Annual catch-up: zombies and slashers

Besides the annual Christmas movie marathon, this short work break has allowed me to catch up on the other worthy genres that inspire my devotion.

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)

The first Zombieland was a whole 10 years ago, in 2009, but its combination of humour, zombie goodness and star power (with Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson and Bill Murray) made it a movie to remember, and this a sequel to cause great anticipation.

This had all the humour, and all the above star power returning, plus Rosario Dawson and Luke Wilson, but zombie goodness it kinda lacked.

Apart from a reasonably inventive climax, it had little large-scale tactical zombie battle scenes, and also few scenes of the opposite end of the scale, the intimate teeth-clenching hand-to-hand zombie combat scenes.

And those are why we watch zombie movies – the humour and Hollywood personality power, while they set it apart, are essentially window dressing.

Then there was the cool idea of famous settings that never realised its full potential.

The first third was set at a crumbling White House repurposed as a stronghold, with the Oval Office and a bunch of ripped-up portraits and accessories of the former first lady all put to good effect.

The middle was set at a resurrected Graceland, repurposed as a waystation. You saw all these iconic interiors of the real Graceland, like the white piano room and the jungle games room, rise up in surreal splendour in a zombie-ravaged wasteland, only to be half-destroyed and blood-spattered in some of the film’s best fight scenes.

But the makers ultimately missed an opportunity to balance these out structurally and thematically by setting the ending at a third and equally famous American location or building, transformed by the new world order.

Instead they set it in the fictional location of Babylon amongst some useless hippies, which had minimal value for either plot or atmosphere.

A reasonably enjoyable movie, but the overall effect was slightly thin and lacklustre. Nothing as memorable as the original and will not have the same re-watchability.

Halloween (2018)

Jamie Lee Curtis is now a badass grandma who’s spent the rest of her life since the events of the original movie prepping herself, her daughter and granddaughter for the inevitable return of Michael Myers. She’s gone nutty and unfit for society from this process, but she’s very cool and outfitted with many guns at her crazy-lady fortress in the woods. All ready for Michael Myers to escape and return to finish her and her loved ones off.

Bar the new premise, they keep it very much along the lines of the original Halloween, with the opening credits and the classic-slasher plot line of the middle of the movie all echoing the original, as well as fun visual homages to reward fans, including lots of coat hangers, wardrobes, and a doll’s house mirroring the original house to reward faithful fans.

They’ve kept it simple, spooky and effective and the premise delivers and builds on the original, with a bunch of useless men and policemen dispatched in one way or another, leaving what’s now three generations of Jamie Lees to band together to get the job done themselves.

It’s not quite as atmospheric and scary as the original. Most of its strength and style comes direct from Jamie Lee Curtis herself, like with Arnie in the Terminator series or Bruce Willis in the Die Hards. But it’s a nice solid, simple, satisfying movie that doesn’t mess anything up. And with any kind of iconic series, that’s pretty much all you can hope for.

 

Down the rabbit hole with: Jane Austen

One of my favourite things about the world of books and movies is the way they lead you around by the nose, back and forth between them.

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An author, genre or entire series can form a rabbit hole, some I emerge from in a matter of weeks, others forming a whole warren that can take years to traverse, interconnecting with other related authors, genres and series. I fell into a warren of Stephen King books and adaptations about five years ago I’m yet to clamber out of, blinking. It doesn’t help that he is master of the cross-reference, meaning new works constantly lead you to back catalogue. Nice sales tactic, King!  

My most recent rabbit hole, literary biographies, saw me off crashing down side route after side route, and I have emerged from one as convert to the cult of known as Janeites.

Three literary biographies survived 2016’s Minimalist Challenge and 2015s Curing of a Bibliomaniac. My experience over the past year writing my own first novel has led me to poke with increasingly greedy interest into the lives of the authors I most admire.

So I devoured A. N. Wilson on the life of C. S. Lewis, Peter Ackroyd on Charles Dickens and my beloved Carol Shields on Jane Austen with gluttonous pleasure, wondering how did they write even one book, which bitter experience now informs me is a gruesome, impossible task?

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Deserves its own post. A standout biography.

All these were outstanding and made me determined to fill in the blanks of my reading and to re-read favourites. Starting with the blanks, I’m two-thirds through Oliver Twist and have now read Lewis’ sci-fi novel trilogy. Yes, he wrote space books! (They are a bit heavy. Strictly for extreme Lewis or sci-fi nerds).

Knowing the depth of the rabbit hole Lewis’ non-fiction list represents, and ditto for re-reading the entire Dickens canon, I tackled Austen first, since she was the only  one I’d never read at all. 

Another profoundly affecting book.

Another profoundly affecting book.

The story of her life – and untimely death – moved me and captured my imagination. Lewis and Dickens, while they certainly struggled, at least were born men. All the world wanted from Jane Austen was for her to get married and procreate, but with the encouragement of a lovely Dad she forged her own path, sometimes a lonely and difficult one, and in doing so gave the world gifts it still treasures.

And all to be struck down in her prime. This author who had suddenly hit national fame with just a few works of brilliant insight was struck with sudden illness and wasted quickly to a death at about 40 years old, without so much as a diagnosis. They now think it was perhaps breast cancer, the Shields biography explained.  

It’s hard for a modern soul to comprehend how such a woman, famous, beloved and blessed with a rare genius just flowering, not to mention committed to succeeding despite some serious odds, could simply be permitted to expire without any fanfare or medicine or even a knowledge of why she was dying. And yet this is what happened to Jane Austen, who was denied life and whose further works were hence denied to humanity. 

Struck by these ideas and by the social constraints that inspired Austen as much as they confined her, I picked up a giant omnibus and worked my way delightedly through Sense and Sensibility, then Pride and Prejudice. I found their intelligence and wit, their painstaking evocation of a world complete in and of itself, as utterly worthy of inclusion on any required reading list of English literature – and a damn sight more enjoyable than many other books on said list.

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A very large book.

I stopped here, however, having failed to get through the omnibus in six weeks, but now dying to see it all recreated on screen. I had a stab at Mansfield Park, on Netflix, which utterly failed to hold my interest, then turned to the BBC Pride and Prejudice.

This is in itself required viewing, as Bridget Jones’ dedication to Mr Darcy in a wet white shirt shows, and hits the jackpot. Glorious escapism and a near faultless adaptation, with excellent scripting, casting and story transmission. It even preserved the essential humour. The Ministry, who I was by episode three confident enough to drag into it, turned to me and said, “Is this supposed to be a comedy?” “Yes!” I replied, joyfully.

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My cheat sheet to get the Ministery up to speed on the plot of Pride and Prejudice.

Next we debated Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but I don’t want to go there. It might ruin my pleasure in the BBC series. It got 5.8 on IMDB, encouraging for a zombie movie, but all things considered it’s low priority. After all, there is The Walking Dead to provide zombies as required when the interminable mid-season break ends. 

Next I’ll probably read Emma, then re-watch the film for 90s nostalgia purposes. I’ve discovered the Ministry hasn’t seen it; terribly remiss, since his only reason is an irrational fear of Gwyneth Paltrow. He hasn’t seen Sliding Doors, either, so we’ve clearly got some remedial work to do these holidays.

Then maybe I’ll hunt out a good screen adaptation of Oliver Twist.

See what I mean?  The rabbit hole is a delightful place to be. It’s amazing I ever come up for air.