A-Z Daily Throwback Review: Zombie Strippers (2008)


         It doesn’t take an extremely observant person to notice all of the zombie film that have flooded theaters and rental shelves since Danny Boyle’s successful re-imagining of an apocalyptic, zombie-like virus. Shortly afterward Zack Snyder (300) brought the running zombies to America with his remake of the second in George A. Romero’s legendary zombie series, which he returned to quickly afterward with Land of the Dead and more recently with Diary of the Dead. The question is, why did Romero choose this time to make his zombie comeback?


Sure, they were already popular again, but the reason they became popular when in the 1980s nobody seemed interested is somewhat of a mystery. Since zombie films are often read as apocalyptic, and with The Night of the Living Dead (1968) seeming to reference to the Vietnam War, it seems to make sense that zombie films would become popular while we are at war and living in an apocalyptic world. With all of the stress and anxiety brought on by the these films, it is a relief to see them begin to gain some humor and enjoyment in recent reflections on the zombie genre. Once again our trend seems to follow the British horror films, oddly enough, who also added humor to the genre with Shaun of the Dead.


Zombie Strippers makes no attempt to hide the social and political commentary, humorously giving a drastic future in which George W. Bush has become a dictator in the United States, with many wars raging overseas and nudity illegal in the United States. Whereas zombies in many past films have come from unknown origins, we are told directly on a news program that the zombies are being created to become soldiers in the many wars. As always happens, the virus gets out. A group of soldiers are sent into the research lab to kill all of the zombies, but when one of them is bitten he runs away to save himself. When he accidentally stumbles into an illegal underground strip club and unwittingly gives the virus to the strippers.


When the star stripper, Kat (Jenna Jameson), is bitten by the zombie soldier, the club owner, Ian (Robert Englund), is surprised to see her get back up. Rather than resort to simply feeding off of flesh, the female zombies in this film retain the ability to remember what they were trained to do, as the soldier zombies are meant to, so Kat immediately begins stripping again. When the small club begins benefiting from the zombie stripping, the other strippers begin offering themselves to be bitten in order to become popular at the club. The only downside to the strippers is that they resort to biting when giving private lap-dances and the male zombies are not nearly as controlled once infected.


Writer/director Jay Lee wrote a clever script with strippers discussing philosophy in relation to the transformation of the strippers. At times Lee’s reach extends beyond his grasp, especially when the actresses playing the strippers stumble over the words of dialogue. Many are too committed to their roles while others remain campy through the entire film. Surprisingly Jameson seems to be the one able to stay campy and humorous without losing the persona she is playing. It seems strange that the porn star in the film would be the most natural, but I suppose she has enough experience in front of a camera to feel comfortable. Roxy Saint of the goth rock band Roxy Saint and the Blackouts is also one of the strippers, but her acting is slightly less convincing as a goth stripper. You would think she should be a natural. The doorman is also played by Ultimate Fighting Champion Tito Ortiz, ensuring that a large number of the cast has a recognizable name, even if it is in another field of entertainment. Fortunately, the film is soaked in enough graphic violence and nudity used for humor and arousal to distract from the many errors in the clever B-film.


A-Z Daily Throwback Review: Year of the Dog (2007)

Mike White has a specific style of writing that somehow manages to poke fun without losing touch with reality. The result is often a melancholy sense of humor, sometimes dark but honest above all else. Year of the Dog marks White’s turn at directing his own script, though the scripts he has written for others have been fantastic. White uses the same sensibilities that have often been applied to his other scripts by other directors, with many similarities to Chuck and Buck in terms of aesthetics. What is even more impressive is the entourage of fantastic actors willing to be in the film. Molly Shannon alone gives such a dedicated and honest portrayal of a sincerely lonely woman, setting aside all slapstick and humor that she is normally known for. This is a comparable film with Punch-Drunk Love in terms of the opportunity it offered Adam Sandler. Granted Year of the Dog is not to be held to the same standards, especially considering the large ensemble films Paul Thomas Anderson had already made, but Shannon is certainly as dedicated to playing the role completely straight. 


