I Watch A Lot Of Movies: The Beach, Glory Daze, House II & Take Me Home Tonight

The Beach (2000) is one of those movies that I remember coming out, but don’t remember hearing much about. For some reason I thought it had a sci-fi element to it, but instead it’s about a secret island split between a bunch of hippie pot farmers and some bad ass dudes with guns. Leonardo DiCaprio finds out about the island and sneaks his way in where he soon becomes part of the gang. It’s kind of an interesting idea that gets really weird towards the end.

See, Leo left a map with someone and that’s a problem because the guys with guns don’t want anymore people to join the hippies. The boss lady finds out about this and stations Leo on a ledge so he can watch for newcomers. While doing this, Leo loses his damn mind.

The problem isn’t so much in the story or the turn it takes at the end, but in how long the movie goes in one direction showing how life on the island is and THEN switches to this descent into madness kind of thing. The meandering part is kind of fun to look at as you get interested in how life on the island works, but then the tone and mood shift and it’s almost like you’re watching another movie set in the same world as the first. At the end of the day, the performances are solid and Leo does well with an uneven script, but I’m not sure if I’d recommend checking The Beach out if you haven’t already seen it.

We’ve all got types of movies and stories that we’re suckers for and Glory Daze (1995) fits like three of my preferred subgenres. First off it’s got Ben Affleck, an actor I seem to like no matter what he’s in. Second, it’s an “end of college” movie which I’ve been a sucker for since I saw PCU and Animal House. And finally, it’s a 90s movie about the kind of existential crises Gen Xers had when looking at their future in the real world.

Affleck plays a tormented art student who lives with a group of his friends that include Sam Rockwell and French Stewart in a party house. Most of them are on the verge of graduation, but Affleck doesn’t know what he wants to do with the rest of his life and tries convincing his friends to stay on for one more year in the house to party and put off joining the real world.

Like I said, I’m a sucker for these kinds of movies, but I think it’s actually pretty good. Affleck hits a lot of the same notes that he would go on to hit in Chasing Amy (the movies actually shares some similar themes and beats at times) and the movie is funny, but there is a heart in it that I found appealing. It’s about fear of the unknown, discovering the truth of the world and trying to make the best of a bad situation. Sure, it’s formulaic at times, but it reminds me of a lot of the movies I liked in my high school days.

As I said in today’s Ad It Up, I know I saw and enjoyed the first House movie, but I don’t actually remember much about it. I think it had a dude fighting monsters in another dimension after opening a door in his house. House II: The Second Story (1986) one is about a guy moving into his treasure hunting great grandfather’s house that’s decked out in Incan stuff, finding his undead grandfather and trying to keep a crystal skull out of the hands of some demons. Or something.

The poster, which is awesome, might make the movie seem like a creepy horror movie, but it really feels like a campy family friendly romp. The main guy and his friend just kind of run around with a zombie as different rooms in their house turn into crazy locales.

The film also has a pretty fantastic cameo by John Ratzenberger as a repairman who doesn’t bat an eye when an Incan warrior tries to kill him and also fights it off like a boss. Also, there’s a tiny green dog-bug thing that I wish was my pet.

It’s so, so goofy, but if you like that kind of thing, do yourself a favor and check out House II on Netflix Instant.

When I saw trailers for the 80s-set Take Me Home Tonight (2011), I figured it would be your average throwback with lots jokes that are only funny if you’re living in 2011 and the kind of attitude that pokes more fun than pays homage. Thankfully that’s not the case. There are only a few of those anachronistic-style jokes, but for the most part, it’s a coming-of-age, finding-yourself story that just so happens to be set in the late 80s. They don’t even seem to look down on the decade that gave us big hair, strange clothes and rolled up jacket sleeves. Those things are in the movie, but they’re not the focus. It’d be dishonest if they weren’t there.

I was also happy with how some of the usual tropes of this kind of “telling my high school sweetheart I like her story” were handled. You’ve got Topher Grace telling a lie after meeting the girl of his dreams that comes back to bite him in the ass. But, he actually has a really good argument for why he lied. It’s an honest conversation that you rarely see handled so well in this kind of thing.

