Army Of The Dead

Director: Zach Snyder
Writer: Zach Snyder
Staring: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera, Omari Hardwock
Streaming: Netflix
Release Date: May 21, 2021

Zach Snyder is back. Following up on the success of his version of Justice League (screw that final Joker sequence though), Snyder has dived back into his bag of slo-mo and stylized tricks with Army Of The Dead.

Following a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, a small band of mercenaries are hired to take a risky gamble and pull off 200-million-dollar heist amidst the flesh-eating terror that’s invaded the strip. Dave Bautista plays Scott Ward, the leader of the gang of misfits. Among the recognizable faces alongside the rising action star are Ella Purnell, Theo Rossi, and Garret Dillahunt.

I did not know going into the movie that Tig Notaro was hired as a replacement for Chris D’Elia following the sexual misconduct accusations set upon him in June 2020. Snyder and Netflix spent millions of dollars to replace D’Elia and for the most part it was…kinda seamless? It is obvious when watching the movie that she was alone for a long time on top of the roof. Otherwise, credit to Snyder and the editing crew for inserting her into the principal photography seamlessly.

Any who, back to the movie.

Army Of The Dead starts out with a very colorful opening title sequence that sets up the exposition for the movie. We meet some of the major players and more importantly we are introduced to this alpha male zombie who becomes the main antagonist. This alpha king (played by Richard Cetrone) plays a focal point for many different…unanswered reasons.

Okay, before harping on the aspects of Army Of The Dead, let’s touch on the parts of the entertainment that are commendable.

The visual effects of the zombies look great. In particular, the look of the queen (you know, before she gets beheaded) is great and credit to Athena Perample for really embracing the Andy Serkis Gollum crawl. The zombie tiger as well, I mean that is unique. Also, the pure savageness of one of the Tiger’s kills is a top-three moment in the movie. That is where Synder and Army Of The Dead work best together, when there is action to be seen and it’s an entertainment spectacle.

Where Army Of The Dead struggles is in its story…shocking right? It’s not even the main story that is bad. It’s the side pieces, the tangents that act as anchors. Before I start complaining in the paragraph below, I do understand that this movie is a launching point for a “franchise” worth of zombie content. They wanted to leave threads to dangle. My take is that these threads get tangled in the escalator and cause the whole thing to jam.

SPOILERS

What on earth is up with the zombie baby storyline? It was there just as a trigger for the king zombie to get mad and then go after the humans. It felt just thrown in like a convenient plug-in rather than a evolutionary development which could have carried an entire story line.

Okay, a zombie got shot in the head and it exploded like a robot. Why? This is obviously setting up for something that involves government interference or infiltration. But again, just thrown in with no explanation.

What happened to Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada)? The conclusion we get to his story as the mercenary employer is him hanging up the phone? That’s fulfilling. NOT.

One thing that has stayed consistent for Snyder between Justice League and Army Of The Dead is a bad closing credit scene. How predictable was it that Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick) was bitten by a zombie and he’d be the reason the infection would spread? Very, very predictable.

Alright, end of the spoiler section…and frankly complaining section as well.

A tip of the cap to Dave Bautista for again thriving in a movie role where he is a badass but with a human side that is allowed to be shown only in little snippets. He has really stepped into the role of humble hero quite nicely.

While he is stereotyped as a code-breaking nerd, the depiction of Dieter by Matthias Schweighofer. He is having fun with it, and Dieter has the direct comedic relief effect that makes a movie Army Of The Dead palatable.

Simple put, Army Of The Dead is an enjoyable action movie that is perfectly adequate but has its many flaws. The violence is great when it is able be seen easily without straining, but the story has many holes. If you are not a snob for wrapping things up tightly in a bow (like I am), then you will enjoy this bloody mess. If you need closure, then entertainment is possible but reverence is far away.

STANKO RATING: C- (2.5/5 Stars)


The Land Of Steady Habits

Director: Zach Snyder
Writers: Zach Snyder
Staring: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera, Omari Hardwock
Streaming: Netflix
Release Date: September 12, 2018

This is not a happy movie, but it is a good one. The Land Of Steady Habits delves into the pit of depression and anguish of one recently divorced man and examines how his relationships change and effect himself and those around them. Yes, The Land Of Steady Habits sounds like a character study, and that it is. A strong leading performance carries this Netflix original past the territory of mediocrity and into recommendation land.

Ben Mendelsohn plays Anders, a man who is struggling to find happiness after retiring from his soul-sucking job and ending a marriage he was unhappy in. While trying to sort himself out during a mid-life crisis, Anders becomes friends with his former friend’s son, Charlie Ashford. Their relationship is one of reluctance yet acceptance. They understand each other best while disagreeing on a multitude of life decisions.

Mendelsohn and Charlie Tahan, and that odd friendship they act out in the movie, is what trends The Land Of Steady Habits in the right direction. Tahan plays the depressed teenager drug addict very well and Mendelsohn is good in everything he is in. Mendelsohn is best at blending pity with annoyance; you understand his plight and why he is in a rut but are struggling with the choices he is making in trying to climb out of the hole. That is where his son, Preston (Thomas Mann) comes into play. It’s another strong performance for a character that acts as a lighthouse for Anders wandering soul.

The Land Of Steady Habits is worthy of a watch. It may not make you smile, but it’ll make you think.