Peggy (Molly Shannon) appears to be a fairly content person in her life, happy to go about her business at work and with her friends as long as she has her dog Pencil to return home to. Even as her brother and sister-in-law, who is played by a wonderfully anal Laura Dern, flaunt their children in her face Peggy doesn’t even seem to mind being single. Pencil is a companion to her day and night, even sleeping beside her. We see their routine enough to know that when Pencil leaves the bed to explore outside one evening it can only end badly for him. Peggy is crushed by the loss of her only companion and her mood is not elevated by friends, family or work. At the same time she finds that the death of her dog brings her all sorts of new opportunities.


When searching for her dog Peggy bothers the man living next door (John C. Reilly), who asks her on a date afterwards. Not having Pencil to hold her back anymore Peggy finds herself in new situations, dating with all of the quirks that come attached. Another man brought into Peggy’s life by the incident when she receives a call to adopt a dog from a worker (Peter Sarsgaard) who was there when Pencil was brought in. Peggy develops a crush and takes the hobby of getting homes for dogs as well as changing her lifestyle to vegan. Every choice she makes is meant to lead to satisfaction and happiness but ultimately people disappoint her.

Desert Island Films: Classic Musicals

            I never much cared for Woody Allen when I first discovered his films. I must have been around the age of 15. It was at this time that I was assembling my concept of a romantic love, mostly through the endless absorption of idealistic presentations in film romance. I sought out the best and most popular romances that the world of film had to offer, in search of my own map for a love life. When I reached Annie Hall (1977), I found most of Allen’s humor too cynical for the innocent ideal of my youth. At the age of 30, a viewing of Annie Hall brought a wonderfully different film experience.


There were two things that I recall liking in the early Allen films that I watched at in my teens. The first was the line in his aforementioned classic about masturbation being “sex with someone I love.” As I said, I was fifteen. The second thing which won me over to the filmmaker on some small level was within the storyline of Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). Allen’s character, Cliff Stern, is a documentary filmmaker with the same neurotic and cynical attitude about love which turned me away from Alvy Singer, and yet it was within this film that I began to appreciate the Woody Allen personas. This is completely due to the fact that Cliff owns only one 16mm print, and that film is Singin’ in the Rain (1952), and the passionate way he talks about watching the beloved musical. It is impossible to be a complete cynical and love Singin’ in the Rain as much as Allen clearly does.


A shared love of the same pop-culture piece of art has a way of bringing people together. When you first start dating someone new, these are usually among the first questions asked during the ‘getting-to-know-you’ portion of the relationship. What is your favorite book? What kind of music do you listen to? What are your favorite movies? Even if we have little else in common, this shared love of the same things can bridge that gap. Musicals tend to have the increased emotional attachment, due to the manner in which music seems to speak volumes in sentimentality. Indeed, each of the films on my list are movies connected and intertwined with memories of my youth and my life thus far. Not one of these films has been watched just once, or even just a couple of times, but are films which I have already carried with me. There are no storm clouds in my life which can’t be momentarily cleared away by a little Singin’ in the Rain.

Joe Piscopo and Paul Sorvino in How Sweet It Is

This past weekend, Brian Herzlinger released his original comedy musical, How Sweet It Is. Discussing classic musical influences on his modern musical, Brian inspired me to think about my personal favorites. This may be the easiest list I have compiled, because all I have done is chosen the films I have watched since childhood without ever finding them tiresome. It isn’t the most unique list, but sentimentality has no need for originality.



5. Easter Parade (1948)


            I have seen Easter Parade at least twenty times. Probably closer to 30. My family watches it every Easter, and I even once asked to view it in a class about film musicals in grad school. Despite the countless times I was forced to endure the pastel and lace aspects as the storyline as an unwilling teen, I never once tired of watching Fred Astaire. Though this isn’t my favorite of his films, the pairing with Judy Garland is magic and the toy shop scene remains among my favorite of Astaire’s routines. 


            The tagline for Irving Berlin’s musical was “The Happiest Musical Ever Made,” and it is true that much of the film is just light entertainment. Many of the musical numbers are just creative performances onstage, which provide entertainment and filler for the film. The storyline is simple, similar to the plot of My Fair Lady with a show business twist. This is mostly just a film about performances, and that is more than enough with these entertainers.