Like I said, I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories and really liked the performances by Grace (who I’ve liked since That 70s Show), Anna Faris who I didn’t even recognize with brown hair at first, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer, Chris Pratt and Michael Biehn. Add in a setting that’s not usually handled this way and I’m in. Give it a look.

Halloween Scene: 28 Weeks Later (2007)

Allow me to get nostalgic, just for a moment. The first time I saw Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later was in this tiny art house theatre in Bowling Green, Ohio. I went with Barry’s co-worker-turned friend Bobby, his girlfriend-now-wife Sasha, Toth and Randy (I think) and it blew us away. We had been hearing chatter about it and the alternate ending that you could see if you waited through the credits. The ride home was full of conversations about fast zombies and which ending we liked better. I can tell you with zero doubt that that’s the furthest I’ve ever gone to see a movie and it was totally worth it. I later bought 28DL and watched it a number of times, so, like every other person on the planet, I was pretty skeptical when I heard about the Boyle-less sequel 28 Weeks Later. But damn was it good.

I won’t be nearly as eloquent and detailed as Sean was when he talked about writer/director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28WL back in ’07, but it really seems like this flick was amazing in spite of itself. A sequel to a movie that most people either saw in art houses or on DVD getting a bigger sequel by some guy who wasn’t involved in the first one with a joke title like 28 Weeks Later? It couldn’t possibly live up to it’s predecessor, but boy howdy, does it.

And, I think what makes it work so well is the fact that it’s not a direct sequel, it’s merely set in the same world as the original. No characters return (unless you count London, which I wouldn’t argue against) so you’re left with a part of the zombie mythos we don’t tend to see: the clean-up and aftermath. Plus, if the opening of this movie doesn’t get under your skin and make you think about how you’d REALLY react in a situation like this, then you might need to check your pulse. Sure we’ve seen people ditch other folks to save themselves in movies like this, but damn if this isn’t the most effective emotionally.

That’s really what makes this such a superior horror film, the level of emotional attachment stays consistent with the original. You start wondering how’d you react in a given situation and it’s so easy to transfer most scenarios from a zombie infested world to the real one: how would you react if the woman you abandoned to thieves turned out to still be alive?

I also like how the emotional attachment bounces from character to character. After seeing how easily and understandably a husband might abandon his wife, it makes the adult heroes of this movie who accompany the children, even more heroic, earning them instant credibility (along with Scarlett’s attestation that they probably shouldn’t be bringing children into the city).

I had seen 28WL on DVD a while back, purchased it almost immediately afterwards, but hadn’t watched it in a while, so the fates of the characters weren’t fresh in my mind and I was continually surprised followed by moments of “oh yeah.”

Another aspect of the movie that I love is the fact that things aren’t forced down your throat. You can think about this movie for a while and realize all kinds of things. This time around, I fell in love with the idea that, Scarlett protested the idea of kids coming into London because “what if the rage virus isn’t all the way gone?” only to have them not only be the only ones to survive (of our main characters at least), but also re-caused the spread of the virus inadvertently. So, she was right that they shouldn’t be there, but for a completely different reason. Damn kids.

Oh, plus Harold Perrineau of Lost fame is in it, so bonus! I know I’m talking about a much-loved two year old movie that most horror fans have already seen, but if you haven’t watched it in a while, I highly recommend it, if for no other reason than the helicopter vs. zombie scene and the very end with zombies storming France. It’s way more effective than the “invasion” of NYC in Zombie and it nicely sets things up for a potential sequel.

Finally, a quick note about the DVD. There are two animated comics on there that were apparently first published through Fox Atomic that tell the tale of the guys who accidentally created the rage virus before the events of 28DL and one of a vigilante killing zombies and humans in “his city.” The first one was really interesting from a continuity perspective (plus it had art by my con buddy Dennis Calero), while the second is more of a slice-of-life from one tiny perspective in a larger world. They’re not too long and definitely worth a look.