Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

 

Released: February 5, 2016. Directed by: Burr Steers. Starring: Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston. Runtime: 1hr, 48 min.

When pride met prejudice in the 1813 Jane Austen novel, there were most certainly no zombies. Fast forward to the zombie craze in cinema over 200 years later, and the storyline is full of ‘em. Hey, at least PPZ sounds cool.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies concerns the two primary characters Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam D’Arcy, who are essentially the same as the original novel, but they both have a penchant for killing zombies.

In the film, Bennett likes the look of D’Arcy, smiling at him and D’Arcy observes that she is muscular but “not so much to look unfeminine.”

What ensues is a hell of a lot of hate between the two that somehow boils into romance. And there’s a hell of a lot of zombies that seemed to come after the Black Plague and they threaten to take over England in the early 1800s.

This version is based on the novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith (co-written by Jane Austen, who I guess came back from the dead to help write it), and it’s as mediocre as you might expect.

It aspires to be harmless entertainment in the likes of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but it really isn’t much fun.

The narratives are kind-of bland. Elizabeth still doesn’t like the idea of being pushed into a marriage without affection – but another reason is because she doesn’t want to trade a sword for a ring.

Women also can’t be well-trained and well-educated, it’s one or the other. Elizabeth also learned zombie attack training in China, instead of Japan where the higher social class studied their fighting skills.

The character sisters in this film, while they have a good chemistry, talk about their love lives over choreographed sword fights instead of just around a table – so that amps up the dialogue ever-so-slightly. The director, Burr Steers (who also penned the adapted screenplay) ensures to show a lot of skin and heaving bosoms of the lovely sisters.

It’s relatively new territory for Steers, but he does well with the fight scenes, but there still isn’t a lot of excitement in the big action set pieces. Still: It’s decent for a guy whose previous credits are directing Zac Efron in teen comedy 17 Again and the moody drama Charlie St. Cloud.

The dialogue is decidedly pretentious, trading something like, “Dude, the undead are rising,” to “the undead reach out from beneath the wet Earth.” Or something like that.

The costume, set and production designs are attractive, but usually come with the territory for period pieces.

Lena Headey has a turn as a sadistic Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who is a famed zombie slayer who sports an eye patch.

Her introduction is a brief, random 10-second thing of her screaming in victory on top of a pile of zombies with her eye newly missing. That is one way to assert that she is a dominant woman not to be crossed.

The exchanges between characters are forgettable and so is the chemistry between leads Lily James (Cinderella) and Sam Riley (Maleficent), even though they do fine separately.

The PG-13 zombie violence is a high point of the film – which isn’t saying much because it’s tame.

Many are coming for the zombies, but it’s very much a boring romance. It could be called a rom-zom, with the zom in zombies the only redeemer.

2 outta 5

300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

300 Rise of an EmpireReleased: March 7, 2014. Directed by: Noam Murro. Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey. Runtime: 102 min.

300: Rise of an Empire is a good sequel to Zack Snyder’s 2007 film, 300. There are sequels, prequels, and the odd sort-of meanwhile adventures movie, and this happens to be all three. It’s a prequel because it shows some things that started this war, and at the same time reminding us about it because a lot of people would forget after seven years; a meanwhile adventures because it shows what wars happen on the water while the 300 were fighting; and a direct sequel, following what happens after the mighty 300 fell. They have made quite an influence on this film. This follows the Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), who leads the charge against invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and Artemisia (Eva Green), merciless commander of the Persian navy.

While the first film followed the Spartan warriors, this film follows the Athenians, who are fighting for freedom – and represent a not-so savage Greek race, but still show their body armourless abs. Like I said, this film is largely a meanwhile adventures that takes place on the open seas, and it’s awesome watching war tactics happen on the water. The action sequences are spectacular, beautifully filmed, and have the same visual style as the first (not nearly as fresh seven years later, mind you) and a whole lot of gore. What else can one expect from the mind of Frank Miller? Who, by the way, is the authour of the graphic novel Xerxes upon which this is based. The film is better in 3D because one can easily tell where 3D is implied if one watches this in 2D. There’s splatters of blood, spears flying, and it just adds another great visual layer to the experience. At one point when blood splatters there’s even a smudge on the camera, where you’ll probably ask “Can someone wipe that off?”

