Category Archives: 2005

Land of the Dead (2005, George A. Romero), the director’s cut

While Land of the Dead is almost always an unfortunate misfire, it’s also never an unmitigated disaster. It’s full of missed opportunities, but they’re usually missed because director Romero just can’t crack the scene. And when he doesn’t crack a set piece, he often goes in the entirely different direction; maybe it’s about the budget, which is way too small, maybe it’s not. But it seems like the budget. After the successful opening set piece, there’s no reason to think Romero isn’t going to be able to execute at least the same quality again. And he’s never able to do it, but he also never really tries to do it. Romero front loads the movie; it deflates just when it should be doing the opposite. The characters gradually lose personality and importance. Because it’s time for the adequate but bland zombie action.

The film takes place in the future… the zombies have won, people all grouped in the big cities, the rich people live well, the poor people do not. Romero is shooting Toronto for Pittsburgh with a cinematographer (Miroslaw Baszak) who lights it to look as Canadian as possible. Land lacks any visual personality; the mix of Romero’s composition, Baszak’s flat lighting, Michael Doherty’s fine but bland editing, and Arvinder Grewal’s production design looks less like a post (zombie) apocalyptic vision and more like a pitch reel for one. Same goes for the actors, save Dennis Hopper, who’s just plain terrible. Simon Baker, Asia Argento, John Leguizamo, Robert Joy; at best their performances feel like stand-ins for better ones once the project gets the green light. At worst, it’s a charmless lead like Simon Baker, who is more than capable of being charming, Romero just doesn’t seem to realize it. Not in his direction or his script, which gives his actors really bad life stories purely for expository purposes. There’s not just no character development in Land, Romero doesn’t take the time to even establish the characters.

And it’d be fine if the film could have retained the first set piece energy. So Baker, Leguizamo, and Joy all work for Hopper. They leave the city to raid neighboring towns for supplies. Apparently there’s an almost endless amount of neighboring towns to raid; all you have to do is shoot fireworks and the zombies all look up and everything’s jim-dandy—the zombies don’t attack, they watch fireworks. It also allows Romero to set a lot of action at night, which was apparently less expensive and does nothing to help with that lack of personality thing. Only Baker and Joy discover there’s one zombie—Eugene Clark, in the film’s best performance—who doesn’t look up at the fireworks.

The movie ends up being about Clark leading a bunch of zombies to attack the city, where the rich people live in a ritzy skyscraper and Romero only has the money to establish it through a promotional video playing on a TV–Land of the Dead has both too little budget and too much. The tricks and devices Romero uses to cover for not having more money lack inventiveness; there’s a ton of bad CGI composites. Like, a static matte painting would’ve been much better bad. But you do bad CGI composites because they’re cheap. And it shows. And it hurts the movie.

Anyway, while Clark’s leading the slow-moving attack—see, he’s learned how to use objects and can teach other zombies how to use objects so it’s going to be a different kind of zombie attack (only, not really as it turns out but the attack’s immaterial)—Leguizamo has gone rogue and Baker has to track him down, bringing pals Joy and Argento.

Of the three, Argento’s probably best. She’s not good overall—the writing doesn’t allow for it—but she’s got some rather strong moments. She takes the job more seriously than anyone else. Though who knows what’s going through Hopper’s head as he woodenly delivers lines; who knows, maybe Romero did cast him to be a personality-free rich jackass with a goatee. Hopper’s reaction shots to zombies eating flesh look like someone told him to stand still for his picture to be taken. Romero would’ve done better to give Leguizamo that part. To do something to mix it up.

But there’s no mixing it up. Because outside a couple Romero-Dead nods and sufficiently revolting zombie feasting (though Baszak’s lighting makes it look… not fake, but not real), Land of the Dead has less of a pulse than its zombies.

It’s a shame.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by George A. Romero; director of photography, Miroslaw Baszak; edited by Michael Doherty; music by Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek; production designer, Arvinder Grewal; produced by Mark Canton, Bernie Goldmann, and Peter Grunwald; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Simon Baker (Riley Denbo), Asia Argento (Slack), Robert Joy (Charlie), John Leguizamo (Cholo DeMora), Dennis Hopper (Kaufman), Joanne Boland (Pretty Boy), Alan Van Sprang (Brubaker), Phil Fondacaro (Chihuahua), Sasha Roiz (Manolete), Krista Bridges (Motown), Pedro Miguel Arce (Pillsbury), and Eugene Clark (Big Daddy).


