Film review – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

It is a truth universally acknowledged that I have been excited for this movie to be released since I first heard about the project.

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Despite the sarcastic exterior, I have a real soft spot for Jane Austen’s society stories. And you all know how I feel about zombies. So when the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies novel adaptation was published, my inner romantic and inner apocalypse enthusiast finally found some common ground.

Seth Grahame-Smith did an extraordinary job of taking the source text and reimagining it as taking place in the same period in time – except with zombies. The women still have to navigate the same social minefield, but they also have to navigate hordes of the undead as well. They have to figure out which type of weapon is both efficient at decapitating zombies and also ladylike enough to wear under a dress. They have to balance their training as warriors with the expectation that they will eventually be wives.

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It is an incredibly novel premise, and something I had yet to see done before he wrote it. We may not live under the same social constraints of Austen’s time, but there are still a lot of deeply ingrained expectations of women-of-a-certain-age. In my eyes, the addition of zombies to a marriage plot is the ultimate mic drop.

As a fan of the genre, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the portrayal of women in zombie movies is often as objects one step up the chain from the undead. So, the idea of seeing a squad of Regency era sisters smashing the skulls of “unmentionables” and blowing the minds of society snobs – on the big screen – was particularly tantalizing.

The Bennet sisters give off a no-nonsense vibe, sparring with each other at home and fighting alongside each other when the need arises. When their backs are up against a wall, they play it cool.

Though they perhaps play it a little too cool, a little too disaffected. Jane could have been sweeter; Elizabeth could have been more impertinent; Lydia could have been more flighty; Mary could have been more than a just a pair of glasses; Kitty could have been… more (I only knew her character was her because she was the fifth).

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All of that is neither here nor there, though. Far be it from me to give notes to an actress on her lady-warrior balance. The fight scenes were satisfying, but short. The romance scenes were charming enough, but lacked any fire. The standout cast member, without a doubt, was Matt Smith in the roll of simpering nitwit Mr. Collins.

The reason I enjoyed Smith’s performance above the others was the same reason, ultimately, I feel the movie didn’t fully reach its potential. He understood the wry humor of all of this – of the business of marriage, of Regency ladies fighting zombies, of zombies even as a general concept – and that understanding translated into the shallowest character of the book showing the most depth on screen.

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I could have done with about 400% more humor in this movie. It was there from time to time in a passing line or a little gesture, but it was nowhere near as sharp as either author’s text.

When I first walked out of the theater, I felt like they had made an admirable attempt at translating the adapted text to the screen. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt like something wasn’t sitting right with me. Not having read it since it was first published, I went back and thumbed through the book and figured out what felt so… off.

They added an entirely new story to the movie. Not new like adding zombies to Austen, but new like adding an entire subplot that wasn’t originally added when he added zombies to Austen. Without getting into spoiler territory, I’ll just say that Wickham goes in a completely different direction from the book and the movie is poorer for it.

It boils down to not having a clear audience in mind. In the Venn diagram of rabid Austen fans and rabid zombie fans, there is a limited overlap (of which I happen to be a member). Yes, the book sold well when it was released. However, I think a lot of that was due to the novelty that has since worn off with subsequent adaptation projects.

It seems as though, in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience, they amped up the action in all the wrong places. They added elements that were unnecessary. They flattened out a lot of character attributes.

Yet despite all that, I still believe if you enjoyed the book you’re going to enjoy the movie. It’s not as good as it could have been, but it’s something different and the fact that it was such a struggle to get it made is telling of why we need more movies like this:

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2.5/5

Film review – Love in the Time of Monsters

Cheesy themed vacation destination + toxic waste = zombies in Bigfoot outfits = The key to my heart.

The story centers around Marla as she reluctantly accompanies her sister Carla to surprise her fiancé after she finds out he’s taken a summer job at a gimmicky lodge. When they come into contact with toxic water (a common zombie theme) the costumed employees go a bit off script.

