Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Escape from L.A. (1996)

Title: Escape from L.A. (1996)

Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Kurt Russell, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Valeria Golino, Pamela Grier, Bruce Campbell, A.J. Langer


Escape from L.A. is a strange kind of film. When I first heard the news that a sequel to John Carpenter's  Escape from New York (1981) was being made I was excited to see the resulting film because not only was John Carpenter back behind the directors chair, but Kurt Russell was still going to play Snake Plissken! That’s really all I needed to know. Sadly, when I went to the theater to see it, I came out being disappointed. Where was all the darkness? Where was that terrifying post- apocalyptic world that I loved from the first film? Why were characters trying to be funny? Why was everything so silly? Why? Why? Why? Well, many years have passed since my initial disappointment with Escape from L.A. I’ve grown some, matured some. I had a chance to recently re-watch Escape from L.A. How do I see this film now?

Carpenter and Russell on the set of Escape from L.A.

Well, I honestly can’t bring myself to hate it. I see why I didn’t like it when it was first released, but I’ve grown to accept this film for what it is. It’s pure unadulterated campy fun. Funny thing is that a script was written for this film way back in 1985, by a guy called Coleman Luck, but Carpenter thought the script was too light and campy. What? X-squeeze me? Baking Powder? That’s exactly what Escape from L.A. turned out to be anyways! Ultra campy and ultra light; at least when compared to the first film which was so dark and brooding. Escape from New York was a film that took itself very seriously. Yeah it’s a science fiction film, but it was a decidedly serious one. Not many laughs or  jokes in sight. In contrast Escape from L.A. is colorful, filled with one joke after the another, and very, very campy. This movie is obviously making fun of itself. And to tell you the truth, I like that about it because it’s obviously what Carpenter and Russell were going for. So you’ll be better of just erasing your expectations for this film. If you haven’t seen this one yet, you have to go in expecting a different film than Escape from New York.

What makes Escape from L.A. so different? It’s all about the tone of the film, the look of it. While Escape from New York felt like a horror movie at times with it’s darkness and freaky looking characters, Escape from L.A. is actually well lit and colorful,  filled with comic book heroes, villains and one liners galore. Take for example the character called ‘The Surgeon General of Beverly Hills’ the one played by Bruce Campbell. This character feels like a comic book villain, like something out of an episode of the old Batman television show. He’s a surgeon general who has performed so much surgery on himself and on his patients, that they have disfigured their faces! He likes chopping up good looking people to use for his surgeries. This is a prime example of the kind of totally over the top characters you will find on this film. They aren’t particularly scary or intimidating like the villains on the first film, but they are entertaining none the less. And the comic book characters don't stop there my friends! Pamela Grier plays a transvestite who used to be Snake Plissken’s partner in crime! Steve Buscemi plays a double crossing tourist guide! Peter Fonda plays a surfer who likes to ride Tsunami tidal waves! And so on. But even though this film is filled with funny, entertaining characters such as the ones I’ve mentioned, this doesn’t make Escape from L.A. a bad film in book, just a different kind of film than its predecessor. 

Bruce Campbell's 'Surgeon General of Beverly Hills'

Both Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. are decidedly anti-establishment films. They both have this cynical view of the government; in these films, the government is not to be trusted. There are terrorist attacks aimed at the government on both films. On the first one they hijack and crash Air Force One; forcing The President of the United States to fall into the hands of the freaks inside Manhattan. On this second one, the president’s own daughter is the one that rebels against the government and decides to live with the leader of the criminals; a guy called ‘Cuervo Jones’. And here’s what I liked about this movie. While it does criticize fascist forms of government, it also criticizes rebellious leaders who instigate their followers towards committing violent acts. So it doesn’t side with anyone. On this film, both sides are wrong. The film pleads for a new beginning, it’s asking governments to forget their old grudges and start from scratch. Snake himself says it in one scene: “I shut down the third world, you win, they loose. I shut down America, they win, you loose. The more things change, the more they stay the same” This is one of the ideas presented in the film that I truly liked. The idea that both sides should just call it quits and bring on the peace, bring on the freedom. Again, this last bit demonstrates how much of Kurt Russell’s Libertarian views are on this film. After all, he wrote a lot of it himself along with John Carpenter and Debra Hill. These are three life long buddies writing a movie they would find amusing, which makes this film a labor of love. This is probably why the film has a more laid back, ‘were having fun here’ vibe to it.