The cinematography’s strong, even if there is a constant fogginess about it in the background, because of the mist on the water, and a mild glare when the sun is out. But it’s not noticeable when the fights are occurring, thankfully; probably because the editing is so impressive, and who would try to focus on the glare of it all when there are limbs and heads flying everywhere? I love the fighting tactics of the Greeks. The action scenes are definitely the best part of the film; and the drama is solid, as well.

There’s one particularly memorable scene where the leaders of each opposing country have a battle of power, deciding who will come out on top, so to speak. Sullivan Stapleton is adequate as a character who isn’t very compelling, but he’s great in combat sequences. I don’t think I’d ever rush out to see a film he’s leading, but he’s pretty good. Green is brilliant as her character, and she makes cruelty look sexy. She is just awesome in and out of battle, and a chilling villain at times, fuelled by vengeance. She wants to avenge her former king Darius (killed by Mistokles a few years prior at the Battle of Marathon), a motivation she shares with Xerxes, and to get back at the Greeks who killed her entire village, so she’s putting all Greeks in one category for that one. A lot of these characters are fuelled by vengeance, particularly Lena Headey’s Queen Gorga. She’s great, too, by the way. Xerxes gets a cool, origins story treatment told at the beginning, which is a real treat. I have a feeling the graphic novel is called  Xerxes because the villains have well-thought out development, but the hero’s development is light. Evidently, this works spectacularly as an action film, but it’s not strong in the ‘developing good protagonists’ department.

But this is an action movie, and that’s why you’re going to see this. We’ve seen some of this action before in the first one, but at least some of it feels fresh. It’s mostly just action on boats instead of land, so no phalanx formations this time around. The storyline isn’t nearly as strong as the first. It’s partly because the main character isn’t entirely compelling in his development, and this just isn’t as engaging as the great David and Goliath story that is the 300 Spartans. If you go in expecting more of the same with some fresh material at least in terms of fight location, this is a good time at the movies.

Score: 75/100

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

City of BonessReleased: August 21, 2013. Directed by: Harald Zwart. Starring: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan. Runtime: 130 min.

“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” is a bad, silly and largely unoriginal young adult adaptation. It takes components from many other young adult novels – classic love triangle, vampires, a bunch of mythical creatures, and the humans are called mundanes, a spin on muggles it seems – and mixes it into one. Authour Cassandra Clare, originally known for penning Harry Potter fan fiction (which caused a mighty roar of plagiarism), proves that really anyone can write a young adult novel. There’s one South Korean thriller called “Intruders” that includes a character who essentially says that, if a novel is published, it’s going to be read – even if it’s a bad book. Clare’s novel is half-decent, but this really doesn’t work on-screen. It’s as if the big screen amplifies some of its stupidity.

When her mother disappears, Clary Fray learns that she descends from a line of warriors – called Shadowhunters, who are half humans, half angels and apparently all British – who protect our world from demons. She joins forces with others like her and heads into a dangerous alternate New York called Downworld.

This is one of those forgettable movies where the main character learns their life hasn’t been entirely truthful, and then gets hit with a lot of information at once. Some of this information is told to her by an arrogant Shadowhunter named Jace Wayland (Jamie Campbell Bower), who she is first afraid of and then (not so gradually) takes a liking to him. Cue the love triangle with Jace and Simon (Robert Sheehan). Further information about this new world is revealed to her by the leader of the Institute, Hodge (Jared Harris), making this another young adult novel where an adult gets the best monologue. By the way, the Institute is a lovely building protected by a glamour that just makes it look like a dump to mundanes. Other characters living in the Institute are Alec Lightwood (Kevin Zegers), a bitter and hateful protagonist, and his sister Isabelle (Jemima West). This film is also a good vs. evil tale where the evil person is Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a power hungry idiot, who, if he gets all of the mortal instruments, could summon demons and rule the world.

"Next time... I want a buzz cut."

“Next time, I want a buzz cut.”

