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Watch: “Cargo” from Tropfest 2013

“Stranded in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, a man sets in motion an unlikely plan to protect the precious cargo he carries: his infant daughter. “

This zombie short film is creative and beautiful. A friend suggested it to me, and I was glad I spent the few minutes it took to watch it. Short films can be a great way to ingest some brief bursts of entertainment, but I find that those in the horror genre tend to be of very low quality. This is an exception for sure.

It’s from the 2013 Tropfest, which is an international short film festival that’s grown tremendously in popularity over the last decade and a half or so. Tropfest takes place all over the world each  year (there are technically multiple “fests”) and this film showed at the Australian fest. Cargo was a finalist, but it does not appear to have won.

The film was made by Ben Howling with Dreaming Tree Productions, something he refers to as a “filmmaking collective” on his website. It’s gotten quite a few YouTube views, and has also shown at the Northside Festival in Brooklyn, and the Las Vegas Film Festival, among others. It starts Andy Rodoreda.

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Video: Top 5 Zombie Films

Here are the top 5 zombie films of all time, at least according to AngryTechGuy. Personally, I don’t think a list like this could be complete without The Dead Undead.

Kidding! It’s a good list. I’d probably add Return of the Living Dead, and probably subtract 28 Days Later. In fact, I should probably make my own list. And my own video!

Great Moments in Zombie Comedy

5. Return of the Living Dead

Holy crap is it hard to pick a favorite moment in Return of the Living Dead, especially when it comes to comedy. That’s why this list is going to include this movie twice. First is this scene that I totally love from Return of the Living Dead. Some of the funniest parts of this movie are the most horrific, because of how the characters react with an almost cartoonish terror. The way these people react to this unkillable dead man could best be described as OMGWTFBBQSAUCE. And it’s hilarious.

4. Shaun of the Dead

After exhausting their basket of junk by throwing it at the zombies’ heads, the heroes of Shaun of the Dead ascertain that vinyl records, when thrown correctly, can do some damage. In this scene, they go through Shaun’s record collection, deciding which ones are bad enough to be used as ammunition.

3. Dawn of the Dead (remake)

Living your life holed up in a mall can get a little boring. For entertainment, the characters in this movie take a little break to blow off some steam by heading to the roof and playing a game. The game? Tell the guy across the street a celebrity, and watch him shoot the zombie that most resembles that celebrity with his sniper rifle.

2. Return of the Living Dead

Another one from Return of the Living Dead. This whole sequence is great – characters run around freaking out as they try to make the funeral home safe, while a very 80’s movie song about the living dead plays. The bit I’m showing in the video above is where we see a zombie snacking on the EMT’s who showed up a few minutes before, who famously requests via the ambulance radio “send…more…paramedics!”

1. Braindead (aka Dead Alive)

Any time zombie comedy is mentioned (which, okay, probably isn’t that often), this movie has to come up. It’s a dark comedy, sort of in the vein of Rami’s Evil Dead flicks. And this is the most famous scene. In it, the hero has a lawnmower strapped to his chest, which he uses to walk through a room of zombies and literally “mow” them down. It’s gruesome, but manages to make that rare and difficult transition from gruesome to hilarious.

Schwarzenegger Zombie Flick Maggie Picked Up by Lionsgate

maggie filmThe Schwarzenegger zombie flick Maggie has been picked up by Lionsgate for American distribution, and pulled from showing at the Toronto International Film Festival. While it’s probably fine that they pulled

The movie has been praised for bending and transcending genres. It’s set in an apocalyptic world overrun by a zombie virus, but rather than the usual plot we see in zombie movies of late (in which “plot” is substituted for “shotgun”), it’s about he drama that unfolds between a father and his daughter when the daughter is bitten and begins to slowly transform into a monster.

Maggie has all the ingredients that spell commercial excitement—a compelling script and an ‘A’ list superstar surrounded by a world-class cast,” said Lionsgate’s Co-Chief Operating Officer and Motion Picture Group President Steve Beeks. “We’re delighted to continue our relationship with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who turns in a performance that marks a dramatic departure from his action persona, and partner with our friends at Lotus Entertainment on a film that will resonate with thriller aficionados everywhere.”