That being said, the film does have some faults going for it. The visual effects for example are freaking horrendous, I mean this was a 50 million dollar movie, one would think that better effects could have been afforded. There’s this painfully bad effects sequence in which Snake drives this mini-submarine through the underwater ruins of L.A….wow, there’s some bad CGI for you. I mean, granted this was early CGI, but even for 1996, these effects where half assed in my book. The scene where Snake Plissken rides a tsunami wave on a surfboard with Peter Fonda, while campy and kind of cool in a way (it’s all about that Hippy attitude!) the scene just comes off as one bad special effect. The scenes with Snake and crew flying these gliders, wow, you could just tell those things weren’t really flying; the list just goes on and on. So expect lots of cheesy effects on this show.

But don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate this movie. I quite enjoyed it actually. I mean yeah, I loved the first one a whole lot more. It’s just darker and scarier; it’s got more of an edge to it. This second one is tongue in cheek every step of the way. Watching Escape from L.A. feels like watching a cheap Italian Rip Off like 2019: After the Fall of New York (1983), but with a bigger budget. Actually, Escape from L.A. has a lot of similarities with 2019: After the Fall of New York, so in a way, this is Carpenter's pay back for all those cheap Escape from New York rip offs that the Italians made. Ultimately, I love both Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. for different reasons. And for all the tonal differences between both films, they still have many similarities. No matter where, Snake Plissken will always be Snake Plissken, you can tell Russell has lots of love for this character. Plissken is what kept me watching. The opening and closing segments of the films are extremely similar as well. And here’s where we get to the best part of the film, the ending. Not gonna spoil it don’t worry, but I will tell you that it is the best thing about the movie. Russell himself came up with it and I applaud him for it, it encapsulates everything Snake Plissken is in terms of attitude. That idea that maybe the world would be better off if we simply started again,  from scratch, screw the way things are, let’s try something new! Welcome to the human race my friends, welcome to the human race.

Rating 3 ½ out of 5  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Men In Black III (2012)

Title: Men In Black III (2012)

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

Cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson


It’s been ten years since the Men In Black last graced the silver screen with their alien filled, world destroying adventures. Not a lot of people liked MIB II (2002), I forget exactly why (maybe it wasn’t very good?) but same as the first one, that sequel made huge bank, so here they are again, Agent J and K, ready to kick some alien butt. The big question on everybody’s mind is, would this third entry be worth it, or redundant? Well, things were looking good for this sequel in my book when the cast returned. Another good omen was that Barry Sonnenfeld the director behind the previous two films agreed to direct this third entry. I like Sonnenfeld’s films, they always have something interesting to look at, they always have that kinetic camera, always moving somewhere. Make up effects genius Rick Baker, would be in charge of creating the alien make up effects and designs for this one, which is a major plus in my book. So, things were looking good for this new MIB film. Would the planets align once again for this third film? Would this one be equally funny and interesting?

Story this time around revolves around Agent K’s sudden disappearance from history. An old nemesis’s of K’s -an alien being known as ‘Boris’- has altered time so that K doesn’t exist. Interesting part about the whole thing is that even though K has been erased from time and nobody seems to remember him, J still remembers him as if he was alive. So it’s up to J to go back in time and stop Boris from altering the present. J’s mission this time around is to travel all the way back to 1969 to make everything alright.

