Night of the Living Dead (1968) Review

I am completely exhausted of the zombie craze, and it’s not an overstatement to suggest that others are too. For years the zombie has become increasingly embedded in our culture, with an influx of television shows, movies, and video games all about them. Many use the same plot formula and clichés, while others try to add their own blend of creativity to this oddly wide-open genre.

In the wake of the zombie craze, I feel it’s important to go back and understand where this obsession with the undead first started, or at least when it became popular.

Night of the Living Dead wasn’t the first film to use a zombie. In fact, I remember several zombie-ish films like White Zombie and The Last Man on Earth. Despite that, Night of the Living Dead did give us the modern interpretation of a zombie. They’re actually not even called zombies in the film, rather they are referred to as “ghouls”.

Released in 1968 and directed by George Romero, Night of the Living Dead is known for its explicit gore and grainy realism. It stars Judith O’Dea and Duane Jones as survivors immediately thrusted into a random apocalyptic event. The undead have risen, and our everyday heroes are trapped inside a small farmhouse surrounded by cannibalistic evil. Who will live and who will die?

Our characters aren’t completely void of intelligence. They argue and squabble over the situation they’re in, and what the best course of action will be for the group. Should they stay and barricade the house, or take their chances outside on the road? At one point the argument goes so far it results in a woman being punched directly in the face (not unprovoked, of course). The characters all think for themselves, and therefore feel like real people trapped in a real situation.

Some sequences are leisurely paced by today’s standards, yet there’s a certain level of charm to this I admire. You must remember that Night of the Living Dead established many of the zombie tropes and clichés that we take for granted. How a zombie behaves, how to kill one, and even how to protect yourself; all common zombie movie scenarios that Night of the Living Dead pioneered. In other undead films these aspects are all assumed and therefore glossed over, whereas here everything comes as a slow realization that must be explained through exposition and televised emergency broadcasts. All of which adds to the terrors of the unknown.

The most uncomfortable, disturbing scene is when the ghouls pull the mangled guts and remains of a couple from a truck. The ghouls then precede to hunch over and gruesomely devour what’s left of them. Apparently, Romero obtained large quantities of real meat from the local butcher for the specific scene, and its authenticity pays off. This moment (as well as many other tense scenes) is accompanied by vile, minimalist sound effects that really drive home the horrors.

Each of Romero’s zombie flicks have an overarching theme that to some extent lingers over the film. Like American consumerism in Dawn of the Dead or the birth of internet culture in Diary of the Dead, relevant social satire persisted (and to varying effects).

In Night of the Living Dead, it’s all about race. To a modern viewer it would not immediately appear so, at least not until the surprise ending that’s as tragic as it is shocking. To those who saw Night of the Living Dead back in 1968, the racial message was much clearer and more obvious. Casting Duane Jones as a Black man in the leading role was revolutionary and bold for the time, and his unjust demise is rightfully upsetting. My own realization of the film’s true intents wasn’t until the credits, where we see Duane dragged out of the house by hooks, and his limp body thrown onto a bonfire.

Some people retrospectively call Night of the Living Dead boring, but I believe it maintains its spot as one of best, and most important horror films to date. I honestly find myself much more scared of it now than when I was younger, and I think that’s attributed to my appreciation of the genre. Night of the Living Dead utilizes its unique plot and style, mixes it with creepy sights and sounds, and gives the audience one truly frightening experience. It’s a film I continue to go back to time and time again and gain a little more respect for it with each viewing.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Super Troopers 2 Review

After almost twenty years since the release of the cult film Super Troopers, audiences decided they needed another dose of their favorite Highway Patrolman. Funded through a very successful Indiegogo campaign, Super Troopers returns for more hijinks, drugs, and ridiculous shenanigans.

Having been fired from the Vermont Highway Patrol for previous mischief, our incompetent heroes are given a shot at redemption when they’re recruited to police a small town along a newly distinguished Canadian-U.S. border. Receiving a not so warm welcome from the Canadian citizens and law enforcement (whom they call the Mounties) alike, the troopers learn that they’re going to have to play hardball with their stubborn, Canuck neighbors. All the while uncovering a smuggling operation using their unconventional policing methods. Starring Jay Chandrasekhar (who also directed the film), Steve Lemme, and Kevin Heffernan, Super Troopers 2 sets out to shock and awe with its carefree humor and frat boy mentality.

The troopers themselves are overall an enjoyable group of guys to watch interact. The actors play the characters well and have an odd charm to them, despite their bizarre behavior. Their immature behavior is frequently so extreme that it’s almost an expression of childlike innocence unfolding onscreen.

