Alien: Covenant – Slimy Aliens and Multiple Fassbenders

Alien: Covenant is a tricky film to write about. It seems like every review I read spoiled vast swathes of the film’s plot, which ticked me off to no end because the details of the film’s plot were kept mostly under wraps in the time leading up to its release, and to see reviewers casually giving away huge plot points struck me as flippant and disrespectful to people who want to go into the movie knowing as little as possible. In response to this, I am going to give away as little as possible. I will describe basic details of the film’s setup, which could be considered to have some minor spoilers, but I won’t reveal any major plot points.

Alien: Covenant is Ridley Scott’s follow-up to 2012’s Prometheus, his previous foray into the Alien franchise he started in 1979 with the original Alien film. Prometheus was a controversial movie among fans of the franchise. Some people loved it, others passionately hated it. I liked it overall, even though it was profoundly flawed in some areas. Fortunately, Scott and his screenwriters seem to have listened to people’s criticisms about Prometheus, and Covenant delivers a tighter, more contained story that answers some of the lingering questions from Prometheus while still leaving room for interpretation and further entries in the franchise.

Let me just say that this movie has a whopper of an ending, which I loved. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it, but man, it’s a doozy. It provides closure to the film while paving the way for future sequels, which Scott says are coming. God bless the man, he’s nearly 80 years old and is still making smart, intense, gorgeous-looking sci-fi movies. Scott has said he wants to start filming the next one in 2018, so expect more slimy alien horrors in the future. Oh joy!

Covenant follows the doomed crew of the spaceship Covenant, on a colonization mission to a distant, habitable planet. En route, they pick up a transmission from a closer planet, which also appears habitable. It’s risky, but they decide to investigate. Very Bad Things happen to them. That’s all I will say about the plot.

One thing that frustrated audiences about Prometheus was that it never fully committed to being an Alien movie. Was it an Alien movie or wasn’t it? Scott and his screenwriters couldn’t seem to decide. Alien: Covenant, as befitting its title, is definitely an Alien movie. The titular aliens, the terrifying xenomorphs (although they aren’t called that in this film), are very much present, and they are terrifying.

Everything about xenomorphs scares me. Not only how they look, which is scary enough, but what they do to you is just upsetting, and sets them apart from other famous horror-movie antagonists. Sure, Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers will kill you, but a quick knifing or decapitation-via-machete is vastly preferable to the protracted, painful, humiliating ordeal a xenomorph will put you through.

It’s a testament to how good H.R. Giger’s original design of these aliens was when you realize how little their appearance has changed over the years. The xenomorphs in this film were created with motion-capture and CGI rather than the practical effects of the earlier films, which may annoy some hardcore fans of the franchise, but when the aliens look as good as they do in this film, the CGI doesn’t bother me. The slithery, hissing monstrosities are as frightening as ever.

And they are taking no prisoners. Covenant is a far more graphic film than Prometheus, which is saying something when you consider that Prometheus is a film in which the main character had an alien slug monster surgically removed from her abdomen. This movie is so bloody that at one point people actually slip and fall in the pools of viscera on the floor. Sir Ridley’s not messing around with this one, folks.

But what of the humans who have these graphic horrors inflicted upon them? I found them to be more likable than the buffoons from Prometheus. I didn’t hate every character in that movie, but they did do some really stupid things, and Covenant has less groan-inducing characters. There are a couple of moments where you think “DON’T DO THAT YOU IDIOT” but the same could be said of any scary movie. The scene-stealer is Michael Fassbender, who, without revealing too much, plays two roles, and in some scenes acts with himself. Fassbender gives both of his characters distinctive voices and body language, so the viewer can distinguish between the two of them…most of the time.

The rest of the cast is also good. Katherine Waterston plays Daniels, the main character, and she’s very likable even if her character isn’t as fierce as Sigourney Weaver’s iconic Ellen Ripley. I admire Waterston for having the courage to take the role and make it her own while knowing that she would inevitably be compared to Ripley, one of the greatest sci-fi protagonists of all time, male or female.

Alien: Covenant is a great-looking film. I’ve already talked about how good the creatures look, but the environments are also stunning, both on the Covenant in space and on the ground on the mysterious hostile planet. Ridley Scott has been directing movies for about five decades, and he knows how to make every shot in his films feel unique and give the viewer something new to look at. The movie does have one of the same issues the Star Wars sequels had, in that the technology in the film appears much more advanced than the technology in the original films, even though the new films are prequels that take place chronologically before the originals. It’s not a huge issue, but it is noticeable in comparison to the original movies.

Alien: Covenant is not a perfect film, but I think it’s an improvement over Prometheus. Covenant suffers from a few similar issues that plagued its predecessor, but to a lesser extent. It delivers the gore and the heart-pounding intensity that fans have come to expect from the series, and it’s a worthy entry to the Alien franchise.

Logan: A Brutal and Epic Sendoff

For the longest time, I had a list of my top five favorite movies. They were Die Hard, The Dark Knight, Hot Fuzz, Casino Royale, and Gladiator. Then in 2015 Mad Max Fury Road was released, and my top five became a top six.

