Tag Archives: Zack Snyder

Dawn of The Dead (2004) (and the Crumbling Cookie) Movie Review By D.M. Anderson

Dawn of the Dead Review

Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: George A. Romero, James Gunn (screenplay)
Stars: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer, Jake Weber, Ty Burrell, Kevin Zegers

Who doesn’t love Oreos?

That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. Everyone loves Oreos.

There’s a damn good reason these delectable delights are the best selling cookies in the world…they’re the perfect marriage of wafer and creme. Not only that, Oreos are the all-purpose cookie…great with ice cream or turned into pie crusts. And who on Earth hasn’t simply tossed a few into a glass of milk in the middle of the night, turning them into divine ambrosia before spooning this orgasmic mush into our mouths? Sorry, but you just can’t do that with Fig Newtons.

As a kid, whenever Mom returned from grocery shopping with a fresh package of Oreos, my sister and I felt truly loved. It also made me feel sorry for my friends whose parents demonstrated utter hatred for their own kids by bringing home Hydrox instead.

Hydrox were widely regarded as a cheap knock-off of Oreos. Parents cruel enough to pack them in their kids’ lunches were usually reported to Child Services for suspected abuse. There were actually occasions when my own Mom brought home Hydrox instead the usual Oreos. Whenever I inquired why, she’d quip, “I’m not your real mother.”

I guess that was easier than just admitting cash was tight that week. But what parents failed to realize was, in elementary school, the contents of your Scooby-Doo lunchbox said a lot about your socio-economic status. Classmates packing such precious processed products by Hostess, Frito-Lay and Nabisco were the envy of the cafeteria. Those stuck with Dolly Madison, Granny Goose and Sunshine cookies were the lowly brown-baggers. On the plus side, however, no one ever stole their lunches.

But that’s beside the point, since honestly, I never had any true aversion to Hydrox cookies. They were tasty enough, just not as awesome as Oreos. How could they be? Oreos were the original sandwich cookie…

…or so I thought.

It wasn’t until just recently that I learned Hydrox’s creme-filled sandwich cookies have actually been around since 1908, a full four years before Oreos hit the shelves. In fact, it was Hydrox that initially inspired the National Biscuit Company (a.k.a. Nabisco) to create their own version. All this time, Oreos were the actual knock-offs.

But first doesn’t always mean best. Sunshine may have come up with the idea, but Nabisco turned it into something perfectly irresistible, which is why Oreos still fly off the shelves and Hydrox exist only in the memories of those with tortured childhoods. On a side note…isn’t Hydrox a terrible name for a cookie in the first place? It sounds like an acne medicine.

Similarly, few will argue that the great George A. Romero is the godfather of the modern zombie as we’ve come to know it. 1968’s Night of the Living Dead was a taboo-smasher and the first to depict the undead as mindless, perpetually hungry hordes. In ensuing years it was oft-imitated but never duplicated, at least until Romero himself unleashed Dawn of the Dead ten years later. Not-only did Dawn up the ante in the gore department, the film had a lot to say about American consumer culture at the time. It is widely considered the greatest zombie film of all time, the standard by which nearly every other subsequent film in the genre has been measured.

And for the longest time, I concurred. I first saw Dawn of the Dead with a couple of friends when I was 15, and aside from the fact it made one of them puke, it redefined horror for me. Not only was it funny, suspenseful and loaded with social commentary relevant for its time, Dawn became the movie I dared friends to endure when it was released on home video. For years, Dawn was as untouchable as The Exorcist and Psycho…a film which could never be improved upon. Though not for a lack of trying, since Dawn was liberally ripped-off over the years, mostly by Italian hacks like Lucio Fulci and Bruno Mattei, who assumed the film’s only appeal was the extreme gore.

Though the popularity of zombies has fluctuated over the years, few would argue that their impact on 21st Century popular culture has been a phenomenon, with video games, horror movies, TV shows, parades and books all dedicated to presenting the undead as Romero first envisioned them back in 1968. Considering the ongoing Hollywood trend of remaking classic horror films, revisiting Dawn of the Dead was inevitable.

The announcement was met with resistance, of course, mostly by those (including yours truly) who considered the original an untouchable classic. When you throw in an unknown director at the time and backing from a major studio (who typically shied-away from hard-core visceral gore), how could a remake of Dawn of the Dead be anything but a shallow shell of a movie, watered down to appeal to the mallrat crowd (especially since the screenwriter, James Gunn, was best-known at the time for writing Scooby-Doo)?

