Diary of the Dead
dir. George A. Romero
In the four decades since he first started dealing with the living dead, director George A. Romero has crafted a legacy of unbelievably gross money shots mixed with sharper-than-you'd-think social commentary. While never exactly subtle about his subtext, Romero's bleakly hilarious storytelling puts most other horror allegories to shame: Come for the skin eating, stay for the ultrablack satire of where we are now.
Diary of the Dead, the filmmaker's faux-camcorder revamp of the mythos for the YouTube generation, might be his jumpiest film yet, as a group of student filmmakers stumble haplessly into a zombie apocalypse. In most other respects, though, this is a bit of a bummer, drowning its predecessors' virtues in what feels like an endless Mad Lib of Wired magazine buzzwords. Romero is on to something significant here—the way that today's generation is unable to grasp horror unless it's seen through electronic gizmos—but his delivery comes off as musty and shrill. On the other hand, people unwilling or unable to suspend their disbelief during Blair Witch and Cloverfield should be overjoyed to know that batteries get swapped out here on a regular basis.
Romero is ultimately too talented at what he does to deliver a total dud, which accounts for such undeniable bright spots as a few brief glimpses of zombies in unusual outfits (party clown!), or a scene-stealing Amish guy who would count as an instant cultural icon to his people if, well, his people could see the movie. Unfortunately, whatever else he has to say this time out is swamped by an atypical—and hopefully temporary—heavy-handedness. If America's defining doomcryer is right that today's audiences need this much spoon-feeding, then his latest and least film is scarier than it seems. Boo. ANDREW WRIGHT
dir. Adam Brooks
Definitely, Maybe is a chick flick disguised as a guy-friendly romantic comedy about a charming Democrat named Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds). Will is a 30-year-old single father sharing custody of his precocious 10-year-old daughter, Maya (Abigail Breslin), while going through a divorce with Maya's mom, No Name. No really, she doesn't have a name. For 98 percent of the movie, we don't have a clue who she is.
In a moment of father-daughter bonding, Maya asks her dad how he met her mom. Maya thinks that reliving all his relationships could cause her father to find the root of the problem and, in turn, find love. Whether with her mom or someone else—Maya just wants her dad to be happy.
Will entertains her theory. He agrees to not only tell his daughter how he met her mother, but to share his entire sexual history. Then Maya can try to guess which girl is her mom! Fun! So as he tucks Maya into bed, Will starts to blather about who he's slept with, who he's dated, who he's cheated on, who's cheated on him, who he's proposed to, who he's made a drunken fool of himself in front of, who's gotten knocked up, who he's taken advantage of, and on and on the list goes.
At one point, the smartass that she is, Maya asks, "What's the boy word for 'slut'?"
Surprisingly, even with such a blatantly ridiculous outline, the movie doesn't suck. Reynolds's vulnerability (he just got dumped, after all) is pretty fucking cute, but not unbelievably so (or maybe that's just my crush talking). I loved Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine and the filmmakers succeed at keeping her from being too precious here as well. She's inquisitive, but not annoying, naive, but not stupid.
There are worse movies your girlfriend could want to see on Valentine's Day. MEGAN SELING
dir. Doug Liman
In this latest adventure in half-assery from director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, once upon a time), Hayden Christensen stars as David Rice, would-be superhero. Able to teleport—or "jump"—anywhere he wants, David lives as superpowered Eurotrash, grabbing breakfast in Egypt, a pint and a blonde in London, and dinner in New York. Unbeknownst to him, however, he's not the only jumper around—in fact, there's a long-ranging war between those like him and a group of religious fanatics just waiting to be stumbled into.
At least, that's the story as far as I can make out. Crafted in Liman's usual freewheeling style, Jumper has been trimmed, and in some cases outright butchered, into oblivion. Why has this war been waging for centuries? What causes teleportation among the chosen few? Why is Samuel L. Jackson's hair bleached? Answers are not forthcoming—instead, Liman and company lean heavily upon impressive effects, pummeling music, and an army of pretty faces in a lame attempt to grab the audience's attention. It doesn't work. At a mere 85 minutes, the film is a blur of set pieces without a backstory, a cool idea never honored with coherence. And as the flick limps to a close, the setup for an inevitable sequel is so glaring you can't help but feel insulted. BRADLEY STEINBACHER
The Great Communist Bank Robbery
dir. Alexandru Solomon
The subject of this documentary is Reconstruction, a bizarre Romanian film made in 1960. This film was about a robbery that took place in 1959. Brazenly, in broad daylight, five armed men and a woman robbed an armored car of the National Bank of Romania. The robbery astonished the leaders of the Communist Party, who exerted an enormous amount of pressure on the police and secret police to solve the case. Innocent men were arrested, tortured, and killed. Finally, the secret police stopped searching for suspects among the public and instead turned its gaze on the party's inner circle. They bugged the homes of prominent officials and soon found what they were looking for: The robbers not only held high and important posts in the government, but they were also Jewish.
While going through the (death) sentencing process, the robbers were tricked by the heads of the party into reenacting the heist in a movie. The movie was completed in 1960 and shown principally to party members for the dual purpose of instruction and entertainment (gangster films were banned in Romania—a society without property was supposed to be a society without crime). Five of the film's six reenactors did not live to see its premiere.
Directed by Alexandru Solomon, this documentary interviews the cinematographer of Reconstruction, police and secret police officials who hunted down and captured the members of Ioanid Gang (as it was called), and the son of one of the robbers. But what makes this documentary important is that it gets very close to the reason why the six Jewish intellectuals and party officials committed the robbery. That reason has to do with what Fanonians call "the betrayal." The robbery was committed not for the money (it was useless outside of Romania), but as a form of protest against the party's growing anti-Semitism and, as a consequence, the growing betrayal of a universalist project that was supposed to erase from the face of society all forms of racism and sexism. That is the telos of the Communist social project—the transformation of racial/cultural/tribal differences into one legal substance. The Ioanid Gang had rejected Zionism in favor of a progressive humanism—an ideal that the party represented at first but betrayed soon after achieving power.
Because they were universalists, the Ioanid Gang must not be seen in the context of the bizarre movie they were tricked into making, but in the context of their heroism: They were heroes of a world, a type of society, that is not here yet but can still be seen in the future. CHARLES MUDEDE