Saturday, December 03, 2005

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LAND OF THE DEAD

It seems unfortunate today that nearly all horror films are either uninspired "cereberal" dreck like The Others and Signs, or shoddy, quick-buck remakes of better films. It seems only fitting that one the most legendary (not to mention most ripped-off) names in the history of the genre should be the one to deliver one of the best and most original horror movies in years. Land of the Dead is the forth film in George A. Romero's horror quadrilogy, a set of films connected only by their dealing with a plague of cannibalistic zombies which gets progressively worse with each film. This one takes place in a dystopian future America, now a barren no-man's-land inhabited by the living dead. There is one last human city, Fiddler's Green, a Metropolis-like place where the few fortunate wealthy live in luxorious skyscrapers while the poor fend for themselves in the streets. There are armed troops patrolling the border of the city, but on this particular day, there are two sizable problems - one of the army's tanks has been hijacked and held for ransom, and the zombies have started to evolve a wee bit, and actually band together to take the city by force!

Romero does here what he's always done better than abobody; seamlessly balancing social-political commentary with cranial explosions, torn-off limbs, disembowelments and animated corpses. There are the odd stabs at the Bush Administration, as well as some provocative looks at modern war and "Us & Them" situations, and there is enough bloodletting here to please gore-horror fans the world over. This is a Romero movie for the 2000's generation. It's faster-paced and better-acted by a few more familiar faces, while still staying true to his roots, both evolving his style and mythology. I've got to admit, that as much as I adore zombie movies, almost all of them, post-1968, have essentially followed the same story arc. There is an outbreak of a living dead plague, and it's either a small one in a farmhouse or a small town, or a big one in the city. What Romero has done here is actually think ahead - what would happen if this kind of thing kept up, given the nature of zombies, and even moreso, the nature of humans. There are fine performances all round, particularly from John Leguizamo and the uber-badass and uber-sexy Asia Argento. Dennis Hopper also has a fine turn as the "true evil" of the film, although Eugene Clark all but steals the show as Big Daddy, the leader of the zombie revolutionaries. There are a few in-jokes for horror fans, too - cameos from Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead fame, as well an homage to with the zombies coming up out of the water. It's a definite treat for longtime Romero fans. I'd like to say I hope it will raise the bar a bit for horror movies in the future, but with M. Night Shyamalan hard at work on an upcoming project, and remakes of The Omen, Suspiria, The Hills Have Eyes and Evil Dead coming down the pipe, I don't think it stands a chance in hell.


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BEFORE SUNSET

Richard Linklater's sequel to his 1995 film Before Sunrise (one of the best romantic movies ever made, in my eyes) picks up nine years after the events of its predecessor, where Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) met on the train in to Vienna and spent an evening exploring the town, falling in love and finally making a pact to meet back with one another in six months. As we find out here, things didn't quite go according to the young lovers' plan - Jesse returned to Vienna but Celine had to be at her grandmother's funeral and missed their appointment. Nine years later, Jesse is a published author, in Paris on the last leg of his book tour, and he runs into Celine at the bookstore, and the two of them spend the remaining hour catching up, walking around Paris and discussing life, love, emotions and each other. Some may be skeptical about how well a real-time filmed conversation will be able to hold their attention, but director Richard Linklater and the cast pull it off perfectly, just as they did in the first film. Both movies are a perfect antidote for Hollywood Bullshit. With all the smaltz that is regularly churned out by movie studios, it's massively refreshing to slow down and spend some time with two wonderful characters who talk like real people. We enjoy their company just as much as they enjoy each other's.

I don't want to ruin any of the plot by revealing what the two talk about, because, well, I want you to see it. It's a marvelous and very special kind of sequel - while I wouldn't call it superior to the original, it is one of the rare follow-ups that re-examines and expands upon the characters and the events of the first film. Its tone is distinctively more downbeat than the first, and it's fitting, as the premise (not to mention the characters, after nine years) are a bit more grounded in gloomy reality than in the almost 'fairytale for adults'-like atmosphere of the original. The ending, like that of the first, is perfect in it's ambiguity

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