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28 Days Later (2002)


After waking from a long nap, there is always that feeling of disorientation as you try to get your bearings. This is especially difficult if things have changed drastically since you went to sleep. Meet Jim. He’s been in a coma for 28 days. In that time, the world has ended.

28 Days Later is a zombie horror film directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland. It stars Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, and Christopher Eccleston.

When a group of British animal liberation activists break into a lab to free some monkeys being used in medical research, they are warned that the monkeys are infected with a “rage virus” in the hopes of curing aggressive tendencies in humans. They don’t listen, and of course once they free one of the monkeys, one of the activists gets bitten, and hilarity ensues. Fast forward to 28 days later. Jim, a bicycle courier, awakens from a coma to discover that apparently London is completely devoid of human life, in one of the eeriest sequences in the whole movie. Then he discovers that, no, London is not abandoned – it’s populated by rage zombies. Yay. Fortunately the merry chase that ensues ends with Jim being rescued by a pair of uninfected survivors, Selena and Mark, who fill him in: the rage zombies are not dead, just really, really pissed off, and they try to kill anyone who isn’t infected. Trouble is, the rage virus spreads through bodily fluids, so a bite on even a bit of slobber getting in the wrong spot means that in a matter of seconds you’re one of them. Selena has hardened herself to this way of life, killing Mark without hesitation when he is cut in another fight with the Infected. It is not long, though, before they find another pocket of survivors, Frank and his teenage daughter Hannah, who offer them a place to stay and a glimmer of hope: a pre-recorded radio broadcast apparently being transmitted by an Army blockade in Manchester claiming to hold the solution to the Infection. Sounds great, right? Of course it does. Think it’ll be that easy? This is a zombie movie – of course it won’t. However, with dwindling supplies, the survivors have little choice but to investigate, and hope that they can survive the hordes of infected Rage zombies on the way…

I love zombie movies. They can be goofy and fun, or terrifying and claustrophobic, sometimes even within the same movie. 28 Days Later offered an interesting twist on the classic zombie – the living zombie, something previously explored by Romero’s original version of The Crazies but nearly forgotten until now. 28 Days Later crosses the living zombie with the fast zombie – something used extensively in the Return of the Living Dead series but since discarded until fairly recently with the Dawn of the Dead remake. This combination of zombie traits makes for a frenetic, terrifying take on the zombie movie. You don’t have time to react. You have to kill them or be torn apart. Infection takes seconds. And they absolutely hate you. The military subplot also reminds me a lot of the military subplot in Day of the Dead; the Army dudes have their own ideas about what constitutes a “solution” to the Infection, and once it is discovered you’re left with a general feeling of, “Well, we’re screwed now.” Because that’s what the military does in these movies: they take a bad situation and make it worse in the hopes of making it better.

The cast was tight and well-cast. Cillian Murphy works well here as disoriented coma patient Jim, the guy to whom the London situation must be explained by the others. He just wants to survive and get back to a normal life, and he is just as desperate and terrified as one would expect an uninfected human in a zombie apocalypse would be, but when he snaps – boy howdy. His woobie-ness goes away instantly, turning into a savagery that makes his later role in Red Eye look like Barney the Purple Dinosaur. Selena is another aspect of the zombie survivor, reluctant to make any human connections because she know that she might have to kill any allies without hesitation. Frank and Hannah comprise another aspect, the caregiver playing at normality to avoid traumatizing his young ward too much. And Major Henry West… you know, I’ve seen Christopher Eccleston in three roles so far, and only one of them, the Ninth Doctor, has been even remotely benevolent. I would call him Pragmatic Evil here.

Overall, 28 Days Later is a worthy addition to the zombie subgenre, effectively walking the line between subtlety and blind terror in its depiction of a once-bustling city given over almost completely to the Rage Virus. I highly recommend this one to all zombie fans.

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Zombie Strippers! (2008)

04/12/2011 3 comments

They’ll dance for a fee, but devour you for free.

