Stake Land: Movie Review

At times like these when it seems that we are at the swirling outer edge of a vortex about to suck our society down the toilet, it isn’t surprising to see so many post apocalyptic kinds of movies.

I picked up a copy of Stake Land the other day and watched it during one of my more severe recent bouts of premature waking (i.e. up at 1:30 – 2:oo am with no ‘maybe going back to bed in a while’ about it).

(Stake Land – The Upcoming Zombie Vampyre Apocalypse)

Stake Land takes the by-now familiar ‘post zombie apocalypse’ theme and replaces the zombies with vampyres. The movie Priest does basically the same thing but also adds many (too many, in my opinion) other genres into the mix. Other than that, Stake Land is, in many ways, your basic zombie movie.

Take Zombieland and give it a humourectormy – in fact, make it extremely unfunny and kind of depressing. Replace Tallahassee with an older serious vampyre killer (Mister), replace Columbus with a kid (Martin) who’s had his parents and infant sibling killed by vampyres and is taken under the older guy’s wing and trained in vampyre killing, and replace Wichita with a small town pregnant girl (Belle). There is no Little Rock character but throw in a nun (Sister) whom Mister and Martin save from being raped by two young wacko guys from a bizarre Christian cult. Instead of going on an extended road trip across the southwestern United States in an attempt to find a sanctuary free from zombies (i.e. Pacific Playland), this group goes on an extended road trip up through the Appalachian United States in an attempt to find a sanctuary free from vampyres (i.e. Canada).

(Stake Land – A road movie with teeth!)

OK, here’s the deal in a bit more detail… A young man, Martin (Connor Paolo) has his family killed by a vampyre. Martin is saved by an older man known only as Mister (Nick Damici, also the movie’s co-screen writer) who is a highly skilled vampyre killer. Mister takes Martin under his wing and trains him in vampyre killing. We learn that the world has gone through a vampyre apocalypse in the not to distant past. People are beginning to regroup and trying to form towns. There are ‘normal’ towns (for lack of a better word) and also outposts of less normal groups of people. We hear about cannibals and we see evidence of a territory controlled by The Brotherhood, a Christian fundamentalist militia cult headed by Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris) that interprets the vampyre plague as the Lord’s work. Mister and the kid save a nun (Kelly McGillis) from being raped by two Brotherhood young men. Mister kills the boys and allows Sister to ride along with them.

Mayhem ensues when The Brotherhood’s leader, Jeb, does not take kindly to Mister since a) killing vampyres is, to them, killing the instruments that the Lord has sent down to destroy the earth, and b) one of the young rapists was Jeb’s own son. The Brotherhood and the group go back and forth, capturing each other and leaving each other to the mercy of the vampyres. Along the way they also pick up a pregnant girl (Danielle Harris) and an ex-Marine named Willie (Sean Nelson). The group soldiers on, ever northward, suffering horrors and losses all along the way, hoping to reach safety and, it is hoped, a new life for themselves.

(Stake Land – a low-budget I Am Legend meets Zombieland)

My two cents… Like the amazing AMC television series, The Walking DeadStake Land does not focus on the cause of the apocalypse. The vampyres are almost in the background, really, as the film concentrates on the survivors and especially the relationship of the members of the group. And it is the characters that I found truly interesting. Also, since most of the movie is set in the Appalachian regions of the eastern U.S. between northern Georgia and southern New York State, the scenery is often breath-taking, highlighting even more the ugliness and brutishness of the kind of life with which the survivors are forced to deal. It’s as if I Am Legend took place in the country back-roads and woods of Tennessee, West Virginia or Pennsylvania. As with many other post apocalyptic movies, religion is a strong theme – usually a warped fundamental perversion of what we have in present day. Priest showed a dark twist on the Catholic Church. In Stake Land, The Brotherhood is an obscene offshoot of southern born-again Christianity with survivalist eschatology-cult overtones.

Bottom line… I think “like” and “enjoy” are probably the wrong words to describe how I feel about Stake Land. It is a movie that is definitely worth watching. Great characters, good performances, fabulous scenery and a good if not wildly original storyline. It’s a bleak and not overly optimistic view of what is left of America after the stuff hits the fan in a major way. And yet, there is heroism and there is courageous self-sacrifice and there is a hope that somewhere at some time, life can start again and maybe just maybe there can be a future that is at least a bit brighter.

One and a half post vampyre apocalypse thumbs up.

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Let Me In: Movie Review

Preamble: It’s not too often that I bump into friends and fellow Zombie Serengeti explorers during my DVD safaris. Imagine my joyful surprise at running into my dearly beloved friends KJ and SA just outside the audio-visual maze deep within the bowels of the local Walmarts.