The proverbial style of humor used in Super Troopers often felt too off the cuff and unscripted, with many scenes exhausting jokes that weren’t even funny to start. On top of this, the debauchery-filled humor was so effectively distasteful that several people walked out before the halfway point, an impressive exercise in audience alienation.

Yet, maybe therein lies the mass appeal of Super Troopers. People love the randomness of the goofy antics that elicit a mix of laughter and irritation. It doesn’t always have to floor you with clever wit, it just needs to be genuine. And I firmly believe that those involved in Super Troopers 2 are genuinely funny individuals that set out to make a crowd-pleasing sequel.

This doesn’t excuse the numerous attempts at humor that fall flat, which were accompanied by awkward silences in the theater. Nor does it excuse the half-baked plot and villains we’ve seen time and time again. And at the same time, it gave me a newfound appreciation for the audiences who have a knack for this sort of goofball movie. Super Troopers 2 isn’t the highest of brow comedy, but it knows exactly what it is and will surely please its intended audience. An admirable feat that I find it hard to argue with.

The Verdict: C+

-Zachary Flint

Tomb Raider Review: The Last Crusade Meets National Treasures

There has never been a good video game movie. Never. Period. Not a single one. Super Mario Bros., Double Dragon, and House of the Dead, all failures.

Time and time again audiences get pumped up for the next video game adaptation, only to be entirely disappointed by the end product. Some try to defend such films like Assassin’s Creed and Resident Evil, only for their opinions to be muffled by the multitudes of disgruntled moviegoers calling BS. It’s hard to blame the stubborn dissonance of the few, as making one decent adaptation of a video game isn’t asking for much. Yet, the closest we ever got to something good was Mortal Kombat in 1995, and even that was off the mark.

In many respects, I believe Tomb Raider to have finally broken this curse, giving audiences something entertaining and worthwhile to watch.

The film follows a young Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), an adventurous individual whose father (Dominic West) mysteriously disappeared years ago. Lara embarks on a treacherous journey to his last known whereabouts, a mythical Japanese island with an ancient (and powerful) tomb located on it. Upon arrival, she discovers a secret organization already there, looking for the tomb to use it for evil. Lara must now use her bravery to outsmart the organization and venture into unknown territories.

Tomb Raider is like the goofy, hilariously inept version of Indiana Jones. Take the plot of The Last Crusade, sprinkle in some National Treasures, and voilà! A perfect Tomb Raider recipe. Equipped with confusing ancient booby traps, numerous gun fights, and questionable logic/deductions, Tomb Raider is thrillingly incompetent in the sincerest of ways. It knows its far-fetched, so why not have some fun with it?

Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft is the most respectable and serious part of the film, and this isn’t to be taken lightly. Her performance makes the movie what it is and gives it some real credibility. Any scene involving Vikander I was following along intently and very invested.

Her character of Croft has a somber and scarred side to her, but also an adventurous and carefree one. Her actions frequently reminded me of Indiana Jones, in that she wasn’t always trying to be some macho action hero. If somebody pulls a knife on her when she’s unarmed, she runs away! Croft doesn’t win every fistfight, in fact she loses about half the time! Scenes like these make her behaviors more relatable and comical for the audience.

The last five minutes or so, dedicated to setting up a potential sequel, didn’t sit quite well with me. It seemed hastily rushed and forced at the end, with no real buildup to what the film was leading audiences to assume. Tagging on something so trivial when the real adventure is already over was trite and unnecessary, and to conclude on it was disappointing.

Nonetheless Tomb Raider was exactly what it needed to be and precisely what it set out to be. Lots of big action movie fun. It has plenty of blunders and illogical moments, as well as some hokey acting and cheesy lines, but the overall experience remains untainted. I enjoyed myself and the time I spent watching Tomb Raider, and I hope others can share in that feeling too.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

A Wrinkle in Time Review: A Wrinkled Mess

Seeing as Disney didn’t get the memo sent by the writers of Tomorrowland, that when you write a film that’s too universally idealistic and preachy it loses any sense of realism to viewers, they made the same mistake again. This time with the fantasy/adventure movie A Wrinkle in Time.

The film stars Storm Reid as Meg Murry, a self-conscious young girl whose scientist dad (Chris Pine) went missing four years ago (after all, it is a Disney movie, at least one parent must be gone or dead). Her father had been working on something called the tesseract (no he’s not an Avenger) that allows you to travel through space and time. And through a string of events I still don’t fully understand, Meg meets three astral travelers (played by Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling) who inform her that her father is alive and needs her help on a distant planet. Meg then goes with the three travelers on a journey of a lifetime to save her father and bring him home.