Well, now it might have to become a top seven.

James Mangold’s Logan is a deeply moving film, and I left the theater with tears in my eyes. I was saddened by the end of the film. Saddened by the end of a story I love, and by the fact that one of my favorite fictional characters will not be seen again onscreen the same way. But at the same time, it was a good sort of sadness, the kind of sadness that you feel when a story you love is over, but you feel that it couldn’t have ended any other way.

Logan is an aptly named film. In many ways, this is not a superhero movie. It’s not a story about Wolverine, the superhero. It’s a story about Logan, the man.

It’s also a story about the toll that all the years of fighting and world-saving can take on a person, even one with superhuman regenerating powers. This movie takes beloved and iconic characters and brings them lower than they’ve ever been before, and the results are breathtaking.

Unlike its predecessors, this is a not a family-friendly movie. Seriously, leave the kids at home for this one. The success of Deadpool last year paved the way for R-rated superhero movies, and Logan takes full advantage of the freedom provided by the R rating. This is a far more violent film than Deadpool, much more realistic and less exaggerated. There are buckets of blood and gore. Limbs and heads are severed, bodies and craniums are slashed and impaled in gruesome detail.

But the film isn’t violent just for the sake of being violent. The violence in the film comes from a place of character, and all of it has meaning. Fans have long wanted a Wolverine movie that lets him really cut loose with his claws, and this is that movie. One review I read described the movie like this: the language is blue and the violence is red. It’s a completely accurate description.

In the movie, which takes place in 2029, mutants are a dying breed. We’re told that no mutants have been born in 25 years. Logan makes a meager living as a limo driver, and hides out in a compound on the Mexican border, where he cares for an ailing Charles Xavier.

Logan and Charles have both seen better days, to say the least. Logan’s healing factor isn’t as potent as it once was, and his body has started to betray him in other ways. He wears reading glasses because his eyesight is starting to go, and when he pops his claws early in the film, one of them only comes out halfway, prompting him to look at it in bewilderment.

Charles is in arguably worse shape. He’s now in his nineties and is starting to become senile. He takes medication to suppress his seizures, and what happens when the world’s most powerful telepath has seizures? Nothing good. The first time we see Charles, he’s rambling incoherently and refusing to take his meds. He’s belligerent and uncooperative, and tells Logan how much of a disappointment he is, and accuses Logan of wishing he would just die so that he wouldn’t have to take care of him anymore. As a person with a grandparent with Alzheimer’s, all of this cut me right to the bone.

But even if you don’t know someone with a degenerative brain disease, it’s not hard to sympathize with Charles. This is a character who in his previous appearances has been the embodiment of civility and intelligence, a bastion of order in the chaos. To see him brought down so low is upsetting. It hurts.

This is a film that deals with things no other superhero or comic book movie ever has. It’s about getting old. It’s about the inevitability of death and the unstoppable current of time. It’s part western, part road-trip movie, part passing the torch to the next generation.

That next generation arrives in the form of Laura, an 11-year-old girl with the same powers as Wolverine, right down to the claws that come out from between her knuckles, who is being pursued by sinister forces. Logan reluctantly agrees to take her north to the Canadian border, to a safe haven for mutants that may or may not even exist, with the bad guys in hot pursuit. Along the way we find out more about Laura, where she came from and what she has already gone through, and the three of them, Logan, Charles, and Laura, start to become a family.

Laura is played by a young actress named Dafne Keen, making her big-screen debut. And she knocks it out of the park. Laura is silent and unexpressive for much of the movie, and when her ferocity is unleashed it’s truly frightening. The mystery of Laura’s origin is compelling and provides a strong driving force for the movie’s plot.

And it conveys so much about the personalities of Logan and Charles. Logan doesn’t want to help Laura at first. He doesn’t do that kind of thing anymore. But in the end, he can’t help it. He simply has no other choice. Charles does want to help her, perhaps feeling the same kind of motivations that led him to open his school for mutants all those years ago. Maybe he just wants some purpose to his life, some light in the darkness that the last years of his life have become.

It’s hard to tell exactly where this film fits in to the X-Men series’ cinematic continuity. The series has gone through several reboots over the years so it’s not clear what is canon and what isn’t. But that doesn’t bother me with this movie. I prefer to think of the X-Men films like I think about comics. They’re different interpretations of the same characters, and maybe they’re not meant to take place in the same universe. The point is that the fractured continuity of the X-Men film series doesn’t effect one’s enjoyment of this film. I don’t care if it takes place in the same universe or not, it’s still a superb movie.

And let’s talk for a second about Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. The first X-Men movie came out in 2000. Jackman and Stewart have been playing Logan and Charles for nearly two decades. When we see them in such dire straits, part of the reason it’s so affecting is that we’ve never seen them this way before, and we have memories of them in better days. Seeing them brought so low would have been moving anyway, but the fact that the movie carries nearly twenty years’ worth of previous movies behind it lends it even more weight. Needless to say, both actors are magnificent in this film, in what both have said will be their final appearances as these beloved and iconic characters.