Basically this is like Back To The Future (1985) or The Terminator (1984), but with aliens. I know what you’re thinking; it’s been done to death the whole time travel thing. And you’re probably right. By now audiences are so familiarized with the concept of time travel that in new time travel films like this one, characters don’t have to whip out a chalk board and explain everything to us. We already know the ins and outs of time travel and its effects on space time continuum; we got Dr. Emmet Brown to thank for that, he explained it all so well in Back to the Future II (1989). So anyways, yeah, this is one of those movies where altering the past has terrible consequences on the future. Though this might feel redundant, I always say its not what you say but how you say it, right? And MIB III manages to tell it’s time travel tale in a very interesting fashion.

Boris The Animal, the villain in the film

First off, the true strength of this film lies in its visuals. The way things look; this is something I’ve always loved about Sonnenfeld’s films. How he moves the camera, the strange angles, the things he chooses to focus on. Remember how the first MIB film opens up with us following a mosquito? Do you remember how much the camera moves on Sonnenfeld’s Addams Family movies? Well, MIB III is no different. Sonnenfeld’s camera movements have always felt like a rollercoaster ride, it’s part of what makes his movies so interesting. Kind of like the same reason why I loved those first Sam Raimi movies, the kinetic camera movements. Sonnenfeld’s camera movements were felt the most during the time travel scenes and the whole opening sequence which by the way take place on the moon! This movie was like eye candy to me, some scenes are filled with so many colors and details…my eyes were devouring this one. The film has great artistic design, which doesn’t surprise me in a film with such elevated production values. Reportedly, the film cost 300 million dollars to make. The most interesting looking scenes for me where those taking place inside of the MIB head quarters during 1969 when we get to see all the retro-futuristic gadgets the MIB had during those days.

And what would a MIB film be without its cool looking aliens? Nowhere that’s where. The big fun with these movies for me is seeing all the different aliens that show up. This one doesn’t hold back at all. Rick Baker and crew really outdid themselves this time with the creatures because we not only get the cool alien creatures we normally see in these movies, but when J travels back in time, we also get to see what kind of aliens were walking around the MIB headquarters during 1969; which was a pretty cool moment in the film because all the aliens look like the type of alien creatures you’d see in films from that era. This part of the film was an awesome homage to science fiction films from the 50’s and 60’s.  

Rick Baker cameo's as an alien with an exposed brain
Finally, I also enjoyed the revelations the film makes in respect to J and K’s personal life.  This film gets kind of emotional in a rather unexpected way. It connects J and K’s life in a very interesting fashion. Other pluses are Josh Brolin’s performance as a younger version of K, who was dead on channeling Tommy Lee Jones’s character. My last words on this one are that it was a very fun movie, very entertaining and never boring. The aliens, the gadgets and the action will keep you entertained all the way through. An extra tidbit of info: this was the film that finally took The Avengers (2012) out of the #1 spot at the box office, which demonstrates that Will Smith still has that huge box office drawing power. He’s still candy for the masses; he’s still got the appeal. MIB III isn’t a film that will change your life, it doesn’t offer up “the secrets of the universe” as it suggests in its previews, but I’m sure it will keep you entertained for its entire duration; this my friends was a very fun summer movie.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Friday, May 25, 2012

Escape from New York (1981)

Title: Escape from New York (1981)

Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau


The first thing you notice about Escape from New York is how very dark it is. Everything is black on this one, the characters are dressed in black, the cars are black, the helicopters are black, the entire landscape of this movie is black! The whole film takes place during the course of one night in which famous criminal/ex-soldier Snake Plissken is forced to go to Manhattan Island (which has been turned into a prison island) to rescue the President of the United States. You see, Air Force One was hijacked by a group of terrorists called ‘The National Liberation Front of America’. The terrorist say they’ve struck a fatal blow in the name of all of the oppressed by sending the President of the United States to the inhuman prison he created himself. They mean to let him rot and die down there, in the hands of some of the worst criminals on the planet. and teach him a lesson or two about humility. But of course, the United States government isn’t just gonna sit back and let this happen. They have brought in Snake Plissken, the only man capable of getting the job done. Like Hauk tells Snake while trying to convince him to do the job: “You flew the ‘Gulfire’ over Leningrad; you know how to go in quiet; you’re all I’ve got!”