Sadly, SA is being forced to leave town in a day or two. Something about her father moving off to the wilds of Sarnia, Ontario (where no one can hear you scream). She has no idea when she will return to civilization. It was like learning that your friend is being schlepped along on an expedition to Mars. Naturally, KJ and I were devastated beyond words. [1]

Even in the midst of our despair, my mission was not forgotten. Just when we thought all hope was lost, KJ and SA both pointed to a DVD of ‘Let Me In’ and declared, “You have GOT to see this movie! It is SO amazing!”

I needed no further recommendation. After the statutory hugs and kisses all around with suitable warnings regarding the departments in which the indigenous living dead congregated that afternoon, I made my way to the cash to check out my purchase.

Cost – $5. Major scare score!

OK, now… down to business!

LET ME IN: Movie Review

Let Me In is an American remake of Tomas Alfredson’s critically acclaimed 2008 hit Let the Right One In. Both are film adaptations of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s celebrated Swedish vampyre novel Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In).

I did something I rarely do before watching a movie… I gave a quick glance of the reviews at RottenTomatoes.com.  Many of the critics there said that the only reason Let Me In was made was because Americans hate reading subtitles. Notwithstanding this, the overall approval rating was a very impressive 90%.

I was definitely intrigued!

I had a good look at the DVD package when I was ripping off the cellophane. Coolish cover photo. A black and white close-up of a young girl with a trickle of blood at the side of her mouth. So far, so good!

(So far, so good!)

Then I looked at actors listed on the cover. Chloë Grace Moretz. The name rang a bell. Why did I know that name? I flipped the cover over and ready the blurb at the back. OMG!  Chloë Grace Moretz! The little kid (Hit Girl) in Kick-Ass. I loved her! I wasted no time. Into the old hamster-driven computer DVD drive it went.

I was so looking forward to this movie. I was not disappointed. Not in the least.

I can easily say that Let Me In is one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in a very long time. This unbelievable film pushes a major button for me… scary children. But what is worse/better… scary children who are still children despite also being monsters. But I am getting ahead of myself here…

OK, here’s the deal… Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a 12-year old boy who is rather scrawny for his age, is viciously bullied at school and is pretty much a social outcast. Owen meets a girl who is ‘more or less’ 12-years old, Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz), who moves into the apartment next door. The two develop a deep and profound friendship, usually meeting at night in the playground of their apartment building. Owen begins noticing that Abbey is not like any girl he has ever met. She seems impervious to cold, often walking barefoot in the snow. He only sees her at night. She lives with an older man who Owen presumes is his father. Abbey at first seems reluctant to be friends but then slowly shows signs of affection for Owen. She encourages him to stand up to the bullies and, if they don’t back down, she will help him… adding that she is stronger than she looks. She asks if Owen would still like her, even if she wasn’t a girl. Owen does not know what to make of this question. We soon learn why. Her ‘father’ murders men and drains their blood into plastic jugs for her consumption. Abby, feigning helplessness in a dark tunnel, attracts the attention of a young man saying she is hurt and asking if he could pick her up and carry her… then savagely attacks him, drinking his blood.

(Abby and Owen in the playground at night)

Mayhem ensues when Abby’s guardian and caretaker screws up an attempted murder, crashes a car and is taken to the hospital where he dies. Abby comes to Owen for help. With no one to care for her and feed her, Abby is at a loss as to how to survive. Like a feral animal, she attacks wildly, almost blindly and feeds when she needs to do so to survive, at one point almost going after Owen when he takes his pen knife and cuts his thumb so he and she can make a ‘blood oath.’ Abby finally confides that she has been 12 years old for a very long time. Eventually, Owen has to confront the reality that his seemingly innocent next door neighbour, the one he likes so very much, the one who gave him his first kiss, is a brutal monster.

My two cents… Yes, boys and girls, Abby is a little vampyre girl! And like another little vampyre girl, Claudia from Interview with the Vampire, she is that terrible, horrifying blend of beauty and beast… the cute killer, the adorable predator. She is both young and old, sweet and savage, lovingly soft and heartlessly vicious. No attempt is made here to portray her as an angst-ridden conflicted sparkly vampyre. She is a real honest to goodness old school undead bloodsucker, thank goodness! I was beginning to wonder if there were any of them left!

