Friday, February 26, 2016

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Review

Several years ago, author Seth Grahame-Smith had a brilliant idea to take the classic Jane Austin novel, Pride and Prejudice and add zombies to it. The resulting book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was literally the Jane Austin novel with a words changed here and there and occasional full paragraphs added so as to have zombies in the classic piece of literature. This book was so well received that it was number three on the New York Times bestseller list for a while, sold out on's website and required a second printing, and was even on Oprah's Book Club at one point. With a book resume like that, a movie was inevitable. As a movie Pride and Prejudice and Zombies wasn't exactly good, but it was fun and one of the more enjoyable film adaptations of a Jane Austin book I've ever seen.
A zombie outbreak has fallen upon the land in Jane Austen's classic tale of the tangled relationships between lovers from different social classes in 19th century England. The five Bennet sisters must cope with the pressures to marry while protecting themselves from a growing population of zombies. Feisty Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) is a master of martial arts and weaponry and the handsome Mr. Darcy (Sam Reilly) is a fierce zombie killer, yet the epitome of upper class prejudice. When zombie outbreaks begin happening within the supposedly safe walls of mansions during social gatherings, the two characters begin to suspect that there is someone helping the zombies get in. As the zombie outbreak intensifies, they must swallow their pride and join forces on the blood-soaked battlefield.
I have tried to read Jane Austin a couple of times and have found her writing to be lyrical with certain poetry to it, albeit very dry and verbose to the point that it's positively arduous to read. I figured with the addition of zombies the classic novel would be easier to read, especially with opening lines like, "It is a fact universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains." Alas, what little of the book I made it through was still so "Austiny" I just couldn't get into it. It is literally the Jane Austin classic with small bits and pieces changed or added here and there. It feels very much like a Jane Austin novel.
For the movie, it still feels a lot like a Jane Austin-inspired movie, but with zombies in it. There is articulate dialogue, beautiful sets, lovely costumes, gossip about marriage, and melodramatic spectacles. There are also zombies to stir things up every now and again. This is still mostly the same story but with a lot garnish added that generates an appeal to 14 year old boys; zombies, fight scenes, and explosions. One of my favorite parts of the original Austin story is when Mr. Darcy proposes marriage to Elizabeth; she rejects him with the most elegant, eloquent, and ladylike verbal slap in the face. That same exchange is present in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but in this version Elizabeth is so offended and enraged by the audacity of Darcy's proposal, that the two get into a pretty fantastic duel using all their fighting skills while using the same eloquent dialogue during the fight scene. I daresay having Elizabeth fight while rejecting the marriage proposal cheapens the words used, but it sure is a whole lot of fun to watch! That pretty well sums up the movie; the addition of zombies  and fight scenes is a whole lot of fun, but cheapens their original context making it rather ridiculous.
At one point, The Bennet Family is visited by Mr. Collins who is played by The Doctor Matt Smith. As an avid Doctor Who fan, it's weird to see Matt Smith outside of his role as The Doctor. Mr. Collins intends to marry one of the Bennet sisters, but is disliked across the board. Mr. Collins provides a lot of the comic relief, something that Matt Smith is pretty good at. It's still the kind of humor one might find in a Jane Austin novel; obliviousness to protocol, social awkwardness, and the fact that the Bennet sisters frequently try to politely get as far away from him as possible. Comedy isn't the point of this movie, but it's a much needed addition which keeps the ridiculous premise from taking itself too seriously.
The zombie mayhem was delightful. Rotting corpses in 19th century period costumes shambling around attacking aristocrats is a tantalizing treat for zombie enthusiasts. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a nice PG-13 romp and the violence stays within those boundaries. Decomposing reanimated corpses do tend to be on the grotesque side as a matter of principle, so we do see minor bits of blood and gore every now and again and plenty of very ugly zombies. Thankfully the truly gruesome zombie slaying stays off screen. Sure, that kind of thing is fun every now and again, but I don't personally care for visually explicit violence.  There were a few times I thought the movie was pushing what it could get away with in terms of violent action, but it still stays within PG-13 quality material. Maybe not something I'd take anyone younger than a teenager to see.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies wasn't a particularly good movie, but it was fun. It manages to wring a few fun moments out of its premise, but never quite delivers the thoroughly kooky mash up the title suggests. It's an over-the-top combination of the beloved 19th century novel and the unquenchable and inexplicable modern demand for all things to be zombie-fied, resulting in bizarrely daft movie which had a few moments of real invention and undeniable wit. Much like Austin's Mr. Collins character, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is absurd, self-important, and not nearly as clever or elegant as it thinks it is. It's still pretty fun nonetheless. It remains affectionately faithful to the original characters and structure, there are just zombies thrown into the mix. I think this is worth one viewing, it's ultimately a forgettable movie experience, but it's a fun movie experience while it lasts. I'm glad I saw it; it's just not something I'd go out of my way to see again. I'd wait for it on home video if you plan to see it at all.

