Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Top 5 Best and Worst Zombie Film Clichés

With World War Z due to come out this summer, I thought it might be fun to compile a short list of the best and worst zombie film clichés. There are many clichés (especially bad ones), but I've limited myself to 5. Feel free to add to the list.

1. WORST: Suddenly zombies!

TV's The Walking Dead is the worst offender when it comes to this zombie trope. In one scene, the group of survivors are in the clear. There are no zombies anywhere. The survivors begin to relax. They throw around a football or reveal something funny, sad, and/or interesting about themselves, like "Did you know my biggest fear is to be devoured by a million hungry zombies unexpectedly? Haha, but that'll never happen." In the next scene, there's a horde of hilariously slow moving monsters coming for them. The survivors act all bamboozled and panicked by the "sudden" arrival of this murder of zombies (because they've only been sneaked up on a MILLION times before).

"Maybe we should open it." - Every survivor ever
I can't help but wonder how none of the survivors  heard a thousand clumsy, moaning monsters stumbling through a thick forest?  I mean, did no one hear the snap of even one tree branch? Zombies are possibly the least stealthy of all the monsters. Yet, they always have the element of surprise. It makes no sense.

2. BEST: We can rebuild him. We have the technology.

Apparently apocalyptic survivors no longer need their writing hands. Steve the survivor loses his hand and instead of looking for a way to stop the bleeding and reattach that lost limb or, even better, crumbling into a shivering ball like a normal human being, he immediately replaces it with a weapon. Evil Dead, The Walking Dead, and  Planet Terror all use this trope--though Planet Terror probably did it as a homage or pastiche to other zombie narratives.

Zombies, you can't tell, but Ash is giving you the finger.
It might seem lame at first, but there is something entirely badass about ignoring your pain and shoving steal into your fresh wound so you can keep killing monsters. That's determination. That's inspiring. Someone should make that shit into a motivational poster.

3. WORST: Your boob's out, dear.

No one can make a putrid, graying dead body sexy, right? Wrong. Hollywood can. And they do it with the "accidental" boob. There's always one (slightly less decomposed) lady-zombie shuffling around with a single perky boob out in the open. It makes the viewers' arousal so confusing and disturbing. Like, she's dead, there's pus oozing out of the gash on her very flat stomach, but her boob's out, so it's kinda hot.

This reminds me of something, but I can't put my finger on it...

A little lipstick and this pretty zombie's ready to both arouse and disgust viewers everywhere.
And it's always one boob. The Hollywood director was like "Ok, how can we get some nudity in here without making it look forced? Take that model 's boobs out. Wait, wait, that's too much. Just one boob. Yeah, like that...like it was a happy accident."

 A logical person might argue that zombie nudity makes the story more believable. Zombies decompose and so must their clothes. But if that's true, why don't I ever see an old man zombie walking around with his saggy balls exposed? I'd like to see Hollywood do that. Well, I wouldn't like to see it...

4. BEST: It's just a flesh wound...

There's one survivor who's in denial. She's been bit real bad. And she's going to become one of those...those THINGS! But, she's going to pretend she's fine, because she doesn't want to believe she will turn. Maybe she'll be different. Maybe she'll fight the infection and live.


Sure, she'll hide her infection for a while, endangering her group ... until she is foaming at the mouth or one of her ears falls off. One of the group members will turn to her and stupidly ask, "You doin' ok, Donna? You look kind of pale." And then Donna will rip that group member's face off.

5.WORST: Oh, that zombie used to be an Olympic runner.

Remember that scene in Austin Powers in which the security guard is screaming at the steamroller slowly moving towards him? Instead of moving out of the way, even taking one step to his left, to get away from the distant vehicle, he just stands there and waits for it to hit him. That's what a zombie chase scene is like. And no shaky camera maneuvering can trick me into thinking a zombie chase scene isn't ridiculous.

A fully rotted corpse with a missing leg is not going to outrun a healthy teenage girl. And yet, it happens all too often. Inevitably, the teenage girl, out of breath from running for literally a minute, trips on an obvious tree root and, for some reason, can no longer work her arms and legs. It would take little effort for her to pull herself up and escape, but that zombie is only a mile away! Plus, she's been skipping gym class.

Maybe it's the film industry's way of warning about the dangers of the obesity epidemic.  Maybe it's the film industry's way of encouraging you to get on that treadmill you bought three years ago and used once for a minute and thirty seven seconds. I mean, it is pretty pathetic that a teenage girl would rather let herself be devoured by an undead cannibal than run for another minute.  

