Night of the Living DeadI like zombies.  I think they’re cool. There’s not much to them, being that they’re dead and all, and have a mental acuity of a goldfish. They shamble along, wandering aimlessly in any direction, looking for something to eat,  growling. If they spot some likely human prey they head off in that direction, without picking up their pace, or discussing strategy amongst themselves. Your average living person can manage a few zombies without too much trouble, a shot to the head, or a quick detour behind a tree… really, these guys aren’t hard to avoid. Unless there’s a swarm of them, all spread out and coming at you with the determination of ants on their way to a melting popsicle. Then you have to watch yourself, maybe run, or if you brought your car, you can drive away, always a reliable solution to zombie trouble.

Zombie movies can serve many purposes; some are just monster movies, some have more to say.  Night of the Living Dead, George Romero’s classic, was hailed in Europe as an sharp allegory for the American Civil Rights struggle.    The Walking Dead television drama is really about ordinary people who survive an apocalyptic event, not so much the monsters who pursue them. The show’s story lines focus on the challenges of finding and building community, and on the mistrust and savagery that can evolve between humans in bleak and stressful situations.  It’s a character driven drama, and you root for the main cast and try to forgive them for the terrible things they do because, well, zombies.

And speaking of zombies that’s about how I feel on this, the last day of April and the last day of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. It’s been a great event, I’ve learned a lot, and enjoyed checking in with everyone.  Happy May!


X-Men ApocalypseToday, the A-Z Blogging Challenge is brought to us by the letter X.

X is a tough one.

When I was a kid, and we would go on road trips, my mother would try to keep us occupied with alphabet games.  It was the kind of educational entertainment that she favored.  We would run through the letters, thinking of things that started with each one, and we would get to X and someone would say “xylophone” and that was okay and then the next person would say “x-ray” and the judges would have to consider, but it would get through because it was X we were dealing with here, and it was tough to come up with words.

But now I’m thinking, what about X-Men?

My mother wouldn’t go for it, since she had no use for superheroes, but the rest of us might find it hard to ignore the X-Men, because a movie about them comes out every couple of years or so, featuring a Millennial cast of thousands.  Jennifer Lawrence keeps showing up, in spite of all her Oscar nominations, and in this next installment she takes on a leadership role which should be pretty straightforward after all that Hunger Games nonsense.  The bad guy she’s fighting is called Apocalypse, and that’s interesting because we haven’t seen it before, a villain bent on ending the world who has a mission-appropriate nickname.  Oscar Isaac jumps into the Apocalypse role, hopefully reaping a big payday in exchange for saying grand things like, “Everything they’ve built will fall! And from the ashes of their world, we’ll build a better one!” (You know, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the bad guys would try to end the world just because it seemed like a cool idea.  Those were simpler times, I guess.)

X-Men: Apocalypse hasn’t been screened for anyone, but best I can tell, it’s the sort of movie where everybody battles (almost) to the death, and then the good guys win, and then we all head out to the back yard for a Memorial Day barbecue.

Seems like a fun way to spend an afternoon.  Possibly better than an alphabet game.

Are you an X-Men fan? Do you think Jennifer Lawrence is wasting her talents? Can you think of a lot of words that start with X?

Obvious Child

Obvious ChildHave you heard about Indiana’s governor Mike Pence? He’s put such restrictive abortion laws in place in Indiana that a group of Hoosier women have taken to calling his office regularly, to let him know how their reproductive systems are functioning.  They figure, he’s so interested in what their bodies are doing, they should keep him posted.  All the time.

A typical exchange:

Them: “Good Morning, Governor Pence’s office”

Me: “Good Morning. I just wanted to inform the Governor that things seem to be drying up today. No babies seem to be up in there. Okay?”

Among the restrictions in a recent law promoted and signed by Pence is the requirement that the “remains” from miscarriages be buried or burned.  This could be tough, since women who miscarry early just experience what amounts to a heavy period; there are no discernible “remains” to bury. Sometimes the pregnancy ends before a woman is even sure she is pregnant, which begs the question, how will the government know?

Well, I guess in Indiana, you can just call the governor’s office and ask him what he thinks.

The Periods for Pence movement got me thinking about a lovely little film that came out a few years ago called Obvious Child. Jenny Slate, in a terrific performance, plays a struggling comedian named Donna who finds herself pregnant after a one-night stand. She chooses to get an abortion, but that’s not what the movie is about – instead, the question she struggles with is when, and how, or even if she will tell the young man she slept with that their evening together had an unplanned result. The two of them cross paths, and miss signals, and otherwise mess up opportunities to spend time together, all while she is carrying the responsibility of telling him she’s pregnant. It’s a bit like a romantic comedy, with a very topical twist.

