31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Dawn of the Dead” (2004)

Black Friday 2014
Black Friday 2014

2004 saw two contemporary zombie movies released which owed a great debt to George A. Romero’s pioneering trilogy of undead horrors.  This is the other one.

Whilst “Shaun of the Dead” won over audiences across the globe with it’s witty take on a zombie apocalypse in suburban London, Zack Snyder’s directorial debut “Dawn of the Dead” is now more a footnote to his career as an A-list director of “300”, “Watchmen”, “Sucker Punch”, “Man of Steel” and the 19 DC Comics adaptations he’s currently linked to.

Snyder’s movie sets out its stall from the get-go with nurse Ana (Sarah Polley) having a crap day at work before the world as she knows it ends.  After surviving an attack by her freshly zombiefied husband, Ana barely escapes an apocalyptic sub-division in her car before being run off the road and careening into a tree.  All this mayhem occurs before the titles kick in with a perfectly chosen Johnny Cash song  soundtracking  the end times.

Finding fellow survivors and temporary respite from the undead in a shopping mall, Ana’s group find themselves imprisoned when the Mall’s rent-a-cops start playing God and enforcing  compliance from behind a pistol.  The power struggle continues throughout the rest of the movie, with a makeshift society within the mall constantly threatened by infected newcomers and the surging horde outside.

Whereas Romero uses action in his movies, it clearly isn’t his focus.  Snyder, by contrast, is all in.  This is at least as much an edge-of-the-seat action movie as a horror film, with the scale of the set pieces elevated in accordance with the vastly increased, studio-backed budget of this version.

Snyder’s zombies are not the shuffling, tireless ghouls of Romero’s version but are sprinting, feral, and utterly lethal predators.  The tone of the film reminded me back in 2004 of James Cameron’s “Aliens”, and a decade has done little to change that view.

Whilst the film is undoubtedly a thrill ride, I do miss the underpinning sociological concerns of Romero’s film – where his zombies gravitated to the mall as it represented some kind of still extant collective memory from a time before the fall of mankind, Snyder’s zombies seem to treat the place as an all-you-can-kill buffet.

We might reasonably have expected a sequel to have followed by now, as this was quite the global hit, but Snyder’s skyrocketing career killed any chance of him returning to this material. A planned sequel was quietly shelved – perhaps sensibly, as studios wouldn’t touch an R-rated movie on this scale in these times of austere, micro-budgeted possession/paranormal PG-13 horror fare.

Snyder’s cast is more than solid, with the always excellent Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames and Jake Weber registering particularly in the leads – a pre-“Modern Family” Ty Burrell is also good value as an eminently slappable rich guy and Mekhi Phifer is particularly tragic as a petty criminal and expectant father.

A muscular, loud, brash blockbuster with many of Snyder’s stylistic touchstones – slo-mo violence, graphic sex and underpinning nihilism – present and correct, “Dawn of the Dead” isn’t particularly frightening but it is a gripping and expertly staged film.

It’s best described as a cover version of a classic horror movie, content to do it’s own thing.  Just be glad that Michael Bay didn’t get his mitts on it.

 

Batman and Superman get a title…

…and it’s a doozy.

Are you ready  for 2016’s planet-bashing team-up picture, the luxuriantly-titled “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice”?

Well, it's a title, I guess?
What-the-what-now?

I’ve got to admit, that’s on the cheesier end of the spectrum of proposed titles for this Zack Snyder-helmed, uber-franchise.  But if you’re going to go big, you go titanic, I suppose.  I still think that the WB are onto a loser by not using my Batman Vs Superman: The Smashenating” title, but you don’t want to give away all your eggs in one basket, do you?

The shenanigans erupt on 6 May 2016 – if the film doesn’t back down from another two-fisted, titanic clash – going up against Marvel Studios‘ “Captain America 3″ on the same weekend…

Batfleck Revealed

Ben Affleck as Batman, Image (c) Zack Snyder/Warner Bros
Ben Affleck as Batman, Image (c) Zack Snyder/Warner Bros

So, after teasing us mercilessly with a tarp-on sneak peek at the Batmobile on Twitter yesterday, cheeky rapscallion Zack Snyder only goes and drops our first look at Ben Affleck as his Batman in the still-untitled cinematic dust-up between the Dark Knight and the Last Son of Krypton.

