Tag Archives: Shaun of the Dead

‘Ant-Man’ feels like missed opportunity

One thumbs up for

One thumbs up for “Ant-Man,” maybe. Two thumbs up? Not quite.

If Marvel was going to try something outside-the-box with one of its properties, Ant-Man was the perfect opportunity.

Ant-Man is a weird premise, a cat-burglar-turned-Robin-Hood in a suit that shrinks and expands him at will and allows him to communicate with and control his fellow ants from the natural world. Marvel hired Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), a guy who knows a little something about making ensemble films with weird characters, to write and direct. Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) called Wright’s Ant-Man story “the best script Marvel ever had.” Star Paul Rudd knows comedy and is just as comfortable going broad as he is trying something a bit more out there. Plus, there was no pressure for Ant-Man to be a huge hit. It didn’t have the budget or the starpower of The Avengers and its related solo films, and the Ant-Man character wasn’t nearly as high profile when compared to Marvel players such as Captain America or the Hulk, meaning not only less pressure regarding box office, but also reduced concerns about viewers’ expectations for both the character and the film.

But given the opportunity to change it up a little bit, Marvel stuck to its well-worn script. Wright was fired/left/whatever, and the powers that be brought in Adam McKay, the man behind the camera for films such as Anchorman and Talladega Nights. And that’s kind of what you get with his Ant-Man. Rudd’s criminal sidekicks – played hilariously by Michael Pena, David Dasmalchian and, of all people, rapper T.I. – are the equivalent the of Ron Burgundy’s Channel 4 crew. Evangeline Lilly’s Hope is a reeled in Veronica Corningstone, Michael Douglas suffices in the role of the Channel 4 news producer played by Frank Willard and Corey Stole’s Yellowjacket baddie is significantly less scary than Vince Vaughn’s Wes Mantooth.

OK, I’m pushing it with those last few comparisons. You get my point. Ant-Man isn’t bad, and in some ways – a Marvel film where no big city was destroyed! – it can stand toe-to-toe with the rest of the Avengers’ universe. I just get the feeling it could have been much, much better.

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Time to ‘Party’

Christopher jumps into the deep end of the Murder Party.

Christopher jumps into the deep end of the Murder Party.

I am fond of writer-director-cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier’s 2013 revenge flick Blue Ruin (Thoughts on Blue Ruin). The plot is dark, the violence merciless and the conclusion inevitable, but the quiet, deliberate pace, the performance by lead Macon Blair and the overall craftsmanship of Saulnier combined to create a powerful if somber film.

After seeing Blue Ruin, I was eager to see what else Saulnier had done. Most of his credits are for cinematography, but he did direct one other film, his debut, Murder Party.

Whoa.

Talk about film-viewing whiplash. On the one hand, Blue Ruin gains its power from the quiet and the contemplative. It is open, with space for the viewer to meditate on what’s happening. On the other hand, Murder Party has a guy wearing a werewolf Halloween costume who accidentally sets himself on fire while smoking a cigarette.

I really enjoyed Murder Party. Is it a great film? No, but watching a bunch of pretentious, dipshit art students completely fail in the simple task of murdering a man who practically volunteers to be the victim is a hoot. From the homages to other films – the art students are dressed as a zombie, the aforementioned werewolf, a vampire, a replicant from Blade Runner and member of the baseball gang from The Warriors – to the complete absurdity of the deaths of most of said artists, Murder Party builds relentlessly to a completely over-the-top ending. It’s also an example of great low-budget filmmaking, maximizing humor, personalities and the ridiculous elements of the unfolding events, and minimizing the lack of money available for FX.

If Army of Darkness and Shaun of the Dead are your kind of thing, check out Murder Party. Bask in its bloody foolishness.

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Bad trailers=bad movies: 5 summer flicks I have no interest in seeing

5. Teminator: Genisys. I can see why the minds behind this thought it was a good idea, seeing the talent involved. But other than the John Connor twist – which is a pretty huge giveaway for a trailer – most of this looks like it could have been pulled straight out of the first few movies. Yes, you have a rich history to work with, but the last part of the Terminator franchise to escape from that shadow and be something fresh and interesting was the TV series, The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Add to that the problem of the last two Terminator movies having dulled my taste for the franchise, and not even Daenarys Targaryan as Sarah Connor is enough to make me reconsider this one.

4. Vacation. If I was a huge fan of the Vacation franchise, I probably would have ranked this higher, but I always preferred Chevy Chase in films such as Fletch, Foul Play and Caddyshack over his Clark Griswold performances. This film it looks like it could be worse than The Hangover II and The Zookeeper, combined.

3. Ant-Man. This is the lone time I have had zero interest in seeing flick that’s part of the Avengers’ Marvel universe. I thought Ant-Man was a bad idea when they announced it. Then Marvel kicked director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) off the project, and I really thought it was a bad idea. This trailer does nothing to change my mind. I’ve often thought that there are some things that just won’t translate well from comics, and I think this looks like example No. 1 of that theory. The truly unfortunate thing about all of this is I probably can’t avoid this film because of my daughter’s love of Paul Rudd, aka Bobby Newport from Parks & Recreation.

2. Poltergeist. How bad is this trailer? My 10-year-old, who occasionally will terrify himself so much that he’ll run the 7 feet from his bedroom to our living room at night just to not be in the dark, “scary” hallway, mocks this trailer every time we see it. Poltergeist just looks like another Insidious knock-off, now. An unimaginative, blatant, studio cash grab, nothing more.