So imagine everyone’s shock when this new Dawn of the Dead turned out to be not-so-much a remake, but a creative and rousing re-imagining of the original material, a legitimate zombie film in its own right. Gunn and director Zack Snyder (before he became a hack) took the premise and jettisoned everything else that endeared legions of fans to Romero’s film. Other than a few respectful nods to the original, the new Dawn had a personality as unique as John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing.

Though it pains me to do so, it’s at this point that I must commit an act of heresy by admitting I think the new Dawn of the Dead is better than the original, the cinematic equivalent to Oreos vs. Hydrox.

I’m well-aware of Romero’s legacy and his use of the undead to address society’s ills. The man has all of my adoration and respect as one of horror cinema’s most influential founding fathers. But having seen all of his zombie films multiple times, the ugly fact remains that Romero’s noble ideals tended to overshadow his actual abilities as a filmmaker. He had a shitload of audacity, a welcome trait that mades his movies true treasures (especially 1985’s Day of the Dead, his best-crafted film). But the fact remains that, unlike contemporaries such as John Carpenter or David Cronenberg, Romero had no distinctive directorial style of his own other than his willingness to push the envelope.

Looking at both films as objectively as possible, the original Dawn of the Dead does some amazing things with a limited budget, but is also hampered by it: Tom Savini’s make-up effects are suitably extreme, ranging from gorge-stirringly gory to ridiculously daffy (blue-skinned zombies and garish  bright blood). The same can be said for the performances, from serviceable to downright amateurish. We may like these characters, but the actors are only a notch above what you’d find in a community theater production. The editing is often clumsy, which also applies to its semi-legendary soundtrack, an uneasy combination of Goblin’s influential rock score (at co-producer Dario Argento’s insistence) and Romero’s preferred public domain library tracks. While old school purists will likely consider these elements part of the original film’s overall charm (and they wouldn‘t necessarily be wrong), these same elements also render it a low budget product of its time. And it has aged badly. By comparison, Romero’s once-maligned sequel, Day of the Dead, belies its grassroots production values every step of the way, resulting in a film which actually holds up better, despite being three decades old.

The 2004 remake starts off brilliantly, its first 15 minutes setting-up the story with a stunning opening attack and montage (creatively incorporating Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around”) which not-only sets the tone, but defiantly lets the audience know this ain’t your daddy’s Dawn of the Dead. Gone are the allegories of 70’s consumerism, and while such other satirical opportunities are largely absent, its simple theme of survival at all costs carries additional apocalyptic weight. Its characters are far more eclectic and believable, ranging from common housewives and salesmen to disillusioned police officers and douchebag yuppies. Likely due to the increased budget, this version of Dawn features a cast who display more range than those in the original. Also unlike the original, which has too many dull stretches to justify its length, the remake trims the fat considerably…it’s leaner, meaner and (dare I say it?) ultimately scarier.

Then there’s the violence, which if we’re to be honest, is a big reason for any zombie movie’s appeal (how else can you explain the nostalgic popularity of Lucio Fulci’s sleazy shitfests?). Even though this version of Dawn of the Dead was released by Universal, the film is bloody as hell, going as far to depict an infected woman giving birth to a zombie baby, followed by the violent death of both. This is arguably the most brutally-Romeroesque gag that George himself never thought of. And even if you’re not a fan of this version, you have to admit the scene involving a rifleman picking-off celebrity lookalikes is inspired.

These revelations were hard for me to accept. I’ve always been one who believed the greatest movies should never be remade, since there was no way to improve on perfection. For the longest time, I believed the original Dawn of the Dead to be one of those films. But if I’m to be honest with myself, after multiple viewings of both, I’m increasingly inclined to concede Romero’s Dawn is far from perfect and the remake is more entertaining. And even though he’s gone on to bigger things, this remains director Zack Snyder’s smartest, most cohesive film.

So from my perspective, George A. Romero might be considered the founder of Sunshine, creator of Hydrox cookies, only to be ripped-off by the likes of Zack Snyder and James Gunn, turning an already great product into something even better. As much as I hate to admit, Romero’s film is now the cinematic Hydrox.

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

BATMAN V SUPERMAN

Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Gal Gadot

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or “BvS” picks up directly into the climatic battle between Superman and General Zod fighting over the city, but from the perspective of Bruce Wayne (Affleck) who witnesses death and destruction in the midst of the fight to the death between Krypton’s finest.

I have to say that when I decided to review this, I intentionally wanted to do this after my “Man of Steel” review I did a few moths back. That was until fellow Movie Burner Kevan recommend I view the ultimate edition before making my mind up on where I stood with The DCU’s latest instalment.

