ThanksKilling - Movie Review

In honor of the impending holiday, the Geek has chosen for review the 2009 low-budget release ThanksKilling. You know to expect great things from a movie billed as the ultimate in low budget horror, but I was not ready for what I experienced the moment I pressed play on my Netflix Instant Streaming media player. Don't get me wrong, this is not a movie that any one will ever put on a list of their favorite films of all time. This isn't even going on any lists of must-see so-good-it's-bad films. Still, for the entire hour and seven minutes the film lasted, I was entertained by the sheer lunacy of the proceedings.

The film's opening is tits. Yes, literally, the film begins with a lingering shot of a lone nipple on a large breast. Normally this would be a positive for a B-movie, but sadly the quality of this breast is below the standards of what I expect from modern indie cinema. Back in the 1980's, you would frequently come across nude actresses who really ought not be nude. This opening scene reminded me of this staple of a long forgotten era, as the older blonde woman whose tits are hanging out of a costume-shop puritan ensemble, really should not be naked. This is not to say she is unattractive, in fact for an older lady she's holding up very well, but still I could have done without seeing the goods.

The tits serve as an introduction to the opening chase, in which we watch the topless pilgrim fleeing through the forest with all the haste of a tranquilized turtle. During this sequence we are first introduced to a recurring purple, psychedelic camera perspective than is clearly meant to represent the view of our unseen assailant. The scene concludes when our hapless protestant trips over a rock and comes face to face with our antagonist, a rubber turkey-demon puppet. The foul adversarial fowl spews forth what might be described as a one liner were is humorous, and then dispatches the nippley milk maid with his Native American ceremonial axe.

Cue title screen.

Still with me? Really? You're still on-board for a movie about a demonic, wise-cracking turkey? Excellent. The fact that you're still here means that you know exactly what to expect from the rest of this film. We jump to the modern day, meet a group of thirty-something teenagers on their way home from college for Thanksgiving Break, and quickly get to the killing. Of the so-called "teenagers," we have  aa strong showing of all the cliched characters that the genre is known for. We have the Jock, the Slut, the Nerd, the Fat Guy, and the the Last Girl are all represented. The only real surprise is we never see the Slut's rack despite a tease early in the film. The acting is uniformly terrible, partially a result of inane dialogue and poor scripting, but if you're actually still watching this movie, you clearly aren't one to care about those sorts of things.

The turkey is a ridiculous rubber hand-puppet that can only be used in extreme close-up, which only serves to reinforce how damn rubbery it is. The one-liners he spews aren't particularly clever, but really did you need anything more ridiculous than a talking, killer turkey? The methods by which the turkey dispatches his victims are mostly varied and imaginative, a strong plus for a film of this type. We're even treated to a sex scene, surprisingly lacing in nudity, in which the Slut unknowingly has sex with the turkey before meeting her untimely fate. My favorite kill of the film is awarded to the Fat Guy, who undergoes a fun food-fantasy sequence that ends similarly to the chest-burster scene in Alien.

In terms of the cinematography on display, I feel that some special mention should go to the psuedo-animated scene explaining the turkey's backstory. The drawings here are fun and fit in with the cartoonish feel of the rest of the film. I'm not sure why this scene is included, whether they didn't have the time and money to costume and film live actors or if it was a aesthetic choice, but either way I felt the sequence worked well within the context of the film. The cartoon drawings make another appropriate appearance later in the film, for the previously mentioned Fat Guy food-fantasy.

As ridiculous as this film is, as bad as the script and acting are, for how little money was clearly spent putting this film together, I nevertheless enjoyed ThanksKilling. I could string together a thousand complaints about the film, but none of them matter. This is an entertaining, low budget B-movie that makes no apologies for what it is. To that same end, I cannot make an exception based on intent. Make no mistake, this is not good cinema. Then again, you're reading a site called B-Movie Geek; you probably care as little about good cinema as I do. You may need a beer or two and group of friends to enjoy it properly, but ThanksKilling could be a great way to spend the evening after Thanksgiving dinner. Just don't think Grandma is going to enjoy it.

The Bottomline: This Thanksgiving the Geek would like to give thanks to the filmmakers for having the balls to put together a script about such a ridiculous antagonist, gathering the actors and funding, and then actually making this film. There is no reason for this movie to exist, but I'm glad it does. This is what low-budget filmmaking is all about. Two Bruces.