STANKO RATING: B (3.5/5 Stars)


Boys State

Director: Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss
Writers: Gen Urobuchi, Sadayuki Murai, Yusuke Kozaki
Staring: Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa
Streaming: Apple TV+
Release Date: August 14, 2020

How the fuck wasn’t this movie nominated for an Oscar? That is my first question.

Boys State is a horror movie, only it is real life. This documentary follows a large group of 17 year old young men taking part in a political camp with the task of building a representative government from the ground up. The young men have a week to pull such a task off, and we as the audience have an even longer time to sit with what this movie shows.

Boys State has four main focal characters, all of whom approach the political atmosphere of this Boys State camp differently. You have two rah-rah type of personas in Ben Feinstein and Rene Otero; these young men rally the bases of the respective political parties they were put in. Robert MacDougall is a driven individual but puts the seatbelt on his own rocket pack.

Then there is Steven Garza. This young man is amazing. Regardless of the political beliefs you have, one has to respect the approach Garza has to politics. He has earnestness. He has strength. He has an understanding of the atmosphere around him. Garza ran the campaign like an angelic movie character would…only that he is real.

The scary part of Boys State is the all-too-real magnification as to how these kids are viewing politics. Sure, they are 17 years old, I completely understand that, but still. The political climate of brashness and over-the-top gestures to appease the masses is in the minds of the young politicians that took part in this camp. It starts early and festers. It is a popularity process.

Boys State is the best documentary I have seen in a couple years and it FOR SURE should have been nominated this past year. From anything I have seen, this would have won in a landslide.

STANKO RATING: A (4.5/5 Stars)


Mare Of Easttown

Director: Brad Ingelsby
Writer: Brad Ingelsby
Staring: Kate Winslet, Julianna Nicholson, Jean Smart
Streaming: HBO MAX
Release Date: 2021

Mare Of Easttown is a bear to watch, but in the best way possible. Kate Winslet playing the constantly embattled and deeply hardened lead cop Mare Sheehan is fantastic. The entire cast surrounding Winslet adds to the levels within Mare Of Easttown, both on the deeply depressing and much needed comedy spectrum. Julianna Nicholson, Jean Smart and Guy Pierce are all recognizable faces that elevate this crime drama to its highest of heights.

Okay, before diving too deep, let’s just get the basics out there. Mare Of Easttown centers around a murder in a small town in Pennsylvania and the crime itself begins shining light on the residents and the towns pasts.

What makes this show, like most other HBO programs, stand out is the writing. The Mare Of Easttown is crisp and to the point and often it lets the communication happen in the quiet moments. For example, in episode two, the first thing we see is Mare settling down with a cup of coffee from a local gas station in her car. Later we are introduced to Detective Colin Zabel (Evan Peters), and in his first scene we are introduced to him with a to-go thermos containing hot coffee. Two different types of coffee drinkers. Two different types of people.

In a later scene in that episode, Zabel gets Mare a cup of coffee from the gas station as a way to appease her and get on her good side. It is a sign of him trying to adapt to her ways and her town as the outsider. All of this was done with no words. Just through small actions in the screenplay.

Writing is not always dialogue. It is everything around it.

In terms of writing, and dialogue specifically, the best lines are saved for Helen Fahey, the mother of Mare. The sharp-witted and wonderfully overzealous sarcastic matriarchal loudmouth is played by Jean Smart. What a casting. The last two things I have seen Smart in are this and Watchmen. Just batting 1.000 with HBO.

Mare Of Easttown needs the comedic timing of Helen Ffahey throughout hey because the remainder of the story is dark. Very, very dark. There is murder, drugs, incest, abuse and deception around every block in Easttown. A distrust in the system is like a grounded into the town and acts likes a rusted screw sticking out of a falling dock. You can try and save and rebuilt everything, as Mare does, but in the end, it takes stepping on that one rusty sharp point to send you tumbling into the cold depths of reality.

HBO still puts out bangers, and Winsley is still a phenomenal actress.

STANKO RATING: A- (4.5/5 Stars)


Godzilla: Planet Of The Monsters

Director: Hiroyuki SeshitaKôbun Shizuno
Writers: Gen Urobuchi, Sadayuki Murai, Yusuke Kozaki
Staring: Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa
Streaming: Netflix
Release Date: 2017

I picked this movie out because it is part of trilogy on Netflix. Plain and simple. I liked the idea of three parts and once I learned it was a much more science-fiction approach to the Godzilla story, it had my attention a bit more.

Godzilla and monsters have wreaked havoc on planet Earth, and now a desperate group of people are attempting to take back their home after 20 space-bound years (20,000 earth years). Behind the behest of one supremely confident young man, it turns into a battle for survival.

Godzilla: Planet Of The Monsters is a perfectly adequate action movie. It is anime if that is a turn on or a deterrent. The dialogue is clunky but I am confident that partially has to do the translation and closed captioning.

I will be watching the remainder of this trilogy, but it won’t be at an expeditor pace.

STANKO RATING: B- (3.0/5 Stars)


Making An Army Of The Dead


Staring: Zach Synder, Dave Bautista
Streaming: Netflix
Release Date: 2021

A perfectly fine, run of the mill mini documentary on the creation of Army Of The Dead (2021).

There is not much to gleam from the behind the scenes unles you are a movie fan on the spectrum. The costume designing and the theories working within those decisions are fascinating. The next best thing what they started out the mini-doc on and that was the deconstruction of Las Vegas and how they went about doing that.

STANKO RATING: C+ (3.0/5 Stars)

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