Archive for July 31, 2005

Those things were everywhere

July 31, 2005

Now this is a thing of beauty:

Boing Boing reports on a zombie flashmob roaming the streets of San Francisco. Pertinent links may be found here, here, and here.

My only question, besides “why couldn’t this have taken place on Long Island?”, is “were they slow zombies or fast zombies?” My guess is slow. This is legendarily mellow San Fran we’re talking about, after all.

Say hello, Riff

July 31, 2005

A big hello to ADDTF’s new visitors and readers! May I suggest that after perusing the Horrorblog Update Page, you check out my pride ‘n’ joy, The Outbreak? It’s my account of my life during a major zombie infestation (not an apocalypse, and it’s a distinction with a difference I assure you). I think you’ll like it.

I’ve also written some horror-tinged comics you may want to check out. (Watch out for “1995” if you happen to be at work or around impressionable eyes, though.) And I did a whole huge horrorblogging marathon a couple years back, with all sorts of papers and essays from college and big long movie reviews and such sprinkled throughout. And if you’re in the mood for some yuks, you could do worse than All Too Flat proper–just click around those tabs above and see where the day takes you. The sites in my blogroll have the ADDTF imprimatur too.

Finally, if you want my webmasters and hosts to love you forever, click through to those three ads you see on your right. Hell, use tabbed browsing and you’ll barely even know you did it.

And I think that about covers it. Welcome!

“It’s alive! It’s alive!”: The Horrorblog Update Page

July 29, 2005

The original incarnation of Attentiondeficitdisorderly Too Flat (at least once I hit my stride) was a comicsblog. When I started, there were just a handful of people regularly blogging about comics; it was a thrill to watch that number grow, and that community mature and thrive, before my very eyes. I like to think that my relentless link- and think-blogging had a hand in that, though the credit should really go to the Blogfather of us all, Neil, and the great Journalista, Dirk.

But the final piece of the puzzle, the thing that transformed the comics blogosphere from a small group of people talking amongst themselves to a big giant self-perpetuating communal chunk of the Internet, was Dave “Babar” G.’s Comic Weblog Update Page. The Comics Weblog Update-A-Tron 3000, as it is affectionately known, keeps running track of each time each comics blog is updated–it’s the world’s largest comics-centric blogroll and the most comprehensive comics-centric live bookmark page all rolled into one. It’s one-stop shopping for the ‘sphere, it enables you to keep tabs on what everyone is doing and saying, and (incidentally) it generates tons of hits for each page listed on it. For the comics blogosphere, it was a godsend.

Regular readers of ADDTF will know that the emergence of the horrorblogosphere has been a subject of fascination and delight for me ever since I started blogging here again (and at The Outbreak, for obvious reasons). But psyched as I was to discover all these kindred spirits, I found myself visiting their sites a lot less frequently than their comicsblogging brethren, simply because the Comic Weblog Update Page had spoiled me so. And thusly, and idea was born:

Where the Monsters Go: The Horrorblog Update Page.

It works just like the CWUP: get your blog an RSS feed, start pinging (many blogging platforms do this automatically, but I like to do it manually at Ping-O-Matic), let me know you want to be on the site, then I’ll check out your blog. If it qualifies–and all that means is “if it talks about horror in any way shape or form with some frequency”–I’ll throw it on up there.

Please keep in mind that the blogs you’ll find on there now are just the ones I’m currently aware of. I scoured my blogroll, then scoured the blogrolls of the blogs on my blogroll, and here’s what I came up with. If there are noticeable absences, there’s a chance they don’t ping, but it’s more likely that I just missed ’em, so please let me know. The more help and feedback I get from you all, the better a resource for the horrorblogosphere Where the Monsters Go will become.

Two special thanks must be made at this point: First to Dave G.–the hard work was his, and we pretty much just ripped him off; second to Ken Bromberg, member of the All Too Flat triumvirate and webmaster extraordinaire–he’s the one who set all this up at my behest, and he’s basically the man.

Enough of my yakkin’. Click here and start exploring. There’s a lot of horror on this Internet. Here’s hoping we’ve made it a little easier to find.

Big things…

July 28, 2005

…will be happening for the horror blogosphere around these parts shortly. Watch this space.

