Thursday, January 27, 2011

Go Ninja;Go Ninja; Go Ninja, Go

Ninjas vs. Zombies
Dir. Justin Timpane
A quick sampling of Ninjas vs. Zombies' execrable dialogue is pretty illustrative sampling of what’s holding this no budget farce back. To wit:
—“So we’re ripping off lines now?”
—“It’s an homage.”
Director Justine Timpane and crew set out to make the zombie flick Kevin Smith never got around to making in this bloodless attempt at a farce that substitutes references to Ninja Turtles and The Evil Dead, motifs borrowed from The Incredibles and tired nerd arguments about Star Wars vs. Star Trek and why Kingdom of the Crystal Skull sucked for character, plot or other narrative niceties.
All of that rhetorical circlejerking would have been excusable if Ninjas vs. Zombies lived up to the very simple premise it set for itself: ninjas kicking zombie ass. But it didn’t, so I was forced to dwell on the portly martial artists, community theater acting, lack of quality gore and Troma-quality production values. What we’re left with is yet another Shaunnabe about a trio of un/under-employed slackers rising to the occasion with the aid of magic when a friend sets off zompocalypse in a vain attempt to conduct a séance with his dead brother.

Zombology: Local comic book clerk Randall gets the undead uprising on a roll when he uses his family’s book of magic to raise his brother Eric from the dead. It's the same book of magic that killed his brother, so he really wasn’t thinking this thing through very well. Eric comes back all evil and with the ability to suck out people’s souls, leaving them mindless zombie minions to do his bidding. And with all that cosmic power at his fingertips, his bidding is getting back together with his ex, Lily, who has moved on to bald, unemployed cartoonist wannabe Cole. Cole’s universe is pretty much limited to doodling, getting dumped by Lily and hanging out with loser friends Kyle (a portly pizza delivery guy) and Fitz (an unemployed, married musician) until Randall’s book of magic gives them ninja abilities to fight back against the zombie plague.

It’s pretty fitting the climax of Ninjas vs. Zombies takes place in a movie theater because that’s just a reminder of the better movies this rips off and that you could be watching instead. A low budget doesn’t shouldn’t be a fatal obstacle to brash young filmmakers. Ryuhei Kitamura worked over much the same territory in the brilliant Versus. In fact, go watch Versus and forget Ninjas vs. Zombies even exists. Bad acting, spotty plotting, groan-inducing humor and backyard wrestling style combat sequences doom Ninjas vs. Zombies to a woeful 67 on the Hell of the Living Dead meter of moral failings.
Again, let me quote the film itself: “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard – ninjas vs. zombies.” I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think I could bear to sit through the sequel, Ninjas vs. Vampires.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Way of the Samurai

Yoroi: Samurai Zombie
Dir. Tak Sakaguchi


A spiritual, if not exactly literal, sequel to the almighty Versus, Yoroi finds that film’s star, Tak Sakaguchi, hovering behind the camera to direct a script by Ryuhei Kitamura that once again delves into the themes of reincarnation and revenge, the ambiguity between good and evil, the violence endemic to certain locations and human sacrifice. Oh and zombies. Lots and lots of really pissed off zombies… that happen to be undead, angry samurai.
Unlike Hollywood, which feels the need to cater to the stupidest among us by explaining every detail to (un)death, Samurai Zombie doesn’t bother naming its characters or delving into detailed backstories. Instead, it just hints and teases what brought the nuclear family of four, a pair of gun toting criminal lovers, a murderous psychopath and a pair of bored cops to the fenced off, abandoned town shrouded in evil. But in the haunted burial ground of samurai murdered centuries before, they will meet their bloody fate in a way that suggests a connection between them that spans several lifetimes.

Zombology: The zombie hordes are unleashed by the family father whose wife and children are being held captive by the criminals after they were carjacked on a country drive. Stranded in the wilderness by a flat tire, the criminals force the father to go find help, warning him the living dead are walking the woods (how they came by that valuable sliver of information, we never find out). Wandering into the samurai burial ground while looking for help, the father inexplicably slashes his own throat, begging the undead warriors to protect his family. Turns out, the samurai zombies have a whole ’nother agenda and nobody – not even children – will be exempt from their murderous wrath. This is a film where anyone can die at any time and the traditional horror film rules of survival are bloodily violated.

Yoroi succeeds by making the most of a limited budget to tell a compelling story amid the geysers of corpuscles and Evil Dead style slapstick. It manages to add depth and humanity to even the most repulsive of its characters and tacks on a flashback twist ending that will force you to reassess just who were the protagonists who were the villains. While it’s not as kinetic and exuberant as Versus, Yoroi is quietly compelling in its own way. It walks away with an exemplary 3 percent on the Hell of the Living Dead scale of shit.

