More Lazy Semi-Reviews

The Interview (2014):

Finally saw The Interview and it was shit. I don’t understand how anyone, let alone the film’s creators, can call it a satire. The only time the movie approaches cleverness is when James Franco’s character gets manipulated by Kim Jung-Un, a commentary on how the media can be deftly used by those in power, but, then again, the movie goes about this rather poorly. And the only real funny moments involve a Katy Perry song, but the underlying joke isn’t all that original: “hey, guys, especially evil dictators, aren’t supposed to listen to girly pop music!” Seth Rogen was okay, but James Franco was infuriating; he came across like one of those kids in school desperate to be the class clown, trying way too hard to be funny. In fact, I can extend that comparison to the entirety of the film; instead of allowing humor to naturally grow from the situations and the characters’ reactions to them, they settle for hammy camera-mugging and tired poop/gay jokes. It’s a brain-dead, pointless film that might be somewhat entertaining to watch with friends, but just don’t let the hype convince you it’s anything more.

Z-Nation, Season One (2014):

This is The Asylum’s answer to The Walking Dead, and while it’s clearly an aping of a show that’s an aping other of entries in the zombie genre (a photocopy of a photocopy) it manages to be better than The Walking Dead for a few reasons: 1.) it doesn’t take itself too seriously, 2.) the focus on the plot doesn’t allow it meander nearly as much, 3.) it has a more interesting central character: a criminal who has the cure for the zombie virus coursing through him. We want him to succeed, but at the same time the character is a sociopath. We feel some sympathy for him as his body begins to deteriorate from the virus, but he’s also a complete asshole who is willing to let others die. This tension created within the viewer is the best thing the show has going for it. Another positive, however, was its killing of the lead (not the criminal, but the group’s leader) a few episodes in which was actually unexpected; The Walking Dead should consider taking risks like this, that is, if the writers have any interest in increasing tension and toying with expectations.

Despite this, the show, at least so far, isn’t close to being good. There are numerous instances of cliches and some really tired tropes (how many deranged cults are they going to come across?) Some of the dialogue is also weak and the first couple of episodes were pretty awful. There is are also a couple of episodes, back-to-back no less, that are built on dreams and hallucinations which are completely unnecessary. The finale is also pretty ridiculous as nukes are launched across the globe (how are the characters going to escape this?–and I know they’re making a second season.) Also, a more minor thing, but the antagonist at the end looks like Dr. Evil, especially when he is running away, that’s distracting.

Is it really that hard to make a good series built around fighting zombies? I haven’t watched the current season of The Walking Dead because the fourth season was so shitty and really showed that the writers have no idea what to do with their characters, problematic considering characters are really the most important aspect of any show/film/narrative/etc. At least Z-Nation is somewhat entertaining and isn’t afraid of killing-off the audience’s favorite characters (we’re in a zombie apocalypse after all!)

Fallout New Vegas (2010):

I’m not really a fan of video games, but I do like the Fallout series (though I haven’t played spin-offs Fallout Tactics and Brotherhood of Steel.) Last few weeks I’ve been replaying New Vegas on-and-off and I’m still convinced it’s better than Fallout 3, a game that is still good for what it is. However, I’m not sure if it’s better than the first two Fallouts for they’re pretty much entirely different games though they share the same atmosphere.

I remember a while back this online series called Extra Credits that discusses the artistic possibilities of vidya games had an episode on Fallout 3 and New Vegas. They said Fallout 3 had the better story because your character was given more background and allowed us to experience it through vignettes. This is a good point, but that game’s story also has a rather A-to-B-to-C formulaic plot line that takes precedence over everything. Nothing wrong with this, but there is a difference between plot and story, and while Fallout 3 has a tighter plot, New Vegas has the more engaging narrative, suffused with far more interesting characters and ideas. No, there aren’t great archetypical characters (though Mr. House comes close) on par with the original Fallout’s idealistic villain, The Master, nor like the affable ghoul, Harold (though he was shoehorned into Fallout 3 for no good reason,) but there are some more nuanced characterizations, even for some of the less ancillary characters. Even the factions have their flaws and characteristics, from the corrupt, but well-intended New California Republic, to the paradoxically cultured and savage Legion, and to the hermetic Brotherhood of Steel.

