Sunday, June 7, 2015

Movie Review: Love in the Time of Monsters

We're at an age where pretty much everything has been done in horror movies and comedy movies and, well, pretty much all movies. There now exists an entire subculture of filmmakers who live to make horror comedies, most of which are entirely too self-aware, *wink, nudge*, too-cute attempts at not only ostensibly honoring the horror genre, but lampooning it.

Most of these entries into the genre that I've watched aren't particularly scary or funny or satirical, despite the writers-directors-producers' trying their best to beat you over the head repeatedly, trying oh-so-hard to prove that their movie is the one. (See my recent Zombeavers review.) Meanwhile, you're just watching the same old movie - stupid, promiscuous teenagers off to an isolated cabin where evil-but-hilarious stuff happens. *Yawn.*

Look, I know I sound like a crotchety old bastard, and frankly, when it comes to movies, I am. There's just not a lot of fun or interesting in the movies anymore. Everything is formulaic, disguised as an homage to something else based on some formulaic classic, everything is a remake-reboot-reimagining-rehashing. Plots are secondary, and often so predictable and homogenized that it feels like Hollywood is pissing in every moviegoers'  face. Everyone is too pretty, scripts are overflowing with lazy dick and fart jokes, the nerd gets the girl, the troubled protagonist gets redemption, the good guys win, style trumps substance all the time.

Go ahead, try to think of the last original-feeling movie you watched. The last movie that, when you walked out of the theater or turned off on your TV, just wouldn't get out of your head. Take your time. (Please, feel free to post a comment below with your answer...I'd honestly love to see.)

For the record, my answer is probably Kingsman: The Secret Service, which was just effing fun.

However, we're not here to debate the rather unimaginative state of the movie industry, are we? Pretentious ramblings of a crotchety old bastard (hey, there's the title of my memoirs) are only fun for about two minutes. On with the review!

Ominous and foreboding poster

After I posted my review of Zombeavers, I got a tweet from someone calling themselves Uncle Slavko, telling me to check out Love in the Time of Monsters. Turns out Uncle Slavko is the official Twitter handle for the movie. There was a still from the film attached to the tweet:


Great, another zombified forest creature. After the Zombeaver experience, I was tentative, but @UncleSlavko's enthusiasm was evident, so I figured, what the hell? It's Sunday morning, I'm not wearing pants, and I have about five mini-bottles of booze handy in case this devolves into Zombeaversquirrel 2: Electric Boogaloo.

The movie opens with a scene of a mother and father and their two daughters on vacation, the family fun cut short due to a tragic giant Paul Bunyan monument axe accident taking dad out. (Why wasn't the axe better secured to the statue's hand? The world may never know.)

Fast forward 15 years later, and the two daughters are grown and heading off on a family vacation of their own to Uncle Slavko's All-American Family Lodge, in an attempt to surprise blonde sister Carla's fiancee, who works at the cheeseball tourist trap and to visit their friend Agatha, who is in charge of running things. Brunette sister Marla isn't amused, and the opposite personalities are established.

"Where the American dream goes to die."

One of the attractions at Uncle Slavko's is a nature walk with fake, designed Sasquatch sightings. The team of guys in Bigfoot suits includes Carla's fiancee, Johnny. The leader of the Bigfoot team is none other than Kane Hodder, who you may recognize if he was wearing a hockey mask, since he played Jason Voorhees in several installments of the Friday the 13th movie series.

As the sisters establish their quirky opposite-ness even further (Carla's the cornball idealist, Marla's the wild child), something goes wrong with the Bigfoot crew during their training session - one falls into the swamp, which is, of course, infested with toxic goo (it's always toxic goo, man). A scrum ensues with the rest of the Bigfoot team when they discover their peer's body floating face down in the water, which causes them all to tumble into the toxic-goo-water. Surprisingly, falling into the toxic goo is problematic for the guys, turning them zombie-ish and really causing poor complexions.