(Torn between attraction and revulsion… between fear and love)

Let Me In is a beautiful, haunting romance-horror. It premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival and has received wide critical acclaim, and rightly so. I am always afraid when the US remakes a foreign film. I am filled with a nameless dread because somehow, some way, they are going to totally butcher the movie. To my infinite relief, Let Me In does not get lost in the cultural translation. It is a powerful, gripping and terrifying portrait of what happens when the monsters get too close… when you ‘let them in’, as it were. Chloë Grace Moretz is a very talented actress and she underplays Abby perfectly. Shy, sweet and sensitive… on the outside. Kodi Smit-McPhee also hands in a wonderfully understated performance which goes hand in hand with that given by Moretz.

Bottom line… Let Me In is one of the best, most refreshingly honest vampyre movies I have seen in a very long time. It grabbed me from the first scene and held me tight all the way through. This is what a vampyre film should be like. It should move you and touch you deeply, grab you by the guts and make you live that primal vampyre contradiction of being both attracted to and repulsed by the undead, the conflicting feelings of being afraid of them and at the same time desperately wanting them, of hating them and wanting them to love you. It doesn’t blur the line between the two. In fact, it does the very opposite. By keeping both sides far apart and clearly distinct, it heightens the differences and makes them stand out even more.

I highly recommend this movie to fans of vampyre fiction and to anyone who just loves a good tale of love, beauty and horror.

Two 12-year old vampyre thumbs way WAY up!!

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[1] SA trying to put on a brave face.

 Come back soon, sweetie!! 😦

Halloween (and Why I Love It!)

Yes, guys and ghouls… It’s time for…

Halloween!!

(Is this a cool pumpkin, or what??)

I love Halloween. Ever since I was a little kid. Always have. Always will.

I’ve often said that, inside my mind, it’s a cross between The Nightmare Before Xmas…

(The Nightmare Before Christmas)

…and Corpse Bride.

(Corpse Bride)

As normal (or abnormal) as I may appear in real life, upstairs between the ears, my outlook on life… the way I view the world… is most definitely directed by Tim Burton!

To a large extent, this Tim Burton/Halloween theme extents into my day-to-day life. For instance, while most people go absolutely dippy at the thought of warm sunshiny days… I cringe. I literally hate the feel of sunshine on my skin. My idea of a perfect day is, well, today… cool, overcast, dark, damp, dreary, miserable, gloomy. In other words, perfect!

(A simply lovely day for a stroll!)

I’ve long since outgrown my desire for candy. I don’t have a sweet tooth. A tub of Häagen-Dazs can stay in my freezer for weeks and I won’t have the slightest desire to touch it. So, for me, Halloween isn’t about sweets. Nor is it about the wiccany-pagany-religiony aspects of it. I’m an Orthodox Jew and, to me, that is simply not in the cards either on a philosophical or spiritual basis.

For me, it is about getting in touch with The Dark Side not in terms of evil but in terms of attitude and outlook.

(Right look… the psycho aspect could use a bit of tweaking, however)

While I myself was never a goth, I think the old school Goth Girls had the right look and the right attitude. Modern goth girls… well, I’m not so sure. They all seem like depressing wannabees. They lack the intellectual mind and the dark macabre soul of the old Goth Girls from the very late 70’s and early 80’s.

Being ‘Dark’ isn’t about what you wear on the outside… it is about who you are on the inside.

For example, I would love to live in Halloween Town. And I would give almost anything to be a member of the Addams Family. I want to live in a world where I am not viewed as a freak for wanting it to be grey and dreary every single day of the year. I want to live in a world that is eternally overcast and cool and dismal, where weird is normal and vice versa. This is why I love Halloween. It is the one day of the year when the outside world… the ‘real’ world… matches the world inside my head.

(What you call ‘creepy’… I call ‘home’)

So, here’s to you, Halloween. I may not go out trick or treating. I may not festoon my apartment with pumpkins and ghosts. But I can do most people one better…

…To me, EVERY DAY is Halloween!

Defendor: Movie Review

Picked up an interesting DVD the other day at the Zombie Serengti (aka The Walmarts)…

DEFENDOR

(Defendor… low-rent superhero wannabee)

There are a few movies in this kind of genre… ordinary goofs, geeks and weirdo wannabees trying to be masked avengers or superheroes but are, of course… well… not so super. Comedies that takes aim at society’s infatuation with comic-book mythologies.

The Specials, Mystery Men and Kick-Ass come to mind.  Those were OK, especially Kick-Ass.

So, I gave Defendor a spin on the old coal-burning computer with the water-cooled monitor and the hamster-powered DVD.

