Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Diary Of The Dead

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Every now and then, an artist comes along whose work creates an entire sub-category within a genre. J.R.R. Tolkien did it in fantasy, Hendrix did it in rock, and George A. Romero did it in the realm of horror storytelling. His independent, ultra-low-budget masterpiece Night of the Living Dead single handedly created the zombie movie genre as we know it. Besides just being a great scary movie, Romero's debut makes for some very unflattering commentary on the society of the time. The sequels Dawn-, Day-, and Land of the Dead, all do likewise, with varying degrees of success.

Now Romero returns with Diary of the Dead, a seeming re-imagination of the whole "Of the Dead" universe in the modern world, completely ignoring the previous entries in the series. The most difficult part of the film is that we have to remember that the characters live in a universe where zombie movies aren't part of the culture. That's a testament to how new zombie movies are in the scheme of things. Take modern vampire fiction. Most of it is self-aware and the character's foreknowledge of crosses, garlic, and heart-bound stakes are part of any given story. In zombie stories, people have to figure out that head shots are the only way to stop the baddies.
Like Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project, Diary is told through the lens of cameras held by people involved in the story, but unlike those two films, Romero's movie isn't quite the "found footage" piece. This leads to some interesting storytelling choices that will probably require multiple viewings to really understand and appreciate properly.
It's not a perfect movie, but it's certainly one that I'll be re-visiting more than once in the coming years. 84/100.

New in DVD
Justice League: The New Frontier
In my last column, I talked up this direct to video release without having seen it and promised a follow-up. So, of course, here it is...
The source material is the comic book mini-series entitled simply "The New Frontier," written and drawn by former Batman:The Animated Series artist, Darwyn Cooke. It explores a version of the DC universe wherein Batman, Superman, and company didn't emerge in the pre-WWII America, rather they popped up afterwards during the early years of the Cold War. Imagine The Right Stuff with superheroes instead of astronauts.
It's a great disc, but as usual, the adaptation is a shadow of the original. I recommend that all comic nuts buy it with that fact in mind, and everyone else should enjoy it and move up to the source if even vaguely interested. The documentaries are decent, and I stand by my pre-viewing recommendation that if you're interested in it, just buy the damn thing sight unseen and enjoy. 83/100.
Cowboy Junkies: Trinity Revisited
Twenty years ago, a little Canadian band recorded an album in a church. Without much time and not having any real budget, The Cowboy Junkies managed to record one of the greatest sounding musical documents of the late 80s. The cover of the Velvet Underground song "Sweet Jane" was the one hit from the album, but the rest of the thing is great too.
Last year, in anticipation of the album's 20th anniversary, the band returned to Toronto's Church of The Holy Trinity to do a new recording of the songs featuring guest musicians, Natalie Merchant, Vic Chestnutt, Ryan Adams and Jeff Bird. The subsequent documentary/album was filmed and produced by Pierre and François Lamoureux. It's a great performance piece, but not really a concert film as there's no audience. But that's not a problem, as the band sits in a circle and the players all face each other. Clearly, they're playing for one another and doing their best. With the exception of Merchant, the guests play on nearly every song and become part of the band proper if only for the evening of filming. Lead singer Margo Timmins' voice has changed in the intervening years since the original sessions, but she doesn't try to repeat herself and sounds great throughout. Her brother Michael still has a recognizable guitar tone and style that is mellow and urgent at the same time. Third sibling Peter's drums are perfection, blending with bassist Alan Anton to create a bedrock foundation. The behind the scenes documentary is fun as well, showing the Junkies as a real working/touring band the likes of which are becoming increasingly and lamentably scarce. Yes, it's mellow, but it's a vital, fascinating, and ultimately enjoyable look back at one of the best records of the late 80s. 85/100.


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