Marla's at the bar, trying her best to get into no good with handsome bartender Armando (please say that with a cheesy Spanish accent, thanks), while Carla decides to strip down to lingerie and wait in the employee parking lot to surprise Johnny. Neither of these things turn out well, and the chaos begins. Zombie guys dressed in Bigfoot suits begin attacking the lodge, eating away at whoever they can. Carla flees and is taken in for her own safety by the local grizzled wild man, Chester.

Carla realizes her fiancee is a zombie and, naturally, runs off into the woods in her pink lingerie.

Things get gory as guests and employees are attacked and ripped apart. Guests flee in their cars, leaving most of the remaining crew to hole up inside the lodge as they attempt to figure out why the fellas are eating people and turning to Dr. Abraham "Doug" Lincoln for answers. The doctor informs them that he's missing one crucial piece of the toxin puzzle to create the antidote for toxic-goo-zombification.

Chester and Carla and Dan (the only non-infected member of the Bigfoot crew) sneak back to the lodge and take refuge with the others, sisters reunited. Mrs. Uncle Slavko (played by Shawn Weatherly, who you'll no doubt recognize as Miss South Carolina, Miss America, and Miss Universe 1980, or perhaps as Cadet Adams, from the comedy classic Police Academy 3: Back in Training), tries to help keep things under control. The cops arrive and are swiftly and predictably dispatched of by the zombie Bigfoots (Bigfeet?).

With no options left but to try to create the antidote, a "task force" forms and sneaks off to the swamp to get a sample of the icky stuff. This does, however, lead to one of the best scenes in movie history: two lodge employees, Big Kahuna and Brandi, create a distraction to divert the creatures' attention away from the task force in the form of a mini-dance party, complete with loud techno music and flashing lights. Brandi grows tired and turns to Big Kahuna for motivation, which brings the second best line of the movie:

"Dance like lives depend on it!"

Couldn't find an actual image of the dancing, so this is my rendition.
Yes, I'm available to do artwork for you.

The task force returns, having failed their mission due to some aggressive zombie fish, Chester's at death's doorstep, the goo sample is lost. However, in a bit of magical serendipity, they find a piece of paper in Chester's coat pocket, and GUESS WHAT? It's the seventh secret herb of the toxic goo, which allows Dr. Abraham Lincoln to create the antidote.

Unbeknownst to our heroes, Uncle Slavko is hiding a dark, completely SHOCKING secret: he's the one responsible for dumping the toxic goo in the water and triggering all this mayhem. He grabs the antidote and his cash and tries to get away, before Mrs. Uncle Slavko catches up to him and...well, let's just say it's an...explosive meeting...

Insert Dr. Evil bad joke laugh here.

At the same time, poor Brandi the dancer (Heather Rae Young, Playboy Playmate of the Month, February 2010) is attacked by a horde of undead squirrels, resulting in your first and only boob sighting, one hour and twenty minutes into it. Despite screaming like a maniac, the squirrel finishes her with a very familiar-looking chest-bursting scene, and Brandi and her big fake boobs are killed.

Thusly, we arrive at the denouement, a standoff pitting Carla and Marla and Armando (please read that with a cheesy Spanish accent, thanks) against an army of zombified birds and squirrels and a moose. Carla manages to give Johnny the antidote, after receiving the most sage piece of advice from her sister, delivered in the best line of the movie: 

"Whatever you do, don't not do this."

If there's a better line in movie history, I can't think of it at the moment. In fact, there is a better-than-average chance that "Whatever you do, don't not do this" will be tattooed on one (or both) of my forearms in the very near future. Standby for pictures!

Anyway, the "real" Bigfoot shows up to help fight off the baddies in the epic, climatic battle between hot chicks and undead forest creatures. Our heroes emerge victorious, and love abounds...because, really, it's all about the lovin'.