OK, here’s the deal… Arthur Poppington (Woody Harrelson) works at construction sites by day but is a self-made superhero by night. And when I say self-made, I mean he duct-tapes the letter ‘D’ on his black sweater and is armed with the stupidest/quirkiest arsenal of cheap home-made weapons (e.g. marbles, a jar of wasps, a WW1 trench club). In his normal life, Poppington holds traffic signs and is nearly invisible to all who pass; after dark he assumes his secret identity ‘Defendor’ and prowls the streets in search of his arch nemesis, ‘Captain Industry.’ Along the way, he saves a young prostitute (Kat Dennings) from an abusive undercover cop (Elias Koteas).

(Defendor… Fight Back!)

Mayhem ensues when he saves the young prostitute, Kat. While this proves his commitment to fighting for the weak, it also turns him into a real live fugitive from the law. He beats up Kat’s father, a dry cleaner, when Kat reveals that he abused her as a child. Things get very real and very bad for Poppington who has, after all, genuine and serious mental issues. His relentless pursuit of Captain Industry (the result of his misunderstanding of what he was told as a child, that the ‘captains of industry’ were responsible for his mother’s death) continues to consume this heroic but tortured soul. He is a sad, pathetic but at times inspiring modern-day Don Quixote. There are those who try to help Poppington. A psychologist (Sandra Oh) and Poppington’s landlord (Michael Kelly). But to them, helping Poppington means stopping him from being who he ultimately is… Defendor.

The movie was filmed in and around Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, two cities where I lived and worked for several years. I enjoyed seeing some of the familiar, if somewhat grubby, sites… especially those in Hamilton, a real old-fashioned steel town.

Here’s my two cents… I expected the cheesy costume, dorky weaponry, comic book rip-offs and superhero wannabee stuff. What I wasn’t expecting and what really got to me was how touching the movie could be. I also could not help but notice the similarities to another Canadian ‘avenger’ movie about a man at the bottom of society who has been pushed too far and fights back… Hobo With a Shotgun. The Hobo character, like Poppington, also develops a close relationship with a young prostitute and turns to fighting back against what he perceives to be the source of all the evil around him.

Bottom line… Defendor is a funny, sad, amusing, depressing, inspiring story. Woody Harrelson, always great at portraying weirdos, really is wonderful as Poppington. Definitely worth a look.

One and a half superhero thumbs up.

The ‘Fear Centre’ of the Brain

I ran into a wonderfully fascinating article over at io9.com…

How Scientists Discovered the ‘Fear Centre’ of the Brain.

(They’re coming to get you, Barbra)

We all know fear. Not only do we know what it is like for us, we can easily recognize fear in the faces of our friends and loved ones and can even recognize it in the faces of total strangers. It is one of the most common and powerful of emotions and yet, we know almost nothing about fear… or at least the neural underpinnings of fear.

But thanks to the hard work of intrepid neuroscientists, what we do know is where fear lives!

How our brains process fear boils down to two tiny little lumps of neurons; whether you’re a human, a rat, a monkey or a mouse, when it comes to processing fear, the vast majority of research says that the most important parts of your brain are your amygdala, a pair of almond-shaped clusters of neurons sequestered deep within your medial temporal lobes.

(The amygdala… the brain’s almond-shaped Fear Factory)

Scientists experimenting with monkeys in the late 30’s and early 50’s discovered that while removing the entire frontal lobes of the brain, including the amygdala, resulted in dramatic personality changes including the monkeys becoming more tame, less aggressive, becoming hypersexual and developing strong oral fixations – removing only the amygdala led to a disappearance of any fear responses.

Despite questions that the earlier scientists’ surgical techniques may have inadvertently severed other brain connections which could have skewed the findings, later more precise surgical methods proved that the earlier scientists were right and that the amygdala was the brain’s ‘Spook Central.’

OK… now we know where fear is processed. Why is this important? What advantage does it have?

Well, it turns out that like many aspect of life, a key factor is location, location, location. The amygdala is strategically placed near key parts of the brain dealing with important input senses like hearing and vision while its output is close to the hypothalamus which regulates hormones like… adrenaline!

(Eeek! Time to run!)

Yes, adrenaline… the fuel of choice behind the good old ‘fight or flight’ response! Pupils dilate, eyesight improves, hair stands on end, hearing decreases,  heart rate and breathing accelerate, blood vessels constrict, extra clotting agents are released into the bloodstream (helps wounds heal more quickly), digestion system all but shuts off (conserving energy), air passages dilate, time appears to slow down and you get an incredible jolt of energy and power… all in a split second. Adrenaline is how a frightened mom can lift up the side of a car to save her child trapped underneath.