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The Descent (2005, Neil Marshall)

I want to say nice things about The Descent. Or, more… I wish I could say nice things about The Descent. There are some nice things to say about it–the production values are strong, Marshall’s composition is decent, Sam McCurdy’s photography is good. It’s rarely boring–though it does drag a little. Tedious without being boring. Possibly because the characters are all so unlikable you’re just waiting for them to die off.

The characters are unlikable partially because of director Marshall’s script, partially because of the actors, partially because of Marshall’s “direction” of the actors.

The Descent is about six women who go caving in North Carolina. With the exception of organizer Natalie Mendoza, they’re all either from the British Isles or they’re Scandinavian. They travelled halfway across the globe for this caving trip, because–as the opening of the film recounts–ostensible lead Shauna Macdonald has lost her family in a horrible car accident and she needs to get back to her extreme sports lifestyle.

While horrific, the car accident is also exceptionally contrived. All the character relationships in The Descent are exceptionally contrived. Marshall’s characterizations are razor thin, so having a bunch of bland, sometimes interchangeable actors who he doesn’t give any performance direction contributes a lot to that tediousness I mentioned. Maybe if Macdonald weren’t so wooden. Or Mendoza. But mostly Macdonald. What’s so strange is there are some outliers–Alex Reid, as Macdonald’s BFF, is good. Her character’s still thin, but she’s good. And Saskia Mulder and MyAnna Buring as the Scandinavian sisters are fine. They’re likable. Mendoza, from her first scene, is exceptionally unlikable. Ditto her protege Nora-Jane Noone, though for different reasons. And while Macdonald is supposed to be tragic and sympathetic, it’s in a porcelain doll sense. She’s lost her family, after all.

Something none of the other characters really engage with. Or, in Noone’s case, even seem to know about. Besides Noone, they’re all ostensibly best extreme sports buds. Who have absolutely no chemistry with one another. Mendoza’s an abject sociopath from scene one and there’s no reason anyone–particularly not the characters in the film–would be friends with her, much less trust her to plan a caving trip in Deliverance country.

Noone and Mendoza’s character relationship–and utter lack of onscreen chemistry–is one of Descent’s many deficiencies. Marshall’s script and direction is about moving caricatures from point A to point B. It’s grating.

But The Descent isn’t a Deliverance riff. Well, unless you want to make a lot of mean jokes about Applachian mountain men. See, down in the unexplored cave, the women discover they’re not alone. There are monsters. And so then the women have to inventively–often using their caving gear–fight the monsters.

Marshall borrows action beats from a variety of films–mostly the first couple Alien movies and, thanks to David Julyan’s almost comically derivative score, The Thing. There are some good shots here and there, along with some bad ones (including a jaw-droppingly bad composite), but Marshall, editor Jon Harris, and photographer McCurdy don’t impress. The sets–all the cave interiors are sets–impress. A bit. Not enough to make up for any of the film’s other deficiencies, but they’re good.

Almost anything would’ve improved The Descent. Writing, acting, directing (as far as the performances go). With any of those elements improved, Marshall could’ve been just as derivative and the film would’ve turned out better. Instead, he’s got this derivative film with all sorts of other problems.

Though, really, it’s an absurdly obvious film from the opening titles scene so… none of what follows is actually surprising.

Oh. Right. The lack of jump scares. It seems intentional. At least, I hope it’s intentional. But as a stylistic choice it’s a little weird. They might get the energy up. Nothing else does.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Neil Marshall; director of photography, Sam McCurdy; edited by Jon Harris; music by David Julyan; production designer, Simon Bowles; produced by Christian Colson; released by Pathé Distribution.

Starring Shauna Macdonald (Sarah), Natalie Mendoza (Juno), Alex Reid (Beth), Saskia Mulder (Rebecca), MyAnna Buring (Sam), and Nora-Jane Noone (Holly).