Murder by blog

July 27, 2005

Apparently, a murder has been solved on a blog. More here. Blogger John Allore, who maintains a a website dedicated to the investigation of his sister’s still-unsolved disappearance in 1978, blogged about a similar case that occurred earlier this month, and an anonymous commenter provided a theory that, if a recent arrest in the case is any indication, may well be true. Fascinating and chilling, this is one for the Infocult files (indeed, my first thought was “this must be another fictionblog“). And in a way it serves as a relatively uplifting counterpoint to the case of Joseph Edward Duncan, who wrote on his blog that “the demons have taken over” four days before killing a family of five.

(Link courtesy of Glenn Reynolds.)

At the movies

July 26, 2005

A couple of quick items:

The Yahoo mailing list for the very good horror fictionblog project Dionaea House was updated today by site creator Eric Heisserer. Money quote:

Wheels are still turning at Warner Brothers as we get closer to a green light for The Dionaea House. The producers have begun hunting for a director who understands the tone and feel of the story, and some of their choices are quite exciting. I don’t want to jinx anything just yet, but soon as a director comes on board, I’ll let this list know.

Meanwhile (and I hope the Dark But Shining boys will pardon me for walking their beat), the Internet Archive has made Robert Wiene’s seminal German horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari available for free download. This is a remarkably beautiful, creepy, and complex film even by today’s standards–simply put, it’s a must-see.

That’s all!

And this loneliness, it just won’t leave me alone

July 23, 2005

Has everyone seen this UK TV promo for Lost, directed by David LaChapelle and using the show’s cast in a sort of strange music video for Portishead’s song “Numb”? No? Well, you have now.


July 21, 2005

I really like this passage from Julia Turner’s Slate piece on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:

[J.K. Rowling is] not using Harry to make points about terrorism. She’s using terrorism to make points about Harry. Rowling culls the scariest elements of modern life and uses them as a kind of shorthand, a quick way to instill fear.

I hadn’t thought about it in that exact way before, but I think it describes the situation perfectly. I think the thing that has most intrigued me about the series as it’s gone on is the way the mechanics of Voldemort and his minions the Death Eaters have slowly transformed from nebulous fantasy-stock Dark Lordisms to real down-and-dirty hands-on torture and, especially, murder. As compelling as Tolkien’s Sauron is, there’s something impersonal in his grand-scale plottings and massive armies; Voldemort, on the other hand, has his cult members break into houses, schools, and government offices and execute people. I think Rowling likely went this route because unlike most fantasy villains, Voldemort does not control territory, not even a castle or fortress. Quite like terrorist cells or organized crime gangs, he and his followers are everywhere and nowhere, and when they strike, it’s with individuated strikes against civilians. It’s wetwork.

Fictionblog theater; alien-ation

July 20, 2005

Haunted houses, werewolves, demons, Dracula, and lots and lots of zombies: Genre-based fictionblogging is where it’s at. Lately I’ve found a couple of sites to add to that roster:

Velvet Marauder, a long-running semi-parodic superhero blog run by David Campbell, proprietor of the deservedly popular comics humor site Dave’s Long Box;

and Siege Mentality, a new zombie blog by Crobuzon that appears, if Crobuzon’s comment at my zombie blog The Outbreak is any indication, to be operating in the fictional world I’ve already established. Neat! I’m curious to see where he goes with things–most zombie blogs tilt to a far more survivalist slant than I’ve given my own, and indeed the mechanics of the zombie outbreak I’m chronicling were designed to reflect this preference.

Finally, on an unrelated topic, David Edelstein at Slate defends the right of Steven Spielberg–of genre, really–to tackle real-life tragedy. (He also rejects screenwriter David Koepp’s interpretation of the film’s politics. (Hey, the horrorblogosphere today, the poliblogosphere tomorrow!)) In one passage he echoes what I’ve been telling people who ask about the movie:

[War of the Worlds] has more in common with Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan than with Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park.

And he even throws in the horror-fan CW that Night of the Living Dead is one of the best depictions of late-’60s turmoil ever made. We’ve come a long way, baby!

Sean T. Collins and the Half-Blood Prince (Spoilers–highlight to read)

July 19, 2005

Spoilers galore. Highlight to read.

So, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I’m not sure what to make of Snape killing Dumbledore, as well as Malfoy actually being a Death Eater-in-training. Despite the fact that the formula of the series (see link here) is “Harry spends a few hundred pages being told he’s wrong, but then in the end it turns out that he’s right and everybody else is wrong,” I STILL thought they were just hitting the whole “Snape is still a Death Eater and Draco’s up to no good! Seriously! Listen!” thing too hard for it to be totally borne out–esp. when Harry’s obsession with Draco’s supposed malfeasance starts distracting him from the supposedly more important mission regarding Slughorn’s memory that Dumbledore had assigned him. But lo and behold, Harry is once again shown to be right and everyone else was wrong to have doubted him. I can’t tell if this is supposed to be taken at face value or not–if the former, then to be frank the writing is a little weak. But then I’ve always thought that about these books. I mean, the big prophecy that we spend the whole last book trying to figure out is that Harry and Voldemort are bound by fate to confront each other, and one will destroy the other? No shit, Sherlock! (see link here)

I was also disappointed that it was Dumbledore who bought it, because you could see it coming from about 100 miles away. Gee, you mean the wise old wizard who’s been Harry’s guide for the past six years has been slain and now Harry will be forced to stand alone and confront his nemesis with nothing but his own courage? Who’d’a thunk it? I was guessing/hoping that she’d kill Ron or Hermione, but oh well.

What was up with Cho being on the back cover, but barely in the book at all? That made me think it was Cho who was going to be killed–purely a fake-out?

I must admit I spent the entire book thinking Harry must be mildly retarded for not figuring out that the Half-Blood Prince was Voldemort, who he’d just seen had a muggle for a dad and a witch for a mom, and whose career at Hogwarts he’d been watching through the Penseive. But it turned out to be a total fakeout and it was Snape all along. I kinda felt like there wasn’t enough info supporting the “it’s Snape” angle to justify that total a fakeout. I’ve made this point before (a little louder that time, admittedly), but a good twist reveals clues that had been there all along under your nose, which you can then go back and say “Man, how could I have been so BLIND???”; a bad one just blindsides you. This one gave you a whole lot of information to support one theory and then pulled it all out from under you and said “nope, it’s really this other guy!” I guess you could note that since Snape was the potions teacher, he probably was a potions prodigy, but I still think it was sort of weak.

Still, it was fun to read, and it’s the kind of book you plow through (if only to avoid getting it spoiled!). I thought Rowling had some really nice prose in this one, esp. the bit about the “hard, blazing look” Ginny gave Harry right before they kissed for the first time–that was a really unexpected, and yet apt, turn of phrase.

What did people make of the chapter called “The Cave,” or as I like to call it “The J.R.R. Tolkien Tribute Concert”? This was certainly the most Tolkien-heavy book in the series overall–even the prose got Tolkienesque at times, particularly in the last few pages–but this chapter alone had allusions to Gollum’s cave, the Dead Marshes, the Watcher in the Water, the Paths of the Dead, the Mirror of Galadriel, Weathertop, the Bridge of Khazad-Dum, the Window on the West, and probably even more that I’m forgetting. Meanwhile all of Dumbledore’s soliloquies regarding Voldemort’s past read like excerpts from “The Shadow of the Past” and “The Council of Elrond.” After watching her dance around the influence for five books, it was intriguing to see Rowling dive in head-first on the sixth.

And how about that Spider-Man movie ending, with Harry breaking up with Ginny “for her own good”? Many comics critics hate the whole “my superherodom causes the women in my life to suffer–how awful for me!” thing because it uses the suffering of women as a means toward supposedly making the men more interesting, rather than treating women as people in their own right for whom their own suffering means more than a character-building exercise for the super-men in their lives–but now here’s the biggest author in the world, who happens to be a woman, doing the exact same thing!

Hollywood is full of zombies

July 19, 2005

Well, duh. This page just happens to convey this more literally than usual.

Image hosted by

Zombiewood brings you graphically, convincingly zombified renditions of big Hollywood celebrities, through the magic of photoshop.

Note one: I posted that Willem Defoe one because it’s the least likely to freak out people who might not want to see this sort of thing–trust me, they get a lot worse, and therefore a lot better, than that. Halle Berry and Charlize Theron are truly stunning.

Note two: The link leads you just to the most recent of several rounds of zombie-celeb pics–use that “View Related Contests” togglebar and feat your eyes.

I think this is some very creepy stuff. Thank you, Internet.