New Vegas also trumps Fallout 3 when it comes to player-choices and their consequences. Early on, Fallout 3, the character is given the decision to disarm a bomb in the center of a town, or blow it up. If you commit the latter, you can watch the town blow-up…and that’s it. There’s hardly any perceived effect despite the town being somewhat important to trading within the region. And this is one of Fallout 3’s biggest issues: the illusion of choice–what’s the point of a decision if there is hardly an outcome? The choice of blowing up the town was just a ploy by the creators to trick the player into believing, early on, that they have any sway within the game’s parameters. New Vegas, however, has a similar issue, but it’s not nearly as wide for your choices can impact one or several of the factions battling within the game. The end-game consequences are also presented more effectively as different characters, before the credits role, tell of how they, or their communities, were impacted by the player-character. This makes the consequences seem more real as they are given an individuated voice, a nice touch (this device really shines in the New Vegas add-on, Dead Money.)

Perhaps there may never be a good show about the apocalypse, or zombies, but the Fallout series shows that such things have been dealt with better, and, strangely, more realistically (for the characters and groups are more “real”) within the supposedly low realm of vidya gaimes.

Detention of the Dead (2012) – Movie Review

Detention of the Dead is another zombie movie, but this time it’s also a comedy so that makes it different! The premise is Breakfast Club meets Dawn of the Dead where a group of high school stereotypes are trapped by flesh-eating zombies in their school. Going in I was expecting more of a spoof on the tired genre like Shaun of the Dead, but with the undead acting as a metaphor for high school; instead it ends up being just a high school comedy flick punctuated by unoriginal scenes of zombie horror. Unfortunately, Detention of the Dead makes neither a good horror film or comedy.

One of the movie’s biggest flaws is its predictability; horror flicks and high school comedies are two genres that are incredibly reliant on formula so Detention of the Dead needed to do something original in order to succeed. As a horror film, many of the death scenes should come as no surprise. Two of the characters, the nerd named Eddie (Jacob Zachar) and the goth chick Willow (Alexa Nikolas) are familiar with the tropes of the zombie-genre, thus opening the possibility of the movie taking a different turn, somewhere, or becoming a parody, but the movie drops any of that pretense early on in favor of focusing on typical teenage drama midst zombies.

The violence and gore is sometimes satisfying. Some might say the poor special effects (and they are very poor) might detract but they’re probably the funniest part of the movie (remember, this is supposed to be a comedy.) The bad effects might have worked even better if this movie was more of a spoof of bad horror films.

Another major problem comes with the characters and their arcs. I don’t know what compelled writer and director Alex Craig Mann (or maybe the blame should be laid at Rob Rinow whose play the movie is based-off of) to give such unnecessary attention to the cliched characterizations and conflict between the high-schoolers. The first thirty or so minutes were a decent start to a throwaway comedy-horror film, but then it begins to devolve when Eddie is romantically torn between Willow or the hot cheerleader Janet (Christa B. Allen). We get Breakfast Club scenes of the characters revealing the frustrations of having to conform to stereotypes, and later on Janet reveals that she doesn’t want to die a virgin so she goes after Eddie when her meathead boyfriend Brad (Jayson Blair) isn’t around and Willow is upset that Eddie would chose the cheerleader over her. This all culminates toward the end when Eddie tells Willow that he was “wrong,” and later on when Willow and Janet are together and Janet’s just been bitten.

The commentary on high school life is trite and the banal character dramas seem to only be there so that we can “care” about the characters before they are eaten. But no one wants to watch that fucking shit. Why couldn’t the movie had just mocked teenage dramas instead? And what better way to do this when showing how insignificant such things are in the face of the real conflict of flesh-eating zombies? The scene with Willow and Janet near the end could have worked if there were more to their characters.

There are scarcely a funny scene or moment in this movie. One scene that is almost funny is when their English teacher Mrs. Rumblethorp (Michele Messmer)  who they were serving detention under turns into a zombie and the consequences of such involving the stoner character Ash (Justin Chon). But there are some “jokes” that are painfully unfunny. After Janet gives Eddie a hug for saving her life he looks down at his crotch and sees a zombie hand squeezing tightly. And then Ash tries to help Eddie pull the arm off his junk. The way it’s framed it’s supposed to be an attempt at a sexual joke, but it comes out of nowhere and is pathetically weak. There are also some lines that are supposed to be “witty” or “clever” that come out of Willow’s mouth but just make you root for the zombies to tear her apart first.

Despite the number of flaws and missed opportunities, it’s at least watchable, most of the time. I wasn’t particularly bored by it yet wasn’t exactly filled with satisfaction neither. It’s just funny how a movie whose purpose, I think, was to poke fun at formula ended up being so middle-of-the-road and predictable.