It seems that with each new installment of his "Dead" films, Romero further solidifies his reputation as the king of so-called "serious" zombie cinema.  He is more focused than ever on his life's work and his humanist message.  His films have always had a political bent to them, but he seems more conscious of this than ever with his previous film DIARY OF THE DEAD and his new epic, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD.  The main difference is that he's lost a bit of his cynicism regarding the human race - there's a streak of actual hope in his recent efforts, and his focus (particularly since DAY OF THE DEAD) on the possibility that the undead might have their old memories lurking underneath all that decaying flesh and insatiable hunger has really lent itself to the morality at play in the whole "should we kill them or wait to find a cure" conundrum that sits at the heart of all standalone zombie films (as if no one had ever seen a zombie movie before).  In this regard, he's become a storyteller of great empathy, somewhat akin to a latter-day, splatter-centric and less technically masterful Kurosawa, who sees the potential in humanity through all its ugliness.

I've been following and writing about Romero's series for quite some time now, and I'm sorry to say it, but this film is most certainly the beginning of the end.  SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is Romero's sixth zombie film, and again the odds are on the dead overrunning the living.  SURVIVAL marks two major departures for the director, as well as the series:  it's essentially a take on the Western (a showdown between two feuding families on an island over what to do with the dead forms the central conflict of the piece), and it features a character from another film in the series, Sarge Crocket, the National Guardsman who hijacks the protagonists' RV in DIARY.

This really opens up the universe of the series, and fulfills the hopes (somewhat) of late film-theorist Robin Wood, who wrote of DIARY that he hopes to see characters from that film populate later films, though he was speaking mostly in the context of the militant blacks who had taken over the town and supplied the kids with a lot of the stuff that got ripped off by the National Guard.  I agree, that would be one of the more interesting sets of people to make a zombie movie about, especially in Romero's super-charged politically relevant mythology.

The plot is pretty basic - in an Earp/McLaury scenario, the island two families of Irish immigrants live on isn't big enough for the both of them, so one has to go.  Forced off the island, Patrick O'Flynn takes to ripping off people for passage via boat to the island, which is apparently unknown to anyone who doesn't live in the area.  Sarge and the crew he ends up with encounter O'Flynn while trying to flee the mainland, and end up bringing him back to the island.  The morality play picks up and goes from there, ultimately ending in a bloodbath, but one that has some real ramifications for where the series goes in the future (Romero has said he only wants to do one more, but we'll see if that's adhered to, or not), particularly in regard to the undead's apparent ability to remember their family members, though this ends with tragic consequences.

SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD has been heralded as a let-down by both non-fans and admirers of Romero, but really it's not the bore-fest it's been purported to be.  Like most Romero films, there's a healthy layer of cheese that covers everything, from the over-the-top kills and the self-important dialogue (a way of interpreting other "end of the world" films' overwrought mental masturbation, in my opinion, and often bad on purpose), but none of this should be a surprise to anyone who's followed the director's films since CREEPSHOW.

He's a pulp-infused storyteller, more akin to a schlocky EC comic than anything cerebral and "intellectually engaging" on traditional levels.  Part of the pleasure of watching SURVIVAL is seeing how Romero blends and synthesizes genre, undermines his own supposed legacy, and continues building upon both at the same time.  It may well be the weakest of the "Dead" series, but when you're discussing any horror movie in the same breath as NIGHT, DAWN or the under-appreciated DAY OF THE DEAD, that's not exactly saying anything revolutionary in thought.  Compared to the original three films, almost all horror films are completely inferior, and not just those featuring the beloved lumbering undead.

Edit - 5/28/10 3:10 PM:
Check out this interview with Romero that's really quite interesting.


Here's a few that I'm looking forward to.  Oddly enough, none of them are really on anyone's radar.


This is an odd-ball.  Matt Damon plays a congressman, and Emily Blunt a ballerina, who share a romance, but soon find out that they cannot be together due to...a lot of extenuating circumstances.  A group of creepy guys in hats start following them around (see also: DARK CITY, KNOWING) that turn out to be some sort of supra-national organization that controls, quite literally, everything on the planet, and that Blunt and Damon's coming together would spell disaster for something that's supposed to happen.  It's that perfect paranoid conspiracy that has me hooked, even though I know things like this probably don't really exist - especially with the odd sci-fi bent.  Still, I'm into it.