For the record

July 19, 2005

I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in any of the bands at the Siren Festival this year. Take your dull hipster rock and shove it, man.

You bring light in

July 18, 2005

The best dance band in the world (maybe the best anything band in the world, acutally), Underworld, has a new song out. It’s stunning, but then you knew that it would be.

(Link courtesy of One Louder.)

Wish You Were Unheimlich

July 16, 2005

J. Donelson of the excellent comics blog the Pickytarian directs us, almost unwittingly it would seem, to the fine horror-tinged work of his wife, artist Amy Talluto. Check out this series of transmogrified pin-up poses (complete with double-entendre postcard taglines) in which the bathing beauties have been replaced with average-sized women. Well, with their bodies, at least. Their heads are nowhere to be found. Talluto’s statement on the series emphasizes the drawings’ critique of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue aesthetic, but that could have been accomplished simply through the self-portraiture aspect of the project; chop those heads off and you’ve got a new, violent, eerie animal on your hands. Take a look.

New Comics Day

July 15, 2005

Two comics-related items of note that I’m reasonably sure I can talk about:

1) The final (I think?) piece I wrote for The Comics Journal before taking my current job, my review of Paradise Kiss, is featured in issue #269, which came out this week. It’s the long-anticipated shoujo manga issue, so do check it out.

2) Partyka‘s Matt Wiegle was once again kindly enough to draw a comic I wrote. The result, deceptively entitled “Pornography” though it’s quite safe for work, can now be found here. I hope you enjoy it; perhaps you’ll check out the other comics I’ve written as well.

Four kicks

July 14, 2005

In response to the bit in my Land of the Dead review where I discuss the zombie’s comparative lack of vampire-style formal conventions (wooden stakes, sucking blood, nocturnal, that sort of thing), Tom Collins has decided to show me up by creating an absurdly comprehensive post chronicling just how many variations both the vampire and zombie myths have in the movies. Truly a masterpiece of linkblogging.

Courtesy of the indispensable Bryan Alexander comes a project close to my heart: a werewolf blog. That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout, people. Actually, I haven’t read much of it yet, but flipping through the final few entries I appreciate that the blog doesn’t really have an ending in the style of a traditional narrative; the writer understands that blogging is not just writing a novel in daily installments.

Shhhh, big secret: I’ve never seen a single Italian zombie movie. Not even Zombi 2, for pete’s sake! (And I’ve also only ever seen one gialloDeep Red. My Italo-tyro status is one of the things that make me a lousy horror fan.) So I’m happy to hear (from Steven at Corpse Eaters) that all of the Tombs of the Blind Dead movies are coming out on DVD. They sound nice and hideous.

Finally, file this under horror in unexpected places: “Four Kicks,” the latest video by hipster redneck-rockers Kings of Leon. Previously best known for their dubious insistence that they’ve never listened to Creedence Clearwater Revival, they’re likely to make quite a splash with the graphically violent brawl depicted here. The video’s innovation is to freeze the action whenever the lead singer is singing, allowing the viewer to see brightly lit close-ups on a woman’s face just before it’s about to be pounded with the butt of a fire extinguisher, or an exploded lamp the second after it’s been smashed over a man’s head. Unfortunately I can’t find a nice-and-easy permalink to direct you to–RCA’s music video page appears to be one where old videos are cleared away to make room for new ones, Kings of Leon’s official website is all Flash so I can’t actually link directly to their video page, and in a display of fuckheadery typical for the network,’s copy of the video is not Mac-compatible. But it won’t take you more than five seconds to find the video either of the first two sites. Note that I actually recommend you watch the Real video version rather than the Quicktime one–even in hi res, the QT video is a blurry mess. Check it out, and if you like what you see keep your eyes peeled for it on your better music-video TV shows for a crystal-clear version.


July 14, 2005

…deep in the throes of San Diego Deprivation Syndrome…

…need infusion of panel discussions, $4 water, and shopping spree at the Comic Relief and Bud Plant booths STAT…

Well, at least I’m learning something: This is the last time I’ll miss an SDCC.