Coming in at just over 3 hours you could forgive me for telling Kevan to get on his bike after watching the first incarnation (theatrical cut) which I wasn’t to in awe with in the first place. One of the major issues I had with that version was the choppy pacing and plot of the movie. It felt rushed and key elements felt missing. But enough of that. I’m here to review the “Big One” yes as I said, 3 hours of Affleck’s Dark Knight and Cavill’s Son of Jor-El. Did it surprise me? Yes, It did in fact.

Fearing that the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on the Man of Steel, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs. This is the basis of the plot and of course the title of the movie. What I liked though was that this was actually a side issue if you please if you look at it from the real villains point of view. Yes Lex Luther played by Jesse Eisenberg is surprisingly unhinged as the famous and traditionally Superman villain. The character at times was a little annoying but to be fair I liked Eisenberg’s take on the character. He was unassuming and unpredictable, key factors in any villainous role.

Affleck’s Batman is possibly the biggest surprise in this movie and an interesting entrance for the latest version of The Dark Knight. You have to appreciate that the last portrayal by Christian Bale of the character was almost perfect in every sense and it was only 2012 that he hung up the cape. Anyone filling those shoes would find it tough to be accepted by the average fanboy. Ben Affleck up to this point was making more heads turn for his writing and directorial work, so you can imagine not everyone was pleased by the appointment. This is why I feel that this Bruce Wayne is interesting in the fact that it isn’t an origins movie (although there are a few flashbacks scenes that don’t necessarily overshadow proceedings). We’re stepping into this characters story somewhere in between a weathered Batman and still has a fight in him Batman. It is shown on screen that he has already lost a sidekick to the joker on on of his displays and I felt this was something different that could be accepted.

Cavill just appears to be made for his role as Clark Kent / Superman in every sense. He was consistent in Man of Steel and really picks up where we last saw him with ease. But it has to be said that the character is a lot darker in BvS. I suppose in the previous film you could get away with the introduction of the character finding his way and place in the world. Here that is established and that is credit to writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer for giving the character another dimension.

The reintroduction to Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White and Diane Lane’s Martha Kent cements the continuity from MoS to BvS flawlessly. All three of them have bigger part to play and have enough screen time to make an impact. Gal Gadot as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman is something that didn’t need to be there and along with some video footage of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg was there to set us up for The Justice League Movie a year down the line. It didn’t hinder or distract the audience from the storyline. In fact, it excited fans and hinted what was coming next.

The above is basically what I would have said about either version of the film if I’m being honest. The cast wasn’t the issue, nor was the storyline. It felt The had so much material that the decision was made to cut some interesting sequences to narrow the running time down a bit, resulting in a jolting and off the pace movie. This ultimate edition fills the holes in and as a result helps keep the flow of the movie going and keeping you entertained which is strange for a movie this length.

Visually Zack Snyder’s hands are all over this. The graininess of Man of Steel is still evident and I’m glad. The shades and colour schemes once more are like another character in the movie and gives it an edge that I’ve always enjoyed from Snyder. Did the movie still have issues after viewing the extended cut? Of course it did, but this version helped me to enjoy and absorb this universe a little easier. Some of the sub plot wasn’t exactly that interesting to begin with and the whole Martha Kent / Martha Wayne revelation still has me sniggering a bit.

Overall BvS could have been much more. But the Ultimate Edition is the only version I will watch now for its filling in the pacing a bit better and to be honest. The expectation of a Batman/ Superman face off is far greater than what actually came out but I can accept that as I don’t regard this as a bad movie at all. It is entertaining and multiple viewings are required to absorb the plot. If you haven’t seen BvS (any version) I would recommend the ultimate edition. If you have seen the theatrical cut and were initially put off (like me) I would give this one a chance. Recommend.

Man of Steel (2013) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin

MAN OF STEEL

Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: David S. Goyer (screenplay),  David S. Goyer (story)
Stars: Henry Cavill,  Amy Adams,  Michael Shannon, Russel Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne

Back in 2013 the “Man of Steel” opened the DC / Warner Brothers expanded universe doors and with a slight bump in the tracks regarding Batman versus Superman and Suicide Squad although it looks like they are on the right road again with this summer’s release of Wonder Woman directed by Patty Jenkins.