I'd love to see a mash up of more classic literature and outlandish monster mayhem. Something like Lord of the Flies and Body Snatchers or something like that. What are other weird combinations that might be fun to see? Comment below and let me know!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Deadpool Review

Marvel's super hero movies have been flooding the movie theaters for some time now. Many of the ones produced by Disney have been fantastic, while the ones produced by Fox have been hit or miss. Fox still owns the film rights to the X-Men franchise, and most of those have been good. The eighth installment in the X-Men series is Deadpool (2016); something fans have been begging studios for for sometime, especially after that horrible depiction of the character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The Deadpool movie is not so much about the story as it is about this bizarre and well loved character of the Marvel Universe.
Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a former Special Forces operative who now works as a mercenary. His world comes crashing down when he develops terminal cancer. Even though this fiancé, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), remains by his side, he fears losing her. A recruiter from a secret program approches Wade and offers him an experimental cure for his cancer. Initially he refuses, but later decides to leave Vanessa and undergo the procedure. At the sketchy laboratory, evil scientist Ajax (Ed Skrein) tortures, disfigures and transforms him into a mutant. The rogue experiment leaves Wade with accelerated healing powers and a twisted sense of humor, and shortly thereafter adopts the alias Deadpool. With occasional help from X-Men mutant allies Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), Deadpool uses his new skills to hunt down the man who nearly destroyed his life.
In the X-Men Origins movie, Deadpool was one of several characters who were horribly misrepresented in all the wrong ways. I was bent out of shape about how Gambit was depicted, but that was nothing compared to how inaccurate their disparaging and repulsive version of Deadpool was. The Deadpool in this movie is a vulgar and loudmouthed goofball and was what we were expecting in X-Men Origins. Here, he is highly talkative, cracks more jokes and wisecracks than Spider-Man, suffers from psychosis which itself makes him unpredictable and random, he's gratuitously violent and crude, and is aware that he is a comic book character, so he breaks fourth wall often to humorous effect. During one such gag in the movie he turns to the camera, looking at the audience and says, "A fourth wall break inside a fourth wall break? That's, like, sixteen walls!" At another point in the movie, Colossus is dragging Deadpool away and says, "You will talk with Professor Xavier." Deadpool responds by asking, "McAvoy or Stewart? These timelines can get so confusing." referencing Patrick Stewart's role and James McAvoy's role as a younger version the same character in prequels, and commenting on how the timeline in the X-Men movies don't actually make a lot of sense.
Ryan Reynolds played Deadpool in both movie depictions, and he's so perfect for the role. I mentioned in my review of Woman in Gold that Ryan Reynolds is frequently typecast as an arrogant, handsome, cocky, and rude young man. Wade Willson is certainly handsome before the secret Project X scientists get a hold of him, but not so much afterwards. Pretty much every other aspect of Reynolds' usual typecasting is present in the character of Deadpool. Deadpool's wacky and sometimes crude quips make the whole movie hysterical, and they are often the sort of sarcastic things Reynolds says in other movies. One of the cleaner lines from Deadpool has the titular character surrounded by henchmen with guns early in the movie. "You may be wondering why the red suit. Well, that's so bad guys don't see me bleed." He points at one of the henchmen to his left. "This guy's got the right idea... He wore the brown pants!" At which point Deadpool proceeds to kill all of them. I almost wonder how much of the movie was scripted and how much of it was Ryan Reynolds ad-libbing or just being himself.
