Tag Archives: The Walking Dead

Eight That Were Great: Underrated Gems of 2015

The lull between Hollywood’s big Christmas releases and the whirlwind start of Oscar season is a great time to catch up on flicks you may have missed in 2015.

Or maybe you’re just sick of watching “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” for the 20th time. (Who am I kidding? Go see it for the 21st time already.)

If you’re wondering what you should add to your Netflix queue, here are some underrated films from last year that definitely deserve your viewing time.

(And it wouldn’t be a year-end list from me if it didn’t include at least one vampire movie. This list has two. And zombies.)

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1. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: I guarantee you have never seen a movie like this before. It’s a highly stylized German Expressionist/Western romance, directed by an Iranian woman (Ana Lily Amirpour), set in a fictionalized Persian town dubbed “Bad City,” starring a burka-wearing vampire (Sheila Vand) who is both adorable and creepy, and it was filmed in Bakersfield. If your mind isn’t already blown, it will be.

2. Maggie: On the surface, this thoughtful horror flick sounds like a bad direct-to-DVD thriller. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a concerned father whose teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin) comes down with a zombifying illness in a plague-ridden U.S.A. This is actually one of Schwarzenegger’s best performances of late. It’s like “The Walking Dead,” if America managed to contain the outbreak before it consumed the nation.

3. Slow West: For its violent, punch-to-the-gut of a twist ending alone, this revisionist Western is worth a look. As leisurely paced as its name would suggest, it stars Michael Fassbender as a morally ambiguous wilderness guide facing one increasingly absurd dilemma after another in a striking deconstruction of the romance of the American frontier.

4. The Walk: You really should have seen Robert Zemeckis’ playful high-wire act when it was showing in 3-D. It was hands down, the best use of the format all year. The comedy-drama is still relevant, thanks to its mischievous, experimental vibe. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s terrible French accent aside, it tells the gripping true story of Philippe Petit’s epic stroll on a cable stretched across New York’s now absent Twin Towers. The 2008 documentary “Man on Wire” is still better, but this comes close to replicating its ebullient spirit.

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5. What We Do in the Shadows: The utter unlikeliness of the setting is the primary source of humor in this vampire comedy, made by and starring New Zealanders in the capital city of Wellington — not exactly a recipe for the sexy, darkly thrilling horror offerings audiences are accustomed to. The akwardly hilarious film was written and directed by Jemaine Clement, the goofier looking half of comedy duo Flight of the Conchords and it’s actually one of the most original vampire movies in recent years.

6. Mr. Holmes: Director Bill Condon’s exquisitely acted drama manages the seemingly impossible — contributing something new to the ubiquitous legacy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary British detective. And of course, the film stars Ian McKellen, at the height of his powers, reinterpreting the great Holmes as something we would never expect — an aging, embittered, beekeeping recluse haunted by past tragedies.

7. Z for Zachariah: Post-apocalyptic thrillers are all the rage right now, from “The Hunger Games” to “Insurgent,” but this drama explores the decline of civilization and humanity’s propensity to destroy itself from a much more adult, intriguing and quiet perspective. Margot Robbie demonstrates surprising versatility as the lone survivor of a wordwide nuclear disaster caught in an unlikely triangle between Chiwetel Ejiofor’s rational scientist and Chris Pine’s mysterious stranger. It’s like “The Last Man on Earth,” but all serious and stuff.

8. Crimson Peak: The films of Guillermo del Toro are an acquired taste and “Crimson Peak” is no different. Though it was lavished with publicity, it still managed to flop, but that’s probably because it’s not the type of horror movie mainstream audiences prefer. However, if you’re of a literary persuasion and prefer macabre tales steeped more in mood and mystery than cheap gimmicks, this sumptuously grotesque thriller will be just your bitter cup of tea. Or if you happen to love Hiddles … er, I mean, Tom Hiddleston.

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Celebrating 100 Blog Posts with 7 Days to Go Until ‘The Force Awakens’

Today, we are one week away from the official opening day of “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.”

It also happens to be the day of my 100th blog post.

In another happy coincidence, the two-year anniversary of the launching of this blog is Dec. 17, the day “The Force Awakens” debuts in early screenings.

Nearly two years ago, I was on bed rest and bored out of my mind after pregnancy complications. I had been out of work for almost two months and hadn’t written a thing. I was considering organizing my photos to pass the time when I had a conversation with my sister.

“Don’t organize your photos,” she said. “Start your blog.”

It just so happened that I had the subject of a post in mind. I wrote it, then very awkwardly began learning the basics of WordPress. And here we are.

Two years of blogging has been fun, freeing and often frustrating. I appreciate my tiny, devoted and extremely gracious band of readers, but sometimes this feels like a thankless task.

I had lost much of my motivation for blogging when I had another conversation with my sister, this one about a crazy idea to count down to the release of “The Force Awakens,” with new, Star Wars-related content almost every day for a month.

