Thursday, 11 July 2019

The Dead Don't Die

As a long time connoisseur of the zombie genre, I was pleased to discover a few months ago that we were supposed to be getting an ensemble, all star cast for a new zombie comedy The Dead Don't Die. Looking like a big homage to the tropes and fun of the best the zombie genre had to offer, its' trailer played well and had me hooked from the first time I saw it. Starring, Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover and Selena Gomez, to name only a few! The cast is actually quite large and very likable, with what I thought were for sure going to be some stellar performances!

Did we get that? Well, we got something...

Set in the town of Centerville (A Nice Place) it follows the work of Sheriff Cliff Robertson (Murray), Ronnie (Driver) and Minerva "Mindy" (Sevigny) and others from the small town as they deal with some inexplicable changes caused by polar fracking. The day is longer, the moon emits a strange 'toxic' glow, and strange things are happening in the cemetery.

Robertson is first going after local Hermit Bob (Tom Waites) who Farmer Miller (Buscemi) has accused of stealing his chickens. We then have the the two policemen driving away and leaning very abruptly on the fourth wall when Ronnie comments that the song The Dead Don't Die, by Sturgill Simpson, is the theme song for the film after Robertson comments that it sounds very familiar. Get used to this song, this joke is gonna be overused a lot. There is a pretty cleverly done establishing shot done as the police cruiser goes by all the various locations we will be seeing as the film goes on.

We meet more of the town's denizens at a local diner, Hank (Glover), Farmer Miller, and a scene with some juvenile delinquents locked up in the county juvy center, Geronimo (Jahi Winston), Olivia (Taliyah Whitaker), and Stella (Maya Delmont). There's also local gas store/paraphernalia shop owner Bobby Wiggins (Caleb Landry Jones), motel owner Danny Perkins (Larry Fessenden) and travelling at the head of some 'city hipsters' is Selena Gomez as Zoe. Finally we have Tilda Swinton as the new local mortician, Zelda Winston.

The zombie weirdness begins one night as two 'coffee zombies' attack the diner and devour locals Fern and Lilly in a genuinely unsettling scene. It has some dark humor to it as the zombies recognize coffee and quit their mauling to ineptly swig some back before shuffling on. Now, these two zombies are played by Iggy Pop and Sara Driver, so you'd expect them to show up again. Other than a single scene where they are walking around with the coffee pots... they're kind of irrelevant.

Following this is an amusing sequence where we once again see some well done humor as a three part take with each police officer viewing the scene goes on. Then we finally get some delightful weirdness from Swinton's character Zelda as she wanders around in odd ways, speaks strangely (addressing people by their full names) and has jerky, almost planned moves when she isn't wielding her katana.

Next the zombies begin to follow in waves, and as the undead begin to slowly overwhelm the town. Madness ensues.

Something I should pause to praise is the zombies themselves. While they are the usual undead shamblers, the actors and extras who play them just dig into the roles and damn they do it well! And rather than big bloody sprays of gore, when the zombies are killed they instead shoot out these black dust clouds. It's a unique and very visually appealing touch that I think should be applauded.

From here we get intervening bits of well executed horror, some good bits of comedy, and a lot of flat jokes. Some of it is well executed, especially in the second act as I found myself laughing uproariously at Driver and Murray's banter with Sevigny, then Swinton just stole every scene she was in. But the first hour of the film tends to drag, with only a few well done jokes. Then the finale comes across as, well, confusing.

Now, past this cut there be spoilers, you have been warned. Sadly, it is almost impossible to do a good critique of the film without them.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Atlas Shrugged Part III

God alone knows how, but the producers managed to waste enough money to make three of these dumb movies. It took a small fortune to create these disasters, but it took them only an hour to drain my brain of any, even halfhearted, enthusiasm for watching this last film! As before, please check out the reviews of this film alongside my friend Andrew over at I Choose to Stand where he looks at all three like me!

After Part II bombed even more spectacularly than the first film, making less than a quarter of its stated budget back, the series seemed to be in some limbo for a while. There was even talk of optioning it for a musical (God wouldn't that have been annoying?) way back when. However, this fortunately (sadly?) did not come to pass and instead they did what they had done for the last two installments, scrapped the old cast and hired all new actors making things even more confusing for people.

In a now hilariously familiar story, the budget for this film was only half of its predecessors, with some 440,000$ of that being raised on Kickstarter. Really, this film should have been called Atlas Shrugged Part III: The Search For More Money. In should come as no surprise that from a budget of 5 million, the film made only 800,000$ back at the box office. Considering what this was, even in comparison to Part III of the book, there isn't any question of why it bombed even worse than it's predecessors.