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Avatar - Commentary

It is official; I don't understand the hype surrounding James Cameron's upcoming science fiction/action hybrid, Avatar. It's not that I doubt Cameron's abilities as a director, after all this is the same man that brought us both Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I consider those two films as the absolute best examples of the sci-fi/action genre in existence. Each film displays a perfect blend of story and character development, expertly balanced by some of the most impressive visual effects of their times.

At first glance, Avatar appears to continue in the tradition of these fine films. There seems to be a strong human element to the story, seeking to add a grounding point for the more fantastical alien elements. Cameron's  last feature film before this was 1997's Titanic. In the time since that film's release, Cameron has worked on a steady stream of IMAX-style documentary films, no doubt using the opportunity to develop and hone the technology on display in Avatar. Given that Cameron has had nearly 12 years for his next project to percolate, it's not wonder that expectation have been so high.

In the months leading up the first trailer release, rumors have swirled regarding the highly realistic special effects in the film. This is a point that has been pressed by the early marketing campaign surrounding the film. I'm at a loss of words other than to say the effects are not that impressive. I'll be the first to admit that final textures and animations on computer generated effects are typically not in place until very late in the process, but for such a highly hyped feature, the trailer does not sell me on the point. The blue aliens and outlandish alien landscapes look about on par with what I remember from The Phantom Menace. Note I'm not saying they look bad, they just have a cartoonish quality to them and are not as photo-realistic as I had anticipated. As someone who plays video games, I don't think these effects are appreciably better than any of the highly praised Blizzard cinematics from the last year or so.

That said, I think the actual story of Avatar looks interesting enough. Sure, the idea of a human being "going native" on an alien world isn't exactly the most original tale, but neither was cybernetic killer from the future and look what Cameron crafted from that. The important thing here is Cameron is continuing his tradition of grounding his brand of fantastic sci-fi action with a very basic story about humanity. Context can be a wonderful thing.
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Paranormal Activity - Commentary & Spoof

The surprise hit of the year, indie horror darling Paranormal Activity took theaters by storm during the month of October, emerging from its theatrical run as the most profitable movie of all time. This is an impressive feat, one that seems all the more impossible when one considers the film's budget was a paltry $15,000, almost half what it cost to make The Blair Witch Project, the other well known and profitable first-person-camera style indie horror success story. It is that low budget that allowed Paranormal Activity to become the most profitable movie of all time, for if more money had been spent making the film, the percent return would have been that much lower. Still, a domestic box office total closing in on $100 million dollars is none too shabby for a movie filmed in the home of its writer/director, Oren Peli.

Given that this was shaping up the the genre event picture of the year, you can bet that the Geek got his butt into the theater to see Paranormal Activity when it was released locally. I enjoyed the film immensely, but I am more than aware that the film isn't perfect. This is a slow burn type of film, one that gore hounds and action junkies are going to reject as plodding and, dare I say, boring. Much like in The Blair Witch Project, the main characters of Paranormal Activity spends the majority of the film's runtime bickering and not listening to one another. The characters' actions, well-intentioned or not, only serve to compound their growing problems, resulting in a helpless and frustrating experience for the audience.

Allow me to reiterate, I did enjoy this film. However, the ways in which the characters interact make me suspect that I won't be rewatching it too many times. The Micah character responds to the growing threat in a way that any rational person  would not. He chooses to ignore all of the signs that the situation is spiraling beyond his ability to control and illogically continues down the same misguided path. I understand that his hubris is a conceit necessary for the plot as constructed, but I would have liked to have seen a more realistic approach to the manner in which the characters address the problem they are facing. Instead of being bound together the escalation of events only results in widening the emotional gap between our protagonists, at which point the script devolves into an inane series of arguments and bickering. Not the most interesting turn of events.