There’s no official release date for it yet, but they’re saying we should see it by early 2015.

Being pulled from the festival is probably fine. But it does make one wonder. While the official word on why they did it is that, having been picked up now, it doesn’t need the buzz from the festival. But isn’t buzz always good? One might wonder if they moved it out because now that it’s picked up, there’s no reason to risk a poor reception that might sour the deal with Lionsgate. But I’m staying optimistic – it really is a great concept.

Netflix Review: Infected

Infected

Directed by: Glenn Ciano

Starring: Michael Madsen, William Forsythe

Synopsis: A virus that turns people into cannibal monsters has started doing that. Now some people are trying not to get killed.

Rating: 3 Brains

3brains

infected movie posterThe movie starts with some nature shots that are meant to look artistic, but aren’t so much. There’s some narration about how this virus has happened that turns people into flesh-eating monsters, and what a bummer that is. The music is serene for some reason, something that feels really inappropriate for the narrated tale of the oncoming apocalypse. But at least it’s not the hard rock/blues guitar stuff we hear in most of these zombies flicks these days.

But our hopes for appropriate music are dashed when we launch into a scene where zombies are attacking a house full of people to the sound of driving guitars.

Let’s talk about music for a minute here, because this is something that a lot of movies get totally wrong. You don’t think much about what music does for a film. That’s because it’s meant to have a subtle effect. Most of the time, it’s just in the background, not stealing focus from the scene, but just enhancing it. For some reason, we humans have a strong emotional reaction to music. Long ago, filmmakers realized that by playing music that elicits a certain emotional reaction from the listener, a movie’s audience can experience a heightened sense of whatever emotion they’re meant to feel in the scene they are watching. If it’s a sad scene, a melancholy tune will make us even sadder. If it’s a happy scene, jubilant music will make us swell up and smile.

Here’s a little experiment.

Watch this scene from Night of the Living Dead. This is the scene at the end, when the zombies finally break through and basically everyone dies. (Spoilers, I guess). The music is classic horror – suspenseful, with string instruments creating a high sense of tension.

Now watch the same scene again, but mute it, and listen to the music from this video while you watch the NOLD scene.

Notice what a difference that makes? It’s not so scary and tense anymore; now it’s a bit bad ass. Ben the bad ass zombie killer is taking care of business! Even when he shoots another person, the music kind of gives us the sense that he’s kicking some ass that needs to be kicked (which is true), rather than giving us the feeling of “oh God, has it really come to this?” that it’s meant to.

As a side note, try watching the NOLD scene with this music. It changes the context again, but makes it super epic.

michael madsen infected

“Whiskey cattle guns steak ya’ll.”

The basic plot of the movie is this: A small group of people lives in a remote mountain region. Some virus, apparently originating from ticks on deer (it’s mentioned that it is related to lime disease), has started turning the infected into 28 Days Later rage zombies. One of the characters’ grandmother is sick, clearly infected with the disease, and like any zombie flick where one of the people is infected, this affects a chain reaction where most of the characters end up bitten or dead. Michael Madsen and his family manage to escape when the zombies finally swarm on them. That’s it, really.

This movie isn’t great, but it isn’t horrible. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s good either. It’s good for a first effort from a director – that it happens to be the second effort of this director means he’s just kind of a slow learner. The lighting is good. The atmosphere is superb – I’m from a suburb of Atlanta, and two hours north of there, everything looks like this movie. The sound isn’t fantastic – there are scenes that sound like they were shot on a camcorder – and the dialogue isn’t particularly inspiring. But the shots are framed well, and the director clearly knows what he’s doing…he just hasn’t really honed his craft yet. And he needs to figure out the music thing.

infected balls

“So, you wanna do it?”
“My…balls wanna do it.”

The characters are lame. This isn’t as bad as The Dead Undead where I am rooting for the zombies because I hate the characters so much. But these characters are all very flat. The way the older characters (Michael Madsen and William Forsyth) are portrayed as middle-aged men who remember the “good ole days” is slightly relatable, at least for people who feel that way, and the younger people who think that attitude is stupid is as well, for the rest of us. But the characters are not memorable or empathetic. I just finished watching it, and I don’t remember any of their names. That’s a problem in a horror movie. It falls flat if I don’t care if they all die, and in this thing, I really don’t. Let’s put it this way: the first time we’re shown two characters off by themselves having a meaningful conversation, the guy starts talking about his balls. I’m not sure if there’s an amount of ball-related conversation a character can have and still remain sympathetic, but conventional wisdom holds that it’s none.