Sadly for A Wrinkle in Time, the only halfway decent performance came from Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who was barely even in the movie. Everyone else was either mugging for the camera or just acted too ridiculous to take seriously. I refuse to believe the actors and actresses are solely to blame, as the writing hardly served as a platform to work off. Most of these characters didn’t have defined personalities or motivations, and some didn’t have any reason being in the film at all.

Aside from the main cast, characters seemed to drop in and out of the film haphazardly, with no driving force moving the plot forward. Meg’s younger brother Charles Wallace is who introduces us to the three traveling Mrs., yet it’s never explained how he knows who they are or where he met them in the first place. And while information like this is pertinent to convey to the audience, they choose to instead spell out the obvious with on the nose backstory’s that we already understood.

Even the special effects, which are usually showcased in these kinds of fantasy/adventure movies, were subdued and hidden. It was as if they were so embarrassed of the end product that they purposely held back on the FX when they stitched the film together in post. Moments that should’ve been visually awe-inspiring and magical were incredibly lackluster and unconvincing.

One of A Wrinkle in Times many morals it tries to convince the audience is that your flaws and imperfections make you who you are, and that everyone has their faults. A good, genuine message for kids. However, the protagonist Meg is written too perfectly and altruistically to the point where she has no real character flaws herself. All this making her an impossible person to relate to.

The other messages have the same effect. You create this oversimplified world where all the woes of humanity are boiled down into this one evil entity. It goes so overboard in so many ways that I couldn’t take any of it seriously. I think kids would appreciate a simpler, well thought out message (like the one about self-esteem and self-efficacy) over some ham-fisted hippie morals.

I can’t really tell whether A Wrinkle in Time’s themes were incompetently well intentioned or hippy-dippy propaganda meant to manipulate kids rather than inspire them. Regardless of the intent, the film was a boring mess of half-baked ideas and lamely written characters. I’d like to conclude this review with a little quote of my own for Mrs. Who to use:

“This movie sucks.”

-Zachary Flint, American

The Verdict: D-

The Strangers: Prey at Night Review

The Strangers: Prey at Night is an earnest attempt to make a fun and effective horror flick, unlike many cheap studio products of our time. Sadly this genuine attempt at scares is thwarted many a time by the lack of understanding of how to successfully craft a movie.

You know the story. A family wrapped in turmoil is trapped in an isolated trailer park with three masked individuals hunting them down just for the thrill of it. The family proceeds to fight for their lives for approximately one hour, all of this resulting in a deadly bloodbath.

The cast was well-picked and gave strong performances all around, despite portraying the stereotype characters that audiences stopped caring about years ago. And of its precious eighty-five minute runtime, the film spends an incredible amount of time developing these characters. While characterization scenes like this are often throwaways for scary movies, here it’s refreshingly purposeful.

Many scenes within The Strangers served no purpose whatsoever, and many shots lingered for way too long on nothing of importance. Instead of being intense and scary, it was more a scattershot of scenes that were either too fast-paced or excruciatingly slow.

Not helping The Strangers odd situation was its soundtrack, which was the very definition of a hot mess. Using a mixture of 80’s hits and original score, the music was so bombastic and in your face that it kills any sort of mood or style that the film was trying to establish. The opening title card has this very eerie music and tone to it that I found intriguing, but then the film cuts to a suburban family packing up their belongings to go on a trip and yet continues playing that creepy music. Where’s the consistency? What sense does that make? And this isn’t just a minor forgettable instance, as the film is full of these inconsistencies. Almost every scene where a person is killed or stabbed has an upbeat tune playing loudly in the background, which was so on the nose it became off-putting. The upbeat music contrasts with the frightening imagery, we get it.

The Strangers still leaves us on a strong note, going the extra mile into territories of excess and outrageousness, including a rather strange nod towards The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the end. It certainly off-sets the preestablished “realism” the film had, but nonetheless it was still one of the more exciting bits it had to offer.

The Strangers: Prey at Night is the most frustrating kind of film, one that has lots of misguided potential. It wants to be a slow-moving, tense horror film with characters the audience will care about; yet has a loud soundtrack, uneven pacing, and an ending that, while enjoyable, goes too far off the rails for the mood it was trying to set. The filmmakers clearly confused an excessive soundtrack an unnecessary lingering shots with suspense. And in a film like this, that’s an unfortunate concept to mix up.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint

Death Wish Review

Director Eli Roth takes the reins of a rather untimely (and oddly surprising) Death Wish remake.