Half of you is scared to death and the other half is ready to kick a monster’s ass. To paraphrase a line from Hellboy… “There are things that go bump in the night… Adrenaline is the one who bumps back.”

So kudos and a tip of the old frontal lobe to the research scientists who have pinpointed our fear centre.

Now if they can only help me get over my Palin-Bachmann phobia!

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Reminder:  I will be away in Toronto for Total Jew Lock Down from this afternoon (Wed. Oct. 19/11) through to Sunday night (Oct. 23/11) in celebration of the Jewish holidays of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah.

Lesbian Vampire Killers: Review (It’s Not What You Think)

Seriously, Lesbian Vampire Killers is not the kind of movie you think it is.

(Lesbian Vampire Killers)

OK… it is… but not in the WAY you may think.

It more like Shawn of the Dead or Zombieland… only with vampyres.

I’m not saying this right.

Let me back up a bit.

As with many of the films I discuss here, this little adventure in movie reviewing started with me dodging the living dead at The Walmarts while snatching an eye-catching DVD. And when it comes to eye-catching, you have to admit it’s pretty hard to miss the title Lesbian Vampire Killers.

My initial thought was, ‘Is this a movie about vampyre killers who happened to be lesbians? Or about people who kill lesbian vampyres?’ The title can be viewed both ways!

Turns out that the latter situation is the one that fits the bill with this film.

(Matthew Horne and James Corden as Jimmy and Fletch)

OK, here’s the deal… Centuries ago, Baron Wolfgang MacLaren vanquished the Vampyre Queen Carmilla in the remote village of Cragwich; however, before decapitating the evil vampyre, she curses the locals and descendants of the Baron, swearing that every woman would turn into a lesbian vampyre on the eighteenth birthday. Meanwhile in modern day London, two buddies… one recently dumped by his girlfriend, the other recently fired, both broke… decide to hike and camp in the countryside to forget their problems. The end up in the village of Cragwich and an innkeeper offers them a cottage also rented by four hot Swedish girls. Said hot girls have trouble with their van and the boys show up. Van is OK and the girls offer the boys a ride to the cottage. The girls are folklore students who are on a field study trip researching the Vampyre Queen Carmilla. Jimmy has a crush on one of the girls, Lotte, who, luck would have it, has a crush on Jimmy. Fletch is no doubt hoping for a three-way with the other girls. Any hopes of a good time are dashed when the other three non-Lotte girls are taken and turned into the undead. The cottage is soon surrounded by… lesbian vampyres!

Mayhem ensues when the vampyres intend to use Jimmy and Lotte’s blood to bring Queen Carmilla back to life. Jimmy and Lotte are abducted by the vampyres, but Fletch escapes and meets Reverend Vicar who tells him that Jimmy is a descendant of the Baron and the only hope to stop the evil curse of Cragwich.

(Four hot Swedish girls)

This movie really is a guilty pleasure. You almost hate yourself for liking it. It’s stupid and juvenile. It’s sexist and exploitative. But it is done with such a tongue-in-cheek goofiness that you can’t help but have a good time. There is a gleeful childishness about it. The guys are adorable in their loserness. Lotte is the perfect virgin with the heart of gold. The other girls are such perfect air-heads. The mandatory cross-wielding priest (or this case, a Vicar) is admirably creepy. And of course the lesbian vampyres themselves… well… they live up to their roles.

I believe I’m getting to the point where if a movie gets less than 30% approval rating on RottenTomatoes.com, (Lesbian Vampire Killers gets a 27%), I  am bound to like it a lot!

If you want some sophomoric laughs and a genuine good time with some honest to goodness silliness, then this flick is for you. I thought it was just going to be some low-rent cheesy exploitation flick… and at a certain level it is, kind of… but I did not expect to enjoy it so thoroughly. I smiled the entire way through. Like Shawn of the Dead and Zombieland, both of which are far superior in just about every respect, Lesbian Vampire Killers delivers pure enjoyable entertainment. And when all is said and done, isn’t that why we watch movies in the first place?

One and a quarter sexy lesbian vampyre thumbs up!

Off to Toronto for a few days. (It’s a Jew thing)

Hello, geeks and nerdlings…

I am off to Toronto today to spend the Jewish holidays (Sukkot) with friends.

Just so you know, my “How Do I Prepare for a Zombie Apocalypse?” seminar last night went very well.

Thanks to fellow noted zombie expert Rebecca Larocque and also to Elaine Anderson for putting it all together.

A fun time was had by all, I think! 🙂

See youse guys next week!

aa-tribalfang