Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Dawn of the Dead
Written and directed by George A. Romero
(number 420)

Romero’s name is synonymous with zombies, and how we think of them being portrayed in modern cinema. A follow up to Night of the Living Dead, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This film is in color and also features a black lead. It’s also the first instance of the ‘hiding in a mall’ trope, which has become so prevalent because of this movie. From Jonathan Coulton to board games… malls are a thing.

I was first struck by the kick ass opening sequence with the TV news station – instant exposition of the situation (the expert explaining that the dead are coming back and eating the living) and of the general state of the nation (so much panic amongst the TV station employees, constant noise and yelling). Then we get further exposition with the security guards clearing out the tenement building, which illustrates the horror of the situation in no uncertain terms. And introduced my 100% favourite line in any zombie movie ever, which I’ve put as the best line below.

This is just generally a great movie. It’s tight, the characters make choices that make sense to me. Especially: secure the mall, live life of luxury helping yourself to goods in the stores, don’t watch Francine throwing up, don’t kill yourself if you can get away. It’s satisfying to watch a horror movie where you’re not shaking your head at the stupid things happening on screen.

Look. I have a lot of zombie nightmares, and I’m fascinated in them as a monster in general, but I don’t find these zombies scary at all. They’re just sooo… comical. Lurching around with their limbs all stiff. And the costuming and characterisation of them seemed to be deliberately humourous. Like the Hare Krishna zombie, or the one who just really wanted to hold onto a gun. I liked that they still knew a bit about the world, they were repeating movements they made in life, or were attracted to things they might have previously enjoyed. I loved these zombies, and am actually pretty glad that for the most part they weren’t scary.

Does it make me love the people? I really rate Peter as a character – how awesome to have a black dude as the main character, the most sensible and sardonic one of all of them. The most likely to see things as they are and see what has to be done. I enjoy all four of the main leads to be honest, Roger is pretty great as the slightly loose cannon fun time boy who ends up being the one to get bit and slowly turn, and you do feel for him while it’s happening.

Bechdel test: The first lines are two women talking about the weirdness of the situation they’re in but only Francine is named. The rest of the movie there are lots of women zombies, but only Francine as a named character.

Best line:

“When the dead walk, we must stop the killing or lose the war.”
I just really love having this perspective brought out right at the start of the film, because yeah. People squabbling and killing each other is just going to make the undead horde stronger, and they will invariably come and kill you. I am pretty tempted to try and write something which deals with this idea. People fighting their own predilication to anger and violence and co operating to defeat the zombie menace.

State of Mind: Thoroughly enjoyed this. May just seek out Day of the Dead, even though it’s not on the 500 list.

Watched movie count

Greed (1924)

Directed by Erich von Stroheim
Written by Erich von Stroheim and June Mathis based on the book by Frank Norris
(number 404)

I blithely opened up this video file to watch and realised it’s almost a four hour movie… so this review may be bitsy as I watch this in manageable chunks. Apparently there was once a 9 hour version of it? According to the all knowing wikipedia ” In 1999 Turner Entertainment created a four-hour version of Greed that used existing stills of cut scenes to reconstruct the film. ” this is the version I watched, and I didn’t appreciate the reinserted stills.

So, the film opens with a curly haired miner who looks remarkably like Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee, who finds a small hurt bird and then tosses a man off a cliff. I guess this is our character introduction…

Okay. Being square with you since you’re a dedicated follower of this blog or you just randomly came here for my take on this particular movie. I found this movie incredibly tough to follow – the story telling is disjointed, introducing characters all over the place and then tying them into the Macteague epic. And I didn’t like Macteague so I had very little connection to what was going on. I couldn’t sit and watch this whole film, I had to skip bits.

I did really enjoy the soundtrack. I feel that the soundtrack could be a great background play for a roleplaying game.

Macteague was played to be revolting and frightening, despite the whole ‘little bird’ bookends, but he took the bird into Death Valley with him -not exactly good pet ownership. Trina was played with delightfully weird gigantic wide eyes at almost all times. Her behaviour made little sense to me though, unless you assume she goes crazy right when she wins the lottery.