Escape from New York is an interesting film because whenever you talk about post apocalyptic movies, you really can’t leave this one out even though technically speaking; it isn’t a post apocalyptic film. There has been no nuclear holocaust, no deadly virus; the apocalypse in this future exists solely behind the walls of the island of Manhattan, which has been transformed into a penitentiary. So the apocalypse in Escape from New York is actually a social one. Within the walls of this huge jail cell, there’s no rules, no regulations, no cops, only “the prisoners and the worlds they’ve created”. So it’s not really a post apocalyptic film, but at the same time, its the best post apocalyptic film. Carpenter’s Manhattan is one evil looking place. I think this is what makes this film so fascinating; this prison world populated by the lowest of the low. It’s the most evil scum bags that walk through this prison worlds pitch black alleys and streets. When I was a kid and first saw this movie I was frightened by it, the characters that lived with in Manhattan seemed truly evil to me, especially this guy:

Snake Plissken’s the ultimate rebel; he hates “the man” or doing anything for him, in fact if there’s anything that he can take from “the man”, he will. Case in point: when the film opens up, Plissken is handcuffed and being taken to the Manhattan penitentiary. What we don’t know is that he is being taken their because he was holding up the Federal Reserve Depository, a scene that was later cut out of the film because Carpenter didn’t consider it necessary; I agree, it’s more intense just to meet Snake, not knowing where he is coming from. Kurt Russell describes Plissken as a mercenary, a mix between Bruce Lee, The Executioner, Darth Vader and Clint Eastwood. He’s a guy who only cares about the next 60 seconds of his life. This rebellious character goes in accordance with some of Carpenter’s films, which have always had a rebellious streak to them. For example, They Live (1988) which is about how the powers that be control our minds through marketing and subliminal messages; Escape from New York is about an imperialistic fascist America. Escape from L.A. (1996) is also anti-establishment, but in a whole other way that I will get into when I review it soon. So what we got here is a film made by two rebellious, freedom loving  individuals, Carpenter and Russell.

Kurt Russell and John Carpenter have worked together on various films, here they are together on the set of Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Plissken is Kurt Russell’s favorite character. To Russell, the character represents America, the idealistic free America all true Americans want; that idealistic version of America where people can be truly free to do as they choose. Through it’s science fiction story, Escape from New York commented on the status quo of the country during the late 70’s, a time when liberty and freedom of expression were constantly under attack. Some might label Escape from New York as an anti-government film, and I would have to say that it is. Escape from New York is the kind of film that warns us of what could come should governments get more oppressive or fascist. Rule, after rule after rule until you can’t barely move. This film and it’s sequel is ruled by a government that tells its citizens that they can’t smoke, can’t  drink, can’t have premarital sex, can’t try drugs, can’t speak foul language, can’t, can’t, can’t. Now I ain’t saying doing all these things equals liberty, but a person should be able to choose what they want to do, no matter what it is. It’s all about true freedom of the self. There is a distinct amount of cynicism towards the figure of the President of the United States  on this film. He is portrayed as a selfish, self absorbed individual. A cold man who doesn’t give a damn about the people who die for him, he has this fakeness to him. He says one thing to your face but means another. But we have to understand that Carpenter wrote this film coming out of the whole Nixon era, a time when no American trusted their president, where human rights were constantly being violated in the country. Escape from New York is a reflection of that time when most Americans agreed they had a madman in power.