Early nerd word is pointing to the close resemblance to the Jim Lee take on the character – which I can see.  I’m also getting a bit of Frank Miller‘s two-fisted battler from the costume and from Affleck’s physical heft.  This is one Gotham Knight who looks like he can wipe the floor with the reimagined Superman.

Well, for a few seconds at least, until Supes drop kicks him all the way to Star City.

Zack Snyder’s next exercise in filmic shock and awe is still scheduled for 29 April 2016 – the same weekend, currently, as Marvel’s yet-to-lens “Captain America 3”.

Arise, Diana of Themyscira

Proof that Hollywood is nothing if not creative in it’s approach to casting – Gal Gadot cast as Wonder Woman in Zack Snyder’s Batman/Superman movie.

Gal Gadot as Giselle in "Furious 6"
Gal Gadot as Giselle in “Furious 6”

So, as the two-fisted, fearless daughter of an Amazon, we’ve got a charming Israelli actress who looks as though she’d have problems snapping a breadstick, let alone beating the bejesus out of bad guys.

I wait with baited breath to see how this character shakes out...
I wait with baited breath to see how this character shakes out…

I was hoping for Gemma Arterton, but let’s wait and see how Gal does in the role, shall we?  I mean, she can do tough fairly effectively, but I’m not sure that she’s got the presence that the character requires, have only seen her in a handful of roles.

Somebody has some serious training in her future…

 

Beware…The Benman!

The Dark (Coated) Knight
The Dark (Coated) Knight

Oh, internet – when will you learn?

No sooner had the news broken that heart-throb-turned-hypethenate Ben Affleck had signed up to play Batman in Zack Snyder’s 2015-bound follow-up to “Man of Steel”than forums, comment sections and social media went into full-on nerd meltdown mode.  Really – it’s not pretty.

Stepping back for a second, can you imagine the proverbial hot mess Snyder would have unleashed by casting, say, Robert Pattinson in the role?  It would almost have been worth it just for the epic, NeoGaf off-topic forum craziness.

Affleck, lest we forget, is actually a pretty decent actor when he’s not being a fantastic director.  Naysayers can try to skew the debate by invoking “Daredevil” (which he’s not that bad in), “Gigli” or – shudder – “Pearl Harbor” as evidence of his limitations as an actor, but it’s just as easy to remember that he did sterling work in “Dogma”, “Changing Lanes”, “Hollywoodland” (eerie!) and the double-bill of “The Town” and “Argo”, to name but some of his back catalogue.

I’m the first to admit that some of his nineties and early 2000’s output lacks, shall we say, a certain delightful consistency, but which working actor can’t ‘fess up to the same problem?  You can’t hit a home run (or a cricket century) every time you’re up batting.

How about we step back for a second and – you know – let the cameras actually roll on the movie before we wade in and start ripping about a movie project which could be seriously fricking cool?

 

Superman Vs Batman – the movie!

Oh San Diego ComicCon,with this news you are spoiling me...
Oh San Diego ComicCon,with this news you are spoiling me…

M-M-Megaton!

Zack Snyder, fresh from annoying a great many people with this summer’s “Man of Steel” – haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t comment – truly chucked the feline incursionist  amidst the pigeons yesterday by announcing that he and Warner Brothers are now working on a “Superman”/”Batman” team-up movie.

Can you say ‘license to print money’?

According to Warner’s official PR blurb, Henry Cavill and his “MoS” cast mates Diane Lane will return – no actor has yet been cast in the Batman role.   Snyder and Warner will have to get a move on, though – this out-of-left-field franchise flick is due in the summer of 2015.  Alongside, lest we forget, such small scale fare as J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars – Episode Seven” and Joss Whedon’s newly christened “Avengers 2: Age of Ultron”.

Start saving money now, fellow fan-girls and fan-boys – 2015’s going to be a busy summer…

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