There is a lot of action in this movie, and all of it is thrilling, but not necessarily what I would call “fun.” The action is well-filmed and choreographed, and it is easy to tell what is going on. But again, this is not a fun movie in the way that, say, an Avengers movie is fun. I would equate the experience of watching it to something like watching Gladiator. Spectacular action scenes, but hard to watch because of the brutality and the sheer emotional weight. The movie is beautifully directed by James Mangold, who also co-wrote the screenplay. He also directed Logan’s previous solo movie, 2013’s The Wolverine, and has a strong understanding of what makes Logan a compelling character. He directs the film with skill and grace, and it really feels like he cares about the characters. He has created a riveting film, from its startling opening scene to its haunting final image.

The movie’s first trailer was accompanied by a Johnny Cash song, “Hurt.” The trailer was one of those rare movie trailers that turned out to perfectly encapsulate the feel of the film it was promoting. It captured the movie’s melancholy tone, while conveying the emotional strain of the pain these characters experience. The song includes the line “I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel. I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real.” Logan and Charles live in a world of pain of all kinds: physical, mental, emotional. But the movie is about them realizing that there’s more to life than pain. There are things like love and family, and those things are what matter, those things are what last. It’s a lesson Logan and Charles have to learn the hard way, but it resonates throughout the film and beyond.

Event Horizon and Pandorum: Two Tales of Cosmic Terror

It’s hard to believe that Paul W.S. Anderson, the schlockmeister behind Death Race, Pompeii, and the entire Resident Evil series, also directed Event Horizon. It’s difficult because Event Horizon is so much smarter than those other movies. I’m not trying to say that Anderson is a stupid person, just that some of his movies are kind of dumb. Event Horizon, however, is not one of those movies.

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The easiest way of describing Event Horizon is that it’s basically Alien meets The Shining. The film takes place in 2047 and follows the crew of the Lewis and Clark, a rescue vessel on a top-secret mission, led by Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne). The mission is so top-secret that the crew doesn’t even know exactly what it is until they have almost reached their destination. A spoiler alert is in effect from here on.

When they have been awoken from their stasis pods, they are brought up to speed by Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill), a guest on their ship. He explains to them that they are there to investigate a distress signal sent from a ship called the Event Horizon, which disappeared several years earlier. He also tells them that the Event Horizon was built to test a new experimental gravity drive he designed. The drive generates an artificial black hole in order to bridge two points in spacetime, which vastly reduces travel time over great astronomical distances.

Things start to go wrong almost as soon as the crew of the Lewis and Clark crosses over to the Event Horizon. They find mutilated bodies and crew members start to experience vivid hallucinations connected to deeply personal events from their lives. Captain Miller is haunted by a crewman he once failed to save, Weir sees images of his dead wife with bloody eyes (she is later revealed to have committed suicide), and another crewmember is hounded by the sight of her disabled son with his legs covered with maggot-infested wounds.

The crew discovers the video log from the crew of the Event Horizon, the last entry of which shows them going completely insane and violently murdering each other in a sadomasochistic orgy. Yeesh. Some of the gore scenes in this film push the limits of good taste, not to mention strain the boundaries of an R rating. Anderson’s Resident Evil movies have their share of gore, but the violence in Event Horizon makes the Resident Evil series look like Disney flicks. The initial cut of the movie was so gruesome that the studio forced Anderson to tone it down, and the thought that there was even more horrific footage that wasn’t included in the movie is chilling.

As it turns out, something went terribly wrong (surprise!) with Dr. Weir’s experimental gravity drive, and Captain Miller and Dr. Weir theorize that the ship opened a portal into a dimension outside of the known universe, which is not stated specifically to have been hell, but it’s strongly implied. After its return from wherever it went, the Event Horizon itself became a sentient being, and now torments its occupants and tries to lure them back to hell. The ship itself is evil! And while Dr. Weir later becomes possessed by the evil that controls the ship, the ship itself is the true villain. That’s quite similar to The Shining, where the Overlook Hotel is itself evil, and possesses the weak-willed to do its terrible bidding (or at least that’s my interpretation of it).

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I like this movie a lot. Its horrific violence and grotesque imagery make it a film that is not for everybody, but it’s absolutely chilling and the ideas behind it are much more interesting than anything in Anderson’s other films. It benefits from solid lead performances from Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill, as well as strong supporting work from Jason Isaacs and Joely Richardson.

The special effects are also quite good. The movie came out in 1997 but watching it nearly 20 years later it’s easy to forget that this is a movie that is almost two decades old. The space ships in the film aren’t shiny and new-looking, like cinematic spacecraft tend to be. They look grungy and lived-in. Event Horizon is an incredibly atmospheric film, and the down-to-earth designs of the interiors of the spacecraft go a long way toward making the outlandish story believable.

