Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Freedom of the Mind

From bannedbookweek.com

Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read!

Banned Books Week is the only national celebration of the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than a thousand books have been challenged since 1982. The challenges have occurred in every state and in hundreds of communities. People challenge books that they say are too sexual or too violent. They object to profanity and slang, and protest against offensive portrayals of racial or religious groups--or positive portrayals of homosexuals. Their targets range from books that explore the latest problems to classic and beloved works of American literature.

According to the American Library Association, more than 400 books were challenged in 2007. The 10 most challenged titles were:

1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
2. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
3. Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes
4. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
6. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
7. TTYL by Lauren Myracle
8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
9. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
(Click here to see why these books were challenged.)

During the last week of September every year, hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. The 2008 celebration of Banned Books Week will be held from September 27 through October 4.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the National Association of College Stores. Banned Books Week is also endorsed by the Center for the Book of the Library of Congress.

Thank you for celebrating Banned Books Week!

The freedom to read what you want is, to Doctor Zombie, as precious and essential as any of the other freedoms afforded by the Bill of Rights. And I am absolutley horrified that - even today - there are still close-minded, evil, bastards out there who somehow feel it is their right to judge literature and tell others what they can and can't read.

It's similar to a situation a friend related to me recently. 5th grade - at least here in Ohio - is when they have 'the talk' with kids. The sex talk. They have a health class where they talk about how teen pregnancies occur and how best to avoid the whole situation. I should note that abstinence is taught, but not to the exclusion of other forms of birth control and STD prevention. The thing is - because it's not abstinence only education - there's still a percentage of parents who refuse to allow their children to attend the class.

In my mind - this borders on parental negligence. It's like those numbfucks who refuse to have their children immunized and then blithely send their infectious progeny off to school with no regard for herd immunity.

And it's these same morons who feel that Huckleberry Finn is just as dangerous as it apparently was in the 1950's.

I blame the legacy of King George Bush II administration. If that big-eared, c-student, fundie grotesquerie hadn't encouraged the other Fundies... maybe we wouldn't STILL HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT ASSHOLES TRYING TO BURN BOOKS.

Dude... it's the 21st century. Is our country ever going to be mature enough to look at literature as the gift it is; and not the devil's work?!?

So, in celebration of Banned Book Week, please take a moment to go to the website and read (or re-read) at least one of the books on the list.

Intellect freedom should never be surrendered to the evil of small-mindedness and moral ignorance.

Reading is freedom. Read.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Movie review - Gangs of the Dead (2006) {aka, Last Rites}

When there’s no more room in hell… exploitive, direct to DVD, racist and stereotypical crap will walk the earth.

That’s what I thought after sitting through the urban-horror outing of Gangs of the Dead. (Or Last Rites. At some point the title of the movie was changed from Last Rites to Gangs of the Dead. I suspect this was done because Last Rites is a retarded name for a zombie flick.)

Gangs of the Dead tells the story of a group of rival gangs (one black and one Hispanic) who get stuck in an isolated warehouse during a zombie event; this movie is a sad mixture of stereotypes and trite genre conventions. Boasting a cast of unknowns, this film could best be described as a poor remake of Night of the Living Dead. Except that, you know, it kind of sucked.

Now, I do want to say that – in the right hands – urban horror is a great offshoot of the genre. However, much of the recent attempts at it have failed miserably. Low budget, low brow affairs – like this and the craptastic Vampiyaz, Zombiez, and Bloodz Vs. Wolvez – serve only to make quick money as direct to video fare and, when the only people who are profiting are the DVD distributors, you know the filmmaking is always a secondary consideration. It’s like the Blaxploitation films of the 60’s and 70’s… only Blackula, Dolamite, and Shaft were memorable and had redeeming social value By that I mean, these earlier films showed strong African American characters who didn’t take shit from the white establishment and fought against the entrenched and institutionalized racism of the time. Does Gangs if the Dead aspire to such lofty heights? Thirty years from now, will Quentin Tarantino wax orgiastic about Gangs of the Dead?

I don’t think so. Not so much.

Oh how I long for the simpler beauty and grace of Wes Craven’s urban horror masterpiece, The People Under the Stairs.

(I should also add that it makes me cringe to have to write those stupid, contrived, BEV'ified movie names. "Yo! Doctor Zombiez movie reviewz in the houze!" All I'm saying is that every time someone ends a word with a 'z, when it should be an 's', said someone deserves to burn to death in a fire.)

So the zombie epidemic in this film is triggered by a meteorite. To which, I’d like to add, Jesus Titty-Fucking Christ! I am getting so tired of this explanation/origin for zombies! Enough already! We get it! You watched NOTLD and feel it necessary to establish that you’re somehow a fan of George A Romero’s masterpiece. Aarrrgghh! I can feel a goddamned aneurysm coming on!

