Dawn of the Dead (2004) is an edgy modern remake done right. Unlike the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, the 2004 Dawn of the Dead has a far better reputation. These zombies are faster and significantly more gruesome with decaying flesh makeup. I mostly knew it for being the directorial debut of Zack Snyder. Before he was known for slow motion comic book adaptations, Snyder brought his signature brand of stylized action and camera filters to the zombie genre. The chaotic opening credits are pure Snyder with “The Man Comes Around” playing over it. Heavy metal songs like “Down with the Sickness” are used during the credits. Ironically, Dawn of the Dead (2004) was also James Gunn’s first opportunity to write a major R rated movie featuring a diverse ensemble cast.
Although Dawn of the Dead (2004) is still about a group of survivors in a shopping mall, the characters and story arcs are different. Sarah Polley is the perfect new female lead as nurse Ana who loses her husband to a zombie neighbor and quickly learns to adapt while holding onto her morals. Ving Rhames is a suitable new black lead named Kenneth who has experience as a cop and a soldier. The first batch of survivors include Jake Weber as everyman Michael, Mekhi Phifer as protective husband Andre, and his pregnant Russian wife Luda. When they reach the mall, they encounter a group of jerk security guards. Michael Kelly is the lead guard C.J. who manages to have a redemptive arc. Kevin Zegers plays Terry who gets redeemed right away. The rest of the survivors arrive by truck. Lindy Booth plays frightened daughter Nicole who loses her father to a bite.
There’s a lady trucker, a non-believing church organist, another injured survivor, a dog, and a sexually active survivor who provides one of many nude scenes. Gunn holds back in terms of comedy, but Ty Burrell is funny as snarky businessman Steve. Though George A. Romero didn’t like the lack of consumer satire, the group does learn to kill time in the mall. Kenneth even befriends a capable gun shop owner across the street. The explosive climax is the best part of any Snyder film and they manage to keep the ending just vague enough without repeating themselves. Snyder and Gunn are a lethal combination. The only time they go too far is with a bizarre zombie baby scene. Though they do respect the original with cameos from Scott Reiniger, Tom Savini, and Ken Foree as a televangelist who utters his iconic line “When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth.” Dawn of the Dead (2004) gave the zombie genre new life.
Remake of: Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Legion is a cross between The Terminator and the Old Testament. I’ve always been a little curious to see the movie ever since 2010. Although I remained hesitant considering how blasphemous it could’ve been. As a Christian, I know I need to pick my Biblically inspired films carefully. Legion isn’t as offensive as I thought it might be, but it’s still pretty messy. Skynet is represented by the wrath of God when he sends angels to end a lost and dying world. The Archangel Michael becomes a fallen angel who represents Kyle Reese trying to protect an unborn baby said to be the last hope for mankind. Paul Bettany is a charismatic gun-toting warrior angel who clips his wings and fights for humanity.
The Sarah Connor of the story is Adrianne Palicki as a less than desirable pregnant waitress. Most of Legion takes place in a diner in the middle of nowhere with a mismatched collection of survivors. Dennis Quaid represents a non-believer and Charles S. Dutton represents a believer. Before they officially crossed paths down the road, Fast & Furious franchise alumni Lucas Black and Tyrese Gibson fight with a bit more faith. There’s also a struggling family dynamic between Jon Tenney, Kate Walsh, and Willa Holland as their troubled daughter. Don’t get too attached to anyone. Legion tries to be a horror movie, but most of their attempts feel intentionally silly.
Like the infamous possessed granny scene where Jeanette Miller plays a foulmouthed old lady who climbs the walls. Or the equally ridiculous ice cream man scene where the naturally thin Doug Jones stretches his body with truly awful CGI. Legion would work a little better as an action movie if the possessed individuals weren’t angels. It’s uncomfortable, but Kevin Durand does look good as the warrior archangel Gabriel. Unfortunately, he’s another obstacle that Michael is forced to fight. I had no idea what the moral would end up being, but let’s just say God does everything for a reason. The story does continue in the TV series Dominion, but I think a short movie is all my spirit can handle. Legion could’ve worked if it knew which path to follow.
End of Days should’ve been a big comeback for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Afterall, who doesn’t want to see Arnie fight the Devil himself? Apparently the lead role was originally offered to Tom Cruise, but I’m not sure the role was suited for him. As much as I loved Arnold movies growing up, I was always a little hesitant to see End of Days. As a Christian, I knew the Revelation theme would be uncomfortable. I had no idea End of Days was another Y2K film. A child is born in the year 1979 that Satan selects to bear the Antichrist in the year 1999. Horror filmmakers Sam Raimi and Guillermo del Toro were both approached to direct, but the job ended up going to Peter Hyams.
While the subject matter is inherently disturbing, End of Days fails because it’s a cheesy action thriller first. It was actually James Cameron who recommended Arnold. As Schwarzenegger’s final film from the 90’s, End of Days checks all the boxes. Jericho Cane is