Monday, January 17, 2011

ZomBlog Review: "Junk"

Stars: Nobuyuki Asano, Shu Ehara, Tate Gouta, Yuji Kisamoto, Miwa, Natsuki Ozawa, Kaori Shimamura, Koutarou Tanaka, Deborah Joy Vinall
Writer: Atsushi Muroga
Dir: Atsushi Muroga
83 minutes

Sometimes, a low budget and ambition make a good film.
In the case of “Junk,” the love of the films it tips it hat to, a low budget, and attention to tiny details make for a film that should not work under other circumstances. The detailed selection of plot points, actors, and respectful execution of film references make it work particularly well.
The film begins with a handful of jewelry-heisters meeting up with well-armed yakuza — yakuza that could have been labeled as the low-rent “Reservoir Dogs.” After a botched money exchange, “Junk” launches the zombies on both the thieves and yakuza, and begins a cinematic win for this Japanese take on zombies.
I have watched “Junk” on many occasions prior to this blog. I have recommended the flick to many a pal, with the response always the same: “Why the hell would I watch a film called ‘Junk’?”
The film is ironically named, unless you own the Unearthed Films’ transfer DVD. While so many parts look pristine, there are others that look like they were taken from a worn-out VHS tape. The DVD version I own is labeled “UNCUT.” I only hope the terrible-looking scenes were due to archival elements to make the film “uncut” rather than a lazy transfer.
I digress…
“Junk” is really a Japanese homage to “Re-Animator,” “Return of the Living Dead,” and “Zombie.” The whole film takes place in a former nuclear/military facility. The yakuza and the thieves play a game of cat and mouse through the facility after a neon-green re-agent (an obvious nod to “Re-Animator) creates a super-zombie (the beautiful Miwa, who remains naked most of the film); then guts are torn out, sheet-and-rope-bound zombies rise, zombies lumber from one place in the facility to the next, and plenty of gory, humorous, yelling, and explosive moments ensue.

Romero Rules Followed: Since this is a film made prior to “Land of the Dead,” the “smart-zombie” rule does not apply. Therefore, it follows almost every Romero-rule.
Gore factor: Plenty of gore here, mostly excessive gun-fu related, but also zombie-carnage.
Zombies or Wannabees? Zombies
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Classic
Additional comments: The subplot involving a scientist and the “Queen Zombie” are melodramatic and serve no purpose, but are a weak attempt to actually give a “serious side” to this homage. The storyline helps to introduce English-speaking characters, but doesn’t do much to move the film along. I could have done without it. Overall though, “Junk” is a solid zombie-fest.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Satanic Versus

Ryuhei Kitamura


Not even I can stomach sitting through shitty zombie movies week in and week out for your amusement, so it is with much pleasure I know turn my loving attention to Ryuhei Kitamura’s low budget masterpiece Versus. If all you know of Kitamura is his muddled take on The Midnight Meat Train, first, I apologize for the two hours of your life you’ll never get back, and second, hie thee until thine local movie emporium or foreign flick kiosk in ye olde shopping mall to snatch up this convoluted good-versus-evil gem which proves boundless exuberance, some clever filmmaking and a bevy of sly conspirators can turn out a film that runs circles around most bloated Hollywood extravaganzas.
Versus posits there are 666 portals to the netherworld scattered throughout the universe, which those with the mystical know-how can exploit for world dominating powers if someone from the right bloodline is sacrificed. Echoing Japan’s infamous suicide forest of Aokigahara, portal number 444 just happens to be where the unnamed protagonist (martial artist, actor and director Tak Sakaguchi), an escaped convict, and his chain gang friend meet up with local yakuza for reasons that are never really explained and would only get in the way of the over-caffeinated imbroglio that ensues.
Versus is the ultimate blend of kung fu, gun fu, sword fu, yakuza fu, zombie fu and bad one liner fu set to a cheez-metal soundtrack, Matrix mocking attire and an irrepressible sense of fun. The plot is almost negligible (including a subplot about a hilariously boastful cop and his partner looking for the escapees that goes absolutely nowhere) but that’s hardly a criticism.

Zombology: In addition to being a portal to the netherworld, the forest, known as the Forest of Resurrection, is also a zombie-haunted landscape where the dead come shambling back to life. While we certainly get a bellyful of traditional zombies, the dead yakuza (who get mowed down in the first 10 minutes) also return from the grave as super-spry mystical zombie-fu warriors who get all chop-socky on our trenchcoated hero.