The beauty of this film is in the understated way it approaches the story.  This isn’t about politics, there are no ideological screeds or protesters or horrified family members with strong ideological positions. On the contrary, it’s one woman’s story told entirely from her point of view – and that makes it unique among films in general, regardless of subject matter. Anyone who has ever been young and independent and female will feel a personal connection to this movie. And the filmmaker – Gillian Robespierre – manages to find the humor in this emotionally charged situation, so we are laughing (frequently) with these young people while we are pulling for them to figure everything out.

Obvious Child got a lot of attention on the Indie Film Festival circuit, with both the film and Jenny Slate receiving nominations and awards.  Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

(A-Z Challenge: O is for Obvious Child)


Eye in the Sky

Eye in the SkyEye in the Sky is a terrific thriller about a secret military operation to take out three of the western world’s top terrorism suspects. The bad guys are laying low in Kenya, but only a few of the personnel trying to track them down are actually on the ground there – everyone else in this international effort is running the show from a distance, relying on virtual communications systems.

So we have a British Colonel (Helen Mirren) who is controlling the mission from a war room somewhere in the UK. She reports, with some impatience, to a General (Alan Rickman in his final role) who is in London with a handful of high level British diplomats and politicians. Meanwhile, the people who have their fingers on the trigger are a couple of young American soldiers (Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox) sitting in a trailer in Nevada.

These far flung comrades watch the unfolding events through a video feed coming in from drones in Kenya. The drones are pretty cool – they’re disguised as bugs, and birds, and they sail around giving high definition visuals to decision makers who are thousands of miles away.

As the mission heats up, the two young soldiers in Nevada notice something moving within the potential missile blast range. A tap on the screen, and an inset close up – a sort of picture in picture – pops up and reveals a young girl innocently setting up to sell her mother’s fresh bread.

So, what do these high powered military commanders do now?

This is truly an edge of your seat kind of story – the players have to weigh the moral, political and tactical issues of the mission against the potential collateral damage, which is represented by this charming little girl.

War is hell, people.

The tension is regularly broken up by the sometimes absurd, and occasionally hilarious conversations had by the players trying to make these incredibly hard decisions under extreme time pressure. That includes the folks in Britain and Kenya and Nevada, as well as a few cameo convos with the British Foreign Secretary who is struggling with a bout of food poisoning in Singapore, and an incredulous American Secretary of State who is irritated at being pulled away from a ping pong game in China.

This movie lends itself well to discussions if your plan is to go out to dinner after the film. Or out for a drink. You might need a drink.

If you’ve seen the film, or want to, or if you have opinions on the legitimacy of drone warfare, let me know in the comments. (One last thing, Eye in the Sky movie starts with E, handy if you’re doing the A-Z Blogging Challenge.) Thanks for reading, folks!


10 Cloverfield LaneIn 2008 JJ Abrams (of Star Wars fame) made a cheeky little horror film called Cloverfield. There’s a street called Cloverfield near Abrams office, and that’s where the name comes from; it was the working title to begin with but the name stuck.  Cloverfield Boulevard is a busy, traffic swollen street, frustrating to navigate if you’re trying to get your perennially tardy daughter to school on time.  Ever since the movie came out, when I pass through there I imagine aliens landing, even though the film was set entirely in New York.

A couple of weeks ago a sequel hit the theaters, called 10 Cloverfield Lane.  It doesn’t pick up where the first film left off, instead it takes us to the rural South, where other folks are dealing with the same apocalyptic invasion. It’s kind of The Walking Dead formula, where we encounter different groups of people coping with worldwide catastrophe.  This time around we meet Howard (a terrifically creepy John Goodman); Howard’s a conspiracy buff who is holed up in a bunker he built in anticipation of just this sort of thing.  He is also sheltering a young woman, Michelle, who he claims he rescued after her car went off the road, and a young man, Emmett, who knew about the bunker and pleaded to be let in. These three share an uneasy existence underground, fearful of what’s going on in the world, torn between trying to get along and feeling suspicious of each other’s intentions.

I kind of loved this movie – it was fun, and I liked the tough and determined heroine and the way the surprises came just like that, out of the blue. (None of these long scenes where you watch some guy go inexplicably deeper and deeper into a dark, scary basement while suspenseful music plays.) I saw it in North Carolina, on a smallish screen in one of those fancy kinds of movie theaters, and I kept jumping in my cushy seat.