The movie stars Bruce Willis as Dr. Paul Kersey, an ER surgeon whose wife is killed in a burglary, with his daughter put into a coma. Filled with anger and turmoil, Kersey decides to take the law into his own hands, bringing vigilante justice into the community.

I quite enjoyed the character of Paul Kersey, who goes from a reasonable, passive man to full on vigilante. Through experiencing tragedy and observing the injustices around him, it’s interesting seeing Kersey transition into this state of violence.

When came to Willis’ performance however, I found him to be both passionless and stilted, just like his past twenty or so films. It’s sad to think that the man who starred in Die Hard, one of the best action movies ever, has completely given up on acting. And yet, here we are, the remake of Death Wish. Willis puts zero effort into the role, therefore making it hard to derive any sort of connection with the character. His straight-laced, relatively boring character doesn’t even work on a machismo action hero level, making him terrible for the part on all fronts.

The antagonists are the usual 80’s villain archetypes, nothing more than forgettable thugs. They don’t even have the guy, the one distinct main villain that everyone remembers, kind of like Hans Gruber in Die Hard. I can’t remember a single detail about any of these random goons, other than that they get picked off by Bruce Willis (whose also an archetype) one by one.

I’ve seen many critics pan Death Wish for its portrayal of gun violence and gun ownership in a jokey, humorous tone. Critics have also boldly labeled it as fascist and offensive. And while Death Wish was undoubtedly released at a sensitive and crucial point for gun legislation in the U.S., to pan this film based solely off this aspect is too childish and asinine for my taste. I also think that labeling the film as fascist is too easy, and shows a severe lack in the understanding of what that political philosophy entails.

Roth’s seemingly “gun-rights propaganda” flick can’t be taken at face value, as many of his films have a sardonic underpinning anyways. I actually found this to be one of the more fascinating parts of Death Wish. The fact that Willis’ character makes this transformation from peaceful individual into a killing machine was again very intriguing.

This doesn’t excuse the filmmaking, which was poorly paced and had a certain amount of predictability to it. Even the surprisingly few fight sequences that Death Wish had to offer were shot incoherently, which is surely a drawback for action fans.

Setting aside the complexities of our main protagonist, all the actors seem like they’re playing generic stereotypes we’ve seen hundreds of times before, and I’m afraid we’ll see hundreds of times again. And I think that’s the best word to use in the case of Death Wish, generic. Death Wish was far from a dreadful film and felt more along the lines of a generic, 80’s action movie tribute, and I think it should be viewed as such.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint

Red Sparrow Review: A Muddled Spy Drama

Famed Hollywood actress Jennifer Lawrence returns to the screen with her Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence in one of the harder to follow dramas of recent past.

Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a ballerina dancer who suffers a terrible injury that puts her and her mother’s fate in jeopardy. As a last resort, Dominika is enlisted in Sparrow school, a Russian intelligence organization that trains individuals to use their bodies as weapons against enemies of the state. After completing her grueling training process, Dominika is assigned to extract information from a CIA agent named Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). But when he convinces Dominika that he’s the only true person she can trust, she begins to question her allegiances to Russia.

Red Sparrow contains an abundance of sexually explicit content that will certainly shock viewers, as I believe gratuity was the intention. I also believe it was well meaning, serving the general themes of sexual servitude and what it means to give yourself away. I thought this was a vastly interesting concept to dive into, especially given the strong performance of Jennifer Lawrence and the unique storyline.

And for the first hour or so, they do a lot with these ideas. The pacing is fast and keeps the audience on its toes, and we learn much about our protagonist and the horrifying things she’s put through by Russian Intelligence.

But slowly and surely the plot of Red Sparrow starts to meander about, and more or less turns into your run-of-the-mill spy movie. Complete with too many characters overstuffed into the story, tediously predictable scenes, and generally just too many things going on to stay focused.

This detrimentally harms the messages and themes of the film, which are stretched so thin by the elongated plot that it all becomes quite skewed and confusing. When the film finally ends you can’t remember what it was all about in the first place. The motives of our protagonist and the moral messages/takeaways are so ever-changing that I can’t confidently state what Red Sparrow was trying to convey. Is it a film on sexual servitude, current political corruption and ideals, or just a dramatic spy movie overindulging in offensive gratuity? Maybe it’s none of those things, or maybe it’s not, I think the audience deserves to know.

The Verdict: C+

-Zachary Flint