Survival of the Dead (2009)
★ / ★★★★
George A. Romero’s tired “Survival of the Dead” started off with two groups of people on an island with a vastly different approach in terms of dealing with the zombies. Group A, led by Kenneth Welsh, wanted to kill the zombies immediately while Group B, led by Richard Fitzpatrick, wanted to train the zombies to eat things other than humans. The first scene depicted Group A being exiled from the island. Cut to the soldiers (Alan Van Sprang, Athena Karkanis, Stefano DiMatteo) meeting a kid (Devon Bostick) as they attempted to decide their next destination. Some wanted to go North while the other said South but it didn’t really matter because we all knew they would end up on the island. I will always thank Romero for making a big impact in the horror genre for the classic “Night of the Living Dead” but what he needs to do now is to stop making these limp and cliché-ridden sequels. The questions that were posed about the way the living dealt with the dead and fellow living people were painfully pretentious and heavy-handed. The two old men with polarizing opinions about what to do with the zombies felt contrived. At one point, one of them stated that they’ve been rivals ever since the school yard. I thought they were immature, selfish and weren’t as strong or macho as they wanted others to believe. With the amount of arguing they had throughout the picture, I was surprised they weren’t killed off in the very beginning. I found nothing inspiring from “Survival of the Dead” because it simply featured a group people making one stupid decision after another. There was nothing scary about the zombies because they were slow-moving and the make-up was so obvious that it borderlined camp. Furthermore, it did not have a firm grasp on delivering tension that lingers. Too often did it rely on the score to tell us what was scary or amusing and I did not appreciate being spoon-fed what to feel and think. I wanted scenes where we were forced to follow a character in a dark, tight spaces, and all we could hear were silence and the character’s footsteps. It should have given us more scenes we could relate to whether there was a danger of a zombie attack or not. There was not one character in this film that I could root for because it spent too much time tackling trite moral questions instead what it meant for these specific characters to survive in world where hope seemed like a thing of the past. Even more disappointing was the fact that it didn’t even have that much blood. If one is looking for some scares, intelligence and creativity, I suggest to stay away from this generic supposed gorefest.
Men Who Stare at Goats, The (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
After being recently heartbroken, Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) decided to go with a self-proclaimed psychic-soldier-slash-Jedi-warrior (George Clooney) to Iraq so that he could publish a mind-blowing story and prove to himself that he was not a loser. However, Wilton quickly realized that maybe the man he was with was just a charlatan and there really was no compelling story that could be written. Adapted from Jon Ronson’s book and directed by Grant Heslov, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” was certainly not as bad as people claimed it was upon its release because the satire involving American soldiers and reporters worked on some level. Given the strange material, I thought it was refreshing even though some of the jokes didn’t quite work and the story could have been more focused. For me, I’d rather watch something that takes a lot of risks even though it doesn’t work rather than watch something typical that only occasionally works. I found the scenes with McGregor and Clooney the least interesting part of the film. I wanted to know more about Clooney’s experiences in the paranormal sector of the army in its early days (during the war in Vietnam), the person he greatly looked up to (Jeff Bridges), and his rival (Kevin Spacey) who would do anything to be the best. Even though the things they did were undeniably weird such as trying to defeat the enemy with friendship, flowers and the like, I was interested in the characters because they had great conviction in what they were doing. Personally, I think what the characters tried to do were not that extraordinary because there were times in history when other countries turned to paranormal studies (like mind control and science verging on the extremes like trying to bring people back to life) to remain one step ahead of their enemies. But it’s understandable that not many people liked the film because not everyone understands satire and some of the humor was dry and deadpan. Maybe if the picture tried to connect more with the audience, the audience would have liked it more. The movie also didn’t feel like a hollistic project but a series of scenes that were quirky which didn’t add up to anything substantial. Acting-wise, I thought everyone was consistently strong, especially Clooney. Despite his character’s goofiness, somehow I believed in his wild stories and got the feeling that he was much smarter than he let on. “The Men Who Stare at Goats” was a cerebral experience more than anything and it would appeal most to those willing to read between the lines. Commentaries such as politics, war and duty were abound but they were far from obvious. Ultimately, I’m glad I gave this movie a chance.
Smiley Face (2007)
★★ / ★★★★
This movie is a smogasboard of cameos ranging from the most familiar names and faces–Adam Brody, John Krasinski, John Cho–to those whose faces are familiar but their names give us a hard time recalling–Jayma Mays, Marion Ross, Rick Hoffman. But this movie would’ve been a complete mess without Anna Faris. She once again proved to me–twice to this year along with “The House Bunny”–that she can elevate an average movie into a pretty good one. For me, Faris is like Steve Carell: both can stand in one place and not do anything but they never fail to make me laugh out loud. I was shocked when I found out that Gregg Araki directed this stoner comedy. It’s the complete opposite of the moody, serious, and masterful “Mysterious Skin.” What I like about this film is that it’s so random and pointless to the point where it got me thinking. I know it may sound weird but I thought this picture had something to say about the way we live our lives; how random it is, how things don’t quite go the way we expect them to be. When such disappointments happen, we may feel angry or sad or both, but by the end of the day, we should just be thankful that we’re alive–that we are able to feel these emotions and (possibly) learn from our experiences. Araki really shows his talent during some silent but exquisite scenes, especially that one scene when Faris was sitting on the beach, facing the wind and the sand as the sun sets. I’m really glad that a friend recommended this to me (he’s a big Anna Faris fan) because I decided not to add this movie to my Netflix upon its release since the premise sounded lame. Yes, it’s stupid and can go in a million different directions, but I learned to embrace its positives. It’s funny, the performances are pretty good (especially Faris), and strangely thoughtful.