Ok, Fine, I Watched It: “Last Vegas” and “Night of the Living Dead”

Despite my better efforts, there are some huge gaps in my film-watching repertoire. Gaps which, since 90% of my friends are just as film-nerdy as I, I am constantly given sh*t for. Which I super deserve. So, with summer in full swing, I’ve decided to get to work on catching up on these gaps. This week, I check out 2013’s “Last Vegas” and the 1968 classic “Night of the Living Dead”.

LAST VEGAS

What the f*ck? Seriously, what the f*ck did I just watch? Why was this recommended to me? Why was this made? Who asked for this movie? I’m so confused. What the f*ck?

Sorry. The film, directed by “National Treasure” director Jon Turteltaub, stars Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline as four childhood friends reuniting in Vegas to celebrate Douglas’s bachelor party. Hilarity ensues… except it doesn’t. Sorry, wrong catchphrase. The plot revolves around the group of friends each having their own character arcs. Douglas is about to marry a woman half his age, before he does a bunch of stuff and then figures out that that’s maybe not a great idea. De Niro is sad about his recently deceased wife, before he does a bunch of stuff and then moves on. Freeman feels cooped up by his son after a minor stroke until he does a bunch of stuff and then confronts his son about it.  Kline is giving free permission from his wife to sleep with whomever he wants before he does a bunch of stuff and then decides not to sleep with anyone because he loves his wife oh so zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Huh? What? Sorry, must have dozed off there for a second.

The problem with this plot structure, as I’m sure you can see, is that the character arcs only really come up at the beginning and end. The rest of the film is just random funtimes with little to no consequences. Some of it is passably fun, and it isn’t, like, especially offensive aside from some minor stuff we’ll get into later. To quote my notes, “this feels like the kind of movie I would watch if I was sad in a hotel”.

Now, let’s take each character one by one. Douglas’s character is barely of note, despite being ostensibly the main character. True, his character arc is the last to resolve, and he “gets the girl” as it were, but he leaves no impression. Also, he’s the perfect choice to play Hank Pym, because he can’t keep his hands off women either. Also, he proposes to his girlfriend while giving a eulogy, which, correct me if I’m wrong, ladies, is a pretty massive no-no. De Niro is the grumpy one, even delivering an on-point “reason why you suck” speech halfway through that the others completely ignore. He helps tie up the film at the end, but his own character arc is barely addressed. He’s supposed to be tragically morning the loss of his wife, but he’s still caught up in ogling the twenty-something women parading around this film. Freeman’s arc is so little an issue I had to read the wikipedia summary of the film to figure out what it’s supposed to be. Kline’s plot line is, quite frankly, weird as hell. So his wife decides that giving him Viagra, a condom, and a free pass to do “whatever he wants” in Las Vegas will HELP their marriage? How? Is she f*cking Venusian? Because NO ONE ON EARTH WOULD CONSIDER THAT A GOOD IDEA!!!

On that note, I want to get in a little bit about how weird this movie’s gender politics are. Douglas’s entire arc is about how he needs to find a woman his own age, but Kline is still trying to nail grad students throughout. He only stops himself from “American Beauty”-ing hardcore because he loves his wife too much and wouldn’t be able to “share” this experience with her or some bullish*t. Despite the focus on Mary Steenburgen as a female character who the movie seems to think has a personality, the film still lovingly pans over so many attractive young women, I assumed the thing took place over spring break. Movie, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t preach the appeal of “real” women, while presenting swimsuit competitions full of party girls for the audience to stare at. It sends a mixed, confused message.

Lastly, some production design and music stuff. I’ve been to Las Vegas, and the Vegas this movie depicts is a clean, theme park-ian fantasyland, nothing like the crowded, unpleasant experiences I had with the city. Look, if we can’t agree on everything, let’s at least agree on this: not everyone in Vegas is “parisian model” levels of attractive as this movie seems to think. Listening to the soundtrack was like taking a tour of the late 2000’s through musical failure. The amount of times I thought to myself, “oh, yeah, I remember when I hated this song” was astounding. LMFAO has a cameo. if you’ve forgotten who they are, you’ve won. Reminding myself of their musical exploits was like uncovering a repressed memory.

But seriously though, what the f*ck?

Two out of five stars.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

Zombies are all the rage these days, right? So why not look at the film that started it all, back in the late sixties. I don’t think Romero gets quite enough credit these days for basically (alongside Richard Matheson’s novel “I Am Legend’) inventing the modern zombie genre. Watching this movie was fascinating for just how many horror precedents it set.

Directed by the legendary George Romero and staring Duane Jones (Ben), Judith O’Dea (Barbra), Carl Hardman (Harry), Marilyn Eastman (Helen), Keith Wayne (Tom), and Judith Ridley (Judy), the film was made for a tiny budget and using every shortcut in the books. The story follows Barbra, who finds her self caught in the middle of the mysterious zombie uprising. After finding a farmhouse to hide in, she bumps into Ben and the two attempt to secure themselves in the house. As they wait out the night, they discover the disgruntled Harry, his supporting wife Helen, their sick daughter Karen, and fellow survivors Tom and Judy all hiding in the cellar. As they try to survive and learn more about the strange happenings around them, tensions flair and people clash over the best ways to stay alive.

The real meat of the movie comes from these conflicts between characters, which work so well because the stakes are clearly established. Even Harry, who makes several poor or cowardly decisions throughout the film, is acting in what he believes to be the best interests of his family. Barbra’s practical catatonia may be annoying, but it’s justified giving the trauma she has suffered through. The conflicts between Harry and Ben feel natural, and build quite well. The plot structure really does work especially well for a movie that takes place almost entirely in one room, with no real “main” character. The “no real main character” thing, however, actually winds up working to the film’s advantage. The tense atmosphere and lack of reluctance to kill off characters builds a climate of nervousness and terror around the film. You really get the feeling that, at any moment, the character you’re looking at could be murdered horribly. Which is a good thing!

The characters themselves aren’t especially memorable, other than Ben and Harry. Barbra can be a bit annoying, and Judy, Tom, and Helen are barely there. When they are SPOILERS AHEAD killed off, you feel surprised, but you don’t necessarily miss them, or even feel sad. The plot structure leaves the film feeling a little slow at the start and I won’t deny it takes a while to really get started. Also, I know it’s a minor complaint, but some of the improvised on the spot dialogue creates bothersome continuity errors with earlier scenes. Nothing about this movie is really BAD, per se, but I don’t know if it’s GOOD enough for me to recommend it fully.

What is truly excellent, however, is the background storytelling. The film focuses a perfect amount on the causes of the zombie uprising: just enough to explain what’s going on, not so much as to drown out the main plot. The television broadcasts interspersed throughout the film are my favorite part of the movie, giving little details and hints as to the (probably extraterrestrial) origins of the undead. What we see of the outside world feels very real, while fostering the sense of claustrophobia this kind of film needs.

The cheesiness of the film is what sells it, from the black and white film grain, to the overdone sound effects. Even the mediocre makeup and special effects go a long way to give this film its charm. It’s a fun one to sit and watch, although I’d do it with some friends. Also, FUN FACT: due to some copyright mistakes, this film is in the public domain! Cool, huh? No? Just me who finds that interesting? Yeah, that makes sense.

Three out of five stars.

That’s it for this time, next week I’ll watch a thing, and then talk about that thing, and then do the same about another thing. ADVENTURE HO!

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