Either way, it's a bad cliché.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

10 Versions of Superman: Superman: The Movie (1978)

With one month until Man of Steel comes out, I figure it's high time to chart my own history with the Blue Boyscout. You'll note I didn't call this series "the top 10 Superman graphic novels," since they aren't all graphic novels per se. Plus, some days I just hate that term, since it feels like I'm trying to justify reading comic books. But not all the works on my list are coherent, stand-alone tales, and one of them is prose. Further, not all of them are actually Superman stories. One is a movie, the other the first three episodes of a television series.Nevertheless, in anticipation of the release of Man of Steel, here is the first of my series of posts on my lifelong love of Superman!

Superman: the Movie (1978)

I was already hooked on Superman through comic books, Saturday mornings' Superfriends, and reruns of the 1950s Adventures of Superman when I saw Superman: The Movie in 1978. My family was moving from the town I'd grown up in, my mom was in the hospital, and my sisters and I were staying with my grandmother. My dad had come to visit, in between arranging the move, checking on my mom, and buying a new house. I was laying on the floor, scanning the ads for movies in the city newspaper, something I couldn't have done in the small town I'd lived in. I was fascinated by how the Calgary Herald had pages of movie ads, and spent lots of time studying the art. I turned the page to see a huge, quarter-page advertisement: the crystalline Superman-logo on a black background.

In the pre-Internet days of movie advertising, it wasn't just current films that were featured in newspaper ads: film companies marketed for upcoming films as well. I scanned the ad for the offending words, "Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You," and when I found them lacking, jumped up and ran to my dad, pleading to go see it RIGHT NOW. And being the man who was my first DM, the guy who bought an early Betacam so I could make stop-motion films, and the guy who snuck me into a drive-in showing of Conan the Barbarian when I was 11, he did.

The marketing for the film boldly claimed "You'll believe a man can fly." Given that I thought the special effects in The Adventures of Superman were pretty cool, that didn't require much on my part. I remember more about that moment of seeing the advertisement than I do of seeing the film, I know that to this day, the moment when Margot Kidder as Lois Lane falls from the side of the Daily Planet to be caught mid-air by Christopher Reeve as Superman, I have to brace myself. When Reeve coolly states, "Easy miss, I've got you," and Kidder replies, " You've got me? Who's got you?" I cry. Every. Damn. Time. (I'm doing it right now, actually, just thinking about it).

I think there's something essential about my childhood wrapped up in that moment, empowered by John Williams' score, that causes that emotional reaction. It's why I own Superman Returns, despite loathing the rest of the film - the rescue of the plane, followed by the homage line of flying still being the safest way to fly, is worth the money I paid for it. Occasionally, I take the Singer film off the shelf and watch that scene, and promptly shut it off and put it back on the shelf.

But with Superman: the Movie, I watch the whole thing, or numerous highlights, and I do it every year. I have problems with the last 20 minutes, but I also know those problems are largely due to the ambitious attempt to make the first two films simultaneously. I felt hugely vindicated when I discovered the first movie did not originally end with that ludicrous time-reversal sequence. But I can forgive that ending, given the build-up to it.

It's a film that has grown better with repeat viewings as an adult - the things I loved as a child remain highlights: all those vignettes of crime-fighting and near-death rescues, of saving Air Force One, of shoring up the missing train tracks. But as an adult, I've gained an appreciation for the humour of the scenes with Luthor and his bumbling sidekicks. The scene with the gorgeous Valerie Perrine as Miss Tessmacher saving Superman from drowning, weakened by kryptonite, has become a favorite, for the moment when she kisses him before removing the kryptonite. Superman asks her, "Why did... why did you kiss me first?" To which Miss Teschmacher replies: "I didn't think you'd let me later." It's a sweet moment, the prelude to one of my favorite action sequences of the film.

In my childhood, this film loomed as large as Star Wars. When the sequel came out, I saw it multiple times. I still own both soundtracks on LP. And as much as I hated Smallville, I applauded their inclusion of Christopher Reeve on the show, because, as so many others have already said, the man was Superman, both onscreen and off. I know Superman: the Movie is the reason Superman Returns was such a disappointment: Bryan Singer made the mistake of creating a film that tried to recapture 1978 in 2006 through homage. Instead of letting me enjoy a new movie on its own merits, his heavy-handed referencing of the Donner film kept forcing me to make comparisons, which Singer couldn't live up to. That's the trouble with referencing a classic. Right or wrong, you keep comparing it to the original, which for me, is wrapped up in decades of nostalgia, video-tape rewatches, and moments in blue-long underwear jumping off my balcony, believing that a man can fly.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A few moments caught at Calgary’s Comic and Entertainment Expo 2013

Video of Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) from Game of Thrones (myself and Samantha Massey talking in the background).

**It's important to note that there were at least 50 different Doctors (Dr. Who) cosplays, and I managed to not take a picture of any one of them out of spite.**

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Pondering Whether Horror is Truly Dead

Enlisted at the early age of eight, my parents introduced me to some “classic” (or classic for my generation) horror films, that would forever bend my view of what a decent scary movie should entail.