Apparently, some time ago director Jay Lee was challenged to come up with the most marketable movie title ever. The title he came up with was Zombie Strippers!, and the movie he wrote to go along with it is, er, about what you’d expect.

Zombie Strippers! is a B-grade zombie comedy written and directed by Jay Lee, and apparently inspired by Eugene Ionesco’s play Rhinoceros (… what?!). It stars Robert Englund, Jenna Jameson, Penny Drake, Roxy Saint, and Tito Ortiz

It is a dystopic near-future. How dystopic? George W. Bush is sitting his fourth term as president, alongside Vice President Arnold Schwartzenegger. The United States Congress has been disbanded. Public nudity has been outlawed. The United States is enbroiled in wars across about a third of the planet, and with more wars than they have soldiers to fight them, a secret laboratory has developed a virus to help keep the soldiers on their feet and still fighting even after death. The only trouble is that the virus completely destroys all higher brain functions of male infectees, turning them into mindless, flesh-hungry zombies. Female infectees (through a brief technobabble involving the X chromosome) retain their higher brain functions, turning them into intelligent, flesh-hungry zombies. They’re still working the kinks out, but don’t worry, the lab’s security is second to none, which of course means that there is a containment breach literally two minutes into the movie. An elite Z Squad of improbably good-looking soldiers (including a blonde woman in a bikini top and camo pants the whole time) are dispatched to neutralize the threat, only to discover that their intel on the zombies is slightly, uh, WRONG. In the resulting confusion, one of them named Birdflough (pronounced bird flu, in case you were wondering) is bitten, but escapes unnoticed to a building next door to the lab – which turns out to be an illegal strip club named Rhino, run by a germophobe named Ian Essco who has every reason not to call the authorities, even when Birdflough turns and bites the throat out of a dancer named Kat. Kat dies, but is reanimated by the virus and wants to dance. Essco, concerned about losing his star dancer but unconcerned by the fact that she still has a huge bite wound in her throat and blood all over, lets her. To his surprise, this new, uninhibited zombie stripper is a HUGE hit, and the other strippers find themselves losing customers to the revitalized Kat, and faced with a choice – become zombies to compete, or lose their jobs. The only real complication Essco sees is the zombie strippers’ tendency to eat their customers during private dances, turning them into mindless zombies, but no problem – stick them in the basement. Of course, it isn’t long before things reach critical mass, and the Z Squad is closing in looking for their infected squadmate…

Okay. It’s a movie entitled Zombie Strippers. If you’re looking for high art, go away. This movie has hot, frequently-naked women, the men who watch them strip, flesh-eating zombies, and Robert Englund. This is not even the sort of zombie film you watch for its deep social commentary, or because the zombie represent much of anything. It’s like Shaun of the Dead without all the deep philosophical discussion. There is blood. There is violence. There are bare tits. Sometimes all at once. There is no sex (THANK CHRIST) but there is an implied blowjob gone wrong (executed by a zombie stripper. You do the math), and many of the freshly zombified strippers don’t even bother to clean up before they go back on stage. The special effects are frequently decent but at times hilariously bad, but that’s okay because this movie doesn’t take itself very seriously anyway (see title).

That said, it does take great pains to set things up properly before hilarity ensues, knitting up any loose ends and plot holes with a conscientiousness that so often goes neglected in higher-budgeted films. Most of the girls are pretty hot (escept for matriarch Blavatsky, who seems to be channelling a drag queen’s impression of Natasha Fatale), and they make a token effort for character development by having the newcomer be a devout Christian who is only stripping to earn money for her Nana’s camcer treatment, and one of the more experienced girls reads and quotes the great philosophers. Robert Englund, whom horror buffs will recognize as the normal-looking guy under Freddy’s Krueger’s makeup, is twitchy and perverted and mind of annoying (his comeuppance is satisfying but REALLY GROSS), and Jenna Jameson should be familiar to those who will admit they watch porn as one of the staple actresses of that genre. Aside from those two, there are no big-name actors in this film that I could see, and nobody here would be seen in a production of Shakespeare anytime soon. This is a zombie movie. With strippers. Undead strippers. Like I said, if you pick up a movie like this looking for high arts, put it down and walk away. It’s just a fun romp with a kind of squicky twist on the zombie genre, but fans of the subgenre should have fun.