1. Jurassic World. OK, so it isn’t just the trailer that makes this flick a no-go. Loved the first one, like a lotta folks, but the second one was awful. In the second Jurassic Park book, Michael Crichton envisions a chameleon-like dinosaur that is able to camouflage itself. When the movie hit theaters, I was excited to see what Steven Spielberg – the king of the big, fx-heavy summer blockbusters – would do with that. The answer: Nothing. And Stevie made up a new, significantly shittier ending. So I’m not getting burned again. This trailer, other than some new dinos, looks to be for a film that has nothing new to offer. Plus, if that one sex joke is the best they’ve given Chris Pratt to work with, the Jurassic minds are even more bereft of imagination than I ever would have expected.

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‘All Cheerleaders Die’: So close, so very, very close

Just your average, All-American girls. Certainly nothing to be afraid of.

Just your average, All-American girls. Certainly nothing to be afraid of.

(Spoilers ahead.)

All Cheerleaders Die has a simple premise that it executes fairly well. Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) is recording her childhood friend, cheerleader Alexis, on the last day of school of their junior year. The sassy Alexis is showing how the privileged, beautiful kids have it at their high school, from life in the hallways to cheer practice. When Maddy seems unimpressed in general and particularly unmoved by the squad’s moves, Alexis decides to up the ante, resulting in a horrifying accident that culminates in Alexis’s death.

Fast forward three months to the start of Maddy’s senior year. Maddy, in the wake of her friend’s death, decides to try out for the cheer squad, although apparently for her own, decidedly non-school spirit reasons. Despite their reservations, the cheerleaders welcome her as one of her own. The girls overcome their differences, do each others nails, share pizza and laughs, and everyone lives happily ever after.

OK, not so much. Maddy has a plan to avenge what she sees as the cheer squad’s (and others) betrayal of her dead friend. It doesn’t quite go as planned. There’s rape, murder, attempted murder, witchcraft, zombies, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. And blood. Lots and lots of blood.

Sometimes a girl gets hungry. Who are you to judge?

Sometimes a girl gets hungry. Who are you to judge?

If it sounds like a hoot and half, it is … in parts. That’s the elephant in the room with All Cheerleaders Die. Co-writers and co-directors Lucky McPhee and Chris Sivertson craft a smarter film than it would initially appear to be. There’s plenty of laughs, a few surprises, a number of well-crafted scenes. The cast is exactly what they need to be and have the ability to carry out McPhee and Sivertson’s vision.

The problem is said vision. All Cheerleaders Die never seems to decide if it wants to go dark and mean – think Saw, Hostel, Halloween, etc. – or play it for laughs – Army of Darkness, Shaun of the Dead, Kings of Badassdom, etc. When it plays it for laughs, All Cheerleaders Die delivers, such as when quarterback Terry (Tom Williamson) goes from your average evil teenage high school football player to superduperevil something more than human, starts ripping into some human flesh and offers up this gem, “Mmm. Tastes like jelly beans. I’m like the cookie monster up in this bitch. Oh, I hope that shit was gluten-free!” And there are some truly sinister moments, such as when the car filled with football players runs the cheerleaders’ car of the road into a river, and the ball players do nothing but watch the cheer squad drown.

Unfortunately, All Cheerleaders Die never manages to find that horror/humor tonal balance that pushes it from just another pretty good horror film to the pantheon of great ones. While it is reasonably satisfying viewing (if you can get past the Goosebumps-esque special effects, which sometimes get played up a little too much), it’s also frustrating to watch, waiting for the film to break through that storytelling ceiling.

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‘The World’s End’: It could have been worse, but it’s too bad it wasn’t better

Can this motley, drunken crew save the world from alien invasion? ... Sort of.

Can this motley, drunken crew save the world from alien invasion? … Sort of.

Is it possible to make a serious comedy?

It’s not unusual to find funny moments within serious movies: Oldboy, Pulp Fiction, The Matrix, Goodfellas. Plenty of great movies out there that can deliver the humor between the grimness, terror and violence. But the dark comedy of Dr. Strangelove, which simultaneous skewers the war pig mentality while delivering laugh after laugh, is the only truly great hilarious/serious flick that comes to my mind.

Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and The World’s End crew aren’t able to pull it off like Stanley Kubrick and Peter Sellers did with Strangelove. Thematically, the flick explores the problematic mix of dealing with an idealized adulthood that never comes together when it arrives, as well as leaving behind those missed opportunities that will never return. It’s rich territory to explore, and at moments, The World’s End has some interesting things to say.

Unfortunately (or not), The World’s End is also a comedy about an alien invasion discovered by five guys on a pub crawl as well as the final part of Wright’s and Pegg’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, which includes Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The plot leads to assorted moments of true hilarity – the two main fights, first in a bathroom, then in the pub proper, come to mind – which are the equivalent of Sammo Hung kung fu flick if the warriors going head-to-head were drunken Englishmen and awkward alien robots. The little back biting that starts among the friends eventually involves out-of-control, raging arguments that lead to plenty of laughs.

But reconciling the serious thematic aspects with the goofy plot, it never really happens. You end up with two shorts films that feel incomplete, or one big film that just doesn’t ever quite hit the mark. The balance is rarely found, and never extended beyond brief moments.

In the end, I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re thinking of watching The World’s End, it might be better to just to pop in Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz and enjoy what was, instead of being disappointed by what never quite came together.

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