Movies: 28 Days Later

Curious as it may seem, some people, when in the mood for an “exciting movie,” are more interested in those that involve shotguns instead of spelling bees. Here’s a movie review for you for that crowd.

But first, an apology to M. My friend M. dislikes “scary movies,” and will flat out refuse to see films like The Ring or Hannibal. But I somehow convinced her to accompany me to a showing of 28 Days Later. I did this by employing my preternatural ability to Not Know What The Hell I Am Talking About. “Oh no, it’s not a scary movie,” I reassured her, despite almost complete ignorance about the film’s subject matter. “I think it’s, like, an old fashion zombie flick, more of a shoot-em-up action movie than anything else. You’ll like it.”

Ah, no. 28 Days Later is, in fact, a Scary Movie, and a fairly good one at that. That’s because it takes its cues not from Day Of The Dead (as I had assumed), but from Steven King’s The Stand. As with King’s novel, the story begins just as civilization ends, as a super virus rips through society leaving only a few survivors in its wake. Well, actually that’s not true — unlike The Stand‘s Superflu, the pathogen in 28 leaves plenty of survivors: the handful of those who never contracted the disease, and thousands of the afflicted who have been turned into mindless rageaholics (see “zombies,” above). The former group tries to live through onslaughts on the latter and, well, there’s your movie.

Plucky bands of humans beset by relentless hordes monsters, you say? Why isn’t this a shoot-em-up action movie? Well, for one thing, it is set in London where stricter gun control laws have left people at the mercy of roving bands of savage automatons, just as the NRA has always predicted. Second, these guys are, like, the Marion Jones of zombies. No more fumbling around with the car keys while the zombies slowly lurch towards you — here it’s flight or fight — and “fight” ain’t lookin’ so good.

But what really prevents 28 Days Laterfrom becoming Quake: The Movie is that, like The Stand, it doesn’t assume that humans would become a unified front against a post-apocalypse menace. As in our current, pre-apocalyptic world (assuming your reading this before the upcoming North Korea debacle), the characters in 28 are motivated by different things — survival, greed, lust, fear — and not all of these motives are harmonized. Those who band together are not simply trying to get to the helipad or infiltrate the lab to find an antidote, they are struggling to come out on top in this Brave New world, and that takes them into conflict with their companions as often as it does the Infected.

28 Days Later is one of the better horror / psychological thrillers I’ve seen in the last few years — certainly better than the aforementioned Ring. My only big complaint is the lousy film quality. Director Danny Boyle said he chose digital video to give the film a gritty feel — and it does, admittedly. But a friend of mine, who saw 28 before me, summed it up best when he said, simply, “Whenever I see a movie in the theater that was shot on digital video, I feel ripped off.” Nine bucks to see a movie that looks crummier than an episode of Everybody Love Raymond is kind of a drag, even if the film turns out to be unexpectedly enjoyable. In other words, 28 ain’t going to lose much in the transition to DVD, so maybe you’ll just want to wait and rent it. But if you do, here’s a tip: don’t watch it with anyone with a stated aversion to “scary movies,” or you’ll be in trouble afterwards.

The Scandal Widens

The thing I don’t understand about this whole “State of the Union” hullabaloo is why anyone believed that Saddam needed to go to Niger in the first place. I mean, Christ, thirty seconds of Googling and he could have learned to make the stuff himself.

And for that matter, why does everyone think George Tenet’s statement that “those 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president” was about Iraq? When I heard him say that, I just assumed he was referring to this passage:

This country has many challenges. We will not deny, we will not ignore, we will not pass along our problems to other Congresses, to other presidents, and other generations. (Applause.) We will confront them with focus and clarity and courage. (Applause.) And another thing: Clay Aiken is, like, totally going to win American Idol, mark my words. (Wild applause.)

How To Be Happy

Once when I was a child, my mother gave me an Oreo. I shoved the entire thing into my mouth and, while chewing, asked if I could have another.

She said, “You should concentrate on enjoying the cookie you’re eating instead of thinking about the next one.”

That is pretty much the best advice I have ever received in my life.

Clack Attack

I was at the gym today, running on the treadmill, and the TV directly in front of me was showing a new televised atrocity called “First Date” or “Date Time” or somesuch. Judging from what I saw they might as well call it “Single For A Reason”

It was showing on TLC, which I thought was supposed to be “the woman’s network,” but you’d never know it from the guy they had on the show today. He was to women what bovine spongiform encephalopathy is to cows. When he first met his date — and I mean, like, the moment he met his date — he pulls two of those whattayacallums, those plastic stick things that have the two balls attached to them, that you can kinda twirl to make the balls bounce off of each other? You know what I’m talkin’ about? They’re called “clackers” or something? Anyway, he pulls two of those out of his pocket and thrusts one at the woman and says “Here, take this and start clicking it!” with alarming alacrity, and then he starts twirling his own and the balls start clacking and he’s urging her to do it too, “Come on, start clicking!,” and after a few moments she remembers that the producers of “Date-aster!” (or whatever it’s called) aren’t paying her to stand around and look ossified, so she starts twirling her clacker and the balls start colliding, and after about twenty seconds of this the guy says “Great! Now we can say that we clicked at the very start of our date!”