Although it performed poorly at the box office and was met with generally negative reviews upon its initial release, the film has amassed a cult following. The look of the film also heavily influenced the Dead Space series of video games, in which the lived-in spaceships and overwhelming sense of cosmic doom are very much intact.

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Speaking of cosmic doom, in 2009 a film called Pandorum was released. The film stars Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster and is so stylistically similar to Event Horizon that it’s fun to think of the two films as taking place in the same universe. As far as I know there is no big fan theory connecting these movies, but it isn’t difficult to imagine. As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that Paul W.S. Anderson was one of the producers of Pandorum.

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Pandorum is set hundreds of years in the future, when Earth’s population has grown out of control. In order to save themselves, mankind builds a massive spaceship called Elysium and fills it with 60,000 people, then sends it into space on a 123-year mission to an Earth-like planet called Tanis. The setup is not dissimilar to Christopher Nolan’s space epic Interstellar, but Pandorum is less focused on family dynamics and more focused on white-knuckle terror.

At some point in the Elysium’s mission, crewmembers named Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) and Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid) awaken from an extended period of hypersleep. Due to being improperly awakened from their hibernation, they are both suffering from amnesia and don’t know what the status is of the ship or the mission. Bower ventures out into the bowels of the ship while Payton stays behind to monitor the situation. Bower eventually finds a few survivors, as well as terrifying monsters.

There are some great plot twists in this movie. More spoilers lie ahead. It is assumed at the beginning of the film that the ship is adrift in deep space, but it turns out that the ship actually landed in the ocean of Tanis after 123 years as planned, and that the ship is in year 923 of its mission, having spent the last 800 years underwater. Trippy! There’s also a Fight Club-esque “Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are the same person” twist, as well as a very cool twist involving the film’s monsters.

The monsters in this movie scare the shit out of me. They frighten me so badly I don’t want to even look at the damn things. Pure nightmare fuel. Bower and his compatriots assume that the creatures are passengers of the ship who have mutated, but this is only partly true. They turn out to be the descendants of some of the ship’s passengers who were awakened hundreds of years ago, and have since evolved to adapt to the dark environs of the ship, becoming cannibalistic and tribal in the process. Badass!

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Pandorum and Event Horizon are smart, trippy, gory sci-fi. The spaceships in both movies look grungy and worn instead of sleek and shiny, and the movies conjure some memorably horrific imagery. Both contain brutal gore, solid acting and trippy plot twists. They make for a great Halloween double feature, although you might want a shower afterwards.

Happy Halloween!

Bruce Campbell Vs. The Army of Darkness

I have a new Halloween tradition, and that tradition’s name is ARMY OF DARKNESS. It has been a long time since I enjoyed a movie as much as I enjoyed Army of Darkness, which is the third film in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy.

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The film picks up right where its predecessor EVIL DEAD II left off, with hero Ash Williams, played by Bruce Campbell, stranded in the middle ages after being sucked through a time portal.

In case you’re not familiar with the franchise, in the very first Evil Dead film, released in 1981, a group of friends goes to a cabin in the woods for a getaway. There they find the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, the Book of the Dead. They play a recording of a researcher reading sections of the book, which unleashes unspeakable horrors.

The first Evil Dead movie is notoriously gruesome, it was originally given an X rating solely for violence and gore, which almost never happens. The X rating is now known as NC-17, and most NC-17 ratings are given to films with graphic sexual content, being rated NC-17 for violence alone is rare. And the movie earns the rating. It is incredibly gory, even by today’s standards. Director Sam Raimi and producer Rob Tapert didn’t care about censorship when they were making the movie, and therefore made it as gruesome as possible, and it shows.

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The 1987 sequel, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, takes a more slapstick approach to the story. It is not clear if the sequel is a remake of the original or just a straight sequel, since it summarizes the events of the previous movie but excludes some of the characters. This is because when he got around to making the sequel, Raimi did not have the rights to the original film, since the sequel was produced by a different company, so Raimi was forced to summarize.

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Evil Dead II is an excellent sequel, delivering just the right mix of horror and comedy. Those are two genres that are difficult to mesh, but Raimi makes it look easy. At the end of the second movie, hero Ash manages to send the evil force back to where it came from, but in the process gets sucked through a portal and deposited in the Middle Ages, which leads to Army of Darkness.

Released in 1992, Army of Darkness is an absolutely glorious movie. I watched it a few days ago from start to finish for the very first time and adored every single moment of it. It’s the least gory and the least frightening of Raimi’s Evil Dead films, and as such may be looked down upon by hardcore horror fans. And to be honest, the film isn’t particularly scary, but it is a hell of a lot of fun and is much more accessible to casual viewers who don’t necessarily want to drown in a sea of gore.

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Let me just say right now that I love Bruce Campbell. The guy is an incredibly gifted physical actor, and he’s an extremely likable protagonist. Before becoming an Evil Dead fan, I mostly knew Campbell for his role on the TV show Burn Notice and his cameos in all three of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies, but The Evil Dead is where Campbell got his start. He seems like a really great guy in every interview I’ve seen with him, and I consider myself a big Bruce Campbell fan.