One of the fun things about the Deadpool character is that he's not by any means typical. He frequently reminds us and other characters in the movie that he's not a hero. Deadpool has always been a mercenary who is in it for his own reasons and for whomever tends to have the bigger paycheck offer. Superheroes and villains are often depicted as having cool gadgets, weapons, and fancy hideouts. Deadpool lives in the ghetto, and shares a dilapidated apartment with and elderly, bitter blind woman. Deadpool is so lacking in resources that he has to take a taxi in his costume to get to the big fights. He doesn't have fancy powers outside of his accelerated healing. His healing powers make him effectively immortal and are so advanced that the character has literally recovered from decapitation in the comic books. Since he has no offensive powers, he fights with guns of various sizes and a pair of swords. "Okay guys, I only have twelve bullets, so you're all going to have to share!" It's these combined quirks that make the character so likeable and enjoyable. He doesn't take himself seriously, and that's why fans love him. The character wears a colorful, cheap Adventure Time wrist watch under his crime fighting costume for goodness sake!
It seems a lot of people were all worked up over Deadpool being rated R. Apparently they didn't think comic book movies were supposed to be R rated. But allow me to point out comic book movie titles that preceded Deadpool which were rated R, such as Watchmen, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Kick-Ass, 300, and Dredd to name a few. "But this is a Marvel movie, those aren't supposed to be R-rated." Oh, you mean like Punisher and a whole trilogy of Blade movies? I generally don't prefer R-rated content. But given the character of Deadpool, a PG-13 version of the movie would have been an insulting, watered down version of what the iconic character is. I feel like it was important to have an R rating to get this character done right for a movie. There were a couple of times I averted my eyes during the movie so as to avoid something I prefer not to see. But that's my preference and I would have been frankly disappointed if that sort of content was absent. Even sex scenes and graphic violence was imbued with Deadpools iconic, bizarre humor. The profanity and violence which permeates this movie is not simply thrown in to get a higher rating. It's intelligently incorporated and used in creative and witty ways. It's not vulgarity for the sake of vulgarity; it's well written and fits perfectly with setting and characters that use it. This is not a super hero movie for children; no matter how much your ten-year-old loves Iron Man and The Avengers, Deadpool is not for kids. And that's the way this movie should be.
Deadpool was everything that Deadpool fans had hoped for: fast, hilarious, and gleefully profane. The fourth-wall-busting Deadpool subverts the superhero movie formula with wildly entertaining and absolutely non-family-friendly results. This immature action-comedy is Marvel's biggest breath of fresh air since Guardians of the Galaxy. The movie makes self referential jokes as soon as the opening credits start rolling. The story may be a little on the cliché side but the narrative format makes it more interesting, and Deadpool himself makes it even better. This movie isn't about the story, it's about this character and depicting him the way he was meant to be depicted and the wacky humor he brings to every situation. And Deadpool succeeds in that endeavor with flying colors! I recommend seeing Deadpool if you're a fan of the character or the Marvel universe. However if you prefer classic, heroic, morally centered characters, you may want to skip this one; that's simply not who Deadpool is. Also, leave the kids at home if you plan on seeing this. I liked it enough to get a copy when it's available on home video.

Even though it's been done before, it was a bold move to make a R-rated superhero movie amidst all the other Marvel and DC superhero movies hitting theaters which were designed to be a bit more family friendly. What are some other Marvel and DC superhero movies titles you'd like to see that could reasonable have an R-rating? Comment below and let me know!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Van Helsing Review

The eponymous character of Abraham Van Helsing is a creation of Bram Stoker in his 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula. He's an aged Dutch doctor with a wide range of interests and accomplishments. He's supposed to have been simply an aged medical doctor of his time, but many adaptations of this character depict him as a vampire hunter, monster hunter, and the archenemy to Count Dracula. One of these creative reinterpretations was a movie released in 2004, Van Helsing. It is frankly not a good movie, but it's an interesting form of low-budget B-movie that I doubt anyone could have foreseen as little as a decade before its release. Silly a movie as it is, it's a guilty pleasure of mine to watch.
Famed monster slayer Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) is dispatched to Transylvania with Friar Carl (David Wenham) to assist the last of the Valerious bloodline in defeating Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh). Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) reveals that Dracula has formed an unholy alliance with Dr. Frankenstein's monster (Shuler Hensley) and is hell-bent on exacting a centuries-old curse on her family. Together Anna and Van Helsing set out to destroy their common enemy, but uncover some unsettling secrets along the way.