And in the end

July 12, 2005

Jon Hastings has posted a brief rejoinder to my review of War of the Worlds. The gist of Jon’s new post is that no, Spielberg fully intended that “happy ending” to be a straightforward, honest-to-god happy ending, and has said as much about similar scenes in other films he’s made. In that case I’ll take back what I said about Spielberg’s intent to make a happy ending so unearned and tacked-on that it serves as a backhanded critique of happy endings–but that don’t mean that that ain’t how it ends up reading! If Spielberg truly felt that audiences would cheerily buy the father-and-child reunion at the end of WotW, he really needs someone to sit him down and explain some things to him. I’m still not 100% convinced he wasn’t aware of what he was doing–those musical cues are key, methinks–but hey, food for thought.

And also hey, I certainly think this tactic is a flaw in his filmmaking because it’s basically superfluous, but it’s an interesting flaw to me, rather than an infuriating one. And it may well make his movies more, not less, compelling as art, if not as narratives.

I would also like to second Jon’s motion that Spielberg giving the people what he thinks they want is no more or less contrived than Lars Von Trier giving the people what he thinks they need–which is a roundabout way of Lars Von Trier giving them what he wants, and what he thinks they deserve.

“It’s an extermination”

July 11, 2005

Steven Spielberg is one of the most fascinating Hollywood directors, because he’s probably the one filmmaker whose own preferences and techniques dictate those of Hollywood itself. That’s why, whether we’re talking about Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Minority Report, or the film I saw the other night, War of the Worlds, I think it’s unfair to deried his now-trademark unearned happy endings as pandering to Hollywood values. After all, over the past 30 years, Hollywood values have become whatever Steven Spielberg wants them to be.

And if the spate of large-scale genre films listed above is any indication, what he wants them to be are bleak, disturbing, and viciously cruel almost–almost–to the point of relentlessness. In the past, I’ve argued that what holds him back from going full-scale Texas Chain Saw-nihilist on us is his belief (endlessly derided by his critics, though not in so many words) that humanity isn’t a giant pile of shit. If there’s an explanation other than a trendy love of cynicism for why people could compare the brutal yet ultimately optimistic Private Ryan unfavorably to the unending parades of cheesy war-movie cliches that were Platoon and The Thin Red Line, I’d love to hear it. At any rate it’s tough to argue that the happy endings of the aforementioned Spielberg films send people walking way from the theater whistling a happy tune; if anything, they’re the micron of sugar that helps the extremely nasty medicine go down.

But I think there’s something extra brutal about War of the Worlds, in that the ending feels so tacked on and gratuitous and unearned that the redemptive flavor of the Spielberg “and they lived, if not happily, then well ever after” ending is lost. In part this is due to Spielberg’s fealty to H.G. Wells’ original ending, the happy patness of which only serves to reinforce humanity’s impotence against the alien onslaught that the book concerns itself with. But even moreso, it’s due to the gruesomeness of what’s come before. And I’m not just talking about the actions of the aliens, with their disintegration beams and human fertilizer. Mainly what I’m talking about is the man who bashes a hole in the rear window of the Ferrier family’s stolen SUV, then begins tearing the glass apart with his bare, bloody hands.

In other words, and playing firmly against type, Spielberg is giving us an apocalypse movie where the apocalypse brings out the worst in people, rather than the best.

This concept that is fascinating to me, as you might have guessed. We all want to believe that our post-armageddon character arcs would run something like Jake Weber’s in the Dawn of the Dead remake. But for me the truly terrifying element of apocalyptic horror is not (just) the genre-driven mechanics of the apocalypse itself–be it extraterrestrial, viral, avian, or undead in nature–but the nagging fear that if faced with such circumstances I’d be a lot more like Barbara in Night of the Living Dead, or Kaufman or Cholo in Land of the Dead, or the guys who set up the mobile rape camp in the novel version of The Stand. The fear that I’d fall to pieces, or become a barbarian. The fear that I can’t hack it.

In War of the Worlds, we’re presented with lots of people who can’t hack it. Foremost among them, I would argue, is Tom Cruise’s character, Ray Ferrier. Many have argued that Spielberg heroicizes this everyman simply through his casting choice, which is an understandable argument, but I daresay that Cruise’s sudden outbreak of inanity-slash-insanity over the past few months helped his character rather than hurt him. When Cruise is asked to play an asshole incapable of behaving responsibly, it’s suddenly a lot easier to believe the result.