But Plissken’s all about freeing ourselves from all of that; about living the ideal American dream of freedom and doing whatever the hell you want with your life, which is probably why this film is such a cult favorite; people just love Plisskens ‘take no shit from nobody’ attitude. This freedom theme goes in accordance to Russell’s own personal Libertarian point of view. Yes my friends, Kurt Russell’s neither Democrat nor Republican, he’s a Libertarian, and Libertarians are all about maximizing individual rights and minimizing the role of the state in our lives. They believe in free will and freedom of expression and thought. Just like Plissken, Russell’s an outcast because of his beliefs, not everyone agrees with the Libertarians point of view, especially not Hollywood. Still, this hasn’t stopped Russell and Carpenter from making a distinctively rebellious film. It’s obvious that Russell’s put a lot of his own rebellious persona into Snake Plissken. But I felt that he put more of himself into the way the character was portrayed in the sequel, but more on that in my future review for Escape from L.A. Final words on Escape from New York is that it’s a real cult classic, an extremely influential film and simply put, it's a film that just won’t die. New generations keep discovering it and liking it. I believe that the publics long lasting affection with the film stems from Snake Plissken and what he represents; our perennial search for personal freedom in this world; in the end that’s what we all want and need; and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Italian Poster 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Quiet Earth (1985)

Title: The Quiet Earth (1985)

Director: Geoff Murphy

Cast: Bruno Lawrence, Alison Routledge, Peter Smith


The Quiet Earth presents us with one of the quietest versions of the apocalypse ever portrayed on film. Usually, in post apocalyptic films, the end of the world comes via a nuclear bomb or a deadly virus…on The Quiet Earth people simply blink out of existence. One day, Zac Hobson wakes up and slowly discovers that apparently he is the last man on earth. The streets are empty, not a soul in sight. Where the hell is everybody? Where have they all dissapeared to? I'd seen this film before, but since Im currently conducting this huge post apocalyptic blog-a-thon, I decided to give it a re-watch. Plus, my good friend J.D. from Radiator Heaven suggested it on our 15 of the Apocalypse collaboration, which got me all pumped to watch it again. So, how did it fare? 

When you watch the first few minutes of The Quiet Earth, when the main character,  Zac Hobson, first wakes up naked on his bed and starts walking around town confronted by lonely streets and abandoned cars; you might feel as if you were watching Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002); the similarities between both of these opening sequences is staggering! There is no doubt in my mind that Danny Boyle borrowed heavily from The Quiet Earth, at least for the opening sequence. I mean, we even get the same kind of camera shots, same kind of situations. When we first meet Zac, he is lying naked on his bed, same as Jim when he wakes up from his hospital bed in 28 Days Later. They both wonder through the lonely city streets, filled with empty cars, they both scream “Hello!” at nobody. They both end up meeting a lady at some point. The difference between both films is that while 28 Days Later is a film about a deadly virus that turns people into violent, blood thirsty zombies, The Quiet Earth takes a more existential approach with it’s story.

I love this kind of science fiction films because it takes the opportunity to explore human behavior. It analyzes society. The main theme in the film is humanities destructive capabilities and how we are always looking for better and more effective ways of destroy ourselves. Now, those familiar with history know what we humans are capable of doing to ourselves when we start hating each other. In The Quiet Earth we meet Zac Hobson, a scientist who’d been working -in collaboration with scientists from around the world- in a new form of energy. Unfortunately, after he is in deep, he discovers the awesome destructive capabilities of the project he is working on (called Project Flashlight) and decides to not only stop working on it, but to actually kill himself; which brings to mind all those scientists that worked on constructing the Atomic Bomb. When we think about these guys, the question inevitably arises: where were their collective consciences? Did they not feel guilt over the fact that what they were making something that would go on to blink thousands of lives out of existence? But this is just one of the themes that The Quiet Earth addresses.