This thriller from Anton Corbijn, who directed the excellent Ian Curtis (Joy Division) biopic CONTROL, stars George Clooney as an assassin on "one last assignment".  While this plot development is overused almost to the point of it being a parody, the classy Clooney's keeping me interested - I'll watch anything he does, even if I eventually find it insufferable.  The trailer's got some pretty great scenes in it.


Gordon Gekko is back, and I'm super-excited.  There's been plenty of buzz from Cannes and elsewhere that Oliver Stone's sequel is very much on-point, and that's great news.  Some people may have problems with the film, but I don't really care.  I'll be there opening weekend.

5 Performances - Val Kilmer

Whether he's taking on real-world icons, or crafting wholly original characters, when he's on his game, Val Kilmer is a talent to be reckoned with.  He's been in Westerns, thrillers, crime-dramas, and even comedies (thought I love it, REAL GENIUS only gets this mention), and has played everyone from gunslingers to fallen porn stars.  And then there's my love for him as Madmartigan in Willow, but that's another article altogether.  Val's in theaters currently as arch-villain Dieter von Cunth (insert joke, right?) in SNL sketch-cum-feature-length movie MACGRUBER, which I have yet to see, so in honor of his return to the big screen, here's some of the more memorable slices of his career, and, since I like him so much, and because I make the rules, he gets five performances instead of my customary four.

Jim Morrison, THE DOORS
I think Kilmer's under-appreciated in this film, and that may be largely due to the more salacious details surrounding its reception.  Some feel it's too schlocky, while fans of The Doors find the film overall to be a bit too slanted to Ray Manzarek's version of things and therefore factually inaccurate.  But that doesn't take anything away from the performance Val gives us as Jim Morrison, the poet/provocateur behind one of rock's enduring iconic bands.  Maybe it's because of his amazing physical resemblance to the real Morrison, or maybe it's just that he's so damned good in making a sympathetic figure out of a man who was by all accounts a bit off-putting.  Morrison had issues with his audiences, constantly clashed with indecency enforcers and there were a lot of mind-altering drugs in use - the brilliant Indian in the desert sequence where all the members of the band are tripping balls was hilariously parodied in WAYNE'S WORLD 2.  Stone's film may be imperfect, but Kilmer's spot-on.

Shane Black's brilliant buddy action-comedy/noir/Hollywood tale was actually the rebirth of both the careers of Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer (who's gone on to have tons of work since, most of it very good and overlooked), though for some reason Downey's the one everyone paid attention to.  Still, Kilmer's turn as the gay P.I. hired to show Downey's actor-impersonating criminal, Harry Lockhart, the ropes in the trade to prep him for a role is where the real money's out.  His constant state of incredulity at Lockhart's behavior is hysterical by itself, and really drives a lot of the best reaction moments from Downey.  This is a great movie and has two of my favorite actors at the top of their games.

Doc Holliday, TOMBSTONE
This is probably his most popular and impersonated performance, but Kilmer's Southern-gent take on the iconic, tubercular sidekick and friend to Wyatt Earp still remains top-notch interpretive acting work.  At once comical and deadly, Doc Holliday is a thrilling character in George P. Cosmatos's blockbuster, action-centric take on the story of the Earps and the legendary status they achieved in the town of Tombstone.  With amazing delivery on some of the best trash-talking dialogue in screen history, like "I'm your huckleberry" and "You're a daisy if you do" when taunting Johnny Ringo (a great Michael Biehn) about his threat to kill him in a gunfight, Kilmer's performance goes into instant legendary territory.  Is there a person alive who doesn't at least like Doc Holliday in this movie?