The film was directed by Dan Trachtenberg, a young dude who has never directed a feature film before.  That’s pretty cool.

And that’s day three of the A-Z blogging challenge.  C is for Cloverfield. Thanks for stopping by.

Wait, It’s Guardians After All!

See ya, Transformers

I was worried about the world because it seemed like Transformers was going to win the summer box office derby, but Guardians of the Galaxy came along and stole the crown.  Then the James Gunn directed hit did it one better and climbed to the top of the heap for the whole doggone year.

But that’s old news now.  We have officially entered the Fall movie season, which means that a bunch of Oscar quality films are leaning on the starting gate.  First up we got The Drop, a mob style thriller with James Gandolfini, Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace.  Skeleton Twins, with Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader is also up, although in limited release.  THere’s also some sort of gory thriller starring Idris Elba as a really bad guy.  Not sure that one’s going to be worth it, even with Idris.


The End of Summer

It’s August 20 which makes it an excellent time to talk about summer films, because in a few weeks the Telluride Film Festival will open and it’s all fall prestige pics from there. Well, except for the horror stuff in October — there’s a Ouija Board movie, and something called The ABCs of Death.

Here’s what we know: Transformers 4 is the box office winner. This is good news for Michael Bay, who also had a hit with the reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.   I didn’t see either of these films, because the last time I went to a Transformers movie I left to get some popcorn and when I came back I went into the wrong theater, which was also playing Transformers, and that show had started earlier but it didn’t matter because there wasn’t any story line to follow anyway.

I didn’t see TMNT because I’m too old.

For pure summer movie fun, you can’t beat Guardians of the Galaxy, which is coming in at #4 on the top box office list.  Even if you’re the type that scoffs at summer popcorn flicks, you cant resist this one.  It’s got a great scruffy charm.  Also Bradley Cooper as a cranky raccoon whose best friend is a tree named Groot.  Just go see it.

On the Indy front, the box office champ is Chef, which is a really fun, lighthearted movie about a chef who loses his job and decides to set up a food truck with his young son as his Social Media director. Sweet, and chock full of food porn.  Make sure you have your dinner plans worked out.

We got Sin City coming up this weekend and then we are heading straight into Oscar talk. So the popcorn time is now…and we are all Groot.



Iron Man

I saw Iron Man 3 over the weekend. I like a good superhero movie, especially on the first weekend in May, because it’s close to my birthday and gets me into a frivolous party mood. Good guy battles bad guy, things look bleak and then, kapow! good triumphs and we all go out to dinner.

Used to be, we took the kids along to see Iron Man or Spider Man or X-Men or any of the super powered sequels that followed. This year, though, the young people are old and they blew us off, so we were a bunch of boomers hitting the late matinee; one of our crew had a bad attitude (why do we have to see another crappy blow things up movie?) so we had to promise him cocktails.

But it wasn’t a crappy movie – it was entertaining, well made, downright fun. Robert Downey Jr. inhabits Tony Stark like an alter ego, and in this outing he spends a lot of time outside the suit, which is a plus. The plot is pretty simple – very bad guy terrorist is attacking America with seeming invincibility. Seems he’s figured out how to weaponize human beings by altering their DNA so they can heat up like branding irons. Stark publicly provokes the dude and gives up his home address (Come get me where I live!) although that can’t be much of a secret since Stark’s house teeters over a Malibu hillside and it’s big enough to be seen from space. Never mind, the bad guys arrive with explosives and soon Tony’s on the run and love-of-his-life Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is kidnapped and now he’s really mad. He ends up searching for clues in Tennessee; the Iron Man suit loses its juice during the trip, so he hooks up with a perspicacious kid named Harley (a charming, funny Ty Simpkins) who has a garage full of useful tools and electronic parts. Harley has a wise cracking wit that parries nicely with Starks’ sharp edged charm, and their short partnership is one of the best parts of the film.

But never fear, action fans, the movie wraps up with the usual crescendo of explosions and fight scenes, and the Iron Man suit demonstrating a nifty new ability to fly onto Tony Stark’s body in pieces, turning him into his alter ego in steps. Kind of a fun development when the old boy is in mid battle.

The summer movie slate is full of films like this. Many (most, really) aren’t worth the price of admission, but this Iron Man – definitely worthwhile. Playing everywhere in 3D and 2D and probably IMAX, until Star Trek shows up and takes over screens. B+