From the moment the alien attack erupts, Spielberg and Cruise give Ray a consistently self-interested behavior pattern. Beyond the desire to protect his children–a desire so tough to shake among non-sociopaths that it hardly qualifies as heroism, especially here–Ray’s actions are never outside the box of basic flight-or- well, flight; as society breaks down around him, he’s really more than willing to participate in that breakdown, as is established from the moment he (wisely) steals the minivan from the mechanic and (also wisely) refuses to pick up any of the thousands of stranded humans he drives past. He’s also shown failing on any number of occasions–he orders his son to quickly pack some food, but all the son can find in Ray’s bachelor pad are condiments; he lets his son drive the van while he himself gets some shut-eye but fails to instruct the kid to keep well clear of people; his whole plan–to travel to Boston and rendez-vous with his ex-wife, her current husband, and her parents–is a mixture of fairy-tale wishful thinking and an inarticulated desire to fob off the responsibility for his children on their more capable caregiver. (When his son calls him on this last bit, Ray gets upset, but does not deny it.) Particularly wrenching is the scene in which Ray must quite literally choose between his children. Ray has been glibly (heh heh) and unthinkingly self-interested his entire life, and Cruise nails the horror (and, subtly, the resentment) that making a genuine life-or-death decision would fill such a man with. Moreover, the circumstances in which this decision is made reinforce the futility of the sort of heroism Ray’s son has been attempting to demonstrate throughout the film. (That’s if the scene in which the son risks his life to pull clinging stragglers onto a boat only to have the boat capsized by the aliens shortly thereafter didn’t already hit that point home. And that’s only a minute or two after meeting tthe family friends who were introduced only to be gut-wrenchingly abandoned…) By the time it dawns on Ray the type of person in whose basement he’s sealed himself and his daughter, I was reminded of the rueful blend of rage, regret, and selfish self-pity found in a line uttered by Tony Soprano in his eponymous show’s fifth season: “All of my choices were wrong.”

And perhaps that’s an appropriate quote to kick off a discussion of the film’s final third. It’s the part of the movie that forces even its most die-hard defenders to call it “flawed,” though for my money the flaws are fascinating. Have you ever seen a section of a movie that alternates between brilliance and incoherence so many times in such rapid succession? The big out-of-the-shadows “hey look! It’s Tim Robbins!” intro shot did not augur well for the upcoming sequence, and my initial misgivings (allayed for a moment by Robbins’s pretty solid tri-state area dialect, complete with “you’re welcome to stay, both’a yez”) were justified the moment Robbins began his ham-fisted “I’m crazy, get it?” bugout. But then there’s the moment where Cruise, driven to desperation by not knowing any lullabies to sing his daughter, resorts to crooning “Little Deuce Coupe” by the Beach Boys. It’s a moment that got quite a few unintentional (?) laughs from the audience, but I think it hit pretty hard (speaking as someone whose dad sang him a few Beach Boys songs as lullabies himself). But then there’s that unbelievably long and tedious and ridiculous cat-and-mouse game with the alien probe, the detection technology of which apparently hasn’t advanced that far beyond that of velociraptors. But then there’s the weird (in the old-school sense) and gruesome red-vine sequence, including the use of human blood as fertilizer and the shots of Cruise and Robbins becoming aware of what’s being sprayed all over the place. But then there’s the dopey Indepence Day aliens and more Jurassic Park cat-and-mouse. But then there’s that silent struggle for the shotgun with Robbins. But then the tension’s deflated with a goofball line, and the opportunity for Ray to do what he ends up doing minutes later only during the most Hollywood-y suspense sequence of the movie is wasted. But then there’s that terrific line–“You know what I’m going to have to do…”–and the blindfolding and the singing and the off-screen murder. And–actually, things tighten up there once again, as the desperate-times “heroism” of that action is immediately undone by another alien probe (that’s smart filmmaking, man). Maybe my favorite part of the film is when Ray grabs that ax and chops away, enraged but in vain, at the tentacle-like probe, with the past two hours’ worth of tension and disgust pouring out of the audience in an enormous wave of futile catharsis. I even bought his subsequent hand-grenade-wielding saving of the day, since so much of it depended on dumb luck rather than extraordinary actions. And even there Spielberg ladled out more awfulness as we watch a captured human sucked into the alien tripod’s orifice to be spit out as liquid. Dumb luck in the face of awfulness, ultimately, is all that saves humanity from extinction; we see it in microcosm before we see it writ large, is all.