In the end, Zombie Strippers! was exactly what I expected it would be – mindless fun, exactly what a B-movie should be. Fans of zombie movies should enjoy it as long as they go in there with low expectations and just enjoy the ride. Good stupid fun, but skip the popcorn.

Outbreak (2005)


How do you catch a killer? How far to you go to end the violence, agony, and death? How hard do you push to do your job and save countless lives, against insurmountable odds? What if the killer is only a billionth your size?

Outbreak is a disaster thriller film directed by Wolfgang Petersen, centering around the Center for Disease Control and how it handles an outbreak of a deadly virus. It stars Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Cube Gooding Jr., Kevin Spacey, and Morgan Freeman.

In 1967, a deadly outbreak of hemorrhagic fever called Motaba is discovered in a mercenary camp in Zaire. The camp is bombed and the disease is kept secret from the public. Thirty years later, the virus resurfaces, and the USAMRIID is sent to investigate. Led by Colonerl Sam Daniels, the investigators gather information and, fearing a second outbreak, recommend that his superior, Brigadier General Billy Ford, put out an alert, but Ford says it’s an unlikely scenario. And you know it would be, if a capuchin monkey carrying the virus were not captured for the illegal pet trade in the States. unfortunate monkey-thief is infected when the monkey scratches him, but when he can’t sell it to his buyer, he sets it free locally. It is not long before those who have come into contact with the infected monkey start to succumb to Motaba, and the CDC moves in, locking down Cedar Creek to contain the virus. Daniels investigates, trying to determine a cure for the deadly virus, but he soon learns that Motaba is not as new as he thought, and he finds himself battling against interested parties who want to insure that Motaba is not completely destroyed…

Movies about infectious diseases are nothing new. The Andromeda Strain played with this type of storyline from the CDC’s point of view before, but here the scenario is frighteningly plausible. Viruses are sneaky. They can wait until the conditions are just right before they come out and mess you up, and they can mutate in some ingenious and scary ways. This movie is especially relevant today, with the various outbreaks of bird flu, swine flu, and super-resistant viruses and bacteria. Let’s face it – if nature wants to kill us, it will find a way. And to really hammer the point home, only a few months after Outbreak was released, there was a real-life outbreak of Ebola in Zaire. Kind of makes you want to stock up on hand sanitizer, huh?

The casting here was nice and tight. Dustin Hoffman, and exemplary veteran actor, is spot on as Daniels, barely keeping it together in a crisis that could wipe out the United States if it got loose, alongside Rene Russo as his ex-wife caught in the same boat. Cuba Gooding, Jr., as CDC newcomer Salt, lends a degree of an outsider’s perpective in the opening scenes, and his initiation into the wonderful world of super-cooties seems natural, rather than a device to allow the more experienced investigators to explain the basic concepts to the audience. Donald Sutherland is effective as the Curt Military Asshole Major General McClintock, and Morgan Freeman as General Ford is, well, Morgan Freeman. Each character has his own agenda: the CDC want to eradicate Motaba. Their higher-ups want to preserve Motaba. Most of the civilians just want to survive Motaba. Families are torn apart. People panic. All over a tiny little critter only visible in an electron microscope than can nonetheless kill you horribly. Good times.

If you like your diseases deadly and your thrillers grounded in reality, absolutely watch Outbreak. Just remember to wash your hands afterwards.

Erin Brockovich (2000)


She had no legal education. She’s spent the last six years raising children. Nobody wanted to take her seriously. And she was about to bring a major corporation to its knees.

Erin Brockovich is a biopic directed by Steven Soderbergh about the Hinkley groundwater contamination lawsuit spearheaded by Ms. Brockovich against Pacific Gas & Electric. It stars Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, and Aaron Eckhart.