Standing the notions of good versus evil on its head, Versus manages to slyly to tie together an opening flashback sequence and a flash forward ending in a way that makes you rethink everything that happens in the film, subverting our notions of protagonist and antagonist in the process. This is a film that is an absolute 0 on the Hell of the Living Dead scale of suckitude. In fact, to even mention that wretched pile of festering crap in the same paragraph is an insult of Kitamura’s technical and narrative mastery. Versus is an unabashedly enjoyable film that knows exactly what it wants to be and hits every grace note with panache.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

ZomBlog Review: "The Zombie Survival Guide"

“The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead”
Writer: Max Brooks
255 pages

I know I am a few days late in posting this, but listen to me: Get supplies, store them; grab the guns, load them; know the area, patrol it.
Any dabbler into zombie lore has been approached and has an answer to the “What would you do?” question when it comes to a zombie apocalypse.
Me? I would high-tail it to Andrews Air Force Base in lovely Suitland, Md., where the presidential Air Force One goes from engagement to engagement on a fairly weekly basis. Hell, if the security there is sound enough to protect a president, then it would be great for an outsider, right?

Fuck, no.

I would be shot at the gates in the event of a zombie uprising.
Author Max Brooks spent a whole lot of time researching real-life scenarios, realistic situations, terrains, weaponry and various other contributing factors in putting together his fantastically interesting, if not overly-researched, “The Zombie Survival Guide” back in 2003.
When Brooks put this modern-day “Anarchist’s Cookbook” together, zombies were not yet en vogue. Brooks splashed a great mortar-hole into zombie-lore with “World War Z” and started kicking rules into brains with this guide which tells the reader — if you take the subject matter as realistic (um, look, zombies are going to rise up; it is just a matter of when) — how to prepare for every possible encounter, on every possible terrain, with every possible weapon (crossbows are nice, but reloading takes too long [sorry to my fellow close-range fans; I will be a machete and sawed-off shotgun person, myself), then this is a must-have guide to surviving what could be the end of mankind as we know it [yes, this was a shallow attempt to shatter Andrew’s long-ass bracketed/parentheses laden entry a few months ago].
Brooks succinctly examines every detail, even those that laymen might forget (dangers of terrain, the possibilities of sleep-deprived paranoia, having not one but several escape plans, the weight of supplies, etc.). He concludes the book with several “documented” scenarios of undead attacks throughout recorded history, some based on actual historic events, others based on nothing more than spirited imagination. As a nice little touch, he includes an appendix where the modern-day survivor might keep a journal and checklist for supplies.
While I admit I was not a fan of the repetitious parts, there were many moments where I had an, “Oh, wow, I never thought about that” moment. Again, for anyone to take what we write on this blog too seriously is a waste. We know zombies are a non-threat (today). We are unafraid of zombies rising up and taking over the world (at this moment). Those stinking rot-gutted, slow-moving slack-jaws are of no concern to me (until I close my eyes and live the apocalyptic showdown night after tedious night).

I might be kidding.

Romero Rules Followed: Brooks loves the slow-moving, bite-spreads-disease zombies. And, the known method for killing the suckers is a brain-blast. All are followed.

Gore factor: Very descriptive in how the undead are dispatched, but if this were a high-school how-to-guide, it would easily be PG-13. So, fairly low.

Zombies or Wannabees? Absolute Zombies (I need to patent that vodka drink)

Classic, fine, or waste of time: Classic.

Additional comments: Look, if someone can spend as much time as Brooks did in researching a fictitious scenario as how one could survive an undead uprising, you know it will be an entertaining read. And it is, at times. Sadly, his attention to details detract from the actual fun at points. I still love the book and chuckle at certain points (his entries about idiots hauling tons of supplies across a waterway always makes me smile). Oh, and not to draw too much attention to myself or the blog, but THIS IS ENTRY NUMBER 50, SUCKERS! In all seriousness, we thank you for caring as much as you do for our endeavor. We appreciate your attention to our mistakes, details, and that you just come along for the ride. At least I do.

Andrew appreciates nothing.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Police Farce

Tokyo Gore Police
Dir. Yoshihiro Nishimura

Why must Japan always make us feel inadequate? Even when it comes to the quality of our zombie ass kickin’ women? All America has farted out in the last decade as been Milla Jovovich’s Alice from the retarded Resident Evil (which we had to steal from Nippon anyway) and its increasingly retarded-er sequels. Japan, on the other hand, come correct with Eiha Shiina (of Audition fame) as Ruka, the katana wielding heroine of the intestine-soaked Tokyo Gore Police. And I bet Shiina didn’t have to fuck the director to get the part either.
The lovely Ruka, as a member of a specialized privatized police force, employs said katana to hunt down “engineers,” bio-engineered serial killers whose bodies sprout all manner of interesting weapon appendages – chainsaw arms, gun eyes, crocodile jaw legs – when injured.
It’s like the two St. Davids, Lynch and Cronenberg, giving guided tours of choice S&M haunts in Tokyo’s seedy Kabukicho district complete with complementary lectures on our post-singularity body-modding future.