Then there’s the “happy” ending at the end of it all, with the improbably reunited family–ex-wife, ex-in-laws, new husband, even presumed dead son. I invite viewers to watch that scene again, and as more and more family members appear to greet Ray and his daughter as they stumble down the street, tell me that Spielberg’s not aware of exactly how ridiculous this is given the movie we’ve just watched. (John Williams is certainly aware of it: The expected joyous fanfare is nowhere to be found.) It’s a happy ending so transparently contrived that, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a critique of happy endings. It certainly doesn’t do anything to gain supremacy of memory over the image of Ray washing the ashen remains of other human beings from his face, or the lengthy closeup on that fleeing woman in the department store that ends only when she’s blasted from the face of the earth, or the literal river of dead bodies, or the mutilated cow (Close Encounters, Jurassic Park, Private Ryan, WotW–Spielberg and dead cows, man) during the hand-grenade sequence. And on. And on. And on.

So yes: If this movie had used zombies instead of aliens and was directed by George Romero instead of Steven Spielberg yet was in every other way the same, the genre in-crowd would be going berserk for it right about now. And not just because of the tremendously proficient craft and abundant scares, the latter of which I’m not alone in finding lacking in Romero’s latest effort (see Matt Maxwell‘s excellent and insightful LotD review, which overstates the “it’s not horror” case a bit (it’s still zombies eating people, after all) but is otherwise rock-solid). It’s got that message, is what I’m saying.

See, I watched this movie on 7/7, the day of the London terrorist bombings, so I ended up eschewing the absurd current-events interpretation offered by the film’s own screenwriter and seeing things through a different lens. What I saw was a far more universal critique than one directed at a particular nation’s particular administration’s particular conduct in a particular nation in a particular region. It was in the way the rubbernecking crowd at the crater in Ray’s town erupted into frantic chaos. (Though I found myself thinking “they should all be using cameraphones at this point”–learned that one the hard way, didn’t we?) It was in the claustrophobic mob scene around Ray’s SUV. It was in the 9/11-style flyers and posters, and the orderly and hopeless lines of fleeing survivors. It was in the way every single safe haven reached by the family was violated almost immediately. It was in the “what a story” reporter and her literally deaf cameraman. It was in the way it plays upon your suspicion that your own reaction to tragedy and terror is in some way deficient, base, selfish, stupid, subhuman. It’s the methodical articulation (vast and cool and unsympathetic) of the fear that disaster is degrading.

POSTSCRIPT: Click here for some final thoughts.

Recommended reviews:

Steven at Corpse Eaters

Jon Hastings at The Forager

Bill Sherman at Pop Culture Gadabout


July 11, 2005

–Generals, “The Funniest Joke in the World,” Monty Python’s Flying Circus

I have to say (without having seen the movie) that I’m thrilled Fantastic Four did as well as it did. Why? Simply because I find watching conventional wisdom form before my very eyes…annoying. And man OH man did everybody want this movie to bomb. Everybody was dying for this movie to bomb. From the celebrity snark specialists to the MSM critics to (in a relentless fullcourt press–how quickly we forget! (UPDATE: Whoop, we remember.)) the establishment comics-movie-crit types, the knives were out.

And not only does it not bomb, it breaks The Slump!

Since everybody I know personally who’s seen the film has told me (at worst) it’s better than they thought it would be, if not that it was in fact a really fun movie, I had a hunch the supposedly hideous opening weekend and subsequent poisonous word-of-mouth weren’t likely to materialize. Again, I haven’t seen the movie, so maybe I’ll dislike it. Then again, I tend to dislike the superhero movies that the Establishment refers to with reverent awe–Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, The Incredibles, Batman Begins, Hellboy–so seeing as how the reactions here are along the lines of the reactions to Daredevil (my favorite of the post Batman & Robin superhero crop, probably, though I like the X-Men movies too), I’m guessing I’ll kinda dig it. Sure, I’ll probably pine for Jack Kirby’s visual genius and Stan Lee’s instinctive knack for character. But mainly, for now, I’m just feeling schadenfreude that so many were so wrong about so much. (Insert smiling emoticon here.)

Post inspired in part (as is quite a bit around here, actually) by Jog.