alternate history

MOVIE REVIEW: Fido (2006)

I hope you all enjoyed your Christmas breaks if you had one! I always like to binge on movies at this time of year. Here’s one!

FIDO 2FIDO (2006 Sony Pictures)

Directed by Andrew Currie

It is the 1950’s. Post-Zombie War America is serviced by a new megacorporation called ZomCon.  Radiation caused the dead to rise, but the Zombie Wars have been won.  Zombies are domesticated, tamed, made into servants and pets.  The do the tedious jobs, the ones that nobody wants to do.   They do it without complaint and they are part of life in the subburbs.  Children are taught from gradeschool how to kill a rogue zombie with a headshot.  ZomCon controls the zombie popular with an iron fist, and electronic collars that render them harmless.

Since winning the Zombie Wars, humans must always be on guard; after all, everyone dies eventually.  Therefore each death (natural or otherwise) keeps the world going with a steady supply of new zombies. ZomCon provides security, keeps the peace, and maintains order down to every facet of society, including education.  Cities and towns are fenced off from the wild  no-man’s land in between.

Within the town of Willard, an everyday small town in Anywhere, America, the neighborhoods are inhabited by fascinating characters, both human and zombie.  Mr. Theopolis (Tim Blake Nelson) for example is an ex-ZomCon employee who now lives with Tammy, a young blonde fresh zombie who died of a brain aneurysm.  A wealthier owner has six zombies, a symbol of decadence.

Little Timmy Robinson’s family are the only one on the street who don’t have a zombie housekeeper.  Mr. Robinson claims they just can’t afford one, but the truth is he has a deep seated fear of zombies, going back to when he had to put a bullet in the brain of his own dead father.  When the ZomCom head of security moves in across the street, Mrs. Robinson buys her own zombie (Billy Connolly) so to keep up appearances.  Timmy quickly bonds with the zombie, whom he named Fido, after Fido saves him from the school bullies.  Zombies, it seems, retain a modicum of their original personalities.

Without a control collar, a zombie will eat anybody nearby.  When Fido’s collar malfunctions, he eats mean old lady Henderson!  This sets off a cascade of events that forces Timmy to cover for his zombie friend.  As the situation worsens, the death count rises…and with it the wild zombie population!  Things get weirder when it becomes apparent that Mrs. Robinson (Carrie Ann Moss) and Fido have feelings for each other.  Mr. Robinson sure doesn’t think much of Fido, nor does Mr. Bottoms, the ZomCom veteran.  As events spiral to the blood-splattered but satisfying denouement, Fido and Timmy’s loyalty to each stands firm.

When my buddy Chris recommended Fido to me, I wasn’t all that interested.  I’m on record as a Billy Connolly fan, but isn’t half of what makes him so hilarious that accent of his?  His rich weathered voice and mannerisms are priceless.  Yet somehow, Connolly pulled off a wonderful Billy-zombie hybrid.  Connolly does some of the best grunt dialogue I’ve ever heard.  His zombie-acting is spot on.  Connolly allows Fido to emote, while remaining dead.

I really enjoyed the details of this alternate Bizarro-universe that is Fido‘s 1950’s America.  Having won a war against zombies, Life magazine is now Death magazine.  Funerals are expensive affairs to arrange, with ornate head coffins to ensure that you stay dead.  Handguns can be weilded by 12 year olds (self defense), and marksmanship is taught to ZomCon cadets in school.  The world of Fido was obviously well thought out, as it is rich and detailed.  Visual and audio clues fill in the subtleties in this world.  Best of all, the Canadian filmmakers managed to do so with a budget of $8M.  Compare that to World War Z‘s $400M cost.  

I recommend Fido to fans of clever zombie films, and to fans of Connolly who just want to see him do something completely different.

4/5 stars

120x160 Aff Fido PersosK’Sun Ray as Timmy Robinson
Billy Connolly as Fido
Carrie-Anne Moss as Helen Robinson
Tim Blake Nelson as Mr. Theopolis
Dylan Baker as Bill Robinson
Henry Czerny as Jonathan Bottoms

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Ultimate Cut: Watchmen – The Complete Story (blu-ray)

Hot on the heels of my Man of Steel review, here’s…the Watchmen.

WATCHMEN : The Ultimate Cut – The Complete Story (2009 Warner 4 disc blu-ray set)

Directed by Zack Snyder, 216 minutes 

What’s the greatest comic book movie of all time?  I’ve seen a lot of them. There’s quite a few I haven’t seen as well, but it’s a great topic for discussion.  I always have to put Watchmen on the table when discussing great comic book adaptations.

