Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Weekend DVD Reviews

Watched a bunch of movies this weekend...

Leon the Professional - I had previously seen the US theatrical cut of this film, but not this version, which includes some scenes that American test audiences apparently found icky. Unfortunately, that meant losing some interesting character development, such as Leon's story of how he came to America. As for the movie itself: Great. Natalie Portman's performance in this film is breathtaking. The only other child-actor I can think of that's even remotely comparable was Jodie Foster. Portman does a phenomenal job portraying this character as simultaneously innocent and world-weary. And it's fundamentally interesting to see a small, intimate, character-driven film that includes big action setpieces and explosions...

Dawn of the Dead (2004) - Well, remaking a classic rarely bodes well. As many reviewers have noted, the first 10 minutes are not bad, right up to where the opening credits start (even though they make them fast, running zombies, for no good reason). The cleverest thing this remake adds is Andy, the guy on the roof of the gun store out past the parking lot and across the street from the mall. The mall group communicates with him by holding up signs, and at one point Ving Rhames plays chess with him this way, but of course there's no way to get to him through the teeming horde of thousands of zombies.

But, he also provides a perfect example of how this film drops the ball, in a sequence that feels like it was written piecemeal, with each piece building on the previous bit, but without thinking through the implications that each bit would have had for the previous bit. What happens: The mall group is reinforcing some shuttle busses to make a break for the marina so they can take a boat out to an island, and they plan to rescue Andy on the way. Ving holds up a sign for Andy that says "5 more days". Andy's response sign is "Hungry". OK, makes sense - he's holed up in a gun store instead of a mall, so he doesn't have any food. So they need to get some food over to him so that he will have his strength up for the escape. They strap some packs of food onto a dog they found and have been taking care of, lower him down among the zombies (who are only interested in human flesh, so they ignore the dog), and Andy whistles and gets the dog to come over to him. This works, but alas, in the process of getting the dog inside, Andy is bitten by a zombie, which he tells our heroes over the radio they included with the food. They decide not to tell him that means he's doomed.

At this point, the woman who had been caring for the dog unexpectedly takes off in a truck that some of the characters had arrived in earlier, plows her way through the zombie horde, ending up just outside Andy's Gun Shop, and goes in to rescue the dog. Which leads to my first question: Why didn't they do this in the first place? She is, naturally, attacked by Zombie Andy. To rescue her, some of the others go down to the garage or somewhere, where there is an entrance to the sewers. They follow the sewer line over to a manhole just outside Andy's Gun Shop, and come out to rescue the girl. Which leads to my second question: Why didn't they do this in the first place? Rescue accomplished, they run back through the sewer to the mall, where they have to bust through the door to get back in, meaning the zombies can get in now. They rush around, load up the busses, and take off for the marina. Which leads to my third question: If they were ready to go at a moment's notice, why were they even going to wait another five days in the first place?

Actually, even before all of those, my zeroth question was: Why didn't they drive the truck over to rescue Andy when the truck first arrived? At that point, early in the apocalypse, there weren't more than a few dozen zombies between the mall and the gun store. It would have been a piece of cake to drive over and pick him up. So, like so many horror movies, the plot requires the characters to behave stupidly.

The Village - Before starting this movie, I turned to Brenda and said: "OK, without having viewed an inch of this film, here is my prediction of what the 'big twist' will be," just so I couldn't cheat later. And yes, I was correct. This has been my experience with every one of M. Night Shyamalan's movies so far, so I wonder if those who consider him a master of the twist ending just haven't watched enough Twilight Zones or something. Not a bad movie, overall. I liked it better than Signs. I'm not really convinced by those who insist on seeing it as a political allegory. It might have been inspired by politics in some way, but it doesn't really work as an allegory, in that it doesn't map well to the real world. I will also say: For "Those We Do Not Speak Of", they sure do talk about them an awful lot.

Shaun of the Dead - Now this is a good zombie movie. The basic joke for the first half hour or so is, what if the end of the world came and no one noticed? Chock full o' references to other zombie movies, right from the start: The music that plays over the company logos and the beginning of the film is music from the original Dawn of the Dead. Once the zombie action starts going, it hits all the basics: People being gruesomely torn to bits, the loved-one-becomes-a-zombie scene, the interpersonal conflict, etc. The other basic joke is seeing Shaun sort of putting his life in order and resolving some relationships, set against the backdrop of a zombie uprising. Plus, in one of the DVD extras, Shaun explains, "Contrary to certain recent theories, zombies are, in fact, quite slow."


Chameleon said...

Glad to see you enjoyed Léon, one of my favourite films (I have only ever seen the uncut European version). Reading your thoughts about Shaun of the Dead makes me think I might invest in the DVD after all.

Salvius said...

Shaun of the Dead is great if you like zombie movies, and Brenda, who doesn't particularly care for zombie movies said she was surprised at how good it was and how much she enjoyed it.