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In the event of a zombie swarm, the only thing I can think of that is worse than being turned is it happening while wearing a ridiculous uniform. I mean, if I’m going to be an undead menace I would at least like to be a scary undead menace. But when it comes to watching a zombie swarm, it’s pretty satisfying seeing the disgruntled Bigfoot impersonators of Uncle Slavko’s All-American Family Lodge develop a taste for human flesh.

The film has all your classic horror archetypes, but treats them in a refreshingly new way. The weird bearded guy who lives nearby knows he’s the kooky neighbor. When some of the others take refuge with him and tell him to call the police, he sort of sighs and says, “Kid, I’m an angry old man who lives in a shack in the woods. I don’t have a phone.”

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“Since when is this a democracy?” “Since America.”

When the group of survivors is mulling over their options for getting the lodge doctor (who, despite the chaos, is still dressed as Abe Lincoln) the samples he needs to cobble together a cure, the only non-zombie Bigfoot left gets exasperated, shouting, “You’re going to kill more people than you’re going to save! That’s how these things always go!”

I’ll let you guess whether or not he makes it through to the end.

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Love in the Time of Monsters is campy horror at its finest – Anchored by skilled veteran actors, punctuated by snappy dialogue, and propelled forward on continuous waves of gore. It’s more Club Dread than Camp Crystal Lake, with some of the characters coming across a bit over-the-top, but still enjoyable to watch.

There’s brief nudity, but it’s amusing nudity involving a menagerie of zombie woodland creatures and a lot of blood. There’s a rousing battle cry of “We love family vacations!” There’s an all-you-can-eat pie buffet. There’s this guy.

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I generally use half-star ratings, but I’m going to break with tradition here and give it a score of 3.75/5 stars to give it a bit of a bump up in my comedic horror section.

The film is available both on DVD and VOD, though bonus features are only on the physical copy. I watched it VOD, but I’d be intrigued to see just how much bonus content is on the DVD and whether or not it makes it worth paying a few more dollars.

Film review – Zombeavers

Last night’s Season 2 premiere of Z Nation spread the camp on pretty thick (just the way I like it). Nuclear fallout? Little House on the Zombie Prairie? Undead strippers? Using zombies as a shuffling hat rack? And that’s just a fraction of what they managed to pack into an hour.

So, when I woke up this morning to a dreary, rainy day, I was inspired to tackle another bit of zombie camp that’s been sitting in my Netflix queue. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Zombeavers:

For starters, I love comedic horror with a passion. My favorite kind of comedic horror is the particular brand of meta horror perfected by the late great Wes Craven (I’m watching Scream right now as I write this). My second favorite kind is comedic horror that is more self-aware than meta, and Zombeavers definitely falls squarely in this category. They know they’re campy, they’re proud they’re campy, and they’re just going to keep dialing up that camp-o-meter until they break off the knob.

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The premise of the movie is fairly classic as far as zombie plots go – toxic waste accidentally falls off a truck, resulting in the creation of zombies that terrorize hormone-driven coeds in a remote cabin. Except the truck accident is a totally deadpan chuckle-fest, the zombies are beavers, the coeds are comically sex-crazed and the remote cabin is adjacent to a second remote cabin where a charmingly foul-mouthed, totally hip-to-the-kids older couple lives.

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Yes, there is gratuitous nudity. Yes, there are ample beaver jokes. But there’s also genuine hilarity in all of it. When the girls go swimming, one of them peels her top off and revels in baring her chest. Later on, one of the dude bros gets maimed by a zombie beaver, and they need to make a tourniquet. The same girl goes to take off her bikini top and her boyfriend dismisses her, saying, “No, that’s too small” and grabs her dog’s life vest instead.

It’s goofy, the special effects come in just above low-budget level, the zombeaver attacks are amusing to watch, and the characters develop in (very) unexpected ways. Perhaps what I liked most about Zombeavers is how the film thumbs its nose at the tired final girl trope. That and how the beavers were intelligent enough to chew through all the phone lines (those lovable scamps!), which were of course the only means of communication since the cabins were too remote for cell signal.