Erin Brockovich had always had to fight for what she believed in. After two divorces left her raising three kids, she needed a job and decent childcare – all simple things. When another driver runs a red light and plows into her car, she hopes that she might finally get a break, but when she loses her personal injury lawsuit against the doctor driving the other car, she asks her attorney, Ed Masry, to give her a job as compensation for what he had said was a slam dunk case. He gives her work as a file clerk, but when she investigates the inclusion of medical records in a pro bono real estate case involving PG&E, her instincts start telling her that things simply do not add up. When she digs further, she discovers a systematic cover-up of the use of toxic hexavalent chromium, which has leached into the groundwater in Hinckley and has been poisoning the residents for decades, causing numerous health problems. Well, Erin is not going to let this stand just because PG&E has billions at their disposal, and one major corporation is about to learn what happens when you get on the bad side of a tenacious spitfire.

Erin Brockovich’s story is an inspirational one. With no formal legal education, three kids, and the persistence of a pitbull, this woman posed an unexpected threat to the comfortable apathy demonstrated by a huge power company. Everyone knows what it’s like to butt heads with a huge, faceless corporation who would rather stonewall you into going away than address your concerns, whether those concerns be a billing problem or something more serious. Thoughout this film I found myself rooting for her as fate conspired to push her down, and she just got right back up and pushed back harder. There was no stopping her, even when nobody else believed in her. The best part is that, with a few artistic variations, her story is absolutely true. Not only did she kick PG&E in the nuts to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, but she has gone on to helm Brockovich Research & Consulting, a consulting firm.

Julia Roberts fares well as Brockovich here, not letting people push her around just because they had all the money. Amusingly, they actually toned down her mode of dress for the movie, making me wonder what the real Erin wore that was more provocative than the see-through blouse and black bra she wears to the office in one scene. While it stretched credulity that a woman with three young children would have a figure like that, some women are just blessed. Albert Finney holds his own as her slightly put-upon boss Ed Masry, trying to explain the way things are and being bewildered at first by her refusal to just accept them. Eventually the two of them meet in the middle as he starts to see the merit in her case and she starts to learn how to use the system to the benefit of the people of Hinckley. Aaron Eckhart adds an unexpected bit of flavor as Brockovich’s next door neighbor/love interest George, only a couple years before he would become a major actor in films like Paycheck and The Core, and overall the entire cast just works well together.

If you want to watch an inspirational underdog story, a true-life legal drama, or just a movie what prominently features Julia Roberts’ cleavage, try Erin Brockovich. You will be cheering her on every step of the way.

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (2009)


In 2002, Eli Roth directed a red-splattered gorefest called Cabin Fever as a throwback to the “tits and blood” style of slasher horror. It was messy, grotesque, and subversive; horror fans praised it for its daring, and it has grown to be a cult hit. In 2009, Ti West directed a sequel, picking up at the obvious hook set up by the previous film, hoping (as always) to achieve the same level of black comedy as the first. Did it work? Let’s find out.

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever is a horror film directed by Ti West, following the path of a strain of necrotizing fasciitis to a high school senior prom. It stars Noah Segan, Rusty Kelley, Alexi Wasser, and Guiseppe Andrews.

Cabin Fever 2 picks up in the woods from the first Cabin Fever, where we see that Paul, well into the advanced stages of a flesh-eating virus, as survived long enough to try like hell to escape from the woods – leaving bits of flesh behind on various obstacles – only to become a large red splash on the front of a school bus almost as soon as he reaches a road. Deputy Winston (a minor character from the first film) is called to the scene of the very gory collision (final score: Bus – 1, Paul – 0), and while he initially decides that the bus had hit one of the rare species of moose that are filled with red Kool-Aid, he soon finds evidence that the large splatter had once been human. Seeing a truck filled with Down Home brand bottled water (filled in the nearby lake, because sterilization and filtration processes are for pussies) headed for a larger down, he gives chase, hoping to stop disaster from spreading further. Turns out the bottled water is headed to a small high school, which is getting ready for its senior prom. After we meet a few principal characters at the high school (the Hero, the Hero’s Loser Best Friend, the two Token Geeks, the Douchebag, the Douchebag’s Girlfriend, the Conceited Blonde Prom Queen, and the Asshat School Principal), things soon ramp up as the contaminated water is distributed to just about every named character and several unnamed characters, and the prom spirals downward into an episode of Happy Tree Friends. Meanwhile, a random group of faceless containment guys from the CDC show up to contain the infection, even if it means killing everyone who isn’t already projectile vomiting their own liquefied organs all over everyone else. So… yeah.