Zombology: OK, so I’m cheating a bit again. The engineers don’t necessarily qualify as true zombies, but the gore factor and body count are elevated enough to earn them a hall pass to the zombie compound. You see, the mysterious Key Man has been running around town implanting unsuspecting people with key shaped tumors that turn them into engineers, setting them loose to terrorize the populace. Only Ruka and her coworkers at the Tokyo Police Corporation – which wouldn’t happen to have some mysterious connection to the Key Man, do you think? – to keep the peace with an arsenal of neo-samurai armor and extreme violence.

Taken individually, each kill is either hilariously perverse or grotesquely bloody, including one nifty visual call back to the classic Lady Snowblood flicks. However, as a whole, Tokyo Gore Police’s meandering plot just never coheres. But the film just darts from one fucked up set piece and crackpot character to the next. Against all that absurdity, Shiina’s straight faced performance keeps the whole affair from collapsing into unsalvageable stupidity. Tokyo Gore Police only sucks 19 percent as bad as Hell of the Living Dead.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Running Vs. Shambling: The Endless Debate

I used to jump into arguments with reckless abandon every time someone would spurt the words “‘28 Days Later’ is so awesome … those zombies were actually frightening!”
The running versus shambling/shuffling/slow zombie debate may never reach a satisfactory end.
But, if you know me, or have read this blog for the past several months, you know I have opinions.
Lots of them.
I am taking myself into a deep, dark cavern in order to examine this topic, which I will not be able to fully address in a single post. What I hope will happen is this post will spurn a heated debate.
As my counterpart has done with his reviews, he has made a case for and case against zombies or wannabes while kicking the crap back into the flicks he has suffered through. On several occasions, I have relented on the debate: “The Return of the Living Dead” and the aforementioned “28 Days Later” are two of my all-time favorites when it comes to not only zombies, but horror films overall. And the fricken undead/rage victims in both run like madmen.
Yet, despite my hatred for running undead, I enjoy them to the fullest.
For what reason? Great directing, a solid script, characters I give a rat’s ass about, a purposely fast-paced storytelling angle, and limited directorial masturbation — and by that last statement, I mean the directors of both films kept the film moving along while not boring the audience with incessant details, shoehorning stupid plot points into the narrative, and bogging the whole movie down.
While praising those two films, I think my real hatred for running zombies came with the remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” which has yet to be reviewed on this site, but it will get its due.
I despised that remake. Absolutely despised it. On second viewing, I thought it was alright. On the third viewing, I hated it again.
Yes, your humble reviewer watched that fucking thing THREE TIMES to decide my ultimate decision on it. And, the biggest problem I had with it boiled down at the base level to the fricken running undead. Make no mistake, I have enormous problems with the film, with plot holes large enough to drive a ridiculous RV through, terrible acting, a moronic attempt at a sympathetic “rooftop buddy” for Ving Rhames, zombie baby, etc.
But. The. Fricken. Running. Zombies. Not only running, but the fuckers are so mobile, agile, and smart they pose a nearly supernatural/super-powered threat in the film.
OK, I get that slow zombies seem dumb to modern audiences. “You can just run past them, el oh el! Dum zombees! Twilight roolez!” (posted on twitter by some dipshit teenage girl with a tramp-stamp, nose ring and emotional/self-image issues … allegedly).
But the slow, creeping-up-on-you impact of a horde was always the frightening point up until “Return of the Living Dead” made those suckers run (and, arguably, there are several lesser known films that beat ROTLD to the punch, including a yet to be reviewed Andrew-bashing-hall-of-famer).
The zombies in the gold-standard “Night of the Living Dead” nearly literally showed up one at a time. One was enough of a threat; 50 were a nightmare. And even slow-moving, they managed to kill seven people in less than eight hours. People, mind you, who were armed, watching television updates, getting a good idea of what they were up against. The original “Dawn” upped the ante with two trained SWAT team members. And one of them was dispatched by the slow munchers. As was a dimbulb member of the group. Trained marksman and pilot both get killed by making human mistakes. Fast or slow, the shuffler zombies/rage victims/running pussheads capitalize on human error. Human error. Nothing more. In my book, it is worse to be killed by an enemy that you, on paper, should be able to outrun, outgun, and outsmart, than to be chased down and defeated by a group of superhuman maniacs.
So, discuss amongst yourselves, run vs. walk; there is not a cohesive point to be made with this post. This is simply to provoke the discussion. I will tackle that argument with teeth in future posts. To be continued…