That crazy idea has turned out to be a blast and reinvigorated my enthusiasm for writing about and editing all things nerdy and cinematic.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. I’ve enjoyed every moment of it, and I’m glad we still have an entire week to go.

In celebration of the 100th post at lavendervroman.com, I’ve decided to re-run one of my favorite essays from the blog, an oldie but goodie that very much applies to the warm, affectionate feelings I have for you, dear readers, and the entire Star Wars community.

Here it is. Let’s keep enjoying this moment together. There’s no telling how long it will last.

I Hope My Daughter Grows Up to Be a Nerd
(originally posted April 28, 2014)

Several years ago, when my husband and I still attended the San Diego Comic-Con — back when it was more fun than exhausting — we would occasionally observe a couple pushing a stroller through the crowd, grim looks on their faces as the Red Sea of sweaty fanboys refused to part for them.

“They’re nuts,” I used to say.

It was time for me to eat my words when we decided to take our 3-month-old daughter to WonderCon Anaheim, the cozier little sister to San Diego’s towering pop culture extravaganza.

We booked a hotel attached to the Anaheim Convention Center, packed up the million items of baby ephemera required for an overnight trip with an infant, outfitted the little munchkin in a yoda hat stitched by a crafty cousin and made the pilgrimage to our favorite geek mecca. Our baby’s “Doctor Who”-worshiping aunt came along for moral support.

Soon I had become one half of THAT couple, maneuvering a stroller through hordes of spandex-clad superheroes, unidentifiable anime critters and hairy dudes declaring, via T-shirt, their allegiance to DC or Marvel. As the husband headed off in the direction of the Warner Bros. panel, the aunt and I waited for the exhibit hall to open and my tiny daughter got her first eyeful of the convention’s colorful passersby.

As Batmen in black body armor, Stormtroopers armed with blasters, gender-bending Thors and Lokis, wispy Elsas from “Frozen” and a guy painted entirely silver to look like a certain surfboard-carrying comic book character paraded in front of her, my baby’s eyes grew wide. She had entered a strange new world.

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That’s when I got to thinking. Many parents want their children to grow up to be doctors, lawyers, ballet dancers, Olympic gymnasts or the president of the United States. Those pursuits are certainly admirable but when I think about my daughter’s future, I have a different fate in mind. I hope she grows up to be a nerd.

I suppose the odds are in my favor. My little girl wakes up every morning in a house littered with the traces of her parents’ geekdom. Posters of “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” line the walls. Display cases full of Legos dominate the living room. Boxes of action figures are crammed into closets. Shelves overflow with books, many of them science fiction and fantasy. And on the mantle over the fireplace sits one of those fancy replica lightsabers, a cherished Christmas gift from dad to mom.

In this house, Sunday nights are dedicated to “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones,” the latest “Star Wars” news is hashed over and then rehashed and though we’re not a big comic book family, you’d better believe we’ll be there Friday when the latest Marvel movie hits theaters.

Most of our friends are nerds, too. Unlike the stereotype, they’re not 35-year-old men living in their mothers’ basements, playing World of Warcraft and guzzling Mountain Dew. They’re well adjusted, intelligent, productive members of society who also happen to read feminist comic books, debate the merits of “Star Wars” vs. “Star Trek,” play “The Elder Scrolls” online, re-read the Harry Potter books annually, line up at midnight for movies, countdown to the next seasons of “Sherlock” and “Doctor Who” and get excited about Hayao Miyazaki.

These are some of the coolest, smartest, most fascinating people I know and that’s why I hope my daughter doesn’t choose to rebel against her nerd heritage in favor of a boring existence. Many people slog through life doing the bare minimum — going to work, going home to spend the night sitting in front of some reality TV show.

Nerds want more. They’re not satisfied with reality and the status quo. Their imaginations are always churning, always musing, always wondering: wouldn’t it be cool if … time travel was possible, vampires existed, the zombie apocalypse happened, there was life on other planets, some rich dude with a cave and clever gadgets could save society from the evil within or if a British time lord could alter the course of history.

Nerds are passionate and playful. When they care about something they really care. They don’t do things by halves. They’re obsessed and they want to share that obsession with you. They’re not content to just watch or listen, they want to live it, collect it, wear it on a T-shirt, write about it in an Internet chat room, join a club or — as evidenced by the number of people who indulge in cosplay at WonderCon and similar events around the country — transform themselves into their favorite characters.

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Some would argue that such obsessions are childish, pointless and don’t make a difference, but the sheer momentum of nerd passion has turned comic book and fantasy movies into a billion dollar industry in Hollywood, resurrected cancelled television shows, united scores of disconnected individuals and, yes, even accomplished some good in the world.

Take, for instance, The Harry Potter Alliance, thehpalliance.org, a self-described “coalition” of Harry Potter fans who have launched campaigns for literacy, equality and human rights around the world, donating books to impoverished kids, sending disaster relief supplies to Haiti, building a library and pressuring Warner Bros. about the use of child labor in the manufacturing of Harry Potter chocolates.