The guy will probably never win any Academy Awards, but when he’s as entertaining and endlessly watchable as he is in movies like Army of Darkness, who the hell cares? He has several iconic lines in these movies (“This… is my BOOMSTICK!!”) that he delivers with aplomb (“Good, bad, I’m the guy with the gun.”). I just freaking love him, seriously, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing the shotgun-wielding, chainsaw-handed Ash in these movies.

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Army of Darkness is as campy as it is enjoyable. Ash is promptly imprisoned by the men of Lord Arthur, who suspect him of being an associate of Duke Henry. Lord Arthur and Duke Henry are at war, and no one likes Ash when they arrive at Lord Arthur’s stronghold. Ash convinces them otherwise by destroying a deadite, one of the series’ signature baddies, and afterwards goes on a quest to find the Necronomicon, defeat the evil, and find a way back to his own time.

But Ash being Ash, he completely bungles it and ends up unleashing an Army of the Dead, led by his own evil clone. Whoops!

The special effects in this movie are absolutely fantastic. I can’t say for sure but I highly doubt that there is any CGI in the movie, which means that most if not all of the effects were done practically. The army of skeleton warriors looks great, and some of them have different clothes, weapons and voices, which gives them a lot of personality. I also love the squeaky skeleton voices, some of which were done by Sam Raimi himself.

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The effects were done by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, who are movie veterans perhaps best known these days for creating the zombies on The Walking Dead, and they did incredible work creating the skeleton warriors in Amy of Darkness.

Army of Darkness isn’t particularly scary, it’s too campy and full of slapstick to be very frightening. But it is tremendously entertaining and a perfect Halloween movie. The special effects are kick-ass, the story is fun, and Bruce Campbell is perfect in the lead role.

Evil Dead fans are probably feeling pretty spoiled these days, since in 2013 there was a successful remake of the original Evil Dead that took the franchise back to its gore-soaked roots. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the remake and, well, let’s just say the words “bits and pieces” were chosen intentionally. There are scenes of violence in the remake that are so stomach-churning I won’t even describe them here, but if you’re a glutton for punishment a lot of the gory highlights are included in the film’s red-band trailer. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Mind you, I’m not saying the remake is bad necessarily, in terms of modern remakes of classic horror movies, most of which are a dime a dozen, the 2013 Evil Dead remake is viewed as being one of the better ones. All I’m saying is that the squeamish need not apply.

And in 2015, Starz debuted Ash Vs. Evil Dead, a TV series continuing the exploits of Ash, everyone’s favorite goofball monster hunter. I watched the first season and enjoyed it immensely. Bruce Campbell is as great as Ash as he ever was and the show finds that crucial balance between slapstick humor and brutal horror, and even manages to tell a story that keeps you guessing and delivers surprisingly solid character development. If you’re a fan of the Evil Dead franchise but haven’t watched the show yet, check it out ASAP.

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So that’s my little overview of the Evil Dead series, with special emphasis on Army of Darkness. I’m a relatively new fan of the franchise, and it’s not for everyone, but if you can stomach it the series knows just how to deliver the gory goods.

Blades and Fangs

Anton Yelchin’s last film to be released before his death was a movie called Green Room, a vicious little low-budget indie thriller whose central conflict can be boiled down to three words: Punks vs. Nazis. If this sounds intriguing to you and you have the stomach for graphic violence, Green Room is a movie you need to see.

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Yelchin plays Pat, a member of a punk band called The Ain’t Rights. Pat and his bandmates Sam, Reece and Tiger, hard-up for cash, take a gig at an out-of-the-way club somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Things go reasonably well until it’s time for them to leave, when Pat goes back into the green room (which is like the waiting room for the band) to retrieve Sam’s phone. What he finds is a few of the club regulars standing over the body of a girl with a knife in her head.

Turns out the club is run by Neo-Nazi skinheads who have no intention of letting The Ain’t Rights just walk away. An unbelievably tense game of cat-and-mouse ensues.

Green Room was written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, who previously directed a critically-acclaimed thriller called Blue Ruin in 2013. Saulnier is a talented director who knows how to ratchet up the tension to nearly unbearable levels. The violence in Green Room is vicious and the squeamish need not apply.

But Saulnier’s direction is top-notch. Every scene is expertly calculated to deliver maximum suspense. The casting is also terrific, with Yelchin’s understated performance showing just how talented of a young actor he was. The movie’s biggest casting coup, however, is the role of Darcy Banker, the ruthless owner of the club and leader of the skinheads, who is played by none other than Patrick Stewart. That’s right, Professor X himself is the merciless villain.

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Needless to say, Stewart is fantastic. He plays a man who has no remorse whatsoever about his actions, and it’s clear to the viewer that he has no intention of letting The Ain’t Rights escape his club alive. “It’ll all be over soon, gentlemen,” he tells them chillingly.

