Starring Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, Dennis Hopper
Directed by George A. Romero
Distributed by Scream Factory
The horror community was dealt a devastating blow this past July when George A. Romero passed away at the age of 77. Mere days before his death, Romero was still talking up his latest … of the Dead project, yet a further continuation of the timeline originally set-up with his 1968 debut, Night of the Living Dead. The follow-ups came during the subsequent two decades, capturing the zeitgeist and delivering gallons of gore alongside Romero’s typically shrewd social commentary. And then the ‘90s came and went, with Romero directing only one full feature – and it wasn’t set in his undead universe. Finally, in 2005 Universal ponied up the cash for Romero’s return to the subgenre he created and Land of the Dead came into being. Ironically, it took a remake of Romero’s seminal Dawn of the Dead (1978, 2004) to convince Universal to hand him a bag of money. I remember being one of maybe two dozen people seated for a midnight screening of Land and the wave of excitement that hit me when the old timey Universal logo hit the screen. My opinion of the film has varied a bit over the years but, with the hindsight of knowing George is gone, I now view it as one final masterpiece(-ish) picture from a genre giant.
The zombie plague begun in 1968 persists, with humanity relegated to heavily reinforced outposts and buildings in order to survive the endless hordes of undead. In Pittsburgh, the elite have created Fiddler’s Green, a utopic high-rise replete with all the trappings of a luxury lifestyle. Everyone else, however, is left to fend for themselves on the streets, where crime runs rampant and zombie games & gambling are promoted as a potent distraction from reality. Riley (Simon Baker) is a freelance contractor (of sorts) who works for Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), owner and operator of Fiddler’s Green. Riley’s claim to fame is Dead Reckoning (which was almost the film’s title), a massive tank-like vehicle capable of laying waste to the “stenches” (zombies) and carrying massive amounts of supplies back to town. During a routine run for supplies Riley notices one zombie, Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), exhibiting unexpected intelligence, calling out to his brethren and trying to protect them when gunfire erupts.
Riley has had enough of doing Kaufman’s dirty work and promptly quits after the mission. Not long after Cholo (John Leguizamo) does the same after Kaufman denies his request to buy an apartment in the skyscraper. Riley heads to the streets and over to a bar, where zombies regularly fight to entertain customers. On this night, Slack (Asia Argento) has been tossed into the ring; punishment for promoting a revolt against Kaufman. Riley and his burned-face buddy, Charlie (Robert Joy), save Slack and plan to leave town. But when Cholo steals Dead Reckoning and threatens to bomb Fiddler’s Green – which would also put the citizens at risk – Riley agrees to assist Kaufman in stopping his former co-worker. There is another growing threat, though, as Big Daddy continues to lead an army of the undead straight into the heart of the city.
Really, there are only two glaring issues with Land of the Dead, one major and one minor. On the former: casting. The quality of acting in this series has steadily depreciated since Night of the Living Dead – which is not my way of knocking the casts of Dawn or Day, because I love both – but Land feels like it dropped off a cliff in that department. Simon Baker might as well be a cardboard cutout with a speaker taped to the back. He has the personality of cold toast. Asia Argento has never impressed me with her acting; she’s passable here. Who would’ve thought John Leguizamo would be the best actor in a George A. Romero movie in 2005? Not me, but he’s probably the most interesting character of the bunch. Robert Joy always lives up to his last name. Dennis Hopper looks like he’s having fun playing a mustache twirling villain. Most of the minor supporting players are laughably bad.
The other minor issue is the use of CGI. I can understand the instances where Romero needed to show a hundred or so zombies and they simply didn’t have enough background to cover that quota, but there are some digital gore gags and blood that look terrible. 2005 terrible. 90% of the film was completed with practical effects, making these moments of CGI stand out in the worst way.
Where this film succeeds in spades is exactly where you’d think: zombies. My favorite shot in the film comes right at the beginning, when Romero glides across a town square filled with flesheaters. They slowly lumber and move with pained expressions, a firm reminder that in George’s universe zombies don’t run. The three-piece zombie band, members still attempting to play their instruments, is classic Romero. This is just one of many standout moments, including the warehouse scene wherein dozens of zombies are shown in another classic Romero scenario: eating. Not that anyone expected less, but KNB totally killed it by creating dozens of unique zombies that nearly live up to the iconic undead of their predecessors in this universe. And in the first bit of true connective tissue in the series, Tom Savini returns as the undead version of his biker character, Blades, from Dawn.