In David Mamet's 2004 masterpiece (one of several, it should be noted), Kilmer plays Army Ranger Scott (maybe, though he's more black-ops off-the-radar than that, and even hints that he may not be a Ranger after all), who's given the task of tracking down the kidnapped daughter of the President.  The film's filled to the brim with the traditionally Mametian double- and triple-crosses, enough twists and turns to effectively fill an album full of '60s car crash tunes, and an ensemble cast that's to die for (Ed O'Neil, William H. Macy, Derek Luke, and Kristen Bell).  This was the first major film role that Kilmer had had in quite some time, and it undoubtedly led to him getting further prominent work.  As Scott, he's all quiet and troubled subtlety - a man searching for the truth in a sea of corruption that Mamet has a field day with.  The scenes between him and the Secret Service agent who was assigned to protect the daughter are especially moving, and Kilmer conveys the exact mood that overcomes Scott and compels him to complete his mission, swimming through all the muck and bullshit and beaurocracy to find the missing girl.

Chris Shiherlis, HEAT
As part of Neil McCauley's heist crew, Chris Shiherlis is a man of principle who is truly in love with his wife, Charlene, but who faces marital problems due to a gambling addiction that continues to fuel his dependence on the criminal life.  With long blonde hair, Kilmer portrays Shiherlis as a no-nonsense professional, and at the end of the film when forced to leave his wife behind so he can go on the run and attempt to get free of the ever-tightening noose of the police, it's devastating.  "For me the sun rises and sets with her," he says in the film, and it's especially evident in his face as he realizes that he has to go, and that she can't come with him.  HEAT is every bit the modern crime epic that it's said to be, though I think some people actually underrate it just a bit.  Kilmer's just one of many great performances, and it's arguably the last truly great film Michael Mann made.



Because no one demanded it, here's a rundown of the past few things I've seen...you know, because I'm either too busy or too lazy to do a full write-up of them.

Tina Fey and Steve Carrell turn in some solid comedic performances in a movie that is better than I expected it to be, but still felt a bit off for some reason I just can't place.  Maybe it's the circular plot, or the outlandishness of the premise (despite being firmly grounded by the lead performers' natural demeanor and delivery).  In any case, this was an enjoyable action-comedy, with an emphasis on the comedy half of that distinction, and there really are some laugh-out-loud moments - hell, even the usually not very funny "outtakes" at the end of the film contains a great one-liner from Tina Fey.  The film also features more than a few really great cameos, and the action actually integrates into the comedy itself rather than sticking out as sore-thumb, tacked-on sequences.  I know the trailer made this look like a less than worthy effort from all involved, but it really has been one of the best studio films I've seen this year.

I'm a sucker for nature docs, and this one featured a lot of gorgeous images that really made me want to go back and watch BLUE PLANET again.  If you saw last year's DisneyNature release, EARTH, you know what to expect here as we track various animals across the world's oceans.  Some of it is really jaw-dropping and magnificent, but there are a few minor quibbles I have as well: not giving us the names of species that only get a scant mention but are peculiar enough to warrant a full segment, and having no coherent storythread (other than, it seems, pollution is bad).  Still, if this is your thing like it is mine, then I say see it.  If you're looking for in-depth analysis of stuff...Eh.

After seeing THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, I was really looking forward to this follow-up to Eli Roth's original.  Director Ti West is obviously capable of some top-notch work, but this ain't it.  It takes an interesting premise: the skin-eating virus getting into a bottled water supply, but does absolutely nothing with it.  Winston, the party-hard cop from the first film, is back and attracting plenty of trouble everywhere he goes, but instead of focusing on his predicament, which would have been fairly interesting, apparently it's a better idea to take us to a high school prom with a lot of uninteresting characters and slowly move toward the end with a lot of vomiting blood and a gory, pus-y penis.  And yeah, that's gross and all, but there's nothing here to keep us interested.  Blah of the highest order.