Love in the Time of Monsters isn't going to change the world. It isn't going to change the way you look at horror or comedy or the hybrid of both. However, it is an entertaining movie, for sure. The dialogue feels relaxed and naturally funny - not overdone and forced. The scenery is lovely and the effects are serviceable - of all the zombie squirrels I've seen, these were definitely the most realistic. The cast actually isn't bad, which is usually a problem in this genre. The whole thing actually feels lighthearted...there's no trying too hard or sneaking in any seriousness. It's fun, and really, that's what you want from a movie like this.

(Bonus: several songs on the soundtrack by an actual band called Thunderdikk.)

I don't have a rating system, but if I did, I'd put Love in the Time of Monsters somewhere in between a soothing dip in a hot tub and an extended version of that nice little buzz you get in your head when you sneeze. You know what I'm talking about.

Click Uncle Slavko to go the official movie page, because America!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

"Something" from December 14, 2002

So, I was just digging through my writing folder and came across this document, cleverly titled "Something." The created on date is December 14, 2002. I have no idea what I was doing with this or where it was going, but I suppose it doesn't matter. Anyway, just thought I'd post it here for no reason...

The scene is a crappy little apartment.  The living room of a crappy little apartment, more specifically.  You look around the apartment and take note of the mess.  The squalor.
The carpet is dingy yellow, the same shade as the plug that forms on the spout of a bottle of French’s mustard.  The furniture is old, and you know that it wasn’t much to look at to begin with: discount store particle board, the stuff that starts to sag and rock after your books or television sit on it too long.  The recliner used to be a sea green, but patches of the material have worn off in the places where elbows and asses go. The remaining material is discolored from sweat and spilled drinks and ashtrays and so forth and so on.  There’s a stupid floor lamp standing next to the recliner, conveniently placed where you wouldn’t even have to get out of the recliner to turn it on or off.  The inverted cone directs the light to the ceiling, and if you look up, you’d see the misshapen shadow of hundreds of dead bugs that rest in the cone.  The small television is on, but muted, and it’s the Weather Channel.  The tanned guy is standing in front of a map, and if you could lip read, you’d know he was talking about the unseasonably warm September in New England.  The CD player is playing through the speakers; the song is “Dead Souls” by Joy Division.  Since you just got here, you don’t know that the same disc has been on repeat for the last five hours.  You just get the feeling that whoever lives in this crappy little apartment just doesn’t care.
Speaking of who lives in this crappy apartment, take a look at the miserable lump of body lying on the floor.  He’s curled up, his head is actually resting in a full ashtray, and he’s only wearing boxers and a t-shirt.  You’d say he’s wearing socks, but there’s only one white one with a hole, where a sliver of toenail pokes through.  The other foot is bare, showing a lot more toenail.  Surrounding the lump is what might pass for a crude police outline of a dead body, but it’s not made of chalk: empty brown beer bottles, spiral ring notebooks, empty cigarette boxes, pens, and a couple of Hustler magazines outline this lump of body.  Looking at it, you’d say it’s pretty fucking pathetic.
Not scary at all; just pathetic.
The lump stirs slightly, straightening its legs out, and it moans softly.  It says something like, “Christ,” but it’s soft enough that it could have said just about anything.  A hand moves up and grabs the side of its head.  The body starts to shift back and forth, slowly, gingerly.  You know right away that the lump is hurting.
“Shit,” comes from the lump, since it realized its head is in a black plastic ashtray.  It sits up, and some butts and ashes coat the left side of its face and hair.
And you think again, pa-the-tic.
Its back is to you, but you see it turn its head to the left and realize that the same CD is playing.  It starts singing along, saying quietly, and totally out of key, “They keep calling me…keep on calling me.”
Instead of singing for long, it opts to have a coughing fit, its hand cupped in front of its mouth.  You hear the coughing stop, and it smacks its tongue and lips and you know just how awful the smell coming from its mouth must be.
It reaches for a box of cigarettes, finds it empty, and searches through a couple more until it finds one with smokes in it.  It finds the lighter under its thigh and lights the cigarette.
It smokes while we notice the envelope on the table next to the recliner.  If you looked closer at it, you’d see that it was addressed to a Charles Freeman.  The return address is from something called the “Gerber Beach High School Alumni Committee,” from Gerber Beach, Florida.  Just below the return address is what must be an important message, and it says “Important Reunion Information Enclosed!” in bold letters.
About the time you add two and two together and decide that its name is Charles Freeman, and it must be around reunion time for him, you hear it lumbering up to a standing position—its leg joints pop and it wobbles a little bit, hands held out to its side as it works to maintain equilibrium.
It scratches its ass and surveys the crappy living room and glances over at the envelope you just looked at, and it sighs.  The sigh gives you a pretty good indication of its feelings, and you know it’s wondering how it could bring itself to go to a reunion.
In fact, looking at Charles Freeman, you have to wonder how it even gets up in the morning, or how it musters up enough life to just keep going.
And you watch it, or Charles, slowly wipe its fingers down the left side of its face.  The fingers come away gray with ashes, and it looks at its fingers.  It shakes its head slowly back and forth, enough to knock the butts out of its hair.  You get the feeling it’s not the first time this has happened to Charles.
If you glance at the clock hanging over the television, you’d see it’s about four in the morning.  Charles realizes this at the same time we do, and it ambles off through some door.  Presumably, the door leads to a crappy bedroom, where it will sleep more.  Its head will be on a pillow this time, and you just get the feeling that the pillowcase will be stained with sweat and drool and maybe some vomit.
As it disappears to wherever, you have a few moments before we fade out to look around some more.  Notice the open spiral notebook in the body outline on the floor.  If you zoom in on the page it’s open to, you’d see some words written in black ink.  Most of it is gibberish, scrawled by someone drunk out of their mind, but there are a couple of phrases written boldly and large enough to make out.
A few phrases jump out at you immediately: “Get me out” is one. “Come take me” is another.  “Make it stop” is the last one you really take note of.
Then you hear it snoring, loudly, jaggedly, horribly.  It sleeps again, and it’s pretty fucking pathetic, isn’t it?
Yes, it is. Jesus, yeah.
Charlie was dreaming.  He had to have been; things like this didn’t happen to him.