All in all it’s an enjoyable watch and the perfect diversion for a rainy Saturday. My verdict: 3.5/5 stars

Snow day sampler

A three-day weekend (thanks, dead presidents) has now turned into a four-day weekend (thanks, snow), which means I’ve had lots of time to write. Just kidding, it means I’ve plowed through my Netflix watch list and clicked my way through at least 60% of the internet. It’s possible I also watched the first two Twilight movies on ABC Family while drinking bourbon and questioning my life choices.

So, in no particular order, here’s a collection of things I’ve spent time on.

Stuffing food in my face

I promise, it tastes better than it looks.

I promise, it tastes better than it looks.

I’ve been messing around in the kitchen, and come up with a few gems. In trying to make myself a not sad Valentine’s Day dinner for one, I somehow thought microwave cooking was the answer. I took my recipe for quinoa flakes, swapped the milk for chicken broth, and added celery salt, garlic, parsley, Parmesan and tuna.

On the flavor scale I’d give it a 7 – nice and creamy, kind of like risotto, all in all an enjoyable meal. On the sadness scale I’d give it a 9, but this is probably because I ate it directly out of the microwave-safe bowl while watching an insufferable teenage girl choose between two metaphors disguised as abs.

I also found a not-so-guilty cookie recipe that I think I like even better than the one I’ve blogged about previously. This new one has a combination of almond and coconut flours, which leaves the cookies softer. Not quite like a soft-baked chocolate chip cookie (more like cookie-cake) but still tasty. I used coconut palm sugar as my sweetener and Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips.

Movies, movies and more movies

I’ll be honest, I spend so much time watching Netflix that I’m starting to scrape the bottom of the streaming barrel. There were a few films that had just been sitting in my queue gathering dust, so I figured I’d spend my weekend watching through them. The only film that I genuinely enjoyed was John Dies At The End. It’s a really refreshing addition to the horror genre (or I guess, more accurately, the horror-comedy genre) that had me simultaneously grossed out and laughing out loud.

Movies that I now can, without any hesitation, tell you not to bother watching include HickMr. Nobody, and World War Z. That last one really disappointed me, because I enjoyed the book immensely. The movie is absolutely nothing like the book, except for the fact that there are zombies in it.

I’d say maybe give Electrick Children a try if you like coming-of-age stories and magical realism. I’m not much a fan of either, so the film wasn’t really for me. However, I did really like the song that plays as a constant refrain throughout.

So much internet

Even on a regular day, I spend more time online than is probably medically advisable. More so on the weekend, and monumentally more so on a long weekend (now an even longer weekend, as I’ve found out since starting this post that my office is closed tomorrow too).

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The past few weeks I’ve been working on a little Twitter side project as a sort of snark outlet. I get an email every day from one of those daily deal sites, and while sometimes there are actual bonafide deals, there’s mostly just bizarre dreck. So, I gather up the weirdest of the weird and post one every day. It’s nice to have something that prods me to write each day, even if it’s just a snappy caption.

Because obviously I’m not spending enough time as it is watching moving pictures, I’ve also been catching up on some of my favorite YouTube channels (and watching some of their back catalogs that I haven’t seen yet).

And catching up on current events.

Stream themes – Flirting with disaster

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, there will be many sites out there that offer romantic viewing suggestions for you and your special someone. This is not one of those sites. Not in the traditional sense anyway.

Just as my first love of literature was science fiction, my film and television soulmate is the end of life as we know it (in its many splendid forms). While we have an open relationship that leaves room for horror and dystopia, the apocalypse knows who I’m coming home to each night. If you’re looking to woo me, the second step is a shared love for all-out disaster.

The first step is pancakes, obviously.

Z Nation

I was skeptical about this series at first. It’s produced by The Asylum, a company known for such fine cinematic works as Mega Python vs Gatoroid and Sharknado.  But it turns out I love seeing the zombie apocalypse through their eyes (incidentally they’ve also produced several zombie movies, including the deliciously cheesy Zombie Apocalypse).

Z Nation succeeds in walking the line between horror and humor with only the occasional facepalm moment. There are a few legitimately startling jump scares, creative zombie kills (egg beater!) and honestly some of the most realistic interpersonal relationships I’ve seen in the genre.

