Friday, November 19, 2004

Zombies and ogres, oh my, here's some Thursday video reviews!

‘Dawn Of The Dead’
There’s something about zombies.
Creepy and hideous, they represent our darkest fears of becoming something monstrous and out-of-control. They’re people without the things that make us human, turned into brain-eating, lurching creatures.
And I have to say, I’m a sucker for a good zombie movie.
The new “Dawn Of The Dead” is a remake of George Romero’s low-budget 1978 film. Fast-paced, action-packed and gory fun, it’s a zombie-packed blast.
It all starts out as an ordinary day in America, when something horrible — and inescapable — erupts. People start turning into gibbering, cannibalistic monsters, not living yet not quite dead, either. And if they bite you, you become one of them.
As the panic grows, a few panicky survivors, led by a nurse (Sarah Polley) and a gruff cop (Ving Rhames) hole up in a shopping mall to try and survive. But the undead are gathering.
“Dawn” has one of the best eerie opening sequences of recent movies, with an apocalyptic sense of dread as the world is shown crumbling into anarchy with breathtaking speed. If the rest of the movie doesn’t quite follow up on that chill-inducing feeling, it still delivers a good helping of grim fun.
Perhaps in a nod to our rapid-fire video game era, in recent zombie movies such as this and “28 Days Later” there’s an added scare — these zombies are fast.
The movie toys with the idea of these survivors as a microcosm of society as a whole. They might be all that’s left. And outside the mall, a squirming sea of the undead waits. “Dead” really doesn’t dig too deep for subtext, though, and it’s not that scary after the initial scenes.
Despite some decent acting, all the characters remain pretty thin. “Dead” is basically a thrill ride, with a sly helping of end-of-the-world humor, rather than any kind of serious fright flick.
It’s certainly not for the faint-of-heart, with exploding heads, impalings and dismemberments galore. And don’t turn it off before the credits, or you’ll miss a humdinger of an ending. This “Dead” is alive with guilty pleasure.
***1/2 of four

‘Shrek 2’
Nobody cares what a humble critic has to say about “Shrek 2.” I mean, it’s the number one movie of 2004, earned $420-plus million at the box office and broke records in its first week on home video.
So it might be heresy to suggest that “Shrek 2,” while professional, amiable and often quite funny — isn’t quite as golden as the original “Shrek” in 2001.
The fairy-tale story picks right up where that movie left off, with the ogre Shrek (voiced by Mike Myers) now happily married to his fond Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz). Unfortunately, he’s got Fiona’s royal parents (John Cleese and Julie Andrews), the king and queen of Far Far Away, to deal with.
The King is aghast at his daughter “marrying an ogre” and determined to break up the young marriage and set up Fiona with Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), with a little help from a Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders).
The movie is your typical sequel, continuing the stories of characters everyone got interested in the first time around, but not really breaking any new ground.
“Shrek 2” is a finely tuned laugh machine, but doesn’t quite have the emotional heft of part one. A less-grumpy, lovestruck Shrek isn’t as interesting a character as he was, and Fiona is positively bland here.
The scenes are stolen by the supporting characters, from Eddie Murphy’s hilarious wisecracking sidekick Donkey to the purr-fect performance by Antonio Banderas as the furry assassin, Puss in Boots. The main characters kind of get lost in the shuffle, and too much time is given to the Fairy Godmother.
There’s also a few too many silly, forgettable musical numbers, and a surplus of pandering crude flatulence jokes. (I may be old-fashioned, but fart jokes in a Disney-style cartoon seem like throwing a car chase into a Shakespeare play.)
Pop culture “American Idol” and “Matrix” jokes seem to ensure that “Shrek” will seem a dated product of its time, not quite timeless like a “Toy Story” or “Lion King.”
Still, “Shrek 2” features some amazing animation, cute jokes, and a playful spin on the age-old fairy tales from the Gingerbread Men to the Big Bad Wolf. “Shrek 2” kind of melts away in the mind soon after you watch it, but it is a lot of fun while its tale unspools.
*** of four

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