I’d go so far as to say that the world would be a better place if we were all just a little bit nerdier. I hope my daughter grows up to love a television show dearly, to take an enthusiastic stance when it comes to “Star Wars” or “Star Trek,” Marvel or DC, to adore a movie so much she can’t stop talking about it, to create a costume so she can “become” her favorite cartoon character, to acquire a ravenous taste for books, especially fiction and fantasy.

I hope she embraces and is embraced by other nerds as warmly as I have been embraced by them. If she can find it in her heart to do this, I know she’ll be happy.

Photos: Nick Vroman, Lavender Vroman.

‘Fury’ as Subtle as, Well, a Tank

Fury
Two stars (out of four)
R (strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, language)
134 minutes

There is nothing subtle about war, so it follows that there’s not much subtlety to be found in war movies.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in the case of writer-director David Ayer’s “Fury,” the film is so desperate to shock and awe, watching it feels like being barreled over by something big, heavy and unwieldy. Like a tank, for instance.

I know that’s a cheap and easy metaphor for a movie about an American tank crew barreling their way suicidally through Nazi Germany in the last, grim days of World War II. Nevertheless, it’s an apt comparison for a film that prizes force over finesse and sprawling, simplistic themes and imagery over convincing relationships and emotion.

That’s not to say a tank movie isn’t a brilliant idea. It’s gotta be one of the most novel war story angles Hollywood has come up with in a long time. And when Ayer focuses his pen and his lens on what it’s like to be inside one of those gigantic, creaking hunks of metal, rolling its way inexorably through a nightmare landscape of smoke, carnage and death, “Fury” is fascinating.

Unfortunately, the director’s focus too often roams to the kind of wartime sequences we’ve seen before in more compelling visions of World War II, including “Saving Private Ryan,” “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.”

“Fury” takes its name from its most imposing star — the one that isn’t married to Angelina Jolie — a battered bruiser of a Sherman tank, manned by the seasoned, war-weary Sgt. Don Collier (Brad Pitt) and his faithful crew.

The movie makes a point of telling us that the average tank crew only survived for about six weeks. Collier’s gang has bucked that trend, managing to stay alive and stick together for four years.

The sergeant’s goal is to keep it that way, not an easy task considering his new crew member, Norman (Logan Lerman), is a baby-faced clerk who has no combat experience and has never seen the inside of a tank.

“Fury” may appear to be an ensemble film, but don’t let that fool you. This is Pitt’s show. It’s almost as if the actor is reprising a less comical version of his character from “Inglourious Basterds,” the Nat-zi-hating Lt. Aldo Raine.

Collier schools young Norman in the ways of war and utters the movie’s choicest monologues. “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent,” he informs his scared-stiff, stubbornly pacifist protege in a jaded Southern drawl.

Don’t get me wrong. Pitt is a fine actor. His hair buzzed into a crew cut, his face scrawled with scars, he deploys his signature blend of toughness and torment like a weapon. If only the other members of the cast were given a chance to show their stuff. Instead, they’re made to embody war movie stereotypes.

Shia LaBeouf plays Boyd, the religious one who quotes scripture and refrains from partaking of the spoils of war. Michael Pena, who was excellent in Ayer’s “End of Watch,” provides the comic relief as driver Gordo. Jon Bernthal, so memorable on “The Walking Dead,” is assigned the role of Fury’s resident redneck, the brutish Grady.

None of these characters are particularly likable, so Lerman is there to soften them up as the GOOD guy. In case, we don’t get that he’s the GOOD guy, one of the actors is kind enough to point it out to us. But even though he is the GOOD guy, Ayer isn’t content until Norman is killing Nazis just as gleefully as his battle-hardened comrades.

Lest we feel any sympathy for those dagnabbit Nazis, the Germans are depicted as goose-stepping ghouls who chant so operatically and in perfect synchronization, they may as well be the Orc army marching out of Mordor in “The Lord of the Rings.

Ayer’s last film, the cop drama “End of Watch,” was equally grandiose, but soared on the strength of the relationship between a pair of LAPD officers played by Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal. If only the interactions in “Fury” were as solid, but truth is we know very little about the characters or what connects them.

The director resorts to stirring up phony conflict between these brothers in arms in a bizarre, deeply uncomfortable scene in which Collier and Norman hold hostage/seduce/befriend — it’s disturbingly never clear — a pair of German women after securing an enemy town.

On a purely technical level, “Fury” fares better. Ayer obviously took great pains to ensure the film’s authenticity and delivers several suspenseful, horrific scenes of combat, illustrating both the power and limitations of the World War II-era tank.

The movie’s finale ramps up the heroism to almost ridiculous extremes.

Funny thing is, the heroics of everyday life inside the tanks, with their claustrophobia, tedium, close quarters and forced intimacies, probably would have proved more profound.