I was almost convinced back when “Man of Steel was released that it wasn’t originally being set out as the first in this universe. Yes we spotted the LexCorp and Wayne Security Easter eggs planted throughout the movie but probably right up to a month ago I stubbornly refused to believe that DC and Warner Brothers had this planned back then. It convinced me even more this was the case when not until the last couple of years that the studio have gone full pelt on their comic book universe. But I have now been told that I am wrong (and even did a bit of research in secret shhhhh) and that of course “Man of Steel” is DCs what “Iron Man” is to Marvel (enough with the comparisons)

So we Kick Off the movie with Russel Crowe portraying Jor-El (Superman’s father) debating with the Kryptonian Council that he is convinced the planets core is unstable and the planets existence will cease in a matter of weeks. Falling on deaf ears, Jor-El and his wife Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) decide to take action of their own and save their child Kal-El (Superman) by sending him to the nearest inhabitable planet for his survival and the survival of the Kryptonian people. The sequence itself is just an updated version of the now legendary scenes starring Marlon Brando as Jor-El and Susannah York as Lara from “Superman: The Movie” from 1978.

I had always enjoyed rewatching the original movie back in my childhood. The John Williams score, the special effects had us believe a man could fly and the awesome casting of Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Ned Beauty, Jackie Cooper and upcoming stars in Margot Kidder and the late great Christopher Reeve who incidentally does not appear in the original movie until a good hour into it. “Man of Steel” on the other hand introduces the main players very quickly and at this point I think it’s only fair to say that I will not be making anymore comparisons between “Man of Steel” and “Superman: The Movie” from now on.

Michael Shannon is fantastic and ruthless as the military leader of Krypton “General Zod” and from that opening 10 minutes we realise how passionate and loyal he is to the people of Krypton in his own mad way. Zod and his Crew are captured and sentenced to the Phantom Zone (a solitary dimension) by the Council.

The scene involving Kal-El’s launch into the unknown is heartbreaking for Jor-El and Lara and you can sense the moral dilemma the father and mother endured to save their child. Kal-El’s arrival on earth is quick and effective that we don’t have to go into any great length or detail into his arrival into the small town of “Smallville” and Snyder’s  direction and Goyer’s writing allows us to focus more on the emotions of the characters throughout the movie without being bogged down with obvious exposition. The planet’s implosion visually is stunning and tragic and baby Kal-El is sent hurtling in space towards his new planet (plotted on some Kryptonian sat nav)

It is at this point we are thrown forward in time to the present and we are introduced to Henry Cavill as Clark Kent (Superman’s disguise) on a ship in his late twenties. The movie jumps back and forth throughout Clark’s younger years but it is done in a way that doesn’t interrupt the flow of the movie nor confuse the audience members. It is also a great way to introduce Clark’s earth parents Martha and Jonathan Kent played by veteran actors Diane Lane and Kevin Costner. Martha and Jonathan’s role throughout the movie cannot be ignored or underestimated as they are essential to the upbringing and moral values that Clark has inherited and defines his character.

Another particular scene that has to be mentioned is Jonathan Kent’s beliefs
and willingness in guiding Clark in his growth as he develops his “special powers” and keeping them at bay for his own good and only using it when the time is right is powerful. For anyone who hasn’t watched this film yet I won’t spoil it but there is a moment during a hurricane sequence that in a brief moment is sad yet poignant to Jonathan’s relationship to Clark. This is storytelling and character development at its best and can never be taken for granted. The look Costner gives Cavill will hit you right in the feels.

Zod’s return is of course predictable and after Krypton’s doom it was inevitable and to be honest pointless sending him and his crew to the Phantom Zone to begin with as once the planet imploded it released them and Zod’s mission was to track down Kal-El and extract components from his DNA to give Krypton a rebirth using planet earth as a base.

Amy Adams as Lois Lane appeared to be a great casting decision and I always saw Lois as an earthy Princess Leia back into day. Headstrong and a leader in every sense. Adams manages to portray this character very quickly and is key to earth’s understanding of how we come to understand Superman and how the human race must trust this one man who is clearly their only chance against the General.

The climatic battle between Superman and Zod is shattering to say the least and if DC / Warner Brothers have one thing over their competitors that is their cinematography. Visually “Man of Steel” is shot uniquely and Zack Snyder’s hands are all over it, in a good way. The imagery is so crisp and precise and the choice of colours throughout the movie depending on the mood of the scene is vivid and stunning.

Overall, “Man of Steel” is a Superman movie in its own right. Yes it does retell the origins story and yes it does rely on a well known villain but Snyder and Goyer take the movie from a different angle and set the tone for the DC / WB cinematic universe going forward. Highly recommendable.