All of that said, my mind began to wonder just how different the film would be if you took away the otherworldly elements. Given that there are few special effects, you'd have a film that was largely the same but whose focus was now simply the deterioration of a couple's clearly troubled relationship. You'd have a story that could pretty much belong to any person or couple in the world. At any rate, based on these characters, I don't think you'd have a very interesting film. Micah and Katie simply aren't dynamic enough to hold together a compelling narrative without the ghosts and demons supporting them. Without the paranormal activity, you'd end up with something pretty... normal.
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Zombiemania - Movie Review

I suppose there is always time for firsts, and today is the Geek's first critical look at a documentary. Zombiemania is a lovingly crafted piece chronicling the development of the current zombie craze that is currently permeating popular culture. The footage originally aired on SpaceCast, a Canadian television channel which in unavailable here in the States. I personally was able to catch Zombiemania on Netflix via their Instant Watch option.

The director, Donna Davies, is clearly passionate for the subject matter and does a commendable job presenting the inner workings of the genre in a way mainstream audiences will comprehend. Although one doesn't normally think of zombies as being the most complicated of movie tropes, there in fact exists a very rich history surrounding their origins. Zombies as villains can be traced back to some of the earliest films, but they were not the typical zombies that we think of today. In older movies, like White Zombie or King of the Zombies, zombies were the result of voodoo curses or other magics. These are normal, living people whose minds have been ensnared and their bodies enslaved to do their master's bidding.

When George Romero introduced the concept of the modern 'living dead' zombie, he subjugated an entire genre's worth of previous works and folklore. In the documentary, Romero himself admits that he never set out to categorically redefine the zombie as he has a deep seated appreciation for those older types. In fact, he claims, he initially did not refer to his living dead monsters as zombies, nor did he intend them to be interpreted as such. Despite this, each of the interview subjects give credit to Romero for being the father of the modern movie zombie.

Zombiemania talks to a number of people knowledgeable about the zombie phenomenon, from actors and make up artists, to authors and anthropologist. A couple of the more prominent names on this list include Zombie Survival Guide author Max Brooks, and special effects wizard Tom Savini. Each speaker brings their own unique views to the discussion. Savini, for instance, goes into detail about the types of make-up and effects that go into making a walking corpse look as realistic as it possibly can. His contributions shed light upon the various advancements in both effects technologies and application techniques that  have occurred over the last thirty years. Max Brooks spends a good deal of time in seeming disbelief over the success of his two zombie-themed bestsellers, and showing his appreciation for the fans that are so dedicated to the concept.

Led by Brooks, the documentary spends some time exploring some of the more obscure facets of zombie movie fandom. One such trend that is gaining in popularity is the phenomenon of organized zombie walks. Essentially, groups of strangers gather together at a predetermined location, don costumes and make-up, and then make their way en mass to some secondary location, all while doing their best zombie impressions. It's presented as a fun, if somewhat sticky, way to spend an afternoon. As this sort of activity demonstrates, zombie fans can be very passionate and dedicated in ways that fans of other genres typically are not.

Zombiemania spends some time pondering what it is about zombies that appeals so strongly to the modern subconscious. The social commentary of the Romero films is touched upon, pressing the point that the underlying message of each of his films was always relevant to the decade in which the film was released. Night of the Living Dead has civil rights themes; Dawn of the Dead is about consumerism; Day of the Dead addresses ignoring the problem; and Land of the Dead about the increasing distance between the upper and the middle class. I have always felt that using societal context is a great way for Romero to add depth to his work. This lends a timelessness to his films, a property that endures even once the make up and special effects are long since outdated.

I really enjoyed this documentary, and felt it was a good use of the 56 minute runtime. Although there isn't a lot of material here that die hard fans are going to be unfamiliar with, it's always nice to see this information compiled into a single, accessible source. Having so much face-time with the big stars of the genre, both old and new, also helps to legitimize the proceedings for a wide swathe of an decidedly varied fan-base. That said, the documentary is not with its faults. The most glaring of these is the overly-energetic voice over work from a one-liner spewing narrator. I found that the humor contrasted poorly against the seriousness lent to the subject during the interviews. Given the ease with which one might be tempted to dismiss zombies as an academic subject, I felt the attempts at humor were somewhat ill advised (says the hypocritical man with humorously captioned pictures between every paragraph).

The Bottomline: Zombiemania is a loving tribute to a subject close to my heart. Although the lack of new information makes this geared more towards casual fans, any one who likes to see serious treatment of our chosen genre should be pleased. Three Bruces.

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