Episode 1 of “Black Summer” (2019) looks quite promising.

The hectic first episode of “Black Summer,” Netflix’ new zombie series, looks like ambitious stuff — it plays like a hybrid of “28 Days Later” (2002), “Pulp Fiction” (1994) and “24” (2001-2014).  While it seems unlikely that this show can emulate the greatness of those classics, “Black Summer” still gets off to a damned good start.  I’d rate the first episode an 8 out of 10 for being a pretty lean and mean start to a decent zombie series.

Part of the episode’s appeal is its frantic vibe and format — something that seems like a deliberate contrast to “The Walking Dead’s” slowly placed, methodical epic.  The viewer is plopped down into the middle of a heartland neighborhood evacuation effort, three weeks into a zombie epidemic.  With a series of lengthy, real-time tracking shots, we race beside a collection of unconnected characters who are desperately trying to reach United States Army pickup point.

The zombies are few in number.  But they are the “high-speed zombies” that most modern horror viewers associate with Danny Boyle’s film, so the arrival of even one imperils the fleeing families.  The makeup effects are good, the transformation process is effectively rendered, and the show is satisfyingly scary.  The show makes this even more interesting by filming each character’s dash individually, and then showing them as discrete vignettes that are out of chronological order.  

The story is weakest when it slows down enough to allow its characters to talk.  The dialogue is truly bad, even if the quick action sequences make up for it.  (Has there ever been a more generic bribery offer, for example, then the one we see here?)  But this weakness doesn’t much affect the overall quality of an episode that follows so much action.

I was even more surprised that the episode works when I googled “Black Summer.”  The Netflix series is produced The Asylum, the film company notorious for “mockbusters” like “Dead Men Walking” (2005), “Snakes on a Train” (2006) and … sigh … “Transmorphers” (2007).  What’s more, “Black Summer” is intended as a prequel series to  The Asylum’s “Z Nation,” the lamentable horror-comedy zombie series that ran for three seasons on SyFy.  (It was so bad I couldn’t get through a single episode.)

It’s a weird world.

 

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I hated “The Hateful Eight” (2015)

“The Hateful Eight” (2015) might be the first Quentin Tarantino film that I entirely disliked.  I’d rate it a 3 out of 10 for being an overlong, overwrought story inhabited almost exclusively by irritating, overly stylized characters who are constantly shouting.  It was alternately boring and grotesque.  It even managed to occasionally be glumly depressing, given the violence it depicts against defenseless innocents.

And I’m surprised, because this movie was highly recommended to me by my college-aged nephew — he’s a smart kid whose judgment I trust.  I certainly hope that he has seen Tarantino’s classic “Reservoir Dogs” (1992), as that movie seems to be this one’s direct inspiration.  Throughout “The Hateful Eight’s” lengthy running time (it clocks in at just over three hours), I kept thinking that this was a failed effort to transplant “Reservoir Dogs'” story setup to the old west.

That probably was the director’s strategy here.  You see an attempt to recreate all of the story elements that made the earlier movie a success: quirky characters; idiosyncratic dialogue; unexpected violence; tragedy; and black humor.

Regrettably, it just didn’t work.  The movie was so long — and so loud — that it even made priceless performers like Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson and Tim Roth come off as annoying.

For me, the movie’s sole bright spot was Jennifer Jason Leigh’s damned terrific portrayal of the plot-driving, brutal gangster, Daisy Domergue.  I had no idea that Leigh had such incredible range (not to mention some Vaudeville-style comic timing).  Her performance isn’t enough to redeem the movie, but it surprised me and easily stole the show.

Look — if this is the first Tarantino movie you’ve seen, then please don’t let it dissuade you from seeing the man’s other work.  Seriously, go watch “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction” (1994) or “From Dusk Till Dawn” (1996).

 

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A short review of “The Boondock Saints” (1999)

I can’t say I fully understand the zeal of “The Boondock Saints'” (1999) cult following, but I had fun with it — I’d give it an 8 out of 10 for being unusual and unexpectedly diverting.

I don’t really see it as a crime thriller — it’s more like an absurdly violent situation-comedy.  It borrows its tone and style from 1994’s “Pulp Fiction,” not to mention its own shock-comedy throwaway scene involving an accidentally discharged sidearm.

Like its superior inspiration, its formula is creating quirky, likable characters with some funny dialogue, and then raising the tension by placing them in the midst of graphic violence.  It mostly succeeds — Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus’ characters are endearing, cool and easy to root for.  I laughed out loud a few times, and I can see how their telegenic antiheroes would attract a devoted fandom.

The directing seemed choppy and even amateurish.  I noticed this right from the opening credits, which are awkwardly spliced with the onscreen introduction of the main characters.

The screenwriting is a little spotty, too — we’re never told, for example, how its two protagonists come to be such proficient assassins.  (Are they former military?  Is there a joke here I’m missing about them being “blessed,” consistent with the “saints” motif and all the references to Catholicism?)  Nor do we get much meaningful information about their motivations.  (Their bloody crusade begins only when they kill several gangsters in self-defense, then they seem to pursue a life of vigilantism as an afterthought.)  Finally, our antiheroes seem refreshingly real and identifiable, while other characters (Willem Dafoe’s detective and Billy Connolly’s mafia hitman) seem cartoonish enough to populate a farce like “The Naked Gun” series).

Again, though — this was fun.  I’d recommend it.

 

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