Whereas the previous film was gory but also tense and laced with black humor, Cabin Fever 2 was just messy and gross. There were a few blackly humorous moments, like when the truck driver starts choking at the diner and squirting blood out of his tracheostomy (made more absurd by the fact that one waitress was attempting to perform an exorcism on him when the red stuff started spraying), and the last several scenes in the movie where Douchebag’s Girlfriend (by the name of Cassie) is running around in a prom gown soaked with blood, in a clear nod to Carrie. Unfortunately, though, most of the movie is just a mess, and not even in a way that made the original a good mess. All the characters are one-dimensional stereotypes from every high school slasher movie ever, with absolutely none of the usual instinctive aversion to things like sores and errant bodily fluids that might at least have delayed a few of the deaths. Even in the core cluster of protagonists, I didn’t really see anyone to root for, just people I was waiting to die horrible, gory deaths. At least the first one offered a bit of tension as the disease slowly developed (rather than blossoming all at once into bloody vomit) and had a couple of people I was interested in; of the two characters that survived the first movie, one died right away, and the other was an annoying twit.

While I occasionally enjoy a gory film, I cannot in good conscience recommend Cabin Fever 2, even to people who enjoyed the first one It rides too heavily on gore rather than on a well-paced, intelligent escalation of the plot, and in the end you’re just left wading ankle-deep in red mess. Avoid this one at all costs.

12 Monkeys (1995)


James Cole is almost sure he isn’t crazy. He might not be able to reconcile his memories and visions with his current surroundings, but he is almost sure he’s not crazy. The trouble is, if he is crazy, everything will be fine. If he’s not, 5 billion people are going to die, very soon.

12 Monkeys is a sci fi film directed by Terry Gilliam, inspired by the short film La jetée by Chris Marker. It stars Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, Jon Seda, David Morse, and Christopher Plummer.

James Cole is a convict living in a future where humanity has been ravaged and forced underground by a deadly virus, believed to have been released by an extremist group called the Army of the Twelve Monkeys. In order to earn a pardon, Cole is sent on a number of missions back through time in order to gather information of the virus and the Army of the Twelve Monkeys and if possible, to gather a pure sample of the virus so a cure may be engineered. However, his explanations about the virus and the grim future it causes are dismissed as the deranged ramblings of a schizophrenic, and he is sent to a mental institution. It soon appears that other “crazy” people might also be temporally displaced individuals like Cole himself on similar missions, and Cole desperately recruits his own psychiatrist, Dr. Kathryn Railly, for help in saving a future he is starting to believe might not exist…

Ah, Terry Gilliam. One of the founding members of the Monty Python troupe, Gilliam has gone on to direct some of the trippier movies in the spec fiction genre. Like Tim Burton, Gilliam’s movies tend to have a dark fairytale vibe to them, and 12 Monkeys is no exception. Messing with the viewer through the eyes of its protagonist, this movie explores themes like insane prophet vs. harbinger from the future, and whether the viewer can fully trust the POV character’s own observations, or if, as many of the 1996 characters believe, they are just delusions. The post-virus future is disorienting and trippy itself, to the point that it is logical for Cole to start believing it is only the product of an insane mind.