It also talks about government and how once they reach power, and are engulfed by it, they act as mad men. We let them rule over us, and they turn into mad men doing things we end up being ashamed of. For example Zac soon comes to terms with the fact that he could very well be the last man on earth. After a while, and during a time when he is mingling with insanity, he decides that he will become “the president of this Quiet Earth” Why does he crown himself president? As he speaks to cardboard cut outs of important historical figures like The Pope, Hitler and Nixon (interesting how the filmmakers placed them all one next to the other!) Zac mentions that we are at the mercy of madmen, a very real statement when we take in considerations the horrors that have been committed by politicians across history! Yes my friends, this is a film that tells us that we are better off without politicians and without religion. There is this amazing and extremely controversial scene in which Zac enters a church and starts asking God to show up. “Where are you?” He asks. Then, he threatens god by telling him that if he doesn’t show up, he is going to blow away “the kid”, referring to a crucifix of Jesus. Since God doesn’t show up, Zac proceeds to blow Jesus Christ away with a shotgun! And he proclaims himself God! This film is saying, there is no God. If there was, he’d give a damn. Instead, humans should realize they are the ones with the potential to make their lives better.

Zac is "born again"

Another question this film asks is, what would you do if you were The Last Man on Earth? If you felt no one was watching you? If you had no government, no religion and no fellow man to judge you? For a while there, Zac goes totally nuts. He looses it, becomes a drunkard, he feels like he wants to destroy the world. These scenes reminded me of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend and Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth (1964) because we meet a man who walks the earth alone, driven insane by loneliness.  The film deals with this idea that we need other humans and I agree, we do need our fellow man. We need the warmth we give each other when we are at our best, when we forget all these petty differences that often times tear us apart. War, patriotism, religious fanaticism, social status, all these things do is separate us. What the film asks is: what if these things were never around? What if we were all the same? Would this be a better world? According to the film, it would be. What if the world wasn’t so centered around making money? Around ‘being successful’? What if we could just enjoy the world and its many beauties and treasures? Enjoying each others company and making each other happy? Often times I think society as we know it is all wrong. It isn’t about making us happy (though we do try) but upon making us feel worse, trapped. Through the redundancy of our lives, the opportunity to enjoy this world and the beauties it holds is taken from us. The film has these beautiful scenes of humans simply enjoying each others company, having a candlelit dinner, smiling, laughing, seeing the world. There’s a song by QUEEN that says “this could be heaven for everyone”, and I totally agree. It could be, but it isn’t heaven for everyone; because the way things are set up, this earth is heaven only to the elitist, rich few, the minority. The one percent who want to rule of the other 99. 

Last words on The Quiet Earth: this is a film that addresses many important issues about life. It questions the status quo of things; it questions politics, religion and the way we are. It questions our ideas about what happens after death. It questions our violent natures. I thought it was interesting how in this film, whenever a human encounters another they always do so with a gun in their hands. Humans never seem to trust each other! The Quiet Earth comes to us from director Geoff Murphy, the guy responsible for Freejack (1992), another film that questions reality and social status. In terms of direction, this film was interesting. First because filming all those scenes involving empty city streets must have been a hell of a task that they pulled it off brilliantly and secondly, constructing a film that centers for the most part on one character (and later only on two more) must have been difficult, but again, pulled off very well. To me the film was never boring because it plays with so many important and thought provoking issues. In the end, The Quiet Earth is a very rewarding science fiction film, the ending is kind of abrupt, but it will keep you asking questions long after it is over; like the best science fiction films.

Rating: 4 out of 5   


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Porto Dos Mortos (Beyond the Grave) (2010)

Title: Beyond the Grave (Porto Dos Mortos) (2010)

Director: Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro

Cast: Rafael Tombini, Alvaro Rosacosta, Amanda Grimaldi, Ricardo Seffner


Porto Dos Mortos is a post apocalyptic zombie film from Brazil. Its title literally translates to ‘Portal of the Dead’; which is really an appropriate title because same as in Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (1981) and City of the Living Dead (1980), this is a film in which the seven gates of hell have been opened and as a result, the living dead have taken over the world! The film starts right smack in the heart of the apocalypse, when things have already gone to hell. Most of humanity has disappeared with only a few colonies remaining here and there. Zombies are everywhere, you can't drive two seconds without seeing one. There's only one radio station in the air and the lonely DJ calls himself  'The Last Man on Earth'. He says the world might have gone to hell, but the music has survived. A Rock and Roll song begins as we see the yellow lines on the open road flashing past us, then, the films title: Porto Dos Mortos.   