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face. (Errmmm… I mean bluer than my already vivid undead blue tint; but that’s beside the point.) The fact is… I don’t need to have it explained to me how the dead are rising from the grave to eat the living. All I need to see is the gore and lip-smacking, brain-chomping, blood-squirting goodness.

Anyway, there’s a meteor. It crashes in Los Angeles and turns a group of homeless, fundamental Christians into zombies. They trap the main characters in a warehouse where the survivors pair off into their respective stereotypes. We have the black gang, who are surprisingly free of stereotypes and are the heroes of the film. We have the Hispanic gang run by a brutish Chollo of epic, stereotypical proportions. We have two cops that were about to bust the gangs before the shit went all zombie-like, but are now there simply to be poorly acted stereotypes of racist cops. There’s a couple of chicks attached to the gangs, and a cowardly, ultra-white, fat, “I-can’t-believe-I’m-here-with-all-of-these-varying-shades-of- brown-people!” weather guy who took a wrong turn on his way into the hood and/or barrio to score some coke.

All of the characters, with the exception of the black gang, are violent, stupid, selfish, and stereotypical; which goes to show that – even amongst the black writers and directors of this piece of disposable horror – racism is alive and well. Unbelievable.

But enough about the social aspects of this movie… let’s talk about how it went as a zombie flick. Again, I’ve got to say I wasn’t that impressed. The makeup was passable, especially on the featured zombies. The extras makeup looked like something that a high school drama club production might produce. Gore is good, but much of it was CGI’d, and CGi’d poorly. Which is sad - the best part of this movie could be found in the quality of the digital work. Especially with the meteorite effects. The CGI guy on this film did a good job(I should add that, truthfully, I’ve no idea who the CGI guy was, and I don’t really have the energy to IMDB it. There’s an inverse relationship between my willingness to do research on a movie and how badly it sucked. In this case, I’ll be doing little to no research. Don’t blame me; blame the production company, writer, and director who delivered this steaming pile of crap to my Netflix queue.)

Anyway, the effects for the meteor were actually really well done, but that is then marred by how bad the explosions, head shots, and other visual effects are. The lame story and lame effects were somewhat redeemed by the acting. This really surprised me, considering how most low-budget horror films really, really suffer in this area. In this case, the actors did an admirable job with the offal they had and the actors actually made it almost bearable to watch. Almost. But even a dream cast of Sir Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, Gary Oldman, Meryl Streep, and John Malkovich could only do so much with a bad script, short-sighted direction, and a moronic stringing together of thoughts and ideas. What I’m saying is, in the vernacular of the peasantry, you can’t polish a turd.


That is, I…


You know what? I’m done. I’ve got nothing else to say about this film, other than it sucked. It was a zombie film, which doesn’t make it a negative. When compared to Day of the Dead 2, or some of the other lame attempts at the zombie genre out there, it was slightly above the pack -- but not by much. All in all, it was forgettable.

Would I watch it again? No. Do I feel that I wasted an hour and a half of my life? Not really. Was it an Uwe Boll caliber crap-fest? Hells, no.

So… I guess it’s all right if you’ve got nothing else to watch and are dying for some zombie action. Just don’t expect it to be Evil Dead.

Doctor Zombie’s Rating: 2 out of 5 Chomped Brains.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Movie Review - The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008)

I just returned from a showing of the newest X-Files movie. It says quite a bit about how my life has changed in that I waited this long to see it. It finally hit the local dollar cinema just this week and I made sure I saw it before it passed. The thing is - the economy is tight and neither Mrs. Zombie, nor myself can justify the cost of first run movies at the regular cinema. A movie needs to be something spectacular to make the cost worth it… and I find it saddens me that this movie falls into the category of wait-able.

By the way, this won’t be a usual movie review for me. I won’t be rating this film, and I’m not even sure what I’m going to write about it. I just wanted to articulate some of the feelings I have about it and at least get some thoughts down. It may very well be incoherent and not strictly adhere to accepted grammatical rules… but I wanted to write something while it was still fresh.

I guess I need to preface all of this with a confession of sorts. I saw this movie at the absolute worst time of the year. You see, it’s fall; and fall always, always, always fills me with an almost unbearable sense of nostalgia and melancholy. I think it’s the fact that it’s my favorite season, and it is so intimately tied to some of the best times of my life. Fall was the time I returned to school, and it’s the time of football games, and friends, and Halloween. I almost always struck with a weighty and stifling sense of longing for the past, but that longing is juxtaposed with a feeling that my life is in an uncontrollable, headlong dash forward. Every fall reminds me that I’m one year older and one year farther away from those times I so achingly remember.

And this movie has made that feeling overwhelming.