4. Guys and Dolls (1955)


            Marlon Brando never struck me as the type to be in a musical, but that is exactly what the musical Guys and Dolls needs. It needed tough looking actors unlikely to be seen singing and dancing. The addition of Frank Sinatra makes it a killer combination and one of the best musicals to ever come out of Hollywood. This film was adapted from the Broadway musical and it features some of the same cast. Sky Masterson (Brando) and Nathan Detroit (Sinatra) will bet on anything when they are out of the racetracks. When trying to get some quick cash, Nathan bets that sky can’t seduce the new missionary (Jean Simmons) that just moved into the neighborhood. As often happens in the movies, they fall in love and all ends in a song.


            The production and the casting choices are almost as fascinating as the film itself, especially the various stories behind the rivalry Sinatra and Brando had on set. There was some contention over the fact that non-singing actor Brando was given the larger role in the film, one which Sinatra much preferred to the one he was given despite the extra title song added for his presence in the film. Brando’s response was practical jokes, such as intentionally flubbing lines to ensure repeat takes of uncomfortable scenes. However difficult it was to cast this film, and however tense the production was, the results are fantastic. Who cares that Brando’s vocals for the musical numbers needed to be spliced together from several different takes? Somehow it worked out, and Sinatra moved on by performing “Luck Be a Lady” onstage for years to come. Now we think of him when we hear that song, not Brando.


3. The Wizard of Oz (1939)


This is one of the most memorable films of all time, and it would be difficult for anyone to claim that they made it through their childhood without seeing it on television at least once. Not only has The Wizard of Oz claimed a home in the hearts of many for generation after generation, but it has also been given a place in film history. Growing up, it was an event if we turned the television on and discovered that The Wizard of Oz was playing. Even though it was available on VHS, there was something special about knowing this film was a constant. Because of the high number of times it appears on television, studies have shown that this is the highest watched film in history.


            Because of this, I imagine most everyone is familiar with the story and all of the wonders it has to offer. This is another film with a great deal of drama within the production, and that can be fascinating as well. Personally, I just love this film for purely nostalgic reasons. It is far from a favorite film of mine, but watching it brings me back to childhood on some small level. I never saw the new Oz film. Walt Disney was furious when MGM had the rights to the beloved book series, and the Disney studio has made several sequels and sub-par rip-offs ever since. I’m sure there is some merit to the new Oz film, but nothing will ever compare to the classic.


2. West Side Story (1961)


            West Side Story was the first musical I saw onstage, and immediately following it became the first musical I saw on film. The dance turned into fight immediately made an impression, as did the fantastic songs which fill the musical score by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Soundheim. Winner of 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, this film version of the classic musical is one of those rare films which are as good as they are memorable.


            Taking Romeo and Juliet and updating it to 1950s New York City with music, West Side Story is about the forbidden love between two members of rival gangs. The Jets are a group of white thugs and The Sharks are the Puerto Rican gang members in the neighborhood, and both constantly fight each other. When one of the Jets (Richard Beymer) falls in love with one of the Sharks (Natalie Wood), they think that they can find a way to be together, but the tragedy of the rivalry takes over. This colorful winner of Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design is a vibrant film, and also one with an emotional punch within the storyline.


1. Singin’ In the Rain (1952)


            Singin’ in the Rain follows the advent of sound in motion pictures, and the rippling effects it had in Hollywood, complete with a reenactment of the most memorable moment of The Jazz Singer (1927). Gene Kelly stars as a silent film star who is forced to reinvent himself when sound becomes a demanding necessity for modern audiences. There are many scenes showing an accurate and comical portrayal of the switch to sound filmmaking, including a particularly memorable sequence in which the microphone is unsuccessfully hidden in numerous locations on set.


The film within the film is a mess in test screenings, mostly because of the awful sound, including a leading actress with a shrill and uncivilized voice that doesn’t match the audience’s expectations after seeing her elegant beauty in countless silent films. These were problems that were actually dealt with in the early days of sound, with countless foreign actors suddenly out of work because of their troublesome accents. Singin’ in the Rain utilizes this chapter in film history to advance the storyline, advancing the plot towards a solution that turns the flop into a successful musical, with up-and-coming actress Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) lending her voice to dub over the voice of irritating film starlet Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen).