DJ Qualls, as a lone NSA agent trying to guide survivors from a snow fortress, pulls off the difficult task of acting in isolation. Everyone else in the ensemble cast can play off each other, but even though he speaks with them he’s never in the same room as the rest of the team. And Nat Zang impressed me in his first professional role (also half the teenage internet, judging by all the fanfic out there).

It was surprising to me that a show written by two men could do such an amazing job capturing the survival challenges of women. Especially considering how The Walking Dead completely fails at that. I got angry at TWD when I realized that any time a woman started exuding strength or confidence the writers killed her off. But not only is Z Nation full of strong, confident women, it also broaches the subject of these women still having to make different compromises than men in order to survive.

The entire first season is now streaming on Netflix, with a second season in the works for later this year.

How I Live Now

This film (based on the YA novel of the same name) follows a girl named Daisy who goes to England to spend the summer with distant relatives on their farm. While she’s there, World War III breaks out and the kids are forced to fend for themselves sans adults. I haven’t read the book, but my understanding is that the film follows fairly closely to the plot (with just a few creative diversions). One of my favorite elements of the story is that the instigators of the war are referred to as “terrorists,” yet given no description of nationality or religion or mission. You don’t know why they’ve started a war, only that they have.

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It’s unique in the apocalypse genre in that the kids are mostly left alone to make it through. This is not a Hunger Games dystopia where there are a bunch of adults pulling strings, but there are soldiers who try to enforce some semblance of order. Even with that, it’s a fascinating look at how the primal survival instincts kick in and I think the author masterfully weaves in moral dilemmas. Also, Saoirse Ronan was a perfect casting choice for Daisy.

Also, also, the film opens to the sounds of Amanda Palmer’s “Do It With a Rockstar,” which was a surefire sign I was going to like it. (Video very much NSFW)

Black Mirror

It’s not apocalyptic, per se, but I’m still including this British series on my list. It’s an anthology (so far two “seasons” of three episodes each are available to stream) which means that each episode is a self-contained story. It explores various themes of how society interacts with technology and the often disastrous outcomes.

This is hands-down the best show I’ve seen in ages. It’s dark, but not soul-crushingly dark, and has moments of levity as well. The alternative futures that the creators imagine are not so far outside the realm of possibility, and that dose of reality is what really drives the message home. The second episode of the first season (“Fifteen Million Merits,” pictured above) is my favorite – a decidedly sci-fi look at a world of constant stimulation.

Rumors are flying that they’re looking to make an American version of the show (much to my dismay) and apparently Robert Downey Jr. bought the rights to one of the episodes looking to turn it into a film (even more to my dismay), so I’d recommend watching the original before someone ruins it for you.

Honorable mention for this list goes to Pontypool, for being a zombie-esque film that also takes place on Valentine’s Day. It’s a bit of a slow build, so much so that I found myself getting bored, but the premise (once it eventually gets going) is interesting. Points for creativity, but not much else.

I’m always looking for a good disaster to curl up with, so leave your suggestions in the comments!

File Under: WTF?

I’ve talked here before about how my sleeping habits (namely, the habit of not sleeping) lead to viewing a crazy amount of late-night television.  Lately, there has been one product advertisement that I just can’t get out of my head.  No, it’s not an exciting product.  No, I don’t want it.  No, it’s not even a great commercial.  The reason I can’t stop thinking about it is because I am firmly convinced that it will be the cause of an inevitable zombie epidemic.

I’m talking about Chantix.

Much has been said already about this supposedly magical drug that serves as a stop-smoking aid.  According to the testimonials in the commercials, people are just wild about it.  Lifelong smokers are finally kicking the habit thanks to the wonder of Chantix.  Nevermind that an entire minute of this commercial is spent outlining the potential side effects of the drug.  Side effects, might I add, that are sure to ultimately result in an army of undead ex-smokers.  They will be trading nicotine for brains.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to stock up on ammo and canned goods, just in case.