Contains spoilers for 28 Weeks Later and Alpha Dog.
Well, flip me (I've made a vague resolution for 2008 not to swear so much) - 100 posts and counting. Doesn't time fly when you're having fun! That said, neither 28 Weeks Later or Alpha Dog are a whole lot of fun - the only way to deal with them is to hack them down with a sharpened spade like the mangy old dogs they are.
28 Weeks Later – directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo; written by Rowan Joffe, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, Jesus Olmo, Enrique Lopez Lavigne (and Rowan Joffe’s dog for all I know).
About twenty minutes in, I started to worry: why can’t I bring myself to care what happens to these people? Why do I truly not give a rat’s ass what happens to any of them? Am I sociopathic? Asleep? Dead perhaps? Then I realised that the four writers it took to churn this thing out haven’t got a scooby. Phew! Indeed, it took four of them to make it this bad (not counting Rowan Joffe’s dog of course, who was apparently denied a screenwriting credit).
Robert Caryle plays Don, a man so chickenshit that he abandons his wife to a houseful of zombies and bravely runs away as fast as his little Scottish legs will carry him. Way to go, writer guys! Make your protagonist a dyed in the wool, lily-livered coward from the off – that’ll do it. What’s more, Bob lies to his children about having seen his wife die, which turns into a major embarrassment when she turns up alive in the attic of their London home.
But not to worry! Don is bitten by his wife, whom he then kills. He then goes on a zombified killing spree, infecting the population of London all over again. The movie then goes into freefall as it flails about looking for a protagonist – in the resulting search, it finds about eight of them, all of them hopeless cardboard cut outs brandishing military hardware. Ho hum.
I also got a little hung up on trying to figure out exactly who the protagonist was. You could argue that within the horror genre this question doesn't matter so much, as characterisation is often sacrified (wrongly in my opinion) in favour of keeping the audience guessing who is going to die next. However, in 28 Weeks Later, after forty minutes Don’s narrative is completely jettisoned – he is given no chance to redeem himself with his wife and children, which makes for a viewing experience so devoid of emotion as to be utterly pointless.
And what’s more, Don’s son crawls into an air vent to escape the rampaging zombie hoardes, thereby violating John August’s Air Vent Rule (...the only time I’ve seen the inside of an air duct is television and movies, when a character — generally the hero — has to be clever enough (and small enough) to climb through a conveniently-accessible air duct). Jesus Christ, they’ll be playing chess next (the next time I see two characters in a movie playing chess – stand up Lucky Number Slevin and Revolver – I’m going to write a stiff letter to my MP)!
And what the bajesus is that sub-Godspeed MOR racket doing clogging up the soundtrack? STOP IT, NOW!
Anyway, zombies – aint’cha sick of ‘em? So last season, sweetie.
Alpha Dog – written and directed by Nick Cassavetes.
Where do you start with a film like this? There’s so much going on I started to wonder whether half of it was altogether necessary. For instance, the faux documentary interviews – are they really needed? No – they simply over-egg an already over-egged pudding. The idea I guess is that the documentary elements add to the supposed ‘true story’ elements of the movie, and provide some (unneeded) exposition. I suspect what it’s really there for is to provide opportunities for actors to chew up the scenery (note to self: histrionic/ hysterical dialogue is no substitute for a genuinely involving/emotional narrative). Not that Bruce Willis does any of this, to be honest, but you knew that anyway.
The movie’s central conflict takes nearly forty minutes to establish, which is fine, but probably could have been done in fifteen minutes without quite so much fannying about. And what a couple of whiny, unsympathetic jerkwads these guys are – Johnny Truelove, wannabe middle class gangster and all round dick, and Jake Mazursky, the paramilitary junkie moron with a sideline in SS tattoos and overacting who is seemingly never too wasted to lay out a room full of party goers in a frenzy of comedy Tae Kwando. That said, Jake disappears halfway through, which is always a problem with sprawling narratives such as this: if you spread the role of the protagonist amongst six or seven characters, then at some point someone is going to get left out. As Alpha Dog stands, we end up following the least sympathetic character of all, Johnny Truelove, who ends up not getting shagged in New Mexico. It really isn’t that interesting.
That said, does it really matter who the protagonist is? Admittedly, Cassavetes does a much better job than the seventy eight writers needed to cobble together 28 Weeks Later. In this case, perhaps we can revert to Chip Smith’s Patented Screenwriting Excuses:
Excuse #32: No clear protagonist? It’s an ensemble piece, you frickin’ mofo (rubbish swearing courtesy of Alpha Dog).
In addition to actors over-emoting in an attempt to lend proceedings a much needed emotional core, it also appears that rubbish David Bowie songs have to be drafted in to do this job as well (it’s a well known fact that after 1980’s Scary Monsters Bowie was replaced by a cyborg who proceeded to royally screw up a top drawer oeuvre by releasing Let’s Dance and forming Tin Machine). For a film that purports to be ‘real’, shoehorning in a late period Bowie song is just not right, and certainly not credible. Remember Leon, a good film spoiled by the addition of a Sting song over the closing credits? For the love of god – Sting! Arrgghh! Why not just put Cliff Richard and The Tweets on the soundtrack and have done with it?
I was going to write about Die Hard 4.0, but could feel a swear word about to emerge. I will try and calm down a bit and report back later...