As well as Kelly’s signature over-the-top fantasy finale number, Singin’ in the Rain has some fantastic smaller bits as well. I have always loved “Make ‘Em Laugh,” which Donald O’Conner so enthusiastically performs in the role of Cosmo Brown. And there is no denying the simple elegant spectacle of the title number. Who hasn’t hummed that tune walking down a rainy street filled with puddles? Seriously, I can’t be the only one.

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A-Z Daily Throwback Review: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)


         Wolverine is an extremely popular comic book character. As a child I never read X-Men, but Wolverine was still a favorite of mine. The reason was because of how simply awesome a single image of the character could look. This has nothing to do with the story, and in watching the X-Men Origins: Wolverine film, it occurs to me that the single image is always better when this character is concerned. Many might have hopes that Wolverine would redeem the mess that was X-Men: The Last Stand, but this film is created by the same Hugh Jackman production company, Seed Production. For this reason alone, Wolverine and X3 have more in common than the first two films. 


         Perhaps Wolverine is more complex or interesting in the comics, but in this film he quickly becomes dull. Wolverine’s very indestructibility makes each battle pointless, especially when characters are involved that are certain to survive. The whole point of the movie becomes lost as we know the inevitable outcome of the prequel. All we discover is a weak explanation for how Wolverine lost his memory at the beginning of X-Men. The origins of his metal blades could be explained in the trailer, and his actual indestructible nature is never clarified beyond what was known in the three X-Men films.


         The film follows the indestructible half-brothers, each with unique retractable claws. Logan and Victor Creed are apparently immortal, though they grow to a manly Hugh Jackman and beefed up Liev Schreiber before they stop aging. These aspects aren’t explained, but their nature leads them to war. Unable to die, they fight in each American war until Vietnam, when they become disillusioned and corrupted. They are recruited by William Stryker (Danny Huston) to join a private army of mutants, but eventually the brothers part ways with a difference in beliefs.


         Rather than develop the conflict between these two brothers, this film spends more time indulging fans with special mutant appearances. Gambit makes an appearance after being cut from two of the other X-Men films, and a number of other characters from another generation of X-Men appear. There are numerous action sequences and a mad-villain plan to take over the world (or something like that), but the action is the only plot point that matters.

Rapture-Palooza Press Junket

This past weekend I sat down with three comedic talents from the upcoming film, Rapture-Palooza; Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, and Rob Huebel. The press junket was held at a hotel, as they often are. This time it was in Beverly Hills on a Sunday, so I arrived early without the city’s usual traffic to slow me down. They had the usual spread of food out for the press, including this particular hotel’s signature imitation of a Hostess ho-ho. I refrained, going for the artesian imported bottled water instead.

The interviews were to be held in hotel room which had tables and chairs in place of beds. Waiting for the talent to arrive, I found myself needing to use the facilities, releasing that fancy water from the oblong-shaped bottle back out to sea. As luck would have it, I was exiting the restroom at the same moment that Corddry was entering the room. As is the case in nearly every hotel I have ever been in, the restroom is located near the room’s only entrance, so Corddry and I had an awkward shuffle. As we sat down, Corddry asked how long I had been in the restroom. I looked at him with complete seriousness and responded, “I’ve been in there since last night. This is my hotel room. I have no idea what is going on.”


There was a great deal of joking when I talked to these three guys. Robinson even broke into a little impromptu singing when discussing his improvised vocal riffs in the film, but there was a serious aspect to the interviews as well. The film is a comedy, but one which was filmed during a time that some seriously believed there was a possibility it would soon come true. It is a film about the coming of the end of times, and the production took place during the May 21st predictions of 2011. On the evening before, director Paul Middleditch made an announcement to his cast and crew, saying “if I don’t see you on Monday, obviously they were right.”


It is no secret that when Hollywood finds something that works, there are bound to be a dozen duplicates following. The success of a product results in an increase of production; this is just simply supply and demand, but it begs a larger question. Why is it popular in the first place? In the past decade there have been films about the end of the world within the framework of many different sub-genres. Nearly every monster of horror movies has resulted in the destruction of civilization. This year alone has several science fiction films which deal with a post-apocalyptic Earth.