The woman made a face like she had just swallowed a herring smoothie.

I, meanwhile, watching this train-wreck of an opening gambit while running in a crowded gym, could not prevent myself from loudly exclaiming “Oh my crap!” in horror.

Everyone turned to look at me, and, embarrassed that I had gotten caught watching “Dates Of Wrath” (or whatever it’s called), I quickly adverted my eyes from the screen to the wall mirror. Which, in retrospect, was probably a mistake, since it made it look as though I was shouting vulgarities at my own reflection.

So, anyway, yeah, I looked like an ass. But, y’know, you gotta put these things in perspective. Everyone at the gym thinks I’m a lunatic now, true. But it could be worse; I could be on a televised date with The Clicker. Thank god for small mercies, that’s what I always say.

Update: Apparently it’s called A Dating Story. Do not watch in public.

Movies: Spellbound

Note: I have a bevy of movie reviews to get to this week, having put off nearly half a dozen of them. But although this is the one I saw most recently, it is also the one I’m going to cover first, because (a) it ain’t gonna be in theaters long, and (b) you should see it while it is.

As anyone who has read more than four paragraphs of this website knows, I’m not much of a speller. But it’s not my fault. I was handicapped as a child by having a sister who was a whiz at spelling, which meant that I would just demand that she spell giraff for me rather looking it up in the dictionary myself. (I swear to god that I didn’t just intentionally misspell “giraffe” for comedic effect.) Cursed with a grammatical crutch, I never learned to spell stuff on my own.

Consequentially, I consider spelling, like all things that I can’t do well (playing softball, making home repairs, performing neurosurgery, etc.), to be Not Terribly Important. I mean sure, it’s great if you can pound out “cacophony” on the first try, but, if not, that’s why George Washington Carver invented SpellCheck, right? A corollary of this is that I am fascinated by those who, on the contrary, find spelling Terribly Important Indeed. This was true of Word Freak, the book profiling professional Scrabble Players, and even more so in the documentary Spellbound, a film that follows eight kids and their parents as they train and compete in the 1999 National Spelling Bee.

In the first half we get to meet the contestants, see glimpses of their family and personal lives (which seem to revolve around flash cards with “sarcophagus” written on them), and watch them trounce their peers in the regional semi-finals. Like the Scrabble junkies, these kids are largely uninterested in what the words mean, except insofar as that knowledge helps them get the right letters in the right order. But unlike the characters in Word Freak, who all seemed to be of a similar mold (i.e., social maladapted borderline-savants), the octet of kids in Spellbound run the gamut from the totally geeky to the, well, slightly-less-but-still-pretty-darned-geeky. They come from a wide variety of geographical regions, communities, and families. Each claims that winning isn’t important and all are lying on this point, but some clearly have more emotional investment in the outcome than others.

Almost stealing the limelight are the parents, each of which supports his child in a different way and to a different degree of intensity. Some exhort their child to excel, while others constantly remind the speller (and, by extension, themselves) that success in a spelling bee is ultimately unimportant in the largest scheme of things.

The ample time lavished on exposition pays off in the second half of Spellbound, which covers the highlights of the 1999 National Spelling Bee. Now that the audience relates to the eight (of 248!) kids as people rather than as freakish spelling machines, watching them compete is as riveting and stressful as anything you are likely to see a cinema this year. On more than one occasion I had to look away from the screen in agony when one of my favorites was given a word like “cephalagia,” and people in the theater where openly cheering when one of the kids narrowly avoided elimination. Plus: boys that talk like Musical Robots! All of which makes for one of the most inspirational, gut-wrenching, and exciting films I’ve seen in a spell.

Attention Seattleites: Spellbound is currently playing at the Guild 45.

Problem Solving Skills: On!

This morning I had a tuft of hair sticking up on the back of my head, and no amount of wetting or combing or flattening would get it to stay down. So in my groggy, pre-caffinated state, I conconcted this brilliant plan whereby I covered my head with gel and brushed everything upwards so that all of my hair stood straight up, thereby disguising the wayward tuft.

Now, two cups of coffee later, I realize that I look like an idiot of the hair-sticking-straight-up-into-the-air variety.

Just another example of the analytical reasoning skills that have made me the crackerjack software development engineer I am today.

Bad Review Revue

Hollywood Homicide: “My god in heaven, did anyone making this film have an original thought in their lives?” — Kevin Carr, Film Threat

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle: “If this is the kind of empowerment women in Hollywood have been fighting for over the last century or so, it’s no wonder Katharine Hepburn died this weekend.” — Glenn Kenny, PREMIERE

Dumb and Dumberer: “This nightmarish travesty barrels along with all the whipcord speed and nimble comedic grace of a loved one’s funeral.” — Marc Savlov, AUSTIN CHRONICLE

The Hulk: “Goes on for two hours and 20 minutes and there’s not a stirring or exciting moment in it. At last, a comic-book movie that National Public Radio listeners can be proud to take their kids to see.” — Charles Taylor, SALON.COM

From Justin To Kelly: “Kelly plays ‘Kelly’ and Justin plays ‘Justin,’ and anyone who plunks down $8 plays the fool.” — Wesley Morris, SEATTLE P-I