Now as someone who had read the book I will admit full disclosure to being interested to seeing Part III of this film series. It was, in themes, set pieces and story, very different from the first two parts which can be very well described as "business people talking business" with some bland mystery coloring the background.

Part III of the novel however, had one large section of ideological screed, followed by some rather entertaining pulpy action bits and the close up examination of society collapsing. Trains stop running, harvests are left to rot, and sections of the country break into open civil war. It's actually rather gripping stuff as we see the United States collapse into anarchy as part of the plan by the megalomaniacs heroes of the story.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Atlas Shrugged Part II

So we come to Part II of this nonsense, and let me tell you it just gets sillier from here. If you have missed it, my friend and fellow blogger Andrew Cowie has also done a review for this film over on his blog I Choose to Stand and it is well worth reading!

After the first installment of the Atlas Shrugged trilogy bombed fantastically. The idiots Randian heroes who had made this film decided rather than let the free market do the talking as their own philosophy would compel them to do, they were going to double down on their idea and decided the world must learn of the brilliance of their prophet's ideology.

The only problem was that now, after making less than a quarter of their budget back from the first film, the plan of financing it with profits was no longer feasible. The strategy? Hire an all new cast because keeping actors is expensive! Well, there was also a massive debt sale in order to keep the film afloat, and a big investment of personal funds. Apparently this film, when you tally up marketing and everything, cost as much as the first one. If that was the case oh boy did it have problems.

It seems that the other portion of the plan was to stoke the public's expectations by keeping it from being screened by critics pre-release so everyone would have to be surprised and appalled at the same time. This fantastically misleading article from Fox News in 2012 has the producer John Aglialoro stating "The integrity of the critics are going off a cliff...Why should I give them the sword and they are just going to use to decapitate me with?" The article of course blames the 'Liberal Media' for casting the movie down, but as a National Post review of Part I by Peter Foster notes: "Still, if it sinks without trace, its backers should at least be proud that they lost their own money."

Turns out, the film wasn't proud with just losing its own money, it didn't even need to give anyone else the sword to decapitate itself! The film made even less money than the first, and received an even lower rating from critics and audiences alike!

Why might that be you ask?

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Atlas Shrugged Part I

Years and years ago, my teen self made a monumental mistake. I discovered a supposedly great work of fiction which, according to some people I knew, would change my life. To their credit, they weren't wrong. However, the book I read Atlas Shrugged did not change my life for the better. Instead, it left me knowing what true evil felt like. The magnum opus of philosopher madwoman (and Superman arch nemesis)  Ayn Rand, it was written explicitly to solidify her economic, philosophical and political codes. Essentially, this is the Bible of the weird philosophy of Objectivism.

This strange little philosophy has had a disproportionate effect on world economics and thinking, especially in the United States of America. It has influenced politicians, philosophers, gurus, and most significantly, the head of the United States Federal Reserve who oversaw the disastrous policies leading to the 2008 Financial Crisis. Some would say that isn't a coincidence. Reading its long drawn out piece was misery personified.

Imagine then, to my chagrin, discovering way back in 2015, that after years of simmering in development hell some fanatic acolyte far sighted visionary John Aglialoro, had finally decided to bring Ayn Rand's creation to the screen.

God Help Us

Now, for a quick cliff notes version of Objectivism. Essentially it is be selfish for selfishness sake. To use the fancier terms, pursue your own enlightened self interest (rational egoism) and that laissez-faire capitalism is the only system which can allow you to pursue this. There's more boring 'metaphysical' stuff about how true reality can be expressed through art or human will, but its dull as watching paint dry so Rand wrote a book. Atlas Shrugged is intended to showcase how this life is to be lived. For a normal, sane person, it's pretty awful stuff.

Unsurprisingly, it has largely been roundly rejected by the civilized world and people at large, but, also unsurprisingly, rich right leaning white people tend to love it overwhelmingly.

Discussion over a movie adaptation has been in the works for decades, near since Rand first wrote it. However, while she was alive Rand was uncompromising with her vision and always demanded strict control over any script, something no producer or Hollywood exec was going to give her. Even after she died Objectivists still hoarded the story lest its purity be 'spoiled' by Hollywood elites. Eventually Aglialoro bought the rights, but numerous conflicts with writers and executives stalled the film from going anywhere. In the 2000s, there was talk of a two part series directed by Vadim Perelman, with people like Angelina Jolie apparently being considered to star. Finally, with the rights running out, in 2011 Aglialoro basically poured 20 million into this new film trilogy so he wouldn't lose them.

So what is there to say about this film?

Friday, 28 June 2019

Book Releases I'm Excited For

Summer and Fall of 2019 are so far looking like a good time to be alive for a bookworm like me. Why you ask? Well allow me to share with you some exciting releases coming out soon!