The acting is sub par, but not the world’s worst. Even Michael Madsen delivers a pretty uninspired performance, and this is a guy who could bring the feels in Free Willy.

Other than the music, and the ending – which I’ll get to in a second – the worst thing about this movie is that it feels like Glenn Ciano, who both wrote and directed this one, conceived of it in high school. It very much feels like what a 13 year old boy would come up with if he wrote a movie, and then was told to revise it to add some more compelling story elements. He’d keep the useless scene with the topless hooker who is killed in the woods, because boobs. He’d still make the main character a bad ass cowboy, and the supporting character of the doctor would remain a sort of country doctor caricature with ridiculous hair. Then he’d tack on an extra character – Michael Madsen’s pregnant…wife, I think? And make the end about loss, and sneak in a theme about the world progressing and leaving behind the old-fashioned world of the older characters. Sort of a No Country for Old Men zombie movie.

infected butt

Honestly the movie’s most memorable character.

And these elements do feel forced, and added after-the-fact. But the worst is the ending.

In the beginning of the movie, we’re shown the scene where the infected attack the house. The rest of the movie is the events leading up to that. Once we get there for reals, the whole scene lasts less than ten minutes; the infected attack, a few folks get killed, they fight them back, and then they escape to the car and drive away. Strangely, it’s pretty realistic how simple it is. I mean, if that happened to you, would you barricade the house and get ready for a last stand? Or, knowing you had a car right outside the back door, would you just get in it and bolt? Well that’s what I’d do, and it’s what Michael Madsen and the survivors – miraculously, his son and wife – do in the end.

Which wouldn’t be such a problem, if we didn’t cut there, and go into about 15 minutes of Michael Madsen narrating the rest. Apparently they got overrun, and the wife died. We don’t see this – he just tells us this, somewhat matter-of-factly. The fact that this did not warrant a scene screams that they ran out of money and had to rush the end. Still, a better choice would have been to cut it entirely. We see Michael Madsen losing it and crying like a baby at his wife’s grave – which is good, considering he was bitten in the fight, and seems to have come through just fine (despite the movie establishing that bites = infection).

Then we see about ten minutes of his character’s son turning a car into a tank, raiding a warehouse for supplies, and driving home to a military safe zone where people are gardening, guarding, and basically just living their lives safely. The scene is shot outside in overcast weather, there are a lot of details about this safe zone that are shown pretty quickly. The music is even pretty appropriate, and really helps the scene. And when the credits hit during that scene, I couldn’t help but think: this would have been a better movie. I really liked what I saw at the end there! But it made the rest of the movie look that much worse in comparison. Get rid of the first two hours of this thing, and expand on the last 10, and we’ve got a party.

Maybe Ciano is dreaming of a sequel. If it picks up where this one left off, I’d watch it for sure. Or maybe it’s just the culmination of that theme he tried to put in there about the new generation overtaking the old. Because while we see a bleak apocalyptic world, in the end there is hope and it looks like the kids are doing alright for themselves. This is why the first character infected is the oldest, and the second significant character that is infected is the white-haired doctor, who shows up during the escape scene to say “it’s too late for me.” The message of this movie seems to be that while the new world is replacing the old, as it always does, everything’s going to be okay. Very different perhaps, but we’ll make it work.

I’m a little bothered by the fact that Michael Madsen survived the bite though, and narrated an ending about him and his son surviving and hoping for the future, even though Madsen does not appear to be present at all in the safe zone. It feels like he probably died in the first draft, and they couldn’t get him back for more scenes after he’d left the set. Can’t really blame him.

This movie is worth a watch. It’s not going to change your life, but it’s not bad, and if Glenn Ciano learns something from this and manages a respectable career, you’ll want to be able to say you saw this one before he was cool. You zombie hipster, you.