The main character is a loner simply referred to as ‘Policial’ which I imagine translates to ‘The Police Man’ or ‘Officer’. He’s a cop who apparently can’t stop being a cop even though the world has ended. He’s on a mission to capture ‘The Dark Rider’ an evil spirit/entity that goes around possessing people and killing humans. So in a way, ‘Policial’ is kind of like a paranormal investigator of sorts, which is really the vibe I got from the character. He seems to be the kind of person who knows his way around the supernatural. In this sense, this character reminded me of Francesco Dellamorte from Michelle Soavi’s Cemetery Man (1994), you know, a quiet, almost anti-social main character with an affinity for the occult. But I have to admit he also has a little bit of Mad Max Rockatansky in him. Same as Max, he used to be a police man; he drives around a post apocalyptic wasteland in a black car…with police lights on it! Yeah, Mad Max in deed. I ended up liking this main character the most. Rafael Tombini does a good job of portraying the strong silent type. This character has an attitude that goes in perfect alignment with the films opening quote: “No price is too high, to pay for the privilege of owning yourself” A quote from Friedrich Nietzsche is always a cool way to open your movie.

Porto Dos Mortos is a zombie film with an artistic sensibility. This isn’t a zombie film that cares about the gore or the shock, or the special effects. It’s got all of these things in it, but they are not the driving force behind the film. This is a low budget, independent horror film and that can be a plus under the right directors hands because it pushes creativity in other directions. The emphasis isn’t on the action or the make up effects but in the look of the film and the way the shots are set up, which I might add were creative. The film takes advantage of great looking Brazilian locations which add a flare of beauty to the film. Characters drive around long open roads with mountains and the ocean in the background. Visually, there’s a beauty to this zombie film. This is part of what makes Porto Dos Mortos special, the fact that it was shot entirely in Brazil. The structures, buildings and landscapes are totally different to what you might find in an American film, which is one of the pleasures of seeing films from around the world.

Unfortunately, even though the film is aesthetically beautiful, it falters with its pacing. The premise might be cool, the characters might be likable and interesting but if nothing much happens in the way of excitement then you risk boring your audience into a stupor, which I’m sure is the main complaint with this movie. And I have to say that I agree, it is a deliberately slower paced film. Now a slower paced horror film I don’t mind, as long as you compensate with other things like mood and atmosphere, interesting camera moves or a strong supernatural vibe. A sense of dread and a bit of suspense helps too. Unfortunately, Porto Dos Mortos chooses to tell its tale in a pace that virtually brings the entire movie to a crawl. A pity too because its premise is interesting enough: zombies have taken over the world, we might be the last humans, and the portals of hell are open! All these elements sound like the perfect ingredients for an entertaining horror film, unfortunately Porto Dos Mortos does not present these ideas in an exciting fashion, which is really the films main fault. I’m sure that director Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro was aiming for a film that was slower and more serious in pace, but come on, you have to give us something in the ways of excitement in the midst of your artfulness. As it is, characters talk a lot on this movie. I did enjoy their conversations, especially one scene where one of the kids that befriends Policial starts telling his story as Policial drives. Policial aint much of a talker, so the kids talks for him. It was cool, the kid gets kind of poetic about the way the world is, I liked that bit of dialog a lot. 