One can tell who the villains are because they have really bad haircuts (with the exception of Robert Maillet’s character). Kevin Durand looks like Friar Tuck in this movie, and his character is way dumb. In a scene involving him that makes this film feel as silly as a parody, is when he randomly humps a character’s leg while interrogating him. I shit you not, this happens in the movie. There’s some laughably bad CGI, shown in a demon octopus thing, and a few vampires. The good CGI is found in the Silent Brothers, who look nightmarish and cool. I think the only half-decent innovation made by screenwriter Jessica Postigo is that Mama Fray (Lena Headey, who, by the way is on-screen only a bit more than Schwarzenegger’s wife in “Batman & Robin”) drinks a coma potion before being abducted, and I don’t remember that happening in the novel. So she makes maybe one decent innovation of her own, but the bad innovations are just horribly bad. She introduces this cringe-worthy concept that classical music is kryptonite for demons, because Johann Sebastian Bach was a shadowhunter… Uh? Ludicrous is the another good word to describe that.

The writing is really bad because it’s often so cheesy. One of the cheesiest moments is during a kissing scene when sprinklers go off, while a Selena Gomez pop song plays over the soundtrack… Kill me. (Another strange score choice is during a fight scene where there is pop music that sounds more like disco music.) You know, on paper, this universe is pretty cool – but this sucks on-screen. The writing has ideas that are inconsistent, and the movie is way too long and uninteresting. Lily Collins helps bring people some enjoyment because she’s really quite decent as her character, and she’s attractive to boot. More on the writing before I move on; Jessica Postigo isn’t completely to blame for most aspects of the writing, because she it’s an adapted screenplay, novelist Cassandra Clare writes in one twist that is truly strange and utterly stupid, especially how it’s handled on screen.

The writing isn’t the only thing that makes this bad, the casting director Stephanie Corsalini only gets the casting right for a few characters. Lily Collins fits the description of Clary and is a good lead, and it helps that she’s very attractive; Kevin Zegers, Jared Harris and Robert Sheehan are good as their respective characters. They’re really the only good actors in this film; Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Valentine is hard to take seriously because he chews the crap out of the scenery.

Campbell Bower isn’t strong as his character, because he’s bland, can’t land a joke, and his seriousness makes his arrogant character downright boring. Alex Pettyfer would be a much better Jace. Matthew Davis (TV’s “The Vampire Diaries”) or Mark Pellegrino might make a better Luke, too. But the worst casting is Godfrey Gao as Magnus Bane, because he is a god-awful actor who should stick to modelling, and if memory serves me well, Bane is described as muscular in the books. Or maybe there’s a perception of him being muscular because of Bane in Batman. All I know for sure, this skinny Asian dude sucks as him. Anyway, the movie just sucks altogether, from the bad writing to the poor casting, and the boring plotting. The tonal choices also don’t make much sense, either; sometimes it takes itself too seriously, and sometimes it embraces campiness too much. Pick one, please. The only redeeming qualities are a few okay fight scenes and Collins’ attractiveness.

Score30/100

The Purge (2013)

The PurgeRelease Date: June 7, 2013

Director: James DeMonaco

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder

Runtime: 85 min

Tagline: Survive the Night

The year is 2022. America’s economy is flourishing, the unemployment rate is at 1%, and crime is almost non-existent. Except for one night a year; for twelve hours, all crime, including murder, is legal. The police cannot be called. I guess you could call them, but no one’s going to respond. The Annual Purge lets the American people release their inner beast, or let the tiger out of the cage, if you will.

This is the story of one family during the unforgettable Annual Purge of the eerily not-so-distant future, 2022. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) sells security systems for a living, and his family is living the American dream. They settle in for the night, all cozy in an apparently impenetrable fortress. Or so they think. The son, Charlie (Max Burkholder, that kid from Daddy Day Care who says, “I missed!”), still forming his own opinion on the Purge, assists a helpless man outside by letting him into his home. Yeah, things are going to turn out just hunky-dory for you when you do a stupid thing like that.

A small mob of scholarly young folk wearing masks comes to their door, asking for the so-called “grotesque swine” to be delivered to them within the hour, or they’ll come into the house and kill the entire family. Now, the Sandins must make a choice: Keep their morals intact and fight, or give up the stranger and become the monsters from whom they hide.