James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, and Danny McBride in This Is the End (2013)

Rob Corddry has been in three post-apocalyptic comedies recently, including last year’s Seeking a Friend at the End of the World and the zombie romance, Warm Bodies. Craig Robinson has two out this year. As Corddry puts it, “We as a people are obsessed with our own mortality.” But how is it that this obsession has become so humorous in the past year? Rob Huebel informed me with deadpan expression that he believes the end of the world is “probably going to happen this year.” Could he be right? Or is there another explanation for this sudden shift into apocalyptic comedy.


Rob Corddry as a zombie in Warm Bodies

In Hollywood Genre: Formulas, Filmmaking, and the Studio System, Thomas Schatz proves that film genres are both a ‘static’ and ‘dynamic’ system. What this simply means is that there are elements of films, of all genres and sub-genres, which will always remain the same as long as those particular films continue to be made. Conversely, there are aspects of a genre which are forever in flux.


 Schatz agrees with a “lifespan” of genres as stated by Henri Focillon in The Life of Forms in Art. This lifespan plays out in stages after the genre first appears in films. The first is “an experimental stage, during which the conventions are isolated and established”.The second stage, the classic stage, is described by Schatz as a time when the conventions are “mutually understood by artist and audience”. These are the films that conform to the expectations from the experimental stage. The third stage is the age of refinement, “during which certain formal and stylistic details embellish the form”. During this stage, the films are becoming more self-aware. Style replaces substance, as the substance becomes more familiar to audiences. Reviews for Oblivion have praised the visual appearance of the sci-fi apocalypse blockbuster, while the film’s plot seems a hodgepodge of many similar films.


Book of Eli

The final stage is a baroque stage, “when the form and its embellishments are accented to the point where they themselves become the ‘substance or ‘content’ of the work. These are the films that can only exist with the knowledge of previous genre patterns. This is where the apocalyptic comedies seem to be coming in recently. When the initial wave of apocalypse films popped up, the emphasis was on the fear and hopelessness of the situation. In films such as The Road, Book of Eli and countless zombie films, the future looked bleak and the end of the world was no laughing matter, but these movies work as a cathartic tool for helping society to address specific social anxieties, making it possible for the arrival of a new wave of films which allow us to laugh at these same fears. “Religion, and God, and the Apocalypse is a real fascination for me,” admitted Coddry, “so it’s fun to pepper that with F-bombs.”



But even the comedians can appreciate the reason for the new wave of these films. Work is work, and as Corddry puts it, “if you’re gonna throw a dart a movie, you’re gonna hit an end of the world one.” Screenwriter Chris Matheson (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) created a film about The Rapture in Rapture-Palooza, but it is also in many ways a satire about the state of modern America. As director Middleditch simply describes the film, “It’s about the Apocalypse at the end of your driveway.”

Even though the film was on a “micro-budget” and was shot in only 18 days in Canada, there is an extremely high amount of talent involved in the production. Corddry praises the method of filmmaking such as this, which says “Let’s take not a lot of money and a lot of people that will work for not a lot of money, that we know will have a report and get them in a room to tell jokes. It seems like that’s happening more, which I love.” This group of people includes Academy Award Nominee Anna Kendrick (50/50, Up In the Air), John Francis Daley (“Freaks and Geeks,” “Bones”), Ana Gasteyer (“Saturday Night Live”), Thomas Lennon (“Reno 911!”), Paul Scheer (“The League”), John Michael Higgins (“Arrested Development”), and Tyler Labine (“Reaper”). “I feel like there has been a trend lately,” Huebel added, “where a lot of movies and TV shows are starting to use more improvisers.”  This is definitely one of those films, and a collection of talent like this makes me anticipate the deleted scenes they must have compiled for the bonus features of an upcoming DVD and Blu-ray release.

Rapture-Palooza will be released in theaters on June 7th, 2013.