After seeing Wes Craven’s 1984 film Nightmare on Elm Street, my craving for true horror films began. Although I did not know this at the time, after seeing the iconic film, I suffered from paralyzing night terrors for the following year that traumatized my parents for life (slightly ironic, considering the film’s subject matter). Now, at the age of twenty-four, I can see how this film—and others that I watched during my early teens— fueled my obsession with films, and why I am (to this day) seeking out the perfect horror movie that will scare the shit out of me like Craven’s had.
This April, I made my way to Calgary’s Comic and Entertainment Expo (CCEE). At this expo, I had the absolute pleasure of attending a panel featuring the Lord of Horror—Mr. John Carpenter. Let’s briefly revisit Carpenter’s colorful horror film history—Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980), The Thing (1982), Christine (1983), Prince of Darkness (1987), They Live (1988), Village of the Damned (1995), Vampires (1998), Ghosts of Mars (2001), and The Ward (2010). Directing, and also writing and scoring some of these films, Carpenter added his own flavor to mainstream horror films. Although Halloween is recognized as the “first” slasher flick, earlier films such as Psycho, Peeping Tom, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Blood Feast, can be seen as precursors of the genre. With the improvements in special effects, and the relaxation of censorship, Carpenter’s films contributed to the success of horror films into mainstream culture.
 In regards to what I mentioned earlier about my night terrors as a child, I have found the only way I am really terrified while watching a horror film is if the film is completely believable—not as  “this is a true story,” but in plot, acting, and of course, visual/special effects. Although Freddy Krueger only exists in the dream-world of those on Elm Street, to me he was realistic because he epitomized those creepy men you don`t dare to stare at on the streets, the loner neighbor who never comes out of their house, and the person with the unidentifiable skin condition who smiles at you at the office.
Carpenter’s zeal for bringing those realistic features out onto the screen speak for themselves now. Directors and writers look to Carpenter’s earlier films for that authentic horror flavor, and pay homage to what was created and what should stay sacred within the horror community. Alongside signature and propelling scores, witty and engaging dialogue, and ORIGINAL plot-lines, Carpenter is a man of a dying breed. One of the reoccurring questions at the CCEE panel was, “did you have input on any of the remakes (The Thing)?” Carpenter replies:
I had zero input...There are two kinds of remakes. The first is, if I’ve written it, or if I’ve come up with the idea, there is a brilliant moment that happens. They are ready to make the movie and I’m sitting on my couch. And I extend my hand, and a cheque drops into it [pauses for audience’s reaction]. And I continue playing video games. The second type of remake is when the studio owns the material and I get zero, nothing. The producer (of the 2011 remake) brought me in, buttered me up a bit, and explains what they are going to do. I didn't even get a cup of coffee out of it.
From the tone of Carpenter’s answer to the fan’s question, and his blatant dislike for the remakes of his movies (including Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween), Carpenter raises the issue of the progress and survival of (decent) horror films. My concern, not unlike Mr. Carpenter’s, is for the horror scene on the big screen. In the past two years, horror has either gone one of three ways: remake, glorified-gore, or that-was-really-weird. 2012 had potential with a few films which were released in theatres such as Cabin in the Woods, Chernobyl Diaries, Excision, Antiviral, and Sinister. However, this past year also had a few movies that were either sad remakes (Piranha 3DD and regretfully, The Woman in Black) or rehashed (sequels) films that should have been straight to DVD (or digital copy) such as The Possession, Paranormal Activity 4, Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, Silent House, Smiley, and V/H/S. Of course this is my personal opinion because I do not scare easily, but originality is extremely rare—especially within the past year.
With horror films taking a dive in originality and compelling plot-lines, television has swooped in to save the day—that is, cable horror programs have returned. Following in the footsteps of Masters of Horror, The Twilight Zone, X-Files, and Tales from the Crypt, the resurgence of horror on the little screen has risen from the dead (excluding teen dramas like The Vampire Diaries, Supernatural, and Teen Wolf). The Walking Dead (AMC) and American Horror Story (FX) fill those creative gaps that we find in the theatres right in the comfort of our own homes. Although there are a few honorable mentions like E4’s (UK) The Fades which was cancelled after one season (sadly), HBO’s True Blood (which has certainly taken a downward spiral in the past two years), and Netflix’s Hemlock Grove (which has only started recently), television horror is rising to the challenge—viewers are sick of remakes, rehashes, and torture-porn films.
The search for the future classic horror film is still on, and the challenge to find one film that will make me shiver in my seat, is still on as well. I have looked beyond—and beyond I mean to the absolute sick (Human Centipede: Sequence 1&2) and annoying (Smiley)—and found nothing that will satisfy this horror palate. I don’t think I am the only one who suffers from this affliction. With proof and verification from Carpenter’s opinions and stories at his panel, he addresses the dry spell of horror on the big screen, as well. The wait and the watching will continue—like Jason coming back year after year to the same place, and the same bulshit stories. 