Further sequels in the … of the Dead series are best forgotten. I remember the sucking void of disappointment like a vacuum in my chest while watching Diary of the Dead (2007) in theaters. I might’ve made it through about 20-ish minutes of Survival of the Dead (2009). For me, Land is going to stand as Romero’s last great hurrah in the genre he created. There’s no hyperbole in that statement; every single piece of zombie media people have loved since 1968 owes it all to him. Land is the perfect stopping point, and given the sense of cautiously optimistic closure suggested by the film’s ending it seems a fitting end for one of horror’s most iconic series.
Scream Factory has given Land a new 2K scan of the inter-positive for the theatrical cut, while the unrated cut gets the same with HD inserts of the additional footage. Unrated is the way to go and the 2.35:1 1080p image is a winner. Hard to say just how improved this is over Universal’s previous edition but this release features sharp definition, clear examples of fine detail within the frame, natural color reproduction, deep black levels, and fine film grain. Aside from bad CGI looking like bad CGI and some minor compression issues, this is a solid presentation that matches the theatrical experience.
An English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 or 5.1 surround sound track is available to choose from. The multi-channel offering sounds best, delivering a full, robust experience with deep bass during explosive moments and decent impact from gunfire. Dialogue is nicely prioritized and is never lost in the frequently-active mix. The score by composers Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek is mostly forgettable, a stark change from Romero’s previous soundtrack collaborators. Aside from a few strong cues this is a largely boring score. Subtitles are available in English.
DISC ONE: Theatrical Cut
“Cholo’s Reckoning – An Interview with Actor John Leguizamo” – There are a handful of fond recollections made here, most involving Romero’s genial nature on set.
“Charlie’s Story – An Interview with Actor Robert Joy” – The actor shares what he remembers from his time on set, including what it was like wearing his facial appliance.
“The Pillsbury Factor – An Interview with Actor Pedro Miguel Arce” – Hear from the dude who has a line of memorable dialogue.
“Four of the Apocalypse – An Interview with Actors Eugene Clark, Jennifer Baxter, Boyd Banks, and Jasmin Geljo” – A handful of the lead zombies sit down to discuss what it was like being featured in a zombie film made by the master.
“Dream of the Dead” is a short documentary on the making of the film, with optional commentary by director Roy Frumkes.
There is also “deleted footage from Dream of the Dead”, a reel of a few deleted scenes from this film, a theatrical trailer, and a photo gallery containing 110 images.
DISC TWO: Unrated Cut
There are two audio commentary tracks; the first, a new offering with zombie performers Matt Blazi, Glena Chao, Michael Felsher, and Rob Mayr; the second, with writer/director George A. Romero.
“When Shaun Met George” – Revisit the time Shaun Pegg and Edgar Wright flew to Canada to be zombies, shot in a fly-on-the-wall style.
“Bringing the Dead to Life” – Focusing on the film’s FX work, this piece showcases some of the zombies KNB created.
“Scenes of Carnage”, featuring exactly what it promises.
“Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene” – This shows off the evolution of zombies, from early CGI rendering to what wound up in the final film.
“Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call” is a bizarre little short of CGI zombies dancing “Thriller” style.
“Bringing the Storyboards to Life”- See how the early storyboards for the film were re-created for the filming.
“Undead Again: The Making of Land of the Dead” – This is a behind-the-scenes look at the production.
“A Day with the Living Dead” – Leguizamo takes viewers on a tour through a day on set during production.
DISC ONE: Theatrical Cut of the film
- NEW 2K Scan of an interpositive
- NEW Cholo’s Reckoning – an interview with actor John Leguizamo
- NEW Charlie’s Story – an interview with actor Robert Joy
- NEW The Pillsbury Factor – an interview with actor Pedro Miguel Arce
- NEW Four of the Apocalypse – an interview with actors Eugene Clark, Jennifer Baxter, Boyd Banks and Jasmin Geljo
- Dream of the Dead documentary: The director’s cut with optional commentary by director Roy Frumkes
- Deleted footage from Dream of the Dead
- Deleted Scenes
- Theatrical Trailer
DISC TWO: Uncut Version of the film
- NEW 2K Scan of an interpositive with HD inserts
- NEW Audio Commentary with zombie performers Matt Blazi, Glena Chao, Michael Felsher and Rob Mayr
- Audio Commentary with writer/director George A. Romero, producer Peter Grunwald and editor Michael Doherty
- Undead Again: The Making of Land of the Dead
- Bringing The Dead To Life
- Scenes of Carnage
- Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene
- Scream Test – CGI test
- Bringing the Storyboards to Life
- A Day with the Living Dead hosted by John Leguizamo
- When Shaun Met George
Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor
Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.
On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.
The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.
While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.
What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.
While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.
IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.
The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell
Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law
Directed by John Law
I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.
The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.
The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.
The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.
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