The X-Files was one of those things that so dominated my past life. And when I say past life, I refer to my life before marriage, and before kids. I wouldn’t change my life for anything, and I am so grateful and happy that I have such a good life, a great job, and such a beautiful family. But that doesn’t in any way mitigate the time-softened feeling of freedom I had after college and before I got married. And the X-Files was an essential part of that. The X-Files came out when I was in college and was there for me, EVERY FRIDAY NIGHT, until a year or two after I got married. Even through the dark years of no Mulder, through the inexplicable shark-jumping introduction of Doggett and Reyes, and even through the death of the Lone Gunmen… The X-Files was there. All parties, all weekend shenanigans, and all social events could not commence until after 10pm on Friday night. Like a house frau with her favorite soap opera, I was wrapped up in the twitching anticipation of when Mulder and Scully were going to realize that they were meant to be together.

And it is through this nostalgic rear view mirror that I find myself judging this movie. And I may be judging it too harshly because of it. I don’t know. I’m having trouble sorting out my personal feelings from any objective view of the film.

So – my impressions of the movie is that it left me wanting. It had been billed as a departure from the prior X-Files movie (Fight The Future). Whereas the prior film was very rooted in the conspiracy mythos of the series, this one was touted as a stand alone; or one of the ‘Monster of the week” episodes. Truthfully… those were my favorites. The weird investigative shit was so much cooler than the black oil, faceless alien bounty hunters, Smoking Man, and Alien/Human hybrid storylines. Not to say I didn’t love the conspiracy episodes; but it was the standalone episodes that showed the true brilliance of Chris Carter. They always had the right mix of horror, paranoia, and creepy chills to please even the most hardened horror and sci-fi fan. The episodes like Ice, and Flukeman, and the fucked up one with the inbred mutant living under the bed are the undeniable pleasures of the series.

The problem with the argument that it was a standalone, monster of the week-type story was that to say so is a complete lie. I Want to Believe is less a monster movie or a monster of the week and more of a return visit to some old friends. There was no monster, only a psychic for Mulder to obsess over and some Russian doctors doing experiments that are Frankenstienian, but not outside of the realm of believability. What I’m saying is it was less science fiction than even the tamest of series episodes. The gore was mild; a severed arm here, a couple poorly sculpted severed heads there. It was like checking in on some old friends you hadn’t seen in years… only to find that they’ve moved on and you haven’t.

Character-wise, it was a pastiche of all the established X-Files clich├ęs; but exaggerated and somehow made bittersweet. Scully and Mulder are still together, and very much in love (which pleases me), but their dynamic is changed. Mulder is the same Mulder and still looking for conspiracies and the paranormal almost slavishly. Scully’s character though, has changed and become what she once was – the disbeliever. She’s a doctor at a Catholic hospital now and she’s returned to the way she was before the series started. She’s skeptical, cold, and disbelieving. And she is struggling with her faith so much that it was the central theme of the movie. Which is hard to understand because, when the series ended, I liked how she had - given all she had seen and done - struck a balance between her faith and the paranormal world that she had come to accept. Now she’s gone completely the other way. And they are both still hurting and living with the pain of losing their son William.

That’s not to say it was a bad movie. I liked that it was like a reunion with old friends, and that they were still – at their core – the same people I’d come to love like my own family. And the movie did a wonderful job of being about their relationship, and their lives after the end of the series. But it wasn’t what made the X-Files great. There was so little X-Files in it, I might as well have been watching Without a Trace: The Movie.

So – what am I saying? I don’t really know. I liked it as one would a good movie. And there were times I was struck with the feeling one might have when they reconnect with an old flame. To see Duchovny and my beloved Gillian Anderson on screen together again was gratifying… but afterwards there’s a sense of regret.

To extend the metaphor - as you lie there besides your old lover, as the sweat cools on your body, and as the sad and poignant feelings of ennui and nostalgia descend - you know it can never be as good as it once was.

I still want to believe.

The Best of Doctor Zombie

So, I've been thinking of putting together some of my funnier posts, polishing them, and maybe trying to publish them as a collection of humorous glimpses into the shame and embarassment that is my life. I'll need to look at what I have, and maybe scrap the whole idea, but I thought I'd give it a try.

So this post is just a series of links to some of the things I've written over the last few years (and not as often as I should) that I think are funny.

And, as an aside, I'll probably put a link of this over under 'My Writings' as sort of a "Who's Doctor Zombie and What Does He Write about?" introduction for new visitors.

Which reminds me, I should probably put up a Doctor Zombie FAQ. Maybe this post will turn into that as well. I'm not sure at this point...

So, if you're a long time reader, feel free to ignore this post. Or go back and look at some of the things I've already written... maybe I can make you laugh again.

Anyway... on with the links...