A-Z Daily Throwback Review: Walk the Line (2005)

         Every year around award season there are a slew of biopics released, because these films more than any other seem to inspire acting nominations. The only thing that increases the chances are music biopics, which is why there was a great deal of talk when word got around that Joaquin Phoenix would be playing the guitar and singing in the film based n Johnny Cash’s musical career, Walk the Line. Anyone who knows the history of Johnny Cash may have been very excited about this film, but I was a skeptic so soon after Ray. The similarities between the lives of these two is astounding, but I had no urge to see the same film twice, no matter how good the performances. Both were scarred at a young age by the loss of a brother in tragic accidents, both struggled with drugs, and both had a hard time remaining faithful to their wife. The difference which makes Walk the Line a great film, is that Johnny Cash may not be the hero in his own film. Instead it is clear that June Carter is the solid rock which Walk the Line can rely on, which is helped a great deal by Reese Witherspoon’s performance.


         Johnny Cash tried to start his career singing gospel music, but he soon realized that his granite voice was better served singing dark songs written about prison, even though he had never been there himself. Walk the Line does its best to answer questions about Cash’s career, such as the meaning behind his songs or how he got the nickname “Man in Black”, but the film works best when it uses the power of storytelling. There might be essential elements from the plot missing, but because Walk the Line focuses on the romance between Johnny and June there is obvious direction in the story. There is a clear purpose and audiences are insured a happy conclusion. It is the same element which made another film in the best actress category work as well. Pride and Prejudice also knew how to make the audience want something, and then make them wait the remainder of the film to get it. Walk the Line lets us know early on that if we care at all for Johnny Cash, we must care for June. Then the film forces us to watch them unable to be together just to allow the tension to build. This is great filmmaking, whether it really happened this way or not.


         As with all films based on a musical artist, it will help a great deal if you are a fan of the music, but Walk the Line has the ability to draw crowds that have never heard Johnny Cash. Because of the romance element, it is possible that audiences that hate country music may still enjoy the film. The same can not be said about many other films of this sort. Although the music is good, and Phoenix and Witherspoon both do a great job singing and entertaining, the real magic comes from their performances during the private moments. Although the music is certain to push one or both of them on stage to win an award, it was the rest of the film which got them the nomination in the first place.


A-Z Daily Throwback Review: Vacancy (2007)


Despite the fact that this just appeared to be another generic thriller cashing in on the latest trends, I found myself quickly won over by the energetic and creative title sequence. It was so untraditional and fun that I was extremely aware that I was about to watch a movie, but now I also had a tone to watch the film with, and I was eased into an extremely enjoyable experience. Vacancy plays out like a puzzle unraveling, starting as a seemingly simple tale of two ordinary people, much like Hitchcock used in his films. Hitchcock films also put these ordinary people into extraordinary situations, and this is also the case in Vacancy, a much smarter thriller than I would have ever imagined.


Vacancy begins with a couple driving on a deserted road at night. Who they are, where they are coming from, and where they are going is not told or explained at the beginning of the film, as it might in a lazier script. Instead the film unfolds slowly, at first just giving little bits of information by the way they act together. David (Luke Wilson) looks exhausted and is bitter that Amy (Kate Beckinsale) has been sleeping while he drives. During this time he took a side road which nearly always leads to trouble. After they have car trouble they are forced to spend the evening in a motel somewhere in the middle of the wilderness. This is the last thing that a couple with a failing relationship wants to do, but they have no choice until the mechanic comes back in the morning.


The motel is as awful as you can imagine a bad motel could be, each room equipped with plenty of bugs and tasteless furniture. David and Amy’s room also comes with the additional perks of sudden knocks on the door leading to the room next to them. There is also phone calls which leads to even more mysteries with the programming on their television. Vacancy begins with the basics of horror; loud noises, using them effectively. Vacancy is a smart film that uses the modern elements and trends of horror set in the basic plot structure of a classic Hitchcockian thriller. After the noises from their neighbor they have nothing to do and the television doesn’t work, so they try the VHS tapes left on top of the VCR. All of these tapes seem to be slasher films, all taking place in a hotel room which looks a great deal like the room they are in.


There isn’t much to the story, other than a couple trying to survive, so if it is twists and turns that you are hoping for you will most definitely be disappointed. It isn’t the way the film turns out so much as how it gets there which is what makes Vacancy fun. It is the suspense in-between the predictable moments which allow the film to thrive. Too many movies like this dwell far too much on the gruesome aspects of the situation rather than the suspense and anticipation, which Vacancy has hit dead-on.