He was driving, and it wasn’t his car.  No, the vehicle he was controlling was far better than his eight year old Geo Metro.  It was a Mercedes, according to the logo on the steering wheel, and it was beautiful.  The steering wheel was firm in his hands, and when he pressed the gas pedal, it slid forward easy and quickly…no lurching like the Metro.  The car felt solid.  Music came from the speakers; it was some heavy metal tune he vaguely recognized, but was enjoying.  The smell of the car was brand new, but there was another smell, something even better than new car.
In the passenger seat was Miss America.  At least, that’s who Charlie thought it was.  She was perfect, with auburn hair and tanned skin and glowing white teeth and bright blue eyes.  She stared back at him staring at her.  She was smiling at him, and he dropped his gaze down her body, loving the way the low cut, skin-tight pink dress looked.  Her cleavage was magnificent, and she spoke to him:
“Do you like me, Charlie?”
Astonished at the ignorance of the question, he said to her, “Of course I do. What’s not to like about you?”
“God, that makes me so happy, Charlie.” She smiled at him even bigger, white teeth and pink tongue exposed.  He noticed that now she had a sash around her that said “Miss America” on it.
Her smell was vanilla, a sweet vanilla, but not as cloying as the crappy vanilla perfume that he got his last girlfriend.  Her legs were smooth and tan and he wanted to touch them more than anything.  He wanted to run his tongue all over them.
He felt a hard-on raging in his pants.
“Ooh, what’s this?” she asked playfully.  She was looking at his crotch.
“Can I touch you, Charlie?”
Charlie tried to say yes, but nothing came out.  It didn’t matter; she reached down and unzipped his jeans.  Her warm, smooth hand pulled him out.
“Oh God,” he moaned.
“No, Charlie,” she said, leaning to his crotch. “Not God.”
“What?” he asked, shuddering as she opened up and took him into her mouth.  He saw the invitation to his reunion lying on the smooth black dashboard of the Mercedes.
And, even though she had him completely in her mouth and was sucking and licking him, he heard her voice again, clear as day: “Not God, Charlie.”
“Not God,” he moaned. “Not God, not God, not God…”
He was about to explode when