Watchmen (2009) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin

WATCHMEN.png

Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: David Hayter (screenplay),  Alex Tse (screenplay)
Stars: Jackie Earle Haley,  Patrick Wilson,  Carla Gugino

Coming in at just under 3 hours “Watchmen” in my opinion is a must view for anyone who hasn’t watched it. Before 2009 I only knew Director Zack Snyder for his work on “Dawn of the Dead (2004)” and “300 (2006)” In fact, “DOTD” is still one of my favourite horror movies from that time and I felt the Direction of that movie was a stand out in its style and look.

Giving Zack Snyder the chance to direct a Gritty and Dark Superhero movie like Watchmen is a match made in heaven and a sound piece of business by the studio in hiring him.

The movie begins in an alternate 1985 where former superheroes exist and are well known to the public. But when the murder of a former colleague “The Comedian” played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan sends active masked vigilante “Rorschach” into his own sprawling investigation, uncovering something that could completely change the course of history as we know it.

As the story unfolds and concerned former masked heroes begin to surface to warn their fellow superheroes they begin to realise their past hasn’t left them and they must uncover the truth behind the death of “The Comedian” and who is responsible for his murder.

“The Comedian” was part of “The Minutemen” who were a collection of heroes fighting crime in the 1960’s and 70’s and the “Watchmen” somewhat took up their mantle when time took its toll on the older generation. “The Comedian” in his later years steered the “Watchmen” before his retirement.

One of the things I enjoyed about all the characters was that they all had flaws or baggage of some sort. Here wasn’t any squeaky clean do-gooders who believed in right and wrong. All the superheroes had grey areas in their past. Even “The Comedian” had some darker moments during the Vietnamese war that are unforgivable and unforgettable.

“Rorschach” for me was the star of the movie masked and unmasked. Jackie Earle Haley portrayal of the masked vigilante was both terrifying and humorous simultaneously. Earle Haley scenes were the most enjoyable and particularly in the prison scenes showed the character a force to be reckoned with and it was confirmed in the prison canteen after a brawl with a fellow inmate “Rorschach” declared that “I’m not stuck in this prison with all of you, you are all stuck in this prison with me”

Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg /  Nite Owl was a great piece of casting for this role and in a particular the introduction scene with Hollis Mason (Stephen McHattie) who was the original “Minutemen’s” Nite Owl you understand that Dreiberg doesn’t miss his old life and is trying to lead an ordinary existance.

Laurie Jupiter also know as Silk Spectre II is portrayed by Malin Akerman and is the connection between all the characters. Her love for Dr. Manhattan is complex and is also heartbreaking as Manhatten is becoming more distant towards relationships and basically human interactions as the character is moving onto more spiritual and intellectual plains since his accident.

Jupiter’s longing for a normal life sees her make a connection with Dreiberg and besides reminiscing over the old days form a bond that appears to be missing from her relationship with Manhatten. Jupiter is also the daughter of former “Minutemen” Sally Jupiter /  Silk Spectre played by Carla Gugino who incidentally is only 7 years older than Akerman, but with the aid of prosthetics and cgi portrays her convincing mother. Akerman to her credit performs with a maturity beyond her years and is key to some of the most pivotal scenes in the movie.

I’ve always been a somewhat fan of Billy Crudup ever since I saw him in “Almost Famous” and more recently in “Rudderless” Crudup as Dr. Manhattan /  Jon Osterman
Is both fascinating and at the same time annoying. This isn’t a criticism on the actors part but the character is soulless in appearance and has an underwhelming tolerance that begins to annoy me until the backstory of the character goes from Osterman to Manhatten and you begin to feel sympathy for him.

Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt /  Ozymandias does a great job but I felt until the last third wasn’t utilised correctly and felt his sparse appearance in the first couple of hours was a wasted opportunity.

Zack Snyder should be applauded for adapting a very complex and Dark toned Graphic Novel onto the big screen as I felt that it’s the best you are going to get for this Novel and unlike “300” may confuse any first time viewers. Snyder’s style is all over this movie and the fighting sequences are perfect and a joy to watch visually. Without spoiling the plot too much one shot that sticks in my mind is the lasting sequence with “The Comedian” before he meets his doom is beautifully shot and is Snyder’s trademark. As well as the visuals, the soundtrack for the movie has some of the most famous and memorable songs written in the 1960’s and 1970’s from “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel to Bob Dylan’s “The Times Are A Changin”

Watchmen is a must watch for anyone who hasn’t watched it yet and although the movie requires the audience member to dedicate 3 hours of their life, I can assure you that you won’t feel those 3 hours have been robbed from you. Give it a watch…man.