Watchmen is a complex tale.  Its original comic was ambitious, containing page after page of dense backstory information in the form of documents and faux-magazine articles, all very relevant.  There’s even a parallel story taking place, a comic within a comic, which directly reflects one (or arguably more) of the characters in the main story.  Characters and their psychology are key.  In addition, neither the comic nor the movie are linear.  The story unfolds within different time periods, flashing back and forth, as we learn more about the characters, their motivations, and the world they inhabit.

It is the world they inhabit that was the hook for me.  I’m a sucker for alternate universe stories.  Here’s one that sets us on Earth, 1985, but things have unfolded very differently.  The influence of various superheroes/vigilantes has caused history to unfold very differently.  Specifically, it is the presence of Dr. Manhattan, who puts a swift and decisive end to the Vietnam war, who influences history the most.  In this 1985, Richard Nixon is still president, and masked vigilantes are now outlawed.

The Watchmen are a group of such vigilantes, originally known as the Minutemen.  Some, such as Dr. Manhattan truly are superhuman.  Others, such as Nite Owl and his successor Nite Owl II, are mere mortals with high-tech gadgetry and skill as their allies.  All have retired, some in fame and some in anonymity…all but one.  Rorschach.  He remains active, alone and wanted.

The movie begins as a murder mystery.  Someone has managed to identify and kill Edward Blake — The Comedian, once one of the most dangerous heroes alive.  To overpower and murder Blake would require an individual of tremendous resources.  Who?  And are other former vigilantes also at risk?  Rorschach seems to be the only one who wants to know.

Being a fan of the graphic novel, I was very happy with the way that Zack Snyder captured Watchmen. It was done with love and care. The things that are discarded, I didn’t miss so much. The things that he changed, I understand why it was done.  There’s one layer to the story/mystery that has been discarded, probably to keep this thing under 4 hours!  The things that are reverently exactly the same as the comic made my jaw drop in awe.  The acting performances are what they are, but I have to give special mention to Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach.

WATCHMEN_0006The soundtrack is one of the best in recent memory. Outside of Wes Anderson, I haven’t loved a soundtrack this much in a long time.  It’s awesome from the stunning Bob Dylan classic “The Times They Are A’Changing”, to Nat King Cole, to Simon and Garfunkel, Hendrix and Philip Glass, and probably the weirdest use of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in movie history.  The soundtrack is where it’s at.  The movie even contains a Village People sighting!  I’ll skip My Chemical Romance.

This Ultimate Cut weaves the comic-within-a-comic, Tales Of The Black Freighter, previously only available on its own, into the main body of Watchmen. These segments are narrated by Gerard Butler.  New live action linking sequences connect the movie to Black Freighter, much like it worked in the graphic novel. People who haven’t read the graphic novel might not understand what “Black Freighter” is doing there, but they should probably start with the less daunting theatrical cut to start with anyway.

WATCHMEN_0003The box set includes four discs, beautifully packaged. Hardly a complaint to be registered. The box is heavy and sturdy. Included is Watchmen: The Motion Comic, packed in its own case, 5 hours long on its own. One disc is the expired digital copy of the theatrical cut (whoop de do) and another disc is loaded with special features. Best of these is Under The Hood, which is based on the graphic novel segments covering Holis Mason.  Mason, the original Nite Owl I, wrote an autobiography called Under the Hood; this film is a faux-documentary on his story. It is presented as a television program from 1975 re-run in 1985, including commercials and scratchy footage. At 35 minutes, this is an absolute must. Other special features include brand new audio commentaries, for those who dare to keep going deeper. This set is just loaded.  Unfortunately I found the sound level inconsistent, I had to turn it up and down frequently.

Having said that, I’m not going to discard my Director’s Cut of Watchmen. Clocking in at almost four hours, watching this version is a commitment. I know that occasionally, I will want to watch the “shorter” version of the film. Since a digital copy of the theatrical (shortest) cut is included here, maybe you won’t feel the need to double-up on Watchmen editions.  For an enriched viewing experience, set aside the four hours one afternoon and enjoy.

4/5 stars

Malin Akerman … Laurie Jupiter / Silk Spectre II

Billy Crudup … Dr. Manhattan / Jon Osterman

Matthew Goode … Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias

Jackie Earle Haley … Rorschach

Jeffrey Dean Morgan … Edward Blake / Comedian

Patrick Wilson … Dan Dreiberg / Nite Owl

Carla Gugino … Sally Jupiter / Silk Spectre

Matt Frewer … Moloch