Does it make me love the people? I find the story and characters really hard to relate to. The characters are caricatures, acted out as if in a pantomime, or frozen in an exaggerated tableau which the camera variously zooms in and out on to emphasise different expressions pulled by rubber faced actors. This kind of storytelling doesn’t encourage connection for me, and the main point which is of course, ‘money corrupts’ is hammered home again and again in different ways.

Overall most of the film just felt like watching an abusive couple torment each other – her with her greed and meanness, switching fast to ‘don’t you love me?’ and him with his violent temper and irrational behaviour. Unpleasant.

Bechdel test: I think… somewhere in there it might, but it’s very possible not enough of the women have proper names. You could say that Maria and Trina talk when Maria’s saying to buy a lottery ticket but it’s a stretch, the man present does most of the talking. The two of them definitely have a conversation later on but it’s about Macteague…

Best lines, chosen because they’re so great and weird, first is said by Maria, second is about her.

“Had a flying squirrel, let him go!”

“She’s a greaser, and she’s queer in the head. You ought to hear her go on about a gold dinner service.”

State of Mind: Why is this a classic? I suspect it’s a scope thing. I read that Stroheim insisted everything be filmed on location instead of soundstage, and that the original 9 hours piece is considered his masterpiece. Overall I suffered through it, and have no desire to watch it again. It really needs editing, and a lot of the reinserted still scenes were tangents, not important the main plot which was slow and meandering enough.

Watched movie count

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz based on the story by George Lucas
(number 241)

This movie opens in a very unexpected way with a Fosse-esque dance routine. It was very well done, and very confusing.

Disturbing racism: I mean, obviously: Short Round.
Indiana and ‘the girl’ who are worshipped as gods in a starving village in where, Tibet? India? Just because they are white? I guess? They are literally worshipped. Then it turns out they were chosen by the god to bring back the mystical stone… because the loss of the mystical stone has cursed the village. Plus: all the foreigners eat bugs, monkey heads and eyeball soup? There’s a very telling line when they discover the temple and Willie says something like ‘I’ve never seen anything like this’ and Indy says ‘Nobody’s seen this for a hundred years’… which… given that there are at least a couple of hundred Indians in the temple kind of implies he only really means ‘white people haven’t seen this for a hundred years’.

Indiana gets a certain amount of suave in this movie which was pretty unexpected. In the opening he is more or less James Bond-ing it up, which is very different look from the beat up and dirty Indy we’re used to at the end of Raiders.

This movie is really dark! I don’t remember ever watching it all the way through previously although I know as a kid it was watched a lot by members of my family but I only remembered very brief moments so I think almost all of it was new to me. And it’s a dark film, we have child slavery, torture, human sacrifice and mind control… it’s not exactly the fun romp that Anna and I were expecting! I found it pretty distasteful actually, I don’t imagine I’ll be watching this movie again any time soon.

So, my biggest takeaways from this movie: racism, really nasty content, big horrible insects….

It’s hard for me to get invested in the enjoyment of the action sequences in the first place but when I have the bad tastes of the previous nastiness in my mouth it’s even worse.

Does it make me love the people? Brain washed Indy with his shirt off is pretty dishy. Wait that doesn’t count. I feel for Willie, who was living a pretty high life as a show girl in Shanghai when Indy pretty much destroyed her world and kidnapped her. He then has no patience for her being able to keep up when their plane crash lands and they end up in the middle of jungle. her complaints are to me, very valid, but it’s played off like ‘whining spoiled fancy lady’ and as an audience I think we’re meant to laugh at her. I sympathise with her a lot.

Short Round is pretty adorable and bad ass, convinced he can take grown men in combat, he busts himself out of the chains he’s kept in and saves Indy which is great.

Bechdel test: Again, just the one named woman – Willie, aka Whilimena. It’s not like there aren’t lines and roles which could have been played by women in this too. Sigh.

Best line:
Indy: Nothing shocks me, I’m a scientist.

State of Mind: I just…. urgh. And like, racism was a known thing in the 80s, it’s not like you can say ‘ah people didn’t know better back then’, of course they did. There are moments in this film, but I generally think that the reason this film is beloved is because of how much people loved them when they were kids. And it’s hard to put a critical eye on things you loved as a kid, I know this, I just don’t have that association with this movie.

Watched movie count