The Purge has one of the most intriguing horror movie concept in quite some time. The movie just cannot do much with it. It tries to make a point using a successful, horror/thriller formula. The thought-provoking movie challenges one’s inner morals. It isn’t more than that. It’s partly a social commentary of what America might one day never become, and a commentary on the human race’s obsession with violence; and the fact that these people would rather bash in someone’s head to let off steam, instead of hitting a watermelon or a piñata.

It’s also a rushed home invasion horror flick. None of these characters are particularly likeable. The daughter is really just doing her own thing. She’s way out of the loop, she doesn’t know what’s going around the house, which really doesn’t reflect well on the rest of the family. The father, James, is a security system salesman who’s rather unlikeable. He’s the one calling the shots for the family. Mary (Lena Headey) is easily the most likeable character, mostly because she has a strong hold on her morals, and she will frustrate you the least. The most frustrating character of all is Charlie. He is one of the stupidest characters you’ll ever see in a horror movie, and that’s saying something. He is still forming his opinion about The Purge (as he’s supposed to be around 14 years old), and he will frustrate you a countless amount of times, and taint one’s enjoyment. (Oh, if you shine a flashlight all over the room, no one will see the light from underneath the door. Idiot.) His character represents the minority of people, the ones who do not support The Purge. The morals of this family clashes with the apparent norm of this futuristic society, that it’s all right to commit all the crimes one can, because there really isn’t anyone stopping you. And it also brings about class warfare. If you can afford the protection, that’s better for you. It kind-of makes me think this mirrors the two-tier health care system, because the rich are better off. If one can afford the protection, they probably won’t die; if one can’t afford protection, they’re screwed.

The Purge party of scholars led by a character called Polite Leader (Rhys Wakefield sporting an eerie smile) only want their target for their Annual Purge, but now I’m thinking they just want to kill as many people as they can muster. Only seconds after requesting their target, they cut the power to the Sandin home; making it that much harder for the Sandin’s to actually acquire the intruder, whose character name is Bloody Stranger. There are a few other problems with this group… What’s the point of wearing masks if all crimes are legal? They must be trying to be scarier, since they really are only apparently smart hooligans. (See, there might be a point to it – because nerds with machetes really aren’t so terrifying. Right?) These weirdos are also knocking on all the windows, swinging on swings, making threatening motions, staring into the cameras all weird, making menacing faces… Because that isn’t distracting enough when you’re trying to find someone with the power out, right?

The film has a bland, 10-minute introduction; a 40-minute suspenseful build-up; and a meager 25-minute (or so) pay-off. The first ten minutes are bland, at best; mostly because there’s simply a lot of insincere smiling and traditional, “Have a safe night, okay?” There’s a large focus on the social commentary, and a miniature one on the actual home invasion. Movie-goers will be buying tickets to the home invasion aspect; and there’s hardly enough of it. Once one digs underneath its original and intriguing concept, they will find The Strangers set in the year 2022. The masks, the themes, the atmosphere, and some of the scenes are similar. It seems we have received a sequel to The Strangers after all. Beneath the surface, this plays out like every other horror movie. It’s a true disappointment.

The movie’s suspenseful, but rarely scary. It is billed as a sci-fi horror/thriller flick, not a suspense movie; so that’s a true issue. You’ll jump two or three times, maybe. The concept is scary, because you’d be anxious enough waiting the eight minutes for the cops to appear; and in this situation, they’re not going to show. The masks are creepy, but not nearly as creepy as an insane, well-dressed Polite Leader with a chilling grin. Rhys Wakefield rocks the role, and he’s certainly the most memorable thing about this low-budget horror flick. He seems ecstatic that he might be able to kill a whole family, and not just the party’s target. He’s very menacing. The only other thing that is likely to haunt your dreams is an eerie Chucky-esque doll/camera/radio-controlled car contraption controlled by Charlie. Other than those two things, most of the scary-ish things about this movie left my mind – and I slept like a baby. This hardly leaves a lasting impression, and since I’m a paranoid person; by God, horror movies need to keep me up at night to receive a great grade.

The concept helps make this memorable. The general movie only ends up being incredibly average. The movie also falls victim to countless, frustrating clichés. This will leave a lot of movie-goers disappointed. Rhys Wakefield is the only other thing that makes this worthwhile at all; but this is still the latest movie to be added to the Great Concept, Poor Execution category.

57/100