            He yelled and flew awake violently, kicking the dull brown comforter to the floor and hitching upright.  His breath came out in gasps, and he wasn’t even aware that he was whispering “not God” over and over.  Beads of sweat shined on his forehead, and his face was flushed a splotchy red.
            “What the hell…” he exhaled and swung his legs around over the side of the low bed.  His alarm clock, which sat on the floor by his feet, said it was half past noon.
            He reached for a cigarette and the ashtray, also on the floor, and lit one up.  A flashback to his fingers covered in gray ash flitted across the front of his brain as he exhaled.
            Reaching down to scratch and adjust himself with his nonsmoking hand, he felt the wet patch on his boxers, and realized, with half horror and half amusement, that he had just had one hell of a wet dream at age 30.
            “Jesus,” he said out loud to the empty bedroom.
            And, in his head, he heard Miss America’s voice again: “No, Charlie, not Jesus.”
            “Not God and not Jesus,” he spoke aloud again.  “I got it, Miss America.”
            He stubbed out the cigarette, which tasted like piss-soaked dirt in his mouth, and went to get ready for work.

            In his Metro, on his way to work, he sang along with the radio.  Pop tunes of no consequence.  Like Chinese food, he thought.  Hungry an hour later.
            On the empty passenger seat, between a couple of cigarette burns, was a piece of paper with a hastily written note.  Charlie had pulled the note off of the door as he left for work.  It said “Pay rent by the 15th or you’ll be evicted.”  It wasn’t the first note like that that Charlie had received.  In fact, there was another one in the glove box of his car at that moment.
            In front of the gauges, stuck down between the dirty plastic, was a picture of a girl.  The picture was curled down from the top; it looked like it had been in there for a while. In fact, it had been there for a while.

            About six months, to be almost exact.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Movie Review - ZOMBEAVERS

Throughout history, mankind has had a primal instinct, an deeply rooted need to tell stories. To share visions. To show the world what the limitless human imagination can create. In prehistoric times, this compulsion was abided with drawings on the cave's inner walls, crudely rendered with dirt or charcoal mixed with spit or animal fat. Ancient Egyptians drew symbols inside the great pyramids, weaving fantastical tales of gods and man. Plays were born from the ancient Greek tragedies, becoming a phenomenal way to share stories. Eventually, language was born, and ink to paper became another popular medium to tell a tale. Plays and books were mankind's escape from reality, and to some extent, remain so today.

In the late 19th century, the next revolution came along: film. Moving pictures. Actors and actresses recorded a story in sunny California, and people in New York winter were able to watch in frozen envy. Movies exploded in popularity, and the technology grew with the popularity. Films became more visually stunning, with deeper, more experimental plots, skilled acting. Voices were added, color was added, special effects became a thing. Billions of dollars spent and made yearly in the film industry, with technology advances bringing us all manner of entertainment across all manner of platforms.

The culmination of filmed entertainment was unleashed on the world in 2014, and top of the mountain, thy name is Zombeavers.

The minimalist poster belies the complexity of the film.

The title itself, Zombeavers isn't just a clever play on words. Yes, there's the literal meaning  - a portmanteau of "zombie beavers" - which is certainly a large part of the film. But, is there more? Something...deeper?