Of course, the film would fall flat without the superb acting of its principal cast. Bruce Willis (who worked for free just to get the chance to work with Gilliam) switches genres again, from action to drama, in effect playing an anti-badass here. Yes, he kicks ass when pressed, but most of the time he doubts himself, doubts his perceived mission, doubts his own perceptions of reality. Madeleine Stowe as Dr. Railly acts as his grounding force, trying to link him with the present even as she finds evidence that he might not be delusional, first fearing him but then wanting to help him find some sort of closure, either in fulfilling his mission or simply finding a place to be. Blurring the line between sanity and insanity is the inclusion of Brad Pitt as Jeffrey Goines (whose twitchy mannerisms were induced by simply taking away his cigarettes during filming), a genuinely(?) crazy character liked to the Army of the Twelve Monkeys whose own ramblings mirror Cole’s desperate attempts to warn the people about their impending near-extinction.

If you’re looking for a movie that messes with your head, you want to see Bruce Willis playing against type, or you’re just a fan of Terry Gilliam, check out this movie. It’s a delightful little Inception-lite puzzle that will hold your interest as you watch everything come full-circle.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

02/08/2011 1 comment

Some believe that a zombie movie should be philosophical, offering some form of deep social commentary on the state of humanity, how we treat our fellow man, consumerism, the evils of this or that common social ill. Others believe that a zombie movie should be terrifying, menacing us with the creeping horror that is our own animated dead, tirelessly pursuing us with the simple goal of eating our flesh.

Then there’s these guys.

Shaun of the Dead is a romantic zombie comedy (technically, a zom-rom-com) directed by Edgar Wright, starring Simon “Hot Fuzz” Pegg (who also co-wrote), Nick “Hot Fuzz” Frost, Kate “This Little Life” Ashfield, Lucy “Sex Lives of the Potato Men” Davis, Dylan “Run, Fatboy, Run” Moran, Peter “Run, Fatboy, Run” Serafinowicz, and Bill “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” Nighy.

Shaun (Pegg) is a loser. He fails in his career (a sales manager who gets no respect from his co-workers), his home life (his housemate Pete (Serafinowicz) is annoyed by Simon’s best friend Ed (Frost) living on their couch and selling marijuana), his family life (his relationship with his stepfather (Nighy) is… rocky at best), and his love life (his girlfriend Liz (Ashfield) is sick of going to the Winchester pub every night, and wants to do something – anything – with Shaun that doesn’t involve dragging Ed along). After yet another romantic failure (forgetting to reserve a table at a posh restaurant for a romantic couples’ evening like he promised Liz he would), Shaun’s life seems to be falling apart. With all these personal problems hanging over his head, he doesn’t even notice the zombie apocalypse happening around him for a full half day.

When he does notice, Shaun realizes he has to man up and save the day. Why him? First of all, he’s the hero, and second of all, the only other protagonist nearby is Ed. Think Ed will save the day? Didn’t think so. A plan is hatched that will allow Shaun to pick up Liz from her friends’ flat, rescue his parents from certain doom, reconcile with his stepdad, redeem himself with Liz, and all hole up at the Winchester until the whole thing blows over. Sounds simple? Of course it does. Think it will go off without a hitch? Of course it won’t.

Shaun of the Dead is a tongue-in-cheek take on the zombie apocalypse movie, acknowledging once and for all how hard it is to make a scary zombie movie anymore by simply not trying. The humor is subtle and dry, with a lot of missed important events happening in the background while the oblivious main characters go about their business, and piles of shout-outs and nods to previous zombie movies. Shaun and Ed are unapologetic losers, in sharp contrast to the instant competancy many zombie movie heroes scratch up, and they spend a lot of the movie just trying to get back to the baseline loserhood that they call normal.

The zombies, of course, are the classic Romero “slow zombies”, staggering and shambling patiently towards you with the goal of eating your flesh, though they do show signs of remaining humanity (at one end of the spectrum, they can be fooled by the living heroes pretending to be zombies, while on the other, they mindlessly go about their daily habits in the tradition of most of the Romero zombies and occasionally seem to have dim memories of how things “should” be). The zombie gore can be hilariously jarring when compared with the tone of the rest of the movie, but the whole thing works as an affectionate parody of the whole genre.

So, if you like zombie movies but are sick of the ones that take themselves too damn seriously, pick up Shaun of the Dead. It’s quirky, shambling, flesh-eating fun.