mendelsohn and Jamie Foxx to consider.

Anna and the Apocalypse
Nov 30th(limited); R
IT'S A CHRISTMAS. ZOMBIE. MUSICAL!!! Oh my goodness. It's probably not going to be as good as I want it to be, but okay but that's only because my imagination is running wild right now, and there's no way it's not a little bit crazy fun. No way. With that combination, it'd be impossible to be outright bad. The trailer makes it look brilliant and like a blast. Actually even if it's bad it'd still be brilliant because its a brilliant idea. Wow, I'm totally hyped for the holiday season now.