The bulk of the film’s action is a standoff between the band members, trapped in the green room, and the skinheads outside. Some parts of the film are a bit hard to follow. I wasn’t always entirely sure what Darcy’s plan was. I mean, clearly he has some nefarious intentions for Pat and his friends, but some of his actions are a bit confusing.

This is probably intentional though, since it keeps the viewer at a distance. The person watching the film has something of an idea about what Darcy and his henchmen are up to, and therefore we know more than the film’s hapless protagonists do. But the fact that it’s not always clear what Darcy’s designs for Pat and his friends are ensures that we don’t know too much more than the characters, which keeps the tension high.

Take a scene in which Pat attempts to negotiate with Darcy. Pat and his friends are stuck in the green room and a locked door separates them from Darcy, who is standing in the hall outside. The entire scene is filmed from Pat’s perspective inside the room as he talks to Darcy, with Darcy’s voice muffled by the door. Saulnier could have cut back and forth between inside and outside the room to show us both halves of the conversation, but he doesn’t. Again, he keeps the viewer at a distance and ensures that we don’t know what Darcy has lying in wait for the luckless protagonists on the other side of the door.

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This technique also increases the horror of the moment when Pat reaches out the door and his arm is violently grabbed. We know from Pat’s reaction that something that something very bad is happening, but we don’t know the full extent of it until Pat wrenches his arm back inside and we see the horrific slashes all over his arm, with his wrist sliced so severely his hand is nearly severed and dangles obscenely from his forearm.

This is a gruesome movie. Darcy instructs his men not to shoot the band members, since the cops would be able to run ballistics. “Blades and fangs for the visitors,” he tells his skinhead gang. This provides an at least semi-plausible explanation as to why Darcy wouldn’t just send in his troops guns blazing.

It also means that the inevitable deaths of some of the band members will be much more up-close and personal. There are a couple of absolutely vicious Pitbull throat-maulings (the Pitbull being the one doing the mauling, not the one being mauled, just in case it wasn’t clear who was mauling who). A box cutter is put to grisly use for cutting things other than boxes, and when people do get shot the results are bloody.

Saulnier doesn’t shy away from gory details, and the makeup effects (which are most likely all practical, I feel like this is a movie without a shred of CGI) are realistic and grotesque. The movie’s violence was hard even for me to handle at times, and I have a high tolerance level for cinematic bloodshed. Still, as brutal and unforgiving as the movie is, the violence still feels appropriate for the story the movie tells. Well, maybe “appropriate” isn’t quite the right word, but you get the idea.

Pat and his friends are likable individuals. They don’t get much backstory but they don’t really need it, the film shows us enough of their lives (penniless musicians living from gig to gig) that we get a sense of them as people. They’re maybe not the brightest bunch and some of their decision-making is questionable at best. At one point, one of the characters even says the immortal, Scooby-Doo-esque words, “we should split up,” which is a face-palming moment. Still, the ineptitude of the protagonists doesn’t bother me too much, since it’s not hard to believe that anyone placed in such an extreme situation might not be thinking clearly.

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Saulnier is aware of the haplessness of his characters, however. During an interview he referred to Green Room as being part of his “inept protagonist trilogy” where the main characters have to survive being thrust into extreme situations using skills they don’t have.The film’s Oregon setting is particularly vivid for me, since I live in the Pacific Northwest and the forest the Neo-Nazi bar lies in could be in my backyard. Saulnier’s writing may not be perfect but it’s still solid, and his direction is spot-on throughout the film. Expect very good things from him in the future.

Movies like Green Room are proof that money isn’t everything. With the right director and the right cast, you can get a movie more tense and suspenseful than a $200 million blockbuster (looking at you, Independence Day: Resurgence). It’s not for everyone and it’s not perfect, but Green Room delivers what it sets out to do and serves as a potent reminder of the talent we lost in Anton Yelchin.

Capsule Reviews, Vol. 2

Fury

David Ayer’s 2014 film Sabotage was my least favorite film I saw that year. Grotesquely violent, with an absurd plot and horrendously unlikable characters, not only was it my least favorite film of 2014, it is to this day one of my least favorite films of all time.

Fortunately, Ayer rebounded in 2014 with Fury, a vivid World War II epic starring Brad Pitt. In the film, Pitt plays a tank commander known to his men as Wardaddy. His crew includes driver Gordo (Michael Pena), mechanic Coon-Ass (Jon Bernthal), and gunner Bible (Shia LaBeouf). Yes, Shia LaBeouf is in this movie, but it’s easily one of his best performances, and his presence doesn’t hurt the movie at all.

Fury takes place near the end of the war. Wardaddy and his crew, and the rest of the Allied soldiers, desperately want the war to end so they can go home, and they don’t understand why they keep encountering such fanatical resistance the further they push into Germany. There’s an air of desperation that hangs over the film: the soldiers are tired of fighting and want more than anything to go home, but they can’t.

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Wardaddy and his crew have recently lost their backup gunner, and his replacement is green as grass. Logan Lerman plays a young soldier named Norman, who was trained as a typist and now finds himself thrust into a situation beyond his imagining. Wardaddy and his crew are hard on him to say the least, and a scene where Wardaddy forces Norman to kill a captured German soldier is one of many scenes in the film that are difficult to watch.

