Friday, March 19, 2004
Film: Zombie renaissance
Dawn of the Dead
The first thing you have to do when you see Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead is forget all about George Romero's 1978 original. This version works on its own terms. The second thing is don't be late. The first 10 minutes make up one of the most exciting beginnings in horror film history.
James Gunn's script is one big chase. The idyllic suburban life of a young nurse (Sarah Polley) is shattered when she wakes up to witness a female child zombie biting the neck of her husband. Pretty soon, of course, the dead husband is going after the neck of his wife. She escapes the house, only to find the streets in chaos. She hooks up with a small band of survivors who hole up in a mall. Gunn doesn't try to get arty; he keeps the action moving, and minimizes the metaphors about the plight of the human race. His script has a surprising amount of genuine wit. (Favorite line: "Is he dead?" Answer: "Well...deadish.")
First-time feature film director Snyder's experience in commercials gives this slam-bam pop entertainment just the sort of glitzy neurotic editing it needs. The visual events keep topping each other.
The violence is graphic, but it's a huge part of the fun. You don't take the mutilations and decapitations and dismemberments seriously. Snyder has found the right tone for this boogeyman movie in that he encourages us to care more about the wonder of visual effects than the characters. That's smart, because if we really cared about these people, we wouldn't enjoy watching them get ripped apart.
The cast is solid, though of course, they are not the real stars of this film.
Those looking for anything groundbreaking will be disappointed. This is a movie that wants to do nothing more than scare you. Try to see it with a full audience. You'll enjoy the shrieks.--Anthony Del Valle
Try as she might, Angelina Jolie just cannot shake off the Oscar curse. Having parlayed her Hollywood pedigree into an Academy Award for Girl, Interrupted, the "Gia" star has made one dismal farrago after another, from the unforgivable Original Sin, via the video game-shallow Tomb Raider flicks to the well-meaning but melodramatic Beyond Borders.
In Taking Lives, Jon Voight's daughter makes another attempt at thespian credibility, as an FBI profiler who alienates Quebecois cops Olivier Martinez and Jean-Hugues Anglade when their boss, Tchéky Karyo, enlists her aid in hunting a murderous, garotte-wielding identity thief.
Although Angelina does her best to tone down her sexpot demeanor by reciting her lines in a dull monotone, the comparison with Jodie Foster is invidious but inevitable: Jolie's Special Agent Illeana Scott is no Clarice Starling.
And though D.J. Caruso begins his wannabe noir with a suitably grisly murder, and includes one really scary moment 45 minutes later, Jon Bokenkamp's script, based on Michael Pye's novel, resorts to the most unlikely twists, as the killer stays teasingly one step ahead of his pursuers.
Ethan Hawke is suitably off-the-wall as a key witness who admits he's an unlikely love interest (because "the nice guy never gets the girl,") and Gena Rowlands is even creepier. But not even they can rescue a plot this preposterous.
Caruso, who made his mark with 2002's edgy murder-and-revenge drama The Salton Sea, mistakes irritating affectations for atmosphere. His repeated closeups of Angelina's all-seeing, positively Sherlock Holmesian eye, low-angled shots of characters with buildings looming menacingly behind them and shaky chase-scene camerawork ultimately offer neither style nor substance.
With Philip Glass' monotonous score, cinematographer Amir Mokri's relentlessly dark shots of old Montreal (which unaccountably seems to have annexed Quebec City's distinctive skyline) and a ludicrous ending only accentuating the B-movie feel, it's hard to suppress the churlish thought that one scare does not make a scary movie.--Anthony Allison