61 Days of Halloween: Survival of the Dead

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Before diving in and talking about the film itself there are two tales to tell about the actual viewing of this film which are rather relevant. First, being that even though this film is set in Delaware for much of it there were no showings on its opening weekend in either Wilmington or Newark, why? Which leads to the second tale: The film is available on Video on Demand through Verizon FiOS. Me and two friends viewed it at $7.99 for three as opposed to a movie theatre where that price would’ve been in excess of $30.

While some fans of Romero might be a little put off by this different approach to the zombie tale he takes, I love it personally. The zombie subgenre has been vastly overexposed in recent years, in fact, it’s likely that only vampires are more in vogue at the moment, for better or worse. Yet, amazingly Romero keeps finding new ground to tread and he does so in this film with incredible deftness and skill.

The main issue examined in this film is how to handle the overwhelming amounts of the undead that exist. This debate is examined through the guise of a family feud. The opposing sides of the quarrel is kill them on sight versus capturing and trying to rehabilitate them to eat other game. As is frequently the case Zombieism is seen as a disease so it’s a logical question to ask: why is this the only disease in which summary execution is the only remedy?

Also vastly improved in this installment is the dialogue and the script overall. In fact, here Romero seems to have addressed one of my main problems with Diary of the Dead head on and leaves his social commentary only in the voice-over narration, and, as expected, that works brilliantly and adds poignancy to the tale and allows for a subtlety in this film, which is rarely seen in his works.

Those who admire and/or frequently view horror films develop quite a high tolerance for incompetent thespians, however, overall this cast may be the strongest he’s had, seeing as there is no one who makes you want to run smack into a brick wall while screaming. The standouts aren’t many, but again just the fact that there are standouts is great, but there are three: Richard Fitzpatrick as Seamus Muldoon, Kathleen Munroe and Devon Bostick, seen earlier this year as Roderick the bullying older brother in Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Not that everything is absolutely sparkling about this film. The cinematography, for example, is not always on. It has in it the kind of video images that show you why 35 mm film stock is still king. The framing is never terrible and the lighting is never godawful but a lot of it is awfully video. Based on what your tolerance is it may have a great effect on your view of the film. Some of the CG is surprisingly good some tries to do things beyond the capabilities of the film and is comedic, at times intentionally.

In this film, there is also an awesome dovetail into Diary of the Dead as one of the minor characters carries over and we see where their stories intertwine. It is a great and fascinating storytelling technique not employed often enough in film. The fact that Romero chose to do it and executed it so well is the mark of a true auteur.

Another thing this film has going in its favor is an open ending- to an extent. Open endings are very hit and miss. Some work brilliantly and some make you wish they had sewn it up. Considering the narrative that proceeded the climax a neat ending just wouldn’t have worked at all. The reason the openness of the ending is qualified is because while it does give you a verdict on whose assumption about the undead was correct, Muldoon or O’Flynn, it puts a twist on it that you’re left thinking about. All this is done visually reinforcing the more subtle nature of this work as opposed to his others.

Survival of the Dead is definitely Romero taking his series in a different direction and if he can keep it this interesting I am definitely all for him continuing the series, as he has stated he intends to.

8/10

Review- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Penélope Cruz, Johnny Depp and Ian McShane in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Disney)

The Pirates of the Caribbean series has, in my estimation, run the gamut from being rather enjoyable to creating the worst film of a given year. What has been consistent, and you may even go so far as to say pervasive, in the series is that there has never been one that was the fullest possible realization of the narrative presented. Even in the enjoyable ones there have been very blatant issues holding it back. While being one of the better ones this installment is no different.

The beginning of the film, ironically when set on dry land, is quite entertaining. Full of action, humor and even a bit of intrigue. The former being in the guise of who is assuming Sparrow’s identity. It keeps a lot of this enjoyable energy throughout but its grasp on it becomes slippery as the film progresses.

One minor element, which I thought would be (and was thankful it was not) a point of elaboration, was the zombies. They were just sort of there, which is rare for zombies and I was thankful that it’s an affectation and not a distraction.

Speaking of affectations we come to Johnny Depp, who perhaps has more affectations in this character than in any other. Depending on the plot this character has been very hit or miss. The enjoyability of Jack Sparrow walks a tightrope in the sauntering, off-balance way Depp himself walks as Sparrow. Sometimes the narrative supports his goofiness and others it loses it edge and plummets: here it’s funny.

As a matter of fact a lot of the film is funny. The humor keeps this film ticking even through some of its major problems, which will be dealt with shortly. There is enough peppered in to keep it interesting for even the spectator most inclined to be disinterested.

There are many characters in the film and that does become a bit of a problem as a simple tale gets convoluted with a bit too much intrigue. The constant need the film feels to keep tabs on all them (at least for a time) makes it drag despite the comedic efforts of some.

This is just one of the factors that lead to the running time to balloon and the pace to suffer. The other being the romantic subplot which really comes from Philip (Sam Clafin), the abducted cleric who doesn’t serve a purpose other than to involve himself in this romance with the mermaid (Astrid-Berges-Frisbey) and inflate the running time. The relationship between Sparrow and Angelica (Penélope Cruz) is more love/hate or antagonistic than a proper love story and their fate is predictable after a certain point.

Oh, yeah the 3D. Um, don’t bother. Had I not seen it abroad for an absurdly cheaper price than I could watch it here I would’ve been peeved about paying 3D prices for that; rather ineffectual.

Overall, I did enjoy the film despite dreading it going in. So it gets a pass.

6/10