Fury is a brutal film, and some of the images it presents are hard to shake off: a soldier burning to death shooting himself in the head, a corpse pummeled so deeply into the mud by tank treads that it’s hardly recognizable as human.

Wardaddy and his crew seem at times like cruel men, but are they really? Or are they willing to do whatever it takes to survive? They’ve been together a long time, and Wardaddy has promised his men that they’ll get through this, and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep them alive. If that includes forcing Norman to kill a captured soldier in order to demonstrate the importance of survival, then so be it.

The battle scenes in the film are vivid and intense. The tank battles are unlike other battle scenes I’ve seen in war films. The tanks use tracer rounds so they can more easily see where they’re shooting, and the tracers almost look like laser beams. I can’t think of another war movie that uses tracer rounds during the battle scenes like this one does, and the effect it produces is very unique.

One issue people seem to have had with this movie is that the characters aren’t very interesting. There is little background given to Wardaddy and his crew, and the characters seem like archetypes. I suppose this is true, but it doesn’t bother me. The film is about who these men are now, not who they used to be.

For me, the biggest problem with the movie isn’t the characterization, it’s what I am going to refer to as the Fraulein scene. About halfway through the movie, Wardaddy and his crew come across a couple of young German women in a house. What results is a long, puzzling scene with no apparent purpose. Don’t worry, the tank crew doesn’t abuse the women, but aside from Norman and Wardaddy, they’re not very nice to them either.

I just can’t figure out why this scene is in the movie. The last time I watched it, I skipped the scene entirely and didn’t feel like I had missed anything. The whole scene lasts nearly twenty solid minutes, it just goes on and on and on, it kills the film’s pacing and adds nothing to the story. It ends up feeling self-indulgent on the director’s part, like Ayer thought he was making some grand point about human nature or something, but the whole scene is so overlong and frankly boring that the viewer can’t wait for it to be over.

I still like this movie a lot, despite its flaws. The final battle is heart-pounding. Wardaddy and the crew end up hitting a land mine which disables their tank, and they decide to stay and fight when they realize a German SS battalion is approaching. Ayer is a good action director, and the final battle is well-directed, as are the rest of the movie’s battle scenes. Ayer has a good sense of spatial awareness, leaving the viewer able to follow what is going on during noisy and complex action sequences.

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Fury is a movie full of misery and suffering, but unlike Ayer’s Sabotage, the misery and suffering feel like they serve a purpose. Fury is not a perfect film and may not be remembered as a classic on the same level as, say, Saving Private Ryan, but it is very good and well worth seeing for fans of war films.

London Has Fallen

London Has Fallen is the sequel to Olympus Has Fallen, and the title pretty much says it all. Terrorists attack London while world leaders are gathered there for the British Prime Minister’s funeral, and much mayhem ensues.

It’s been a rough year for the Brits, and I’m not just talking about the whole Brexit thing, or the English soccer team’s recent defeat by Podunk Iceland. It’s been a rough year cinematically for the Brits as well, since London has been thoroughly trashed in two Hollywood movies, this one and Independence Day: Resurgence. Many London landmarks are blown to smithereens, and the overall body count is high.

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As with many sequels, this one didn’t need to be made, but it’s reasonably entertaining and contains some well-executed action. Gerard Butler is never going to win any Academy Awards for his acting, but he’s believable as an unstoppable terrorist-killing badass. Although he does deserve some kind of award for managing to say the line “Go back to F*ckheadistan or wherever you came from” with a straight face.

I am still of the opinion that Aaron Eckhart is a perfect choice for a movie president, and he would probably make a better real president than the current frontrunners. Hell, maybe I’ll vote for him as a write-in candidate. London Has Fallen is a fun but forgettable action flick, and it’s hard to see any more movies for these characters in the future. That doesn’t mean Hollywood won’t try, but still.

Prepare for Gory!!

I think that any review of 300: Rise of An Empire can best be summed up as follows: if you liked the first movie, you will like the new one. If you didn’t, you won’t. It really is that simple.

So thanks for joining me here at the Zombie Room, I’ll see you all next time!

Haha, no, just kidding.

Amazingly, it’s been eight years since 300 came out and became a surprise hit in 2006, kickstarting the careers of Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, and director Zack Snyder. Most people are probably familiar with the name Gerard Butler, which is 100% due to 300 (he went on to squander his newfound name recognition by appearing in a whole bunch of completely forgettable movies since then). Lena Headey went on to play the duplicitous queen Cersei in Game of Thrones, and Zack Snyder went on to direct Watchmen and Man of Steel (and Sucker Punch, but the less said of that one, the better).

And who doesn’t know lines like “Tonight we dine in hell!” and “THIS. IS. SPARTA!!!” even if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve probably heard those lines. They’ve become part of the landscape of popular culture, frequently parodied but never quite equaled.