Fundie Baiting (Nov 2005)
Murderous Thoughts (Dec 2005)
A Groovy Commercial (Dec 2005)

A True Story (Feb 2006)
Fatherhood (Feb 2006)
What Is This Evil? (Mar 2006)
Too Much Information (Mar 2006)
Poor Judgement (Mar 2006)
Dogs of the Living Dead (Mar 06)
Wacky Celebrities (May 06)
Ask and you Shall Receive... (May 06)
The Same Deep Water As You (May 06) *NOTE: Not funny, just well written.
God I Hate Summer (May 06)
Barbarians on the Border (June 06)
Debauchery (July 06)
One of Those Days (Aug 06)
Watch Out for Evil Undead Raccoons (Aug 06)
...With Some Fave Beans and a Nice Chianti (Sept 06)
Riding the Bus (Oct 06)
Groan... (Oct 06)
Furry Raccoon Bastards - Part II (Dec 06)

Where's Winter? (Jan 07)
Drinking Tips (July 07)
Vox Deus (July 07)
The Curse of the Widow's Peak (Nov 07)
Meatpie Anyone? (Nov 07)
Did You Get the Flowers I Sent? (Dec 07)

The Unending Carnival of Shame (Jan 08) NOTE: I get more compliments on this piece then any other one on the site. All the friggin' time, I have people who regularly read my blog mention how much they loved this one particular post above all others. Not sure what that says... or whether or not they know that it is only partially true...
The Name... is Dalton! (Mar 08)
It's All Wolf Girl's Fault (May 08)
Adventures in Northeast Ohio (Jun 08)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Feed the Trolls!

I’m a firm believer that one should never feed trolls, but the other day I received this lovely comment out of the blue. It was based on my review of 28 Weeks Later.

I cannot beleive you gave this beautiful movie 2/5 and you give Day of the Dead 2008 the same mark
Your a crackhead.

Interestingly, this is the first time I’ve received this sort of feedback and, truthfully, the troll amused me. In the interest of full disclosure, here’s my response:

Dear anonymous,
Ahhhh! The anonimity of the internet... it gives voice to all the myriad morons who somehow think their voice is important! Next time, be less of a coward and sign your name. And, while you're at it, maybe you can use the crackling, weakly firing neurons in that vast empty space between your ears to formulate an actual literate sentence... one that explains why you think 28 Weeks Later was a better movie. Until then - fuck off, coward.

Oh! And let me help you here... it's spelled 'believe' not 'beleive', and 'you're' is the proper contraction for 'you are' -- not 'your'. Normally I'm not a grammar Nazi, but your extreme idiocy has grated upon my grammatical nerves.
Please do us all a favor; go back to your kiddie porn sites, spank one out to some poor exploited Malaysian kid, and let the adults continue their conversation.
Dr. Z

The thing is, this has kind of been on my mind for the last few days. No, not the grunting and atavistic monkey-sounds the Anon left. His abhorrent stupidity is inconsequential; what’s been on my mind is that I’ve never really explained what I base my movie ratings on.

The thing is – it’s a wholly subjective criteria. My comment to Anony-dork was true to the extent that the Internet has given voice to the multitudes, no matter how painfully dumb they may be. And that applies to me as well. My opinions are my opinions, and my voice should carry no more weight than that of any of the other bazillion web denizens who are screaming raucously into the ether void.
And I can’t tell you that I have a checklist I run through whenever I watch a movie for review. I don’t have a magical or logical scale that assigns a statistically sound rating to any movie I review.

Seriously. I don’t. I’m not smart enough to do anything like that. I’m just a dork with most of an English degree that just happens to have an unnatural love for horror movies.

What I can tell you is that I rate every movie based on my own criteria. For instance, in the case of 28 Weeks Later, I judged that movie based solely upon my expectations. Now – Mrs. Zombie will be the first to tell you that I am notoriously hard on sequels – but I feel very strongly that a sequel should build on the original. Otherwise – don’t fucking bother (that’s right AVP and AVP: Requiem – I’m looking at you!).

With 28 Weeks Later – it received the rating it did because it was very much a disjointed, predictable, action flick. It lacked the brilliance and horror of the original. It foreswore a great idea for an action movie with thinly veiled anti-American sentiment. It received the rating because it was a sub par movie.

It’s not to say it didn’t have its high points… it was visually stunning and the intro was fucking awesome. But the highs were far outnumbered by the lows.
Day of the Dead 2008, on the other hand, received the rating it did because it sucked through and through. I was not expecting much from it, and it didn’t disappoint. It was a big bag of crap. 28 Weeks was just a disappointment.

The reviews are independent of one another.

So – what am I saying? Well the key is to realize that I write my reviews with the hope that I can make a difference to someone who is on the fence. I understand that there will be those that disagree (like Anonymous – bless his poor, retarded heart) and I welcome their disagreement. I also fancy myself something of an expert on the genre of zombie flicks – so I think I have a grasp on it. Or at least I hope.

And Anonymous? I know Anonymous – and you are no Anonymous.