Archives for posts with tag: Jason Vail

abraham-lincoln-vs-zombies

As little excuse as the execrable Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter had to exist, the coattail-clawing clunker cash-in Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies has even less – and it knows it.  Dimly lensed, indifferently scripted, and uninterestingly cast, this tale of a covert mission behind enemy lines to halt a Confederate zombie plague is itself no livelier than a lumbering, moaning member of the living dead.

Stifling any potential from the beginning is the film’s confused sense of its own identity.  With a ridiculous rip-off premise begging for high camp comedy treatment, Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies opts instead to play its material straight, offering only the driest and crumbliest crumbs of attempted humor and usually preferring to bore the viewer with Spielbergian solemnity and sentimentality: “Be brave, Abe.  You’re resolute.  You know what must be done.”  The titular zombies, laggards all, provide paltry suspense as America’s worst commander-in-chief (Bill Oberst Jr.) again rises to the superheroic occasion by shooting and slicing through the evil hordes with his trusty populist scythe – or is it a commie sickle?  (Like a good Jacobin, Lincoln prefers to behead the unenlightened.)

Had it been made in 1990, starred Leslie Nielsen, and laughed at itself with a go-for-broke gonzo parody approach, Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies might at least have had the potential, like Nielsen’s Repossessed, to become in retrospect a cheesy and groan-inducing but ultimately pleasing artifact of lame comedy nostalgia.  As is, however, the film offers next to nothing to make it worth the viewer’s while.  “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here,” Lincoln says as part of his Gettysburg Address – and no more fitting tribute could possibly be paid to Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies, a wholly superfluous, tedious, and forgettable offense on film.

A star and a half.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies is:

7. Family-ambivalent.  “I’d rather start a family and ride horses,” Pat Garrett (yes, the Pat Garrett, played by Christopher Marrone) says when Lincoln suggets he enter politics or law enforcement.  “An appealing path, to be sure,” Lincoln concurs.  It should also be noted, however, that the president’s superhero origin prologue depicts him executing his own zombified mother.  (Cf. Warm Bodies no. 6)

6. Class-conscious.  “What would the cream of Washington society make of you, my dear?” John Wilkes Booth (Jason Vail) muses judgmentally, contemplating a whore as she sleeps.

5. Feminist/pro-slut.  A poor, oppressed prostitute excuses her whoredom by complaining that the oldest profession is the only work available to unmarried women in her area.  Old unprogressive fogey Stonewall Jackson (Don McGraw) objects to the presence of a “fallen woman”.

4. Bi-partisan.  General Jackson redeems himself by joining forces with Lincoln and, like Dr. King in Django Unchained, playing the sacrificial honky.  “We are all Americans.”  All of the biologically and morally unsalvageable corpses, however, must be exterminated.

3. Anti-white.  Mary Owens (Baby Norman) hints at the symbolic significance of the plague when, describing her own zombification experience, she says, “It’s like a fog is descending . . .”

2. Statist.  Lincoln avuncularly passes the torch to future fellow office-abuser Teddy Roosevelt (Canon Kuipers), who gets to perch on the Great Emancipator’s shoulders to aim his rifle over a wall and pick off zombies.

1. Anti-racist/anti-slavery (i.e., pro-yawn on both counts).  “I’m not your boy,” token black character Wilson Brown (Jason Hughley) sasses when someone good-naturedly calls him “m’boy”.

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gut poster

Gut is a study of two friends, nondescript Tom (Jason Vail) and nerdy Dan (Nicholas Wilder), who have known each other from adolescence and now work together in stultifying office jobs.  Tom has graduated to conventional domesticity, with an attractive wife (Sarah Schoofs) and child, while Dan appears to be charmingly stuck in goofy immaturity, more interested in consuming horror movies and junk food than in making anything identifiably adult out of his life.  When Tom develops an enigmatic case of ennui that threatens to drive a further wedge between the two men, who have clearly lost a previous closeness, Dan makes the seemingly harmless but actually momentous suggestion that Tom should visit his home to watch an unusual DVD he has received in the mail.

Is the content of the disc, with what appears to be footage of an actual murder, real or merely a simulated snuff film?  Whatever its source, the (disturbingly graphic) imagery haunts and fascinates Tom, who has nightmares and is uncomfortable with what he and Dan have discovered, both on the internet and in themselves as more films arrive in the mail.  The stakes and danger, furthermore, are more than simply psychological when it becomes apparent that the party responsible for the snuff DVDs is active where they live.  Gut is not torture porn itself, but ponders the genre’s sources and ramifications; squeamish viewers are, however, advised to approach Gut with extreme caution.

Gut demonstrates an intimate knowledge of cubicle-bound despair and succeeds in giving the horror genre its Office Space, with perhaps a bitter tincture of In the Company of Men.  As is true of the music for the latter, Chvad SB’s minimalist score for Gut, which builds from subtle, bare, and repetitive to unnervingly abrasive as the film progresses, forms a compelling and integral component of Gut‘s personality and is indispensible to its storytelling.  The story told, tastefully if tenebrously lensed, is not an uplifting one, and if Gut can be called a horror film, it is, like last year’s Sinister, something of an odd, self-loathing example, with horror and porn the gateway drugs that lead to other, darker preoccupations and initiations.

Gut earns 4.5 stars and is highly recommended, with Nicholas Wilder one of the year’s most interesting faces and “Elias” a definite directorial talent to watch.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that this film is:

3. Un-p.c./state-skeptical.  Dan claims his regular mail carrier has been replaced by a mentally retarded man – affirmative action gone postal and run utterly amuck!

2. Family/marriage-ambivalent.  With emotional and genetic investment in humanity comes not just affection, but responsibility, insecurity, boredom, and, for men, diminished home entertainment sovereignty.

1. Effectively anti-feminist.  Tom and especially Dan are representative of the catastrophe wrought in American society by women’s liberation.  Dan personifies the national epidemic of unmanned men more interested in pop culture distraction, nostalgia, and mischievous male camaraderie than in honest work or mature relationships with women.  He finds, therefore, a less grim sociological cousin in Ed, Nick Frost’s character in Shaun of the Dead.

Dan dwells on the drawbacks of Tom’s family life and calls him a “pussy-whipped motherfucker”.  Lending potential credence to this assessment and to his characterization of Tom’s balls as AWOL is a scene of an inwardly smoldering Tom doing the woman’s work of washing dishes.  Tom approvingly describes his wife as “old-fashioned”; but later, when he becomes rough with her, she straddles and slaps him until he relents and apologizes to her, indicating that their relationship is not as “old-fashioned” as he has perhaps convinced himself.  Earlier, he is irritated when his wife takes the sexual initiative.  “So, what, I’m supposed to flip whenever you want me to?” he objects.  Television, as in Poltergeist, serves as an occasional babysitter.

Torture porn appears to be Dan’s principal sexual outlet.  The snuff films that captivate him are meaningfully misogynistic, with women’s bellies – the center of traditional womanhood in its reproductive capacity – targeted for mutilation and vivisection.  Motherhood is incompatible with women’s chosen roles as professionals and/or shamelessly pierced and tattooed fornicators.  Although a friendly waitress, Sally (Angie Bullaro), obviously likes him, a brief exchange with a chilly coworker suggests how women are probably more likely to respond to Dan.  The typical unavailability of the women he desires has fostered in him a deep resentment that sublimates as horror fandom but finds a more direct expression in his enjoyment of torture porn and snuff films.

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