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It was also a very divisive movie. Some people loved it, some people hated it. And I have to say, both reactions are entirely valid.

The movie is full of stylized visuals, over-the-top acting, slow-motion blood-splattering, and lines of dialogue just begging to be quoted and parodied.

And abs. Can’t forget those abs.

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You either like this kind of thing, or you don’t. Love it or hate it, chances are you probably remember it.

Personally, I dig it. I like the stylized visuals, the alternately sped-up and slowed-down battle scenes, and the sort of heightened sense of realism that pervades the movie. It’s a manly, badass movie, and I always watching it. It never fails to get me fired up.

People say it’s cheesy. Yes, it is. But I don’t mind.

People say it’s not historically accurate. Well, it’s based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, so it probably isn’t very historically accurate. But I don’t mind.

People say it’s one-sided, and that it portrays the Spartans as heroic and awesome and the Persians as pure evil. Absolutely true. 300 is a film with pretty much zero subtlety. But I don’t mind.

People say the acting is over-the-top. Also true. But it’s not entirely dissimilar from something like, say The Avengers. The acting in that one is also pretty over-the-top, if you think about it. But if you think about it some more, that starts to make perfect sense. The Avengers is a movie where a billionaire with a flying suit of armor, a scientist who turns into a monster, the Norse god of thunder, and a couple of secret agents whose base is on a flying aircraft carrier band together to battle an army of aliens led by the Norse trickster god.

Sounds pretty ridiculous when you put it that way, doesn’t it? Of course it does, since none of that could ever happen in real life, because real life is boring.

What I’m saying is that when the situation is heightened, the style needs to be heightened. 300 does this perfectly. So I don’t mind the hammy acting. In my opinion, it suits the movie perfectly.

The point of that whole discussion was to emphasize how similar the experience of watching the original movie is to the experience of watching the sequel, and how similar the movies themselves are.

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Stylized visuals? Check.

Over-the-top acting? Check.

Slow-mo blood splatter? Check.

Lack of subtlety? Check.

Abs? Check.

If you liked all of these things in the first movie, you will like them here. If you didn’t, you should probably see something else.

The sequel follows two main characters. The first is Themistokles, an Athenian general and strategic genius.

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Themistokles is played by Sullivan Stapleton, an Australian actor who plays one of the main characters in one of my favorite TV shows, Strike Back. I could go on for a while about how awesome Strike Back is. If you love action movies like I do, you owe it to yourself to check out Strike Back, every ten-episode season is like five two-part action movies. I love it so much.

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But I digress. Stapleton’s experience in Strike back gave him two very important skills, both of which come in handy in 300: Rise of An Empire.

Those two skills are as follows:

Skill number one: kicking ass.

Skill number two: scoring with the ladies.

The film’s other main character is Artemisia, played by Bond girl Eva Green, who is officially the Zombie Room’s Best Villain of 2014 So Far (both of those skills will come in handy with her, if you know what I mean. Wink, wink).

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She’s scary, sexy, and awesome. Artemisia is the commander of Xerxes’ army, and Eva Green effortlessly pulls off all the things this character needs in order to work. It makes sense that, despite being Greek by birth, she hates the Greeks enough to lead a huge army against them. It makes sense that she’s smart enough to handle being in command of an entire army, and it’s plausible that she’s so fearsome and badass an army of men wouldn’t hesitate to do what she says.

I guess you could say that the movie is maybe a bit more balanced than its predecessor, since it spends a fair amount of time giving background to Artemisia, and shows some of the events that happened prior to the events of the first movie (like the battle of Marathon). It’s kind of a quasi-sequel in that sense, since some of it takes place before or during the first movie, although most of it takes place afterwards.

But enough about characters and story and background! How’s the action? How’s the badassery? Is there as much carnage as the first one?

The answer to that last question is a resounding yes. I think it’s safe to say the overall quantity of blood spilled in this movie easily tops that of the first movie.

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This is a movie where every slash, every stab, even every punch and kick produces great gouts of thick red blood. To be honest, it almost looks less like blood and more like strawberry jam. The overall effect is kind of cartoonish. But the numerous battles are well-staged and choreographed, and suitably badass.

The movie wasn’t directed by Zack Snyder, but new director Noam Murro emulates Snyder’s style so closely that it may as well have been. As with all things 300, this is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

I don’t really have a whole lot more to say about the movie. If you liked the first one, you should see the sequel. I’m fully aware that both 300 movies are from perfect. They do have many flaws, although most of those flaws don’t really bother me. I enjoy them for what they are, which is entertainment. They’re not good history. They’re not in any way subtle. But they are full of spectacle, and sometimes a little good old-fashioned spectacle is really all you need.

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And Eva Green. Every movie could benefit by having her in it. Later this year she’ll star in another adaptation of a Frank Miller graphic novel, as the titular dame in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, so keep an eye out for that.

Hehehe, I love the word “titular.” It sounds dirty but totally isn’t. My inner 12 year-old insists I use it as much as possible.

Hehe. “Titular.”