An Overview of Calgary's Annual Comic and Entertainment Expo, 2013

Calgary's annual Comic and Entertainment Expo (CCEE) has quickly become one of Canada's most impressive cons. So quickly, in fact, that last year the CCEE crew had some major over-crowding and organizational issues. While those who managed to get into the expo found themselves in an overly crowded and stuffy exhibition hall, hundreds of not-so-lucky ticket holders were turned away from the doors and promised a refund. It was a disaster.

A well-done Barf cosplay from Spaceballs.
This year, the CCEE seemed better prepared for the nerd-storm that is the Calgary expo. For one thing, the CCEE did not oversell tickets. Genius. Additionally, VIP and regular ticket passes were sold online only--no tickets were sold on site, which prevented a lot of the disappointment and crowding I witnessed in 2012. They also introduced wristbands which I (and all weekend pass holders), regretfully, had to wear all weekend. Although the wristbands were uncomfortable, they were very handy. Lines moved faster and lost passes were less of an issue. Overall, a very good organizational decision. Finally, Photo ops and autograph lines moved significantly faster, likely because the photo ops, autographs, and shopping booths were separated into three buildings/exhibition halls.

The problems the CCEE had last year have all but been forgotten, and it was a lot easier to enjoy the experience. The panels, guests, and cosplays were absolutely fantastic as well as indicative of current pop culture obsessions. The CCEE really tries to appeal to all types of nerds (there were even some WWE wrestlers on the guest list), but there are obvious trending themes, movies, television series, and graphic novels. As expected, zombies were everywhere. While I've long since lost interest in Frank Darabont's television series, The Walking Dead,  the show (and the comics) is still wildly popular. Celebrity guests, Steven Yeun, Norman Reedus, and Melissa McBride, had long autograph/photo op lines the entire expo. The Walking Dead panel was packed. And, I didn't bother counting  the number of zombie costumes I saw, there were too many. Some of them were even creative. I felt like a lone survivor in a sea of walking dead. I guess I felt a bit zombie-ish, too, shuffling in the entrance line every morning.

Artist Nat Jones.

Pendleton Ward's cartoon series, Adventure Time, was popular among both children and adults this weekend. There were many booths (busy booths, too) dedicated to the post-apocalyptic narrative. Ward's comic and youtube series, Bravest Warriors, has also garnered a bit of a following, though there weren't nearly as many cosplayers wearing Christopher Kirkman or Catbug costumes compared to the countless Finn, Jake, Princess Bubblegum, and LSP costumes. Adventure Time and Bravest Warriors are both hilarious, but Adventure Time has more of a following. Adventure Time definitely has more of an appeal with its fascinating and slow-to-reveal background story (which has become an arc in the series).  Fans spend hours looking at stills of the cartoon trying to find clues that reveal more about the great mushroom war, an apocalyptic event that takes place something like 6,000 years before the adventures of Finn and Jake (the protagonists).  Moreover, fans are captivated by Finn's past. He seems to be the only human left in a world occupied by bubble gum people, talking, elastic dogs, and element-bending creatures.  It's really a paradoxical show. It's a dark story about nuclear bombs, wars, business men, and sickly mutants wrapped in playful and light-hearted stories (like a delicious everything burrito). I can only hope that Bravest Warriors will live-up to the greatness that is Adventure Time.

Avengers and superheroes (especially Marvel superheroes) are still a big deal. Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Superman, Deadpool, and Batman were all popular cosplays. I suspect that many of my fellow expo nerds were at the CCEE to see the legendary Stan Lee who is getting up there in years. He graciously signed autographs after undergoing recent cataract surgery. Despite his ailing health,  he was as kind as ever to his fans.

Finally, the television series, The Game of Thrones, was such a popular attraction at the event that CCEE volunteers actually had to close-off the GOT panel on Sunday afternoon due to overcrowding and strict fire codes. Luckily, I managed to get in. Stars, Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) and Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), attended the expo and spoke at the panel. They were tight-lipped about the upcoming episodes (even when an audience member asked if Joffrey gets what's coming to him), but they did hint that something really big and shocking is about to happen. Because nothing big and shocking ever happens on GOT...
Peter Dinklage was also silent when asked about his upcoming role in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Dinklage suggested sending all of our questions to director, Bryan Singer, who frequently updates his twitter with hints about the film.
At the The X-Files panel, star, Gillian Anderson, revealed that there may possibly be a third X-Files movie in the future. She confirmed that there will be a new comic book series as well. So, it looks like X-Files may renew its popularity and, perhaps, suck in the next generation.

The weekend went by incredibly fast, as it does every year, but it was enjoyable and well worth the line-ups and crowds. Next year is sure to be busier and better organized, so be sure to get your tickets well in advance!