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The Fog (2005, Rupert Wainwright), the unrated version

In Rupert Wainwright’s shockingly inept remake, The Fog doesn’t blow, it sucks.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

But The Fog is awful. It’s almost interestingly awful, as Cooper Layne’s screenplay mimics just about every popular mainstream horror movie made in the previous two decades. Since director Wainwright is terrible and not paying attention to the constant ripping off–The Fog, in an impossibly earnest move, rips off the end of The Shining. It’s a rip-off capstone–the movie runs through not just ghost movies and thrillers, Wainwright really wants to be Steven Spielberg.

The script exists to move characters between set pieces. More than once, when the principal actors need to reunite, they just appear nearby. It’s beyond lazy and none of the cast can pull it off, especially not with Wainwright’s direction. There’s not a single good performance in The Fog. At least some of the supporting cast should’ve been tolerable, but no. No one gives a good performance. The “best” performance is Selma Blair. Not because she’s good, but because she’s the only actor who isn’t terrifyingly bad. Leads Maggie Grace and Tom Welling should be hilariously bad, but they aren’t. No one’s willing to laugh at the joke.

Graeme Revell’s music is occasionally almost all right, if a little on the nose. It disappears in the second half, when the more slasher-like action starts.

The special effects are terrible. Wainwright’s composition is terrible. He’s directing for people watching at home. Nathan Hope’s photography doesn’t help things either.

There’s nothing good about this film; it should be far more compelling in its badness.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rupert Wainwright; screenplay by Cooper Layne, based on the film written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Nathan Hope; edited by Dennis Virkler; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Michael Diner and Graeme Murray; produced by Hill, David Foster and Carpenter; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Maggie Grace (Elizabeth Williams), Tom Welling (Nick Castle), Selma Blair (Stevie Wayne), DeRay Davis (Spooner), Kenneth Welsh (Tom Malone), Adrian Hough (Father Malone), Sara Botsford (Kathy Williams), Cole Heppell (Andy Wayne), Mary Black (Aunt Connie), Jonathon Young (Dan The Weatherman) and Rade Serbedzija (Captain William Blake).


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Doom (2005, Andrzej Bartkowiak), the unrated version

Doom may very well be the worst inoffensive film I’ve ever seen. Director Bartkowiak and his crew redefine ineptness in production values. No one does a good job, everyone does something benignly terrible, whether it’s photographer Tony Pierce-Roberts’s blue hue for everything or composer Clint Mansell’s inability to create tension. It’s all bad.

Bartkowiak has absolutely no ambition for the film. It’s a video game adaptation featuring a lengthy sequence where the protagonist (Karl Urban) “plays the game” and the audience watches. The action in that scene, mimicking the video game, is–in terms of content–better than any of the other action sequences. Instead of translating the game’s content to a film medium, Bartkowiak rips off every popular sci-fi action movie since the late seventies and creates a bunch of Mars-centered nonsense.

It’s pointless. Why bother? Because it’s obvious and bad and it’s sort of compelling to see something where no one tries so nothing can go right or wrong. The blue lighting, for example. How much does it matter? Good lighting wouldn’t make the movie any good, just a little bit more competent. Not even better, because the ineptness is the closest Doom gets to charm.

There’s some decent acting from Deobia Oparei and Razaaq Adoti. Bad acting from Richard Brake and Al Weaver. The three leads–Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike and Dwayne Johnson–are sometimes okay and sometimes bad.

Doom is a terrible film. But the script’s inventively derivative enough to keep it moving.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak; screenplay by Dave Callaham and Wesley Strick, based on a story by Callaham; director of photography, Tony Pierce-Roberts; edited by Derek Brechin; music by Clint Mansell; production designer, Stephen Scott; produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura and John Wells; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Karl Urban (John Grimm), Dwayne Johnson (Sarge), Rosamund Pike (Samantha Grimm), Deobia Oparei (Destroyer), Razaaq Adoti (Duke), Richard Brake (Portman), Al Weaver (The Kid), Brian Steele (Hell Knight), Ben Daniels (Goat), Yao Chin (Mac) and Dexter Fletcher (Pinky).


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