Porto Dos Mortos is a film that never really goes all the way with its concepts. For example, we have an evil spirit that travels from body to body, which might have been a good opportunity for augmenting your films supernatural elements, yet we never see a hint of people being possessed, save for their red eyes. The film is about a Portal to Hell being opened, yet not a portal is in sight. It would have been interesting to see one of these portals, especially when it's your film main premise; but no. My point is, if this is a film dealing with supernatural elements, then it would have been a good idea to make these supernatural element felt stronger. As it is, even evil spirits are exorcised by simply talking. I imagine that had they had more of a budget, then we would have seen something in the way of visual effects, but as it is, the supernatural elements are very subtle on this film. It felt to me that Porto Dos Mortos was a film held back by its budgetary limitations. Still, I commend director Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro’s for presenting supernatural elements on a tight budget, the result is a more subdued portrayal of the supernatural. At least we didn’t get a bunch of cheap, cheesy visual effects! 

Horror fans and zombie freaks might end up being disappointed with Porto Dos Mortos because not only is the film painfully slow paced, it also takes the award for portraying the least threatening zombies in all of zombiedom! I aint kidding either, these zombies do next to nothing in the ways of threatening the good guys! Well, there’s this one zombie cowboy that aims a gun at the good guys and shoots at them, but aside from that one, all other zombies are practically harmless. One scene has a character playfully throwing rocks at a zombie; another scene has a character torturing a zombie who never reacts. The Officer sees a little kid zombie and walks right past it, the zombie kid does nothing to him, so why should he care about wasting bullets on it?  I mean, sure these are dead creatures, but usually zombies have a penchant for human flesh, or at the very least human brains. The zombies on this film don’t seem to care for neither, in fact, the zombies play a secondary role here. You wouldn’t even know this was a zombie film, if the occasional zombie didn’t pop up every now and again to remind you. Still, I'd recommend this film to those who enjoy a slower paced artsy horror film, a la Richard Stanley's Dust Devil (1992) or Michelle Soavi's Cemetery Man (1994), but even when compared to these two films Porto Dos Mortos is excrutiatingly slow.   

Behind the Scenes

This was Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro’s first full length film, and even though it has some faults in the way of pacing, and storytelling, the film shows a lot of promise. It has style and an artful eye for beauty. It just seemed to me like they didn’t have enough money to bring all of their ideas into fruition. But still, not having money is no excuse for making a boring movie. Porto Dos Mortos desperately needed a bit more excitement, emotion and suspense. As it is, the film is so slow paced that the characters never feel like they are in peril, even when they are. Oliveira was obviously going for a quieter kind of film, but it felt like they needed to augment the intensity of some of the situations, we need to feel what these characters are feeling. Some of the other elements in the film also needed intensification, like for example, if this is a supernatural film, then really make it supernatural! Make us feel that evil in the air, that spooky otherworldliness of the supernatural. If this is a zombie film, then make these zombies dangerous! Sadly, even the zombies in Porto Dos Mortos don’t care to display intensity towards their primal need: human flesh. As it is, the premise of this film seems to dwindle and never really take off.

Another thing that bothered me about the film is how it doesnt do a good job of explaining things, at times I felt lost. I don’t particularly love films in which they explain everything away, as if spelling things out for you, but I also don’t like feeling lost. This is the kind of film in which you risk getting lost if you don’t pay lots of attention to it. I felt this way when I watched Mario Bava’s Lisa and the Devil (1974), on that film sometimes I felt like Bava was deliberately trying to make things challenging for the viewer. My point being that you don’t have to spell things out for your audience, but you cant confuse them to the point of loosing them either; you have to reach a happy medium. As it is, some of the major plot points in Porto Dos Mortos are lost because characters only briefly mention them, without going into details. For example, characters talk about the portals to hell very matter of factly, without really letting us know what these portals are all about. Where are these portals and why isn't somebody trying to close them? In my opinion, some major plot points needed to be emphasized a bit more. Still, in spite of the films faults, I’d say that Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro shows promise with his first film. He did a respectaable job with Porto Dos Mortos, yet there is obviously some room for growth. Oliveira and crew got away with making a decently looking film with very little money, which is something that is always commendable in my book. This is a director that can no doubt make bigger films if given the chance to grow as a filmmaker and play with the medium; looking forward to future films.

Rating: 3 out of 5 


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