A zombie is a fictional, undead being, usually portrayed as mindless, unintelligent and unintelligible, hungry for only one thing: brains. A beaver, as everyone in the world knows, is a slang term for the female vagina. Before you even push the play button, you're forced to wonder what you're about to ingest: a silly, campy movie about large, undead rodents? Or an in-depth look at the marginalization and desexualization of aging women in modern society? Gotta push play to find out.

Beaver jokes: harmless fun? Or misogynistic scourge?

While that nugget is slowly marinating in your head, you start the film, watching the setup - a chemical delivery truck driven by the irrepressible Bill Burr (with John Mayer inexplicably riding shotgun), loses a tank of green toxic goo in an unfortunate deer accident. The goo tank travels down a river as the opening credit sequence plays, part James Bond, part Rocky & Bullwinkle, preparing you for what appears to be, on the surface, just another silly horror movie about horny teenagers heading off to a distant family member's cabin somewhere in the woods.

So, the horny teenagers get to the distant family member's cabin somewhere in the woods. Well, it's actually three "college" girls (portrayed by actresses in their mid-to-late twenties, of course), off for a distraction-free girls' weekend. A dip in the lake (first breast appearance: 13 minutes in), followed by a strange encounter with a local grizzled hunter (complete with requisite foreshadowing), and things move along until that night, when the three dopey, meathead boyfriends unexpectedly show up to ensure that the cliches aren't too violated.

That's when shit gets real, yo. Troubled Blonde Girl stumbles across one of the titular beasts in the bathroom, random frat boy beats the extremely realistic-looking animal (seemingly) to death, and the partying-on continues. Okay, there's a small bit of relationship drama - Troubled Blonde Girl's hirsute and unfunny boyfriend cheated with Brunette Girl in Glasses, her best friend. ZOMG, right? Okay, that plotline is about 98.64% unnecessary and was certainly written to stretch out the run time (something had to be done to get this thing to 85 minutes). So, don't even worry about that.

Worry about the ZOMBEAVERS! They attack the kooky kids while they swim in the lake, biting off the foot of Stoner Guy, eating Quirky Brunette Girl's dog and unleashing all the undead beaver-filled havoc you can handle. Troubled Blonde Girl, alone in the cabin being troubled, is attacked at the same time.

Beaver attack. Get it?

One by one, everyone starts dropping at the gigantic teeth of the beavers, only to be reanimated as HUMAN-BEAVER-ZOMBIE-HYBRIDS. That's right - this is one zombie movie that refuses to be gratuitously revels in being bound by every zombie movie trope in existence. Because satire, right?

"Do I have something in my teeth?" wondered Troubled Blonde Girl-Beaver-Zombie-Hybrid

Gore and death and giant teeth and the sudden and shocking boring and predictable ending play out, and in the end, you realize you didn't just spend 85 minutes exploring subtle feminist undertones, showing that women are more than metaphorical undead beavers. You didn't even sit through 85 minutes of serviceable satire, because for a horror-comedy, it was really devoid of both. That's not what you did at all.

What you just did was waste 85 minutes watching an exercise in frat boy writers, producers, and director, trying their damnedest to be clever, but failing. It's like anything else: when you try too hard, you're the only one that doesn't realize it.

Don't get me wrong. I didn't hate the movie. I just didn't really feel anything. I actually laughed at one line:

One of the boyfriends actually said that. And I'm sure the writer thought to himself, "Ha! This'll take the piss out of those Hollywood cliches! I'm such a skilled HUMORIST." But, no, you're not. I laughed because it was so unfunny. You know that uncomfortable laugh that slips out when you're at your married buddy's house, and he gets in an argument with his wife right in front of you? Like, you want to break the tension, but all you can do is make an awkward chuckle? It was that kind of laugh.

(Okay, Dave, we get the point. Wrap it up already.)

I don't have a rating system, but if I did, I'd put Zombeavers somewhere between being the first to poke the knife into the just-opened tub of margarine and getting the shower water temperature right on the first try. You know, mildly satisfying, but nothing you won't do many times in your life.