Jackie Earle Haley is an inspired casting choice for a reboot of the character of Freddy Krueger, but this film takes the awesome possibilities of his performance and squashes it with an absolutely humorless script that changes a whole lot of story elements for absolutely no reason.  Nancy's character dynamics for one are completely changed.  Her mother's no longer an alcoholic, her father's completely nonexistent, and she's some sort of shut-in weirdo with no real friendships to speak of.  Even her love interest (played in the original by Johnny Depp) is deadened, with no chemistry that makes you care whether or not they help each other survive.  And then there are the kills, which are so much more sadistic and brutal in the original film that it's almost laughable here.  When people should be dragged kicking and screaming across walls and ceilings, or explode in a shower of blood, or any other set piece that got redone here, they float and then get slashed, or have a glove explode through their chest.  This is possibly the least imaginative take on the Freddy universe I could have ever dreamed up.  I could spend an entire full-length review summing up what's wrong about this movie, but what's the point?  I'm done with it.



Writer/director/editor Ti West's horror flick THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL is a slow, brooding and atmospheric exercise in retro horror, never succumbing to post-modern genre tropes like subversion or updating of material.  The film is a refreshingly old-fashioned homage, and unlike the work of contemporary retro-shocker Eli Roth, it lacks entirely the irony and self-referentialism most post-SCREAM horror flicks, and it packs in a ton of aesthetic flourishes that would have felt right at home three decades ago.  On top of the fact that it looks, feels and even behaves like an early-80s occult horror film, it also manages to be pretty damned good, delivering heavy atmospheric chills and a late-in-the-film freak-out that's quite memorable, and it does so with very little gory, although when the blood does flow, there's plenty of it.

Delivering a knockout debut performance, Jocelin Donahue plays Samantha, a struggling young college student who hopes to move out of the dorm room she shares with her highly sexually active and somewhat slovenly roommate and into a place of her own.  In pursuit of this dream, she takes a babysitting job from the Ulman family, a strange clan that lives in the country outside of the college town Samantha is familiar with, despite the protestations of her friend Megan, played by current indie darling Greta Gerwig.

From the start, West demonstrates an economy of storytelling, cramming a lot of character and background information into a very brief period of time.  Within the first twenty minutes, we have fully established relationships, fears and motivations, and a good deal of creepy dealings with Mr. Ulman on the telephone that get the proceedings going pretty quickly.  And once our heroine is on her way into the woods and unfamiliar territory, the film slowly ramps up the atmosphere, the house itself becomes as much a character as Sarah or Mr. Ulman - a labyrinth of locked doors and strange noises emanating from the bedroom of Mrs. Ulman's mother, the actual subject of Sarah's babysitting job.

Tom Noonan plays the odd and off-putting Mr. Ulman, a tall, lanky man who easily sends the creepy vibe to Samantha, Megan and to the audience while remaining subtle and mysterious.  The latter is no easy feat in today's over saturated genre films that feature over-the-top performances on part of the villains.  After he successfully recruits Samantha for the job, and has left with his wife for the evening, we are left alone in the big house - empty except for the sickly and supposedly bed-ridden mother, and a whole lot of strange going on.

The house itself - and the secrets that we are given snippets of that Samantha has no awareness of (like the slain family that lies behind a locked door upstairs and the grisly death of her friend Megan) - ratchets up the tension notch by notch toward a horrific climax that shares a place in film history with the overlooked road movie/Satanic horror hybrid RACE WITH THE DEVIL and the (after-)birth scene in ROSEMARY'S BABY for sheer ballsiness of content.  It turns out that everything is definitely not what it seems, especially Mrs. Ulman's elderly mother, and Sarah is in great danger because it's the night of the lunar eclipse.  And we all know what happens with Satanic cults and eclipses.

The film opens with the statement that the 1980s was a period of widespread belief in the existence of Satanic cults, and proceeds with one of the best title sequences in recent memory, with retro typeface and freeze frames.  It feels a lot like a Craig Brewer sequence, actually, which may or may not be a reason I enjoyed it so much.  But, unlike a lot of badly put-together titles, it gets the period, tone and character established, and there's not a stupid newspaper clipping in sight to make sure the audience knows what's going on in the world of disappearings or kidnappings or any other such B.S. the studios usually cram into these bits.  I have a soft spot for this sort of film, sure, but I do think it's worthwhile, and while not for everyone, it's definitely interesting, and may be a flick that even non-genre fans can get into.