First up one of my favorite fantasy authors is continuing his long running fantasy series with:

A Little Hatred

Joe Abercrombie returns to the Circle of the World, picking up his stories some time after the events of his first trilogy The First Law and it's various outrigger novels. Now this story picks up years later following a new cast, but with some familiar faces in the background.

Set as the first in a new trilogy, this piece will be taking us back to the places we all know and love from Abercrombie. The Union, seething with new industrial technology and unrest, The North, as chaotic and war torn as ever. These new characters will be navigating the world so changed from how it first appeared in The Blade Itself and dealing with both old, and new, problems.

To avoid spoilers for the previous novels I will not mention much more here. But if you love gritty fantasy and some awesome action and characters, these are begging to be checked out. I highly recommend it.

Expect it September 17th 2019!

The Testaments

Ever since Margaret Atwood first published The Handmaid's Tale in 1985, people have been asking, what happens next? Many questions are left frustratingly unanswered by this book, and the postscript raises even further questions! With the run away success of the streaming series, and arguably the modern political climate, Atwood it seems felt compelled to write the answers to these questions.

Now in The Testaments we will get some (but if I had to guess, not all) of the answers we have been waiting years for. Whether you've been waiting since 1985 or (like me) the 2010s, this book is a no brainer for your shelves in 2019.

I think that the hook speaks for itself:
When the van door slammed on Offred's future at the end of The Handmaid's Tale, readers had no way of telling what lay ahead for her—freedom, prison or death.

With The Testaments, the wait is over.

Margaret Atwood's sequel picks up the story fifteen years after Offred stepped into the unknown, with the explosive testaments of three female narrators from Gilead.

"Dear Readers: Everything you've ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we've been living in." —Margaret Atwood
Expect it September 10th 2019!


Marko Kloos returns with a new science fiction series, the Palladium Wars! Taking place in a new solar system far from Earth and with an exciting new cast of characters, it will be handling some tough stuff. Losing a war, occupation, and the aftermath of a brutal conflict. We have new characters like Aden, a POW who was part of the Gretian military forces and who is now going home finding himself facing a conflict he thought he had left behind.

While I myself have only read the first chapter from the preview (and only seen the character of Aden) there promise to be many more interesting characters to indulge in. As one reviewer on goodreads put it:
As the Expanse nears the conclusion of its nine book arc fans are going to need something to look forward to, and this more than fills the bill.
Unlike his long running Frontlines series, this one will be told from the third person perspective with multiple points of view, giving us numerous characters to see these fascinating new worlds through. Having been a huge fan of Kloos's previous work, I'm stoked to get my hands on this one as it promises to be just the thing I need to keep my sci-fi kick going this year!

Expect it on July 1st, Canada Day! On this one at least, you don't have long to wait!

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

We Already Had a Mad Queen

Something like 20 million people have not missed that this last weekend was an end of an era. The show, based on the best selling book series A Song of Ice and Fire, which had run for the last seven years, finally ended. Game of Thrones reached its conclusion.

Now there has been something of a consensus that the ending was awful, and many fans were disappointed. So disappointed in fact they started writing a petition demanding a redo. As silly (and unlikely) as that is, I'm not here to harp on the ending of the show, nor judge how the writing went or what the show runners did. No, I'm merely here to remind people of one salient fact.

Despite what many want to say/claim, Game of Thrones has had a Mad Queen since Season 1. That queen was Cersei Lannister.

Let me be clear here, Cersei has been a villain since the very start of the show. Whether acquiescing to the hurling of a small child out a window, plotting to kill her husband, being complacent in the beating and humiliation of Sansa Stark, or merely by undermining her own brother at every turn, she has - without a doubt - been one of the villains central to the series.

Sure, in the last few seasons she may have had to match wits with the Tyrells, suffered some reverses at the hands of the Faith of the Seven, but through all that she got a zombie bodyguard, a torturer in chief, and murdered hundreds of people. All while either allowing her children to die or driving them to suicide.

As a villain, she was pretty evil is all I'm saying.

So, with many discussing the end of the series, talking about what should or shouldn't have happened, I just want to write this reminder that, no matter what you may think, the show has always had a Mad Queen, and another one was never really necessary.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Game of Thrones, Arya Stark and Mary Sues

The most recent episode of the long running and cultural milestone fantasy series Game of Thrones has, for many good and bad reasons, drawn lots of criticisms from fans. Much ink has already been spilled trying to justify or point out the flaws in the most recent episode. I think there are valid reasons for criticisms and invalid ones as well. However, let me just do a brief commentary on the show as a whole before diving in.

In case it isn't obvious SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!