Ridiculous and over the top as Van Helsing is, I have to give it props for creativity. The character of Van Helsing is vastly different from his original depiction in Bram Stoker's Dracula. This is a young Van Helsing with more monster hunting gadgets and gizmos than any one person should be able to carry on themselves and still walk. This Van Helsing wields a rapid fire crossbow, spinning wrist blades, explosives, retractable silver stakes, and weaponized holy water. All of which are creatively used to his advantage in entertaining action scenes. The movie was distributed by Universal Pictures who made iconic monster movies back in the 1940's including Count Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, and werewolves. Van Helsing brought several of these Hollywood icons together again in a way similar to the multi-monster movies that also Universal produced in the 1940's such as Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man or House of Dracula. There's even an implication that an escaped Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde is true identity of The Hunchback of Notre Dame whom Van Helsing encounters in Paris early in the film. The way that these monsters came together felt natural for this particular world setting and the varied methods of combating these creatures made for some interesting fight scenes, especially in cases when multiple monsters were ganging up on our heroes and a weapon that might hurt one creature would have no effect on the other creature.
I am convinced that this was a fairly low budget movie, or at least it was for the most part inexpensive to make. I'd estimate that roughly 85-90% of Van Helsing was filmed with the actors in front of a green screen and then a fleet of very busy CGI artists filled in the details afterwards. I realize that CGI can be very costly, but I can't imagine it being more expensive than creating elaborate, believable sets or filming on location. There have been a number of movies that basically were CGI intensive with actors in front of green screens which ended up looking just terrible, such as Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. This movie looks pretty solid, though. Many of the monsters are just as CGI generated as the villages and castles they terrorize, but they look great. And I feel that it is important to say that Van Helsing features one of the best looking movie werewolves I've ever seen, even if it's transformation is unorthodox.
Van Helsing received mostly negative reviews. It was criticized for having poor acting, way too much CGI and special effects, and being a mockery of the horror genre. I can't exactly disagree with most of these criticisms. Most of the acting is very melodramatic and is so stylized that it's hard not to scoff at the movie's attempts to look cool. I can't for the life of me imagine the actors falling apart in peals of laughter at some of the poses and superfluous, artificial back flips that were required of them. Parts of the dialogue were so cheesy that I simply had to roll my eyes before pressing on in the movie. Van Helsing isn't trying to be a horror movie; the horror genre is supposed to elicit feelings of fear in its viewers. This movie doesn't even make a poor attempt to do that. Sure, there are iconic monsters from horror movies, but Van Helsing is an action movie and the action choreography is fun, if a little hard to swallow at times. Critics may have dragged the movie through the mud, but the film grossed $300 million worldwide and did well with the general public, becoming one of the biggest blockbusters released in 2004. That ought to tell you something about its quality.
Objectively, Van Helsing isn't a terrifically good movie, but it is a whole lot of fun. The action is great, the visuals are above average, and the ridiculous story is entertaining enough to enjoy. It starts out looking like a special effects overkill, but by the end it succeeds in assembling all the monsters and plot threads into a high-voltage climax. Van Helsing is silly, but spectacularly fun. If it doesn't sound like something you'd enjoy, you probably won't. I did, however, and I recommend seeing Van Helsing for the fun of it. With so many classic monsters present, it makes for a good movie to watch during Halloween. I have a copy of Van Helsing sitting on my movie shelf next to other titles I like to enjoy every now and again.

What is your favorite monster hunter movie? What do you like about it? Comment below and tell me all about it!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Galaxy Quest Review

I grew up watching the various Star Trek series. I absolutely loved Star Trek, its characters, and the stories. A number of years later a brilliantly written movie was released called Galaxy Quest (1999). It's a fantastic bit of comedy satire that parodied the original Star Trek series beautifully; both the TV show itself and the actors in the show. It's a fantastic comedy film, and it's even funnier if you're a Star Trek fan.
The sci-fi adventure television series "Galaxy Quest" took place aboard the intergalactic spaceship NSEA Protector. Eighteen years after their series was canceled, actors Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver), Sir Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman), Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell) and Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub) are making appearances at sci-fi conventions and shopping mall openings in costume and character. They are wallowing in despair and at each other's throats until aliens known as Thermians arrive and, having mistaken the series for fact and consequently modeling their entire culture around this, the Thermians take the cast of actors into space to save them from the genocidal General Sarris (Robin Sachs) and his armada.
The characters here are great. Tim Allen is playing a fictional character variation of William Shatner who had played Captain Kirk. Jason is arrogant and cocky, and has a passion for and possibly dependence upon the Galaxy Quest series. He loves the enthusiasm of his fans and the revenue it tends to bring him, small as it may be. Jason is also a notorious ham and subpar actor; a lot like Shatner. The late and great Alan Rickman is depicting a hilarious fictional version of Leonard Nimoy; who for many years couldn't seem to separate himself from the Spock character. Alexander in Galaxy Quest was an accomplished Shakespearian actor who took the television role for the income, but was never able to shake himself free from the role afterwards. He loathes the Galaxy Quest series with all his soul and refuses to deliver his character's line to please fans. He hates that even when delivering quality material for the series, he was constantly upstaged by Jason's hammy melodrama. Sigourney Weaver's character is loosely based on Nichelle Nichols' Lieutenant Uhura character on Star Trek. Gwen's character was the communication's officer and didn't do much other than repeat what the ship's computer says. Gwen didn't like her role in Galaxy Quest because she was little more than a token female character who was present just to look attractive, which was more or less what Uhura did in Star Trek. These characters are so well written and satirize the characters and actors they parody with perfection.
There are so many nods to the Star Trek series and the culture that surrounds it. Sci-Fi conventions are about the only place these fictional actors get any recognition anymore. The fans at these conventions have a very loose grasp on reality, not unlike existing stereotypes of convention attendees. There is a group of kids, lead by a very young Justin Long, who have memorized schematics of the ship on the Galaxy Quest series and essentially know how to operate everything on the ship and the science behind it. The socially awkward fans beg Alexander for autographs which he begrudgingly grants them with disdain while they repeat his character's line "By Grabthar's hammer, by the suns of Worvan, you shall be avenged." It's meant to remind us of Spock's iconic line "Live long and prosper."
During fight scenes with aliens, Jason manages to lose his shirt just like the character of Star Trek's Captain Kirk notoriously did on a regular basis. There's an extra from the Galaxy Quest series who tags along with the actors into space. He's terrified on an away team mission to a planet surface because no one knows who he actually is and he expects to be an extra who dies on the mission, just like the red shirt ensign who always dies on the original Star Trek series. The other actors assure him that's ridiculous and won't happen. This extra asks them, "Did you guys ever WATCH the show!?" Gwen's character on Galaxy Quest was present to look attractive. Her job was basically to repeat everything the ship's computer said to the captain. Since the ship the actors are taken to was modeled after the Galaxy Quest series, the ship's computer doesn't respond to anyone other than her, thus forcing her to do the same thing she did on the series. Tommy Webber (who himself is a play on Wil Wheaton's Wesley Crusher), tells Gwen how annoying it is that she repeats everything that is said to her. "Look!" Gwen shouts in response. "I have one job on this lousy ship, it's STUPID, but I'm gonna do it! Okay!?" The actors constantly have to rely on their memories of the TV show they were in to save their lives and fight against alien threats. It's just hysterical all the little jabs and jokes at the Star Trek series and culture make their way into the movie.
The Galaxy Quest movie came out seventeen years ago, as of this writing, and it holds up quite well. The CGI effects are slightly dated, but still look pretty darn good. I think Galaxy Quest was a B movie of sorts. That. or the camera work and visuals were intentionally designed to resemble something campy and cheesy. But it works really well in this context. The makeup and costume designs looked ridiculous and fake when it needed to, and well made and believable when it needed to. I think the movie has aged quite well.
Galaxy Quest is such a good movie. It's funny, has fantastic satire, has a great cast who clearly gets the jokes and references they are spoofing, and is a great piece of cinema writing. It's aged well in the past seventeen years, and remains a good, solid movie. It makes fun of Star Trek without being insulting to it. Galaxy Quest is a good movie on its own, but you'll easily get a lot more out of it if you're a long time fan of Star Trek. This is worth seeing, and owning a copy. As of this writing, it is streaming on Netflix. This is not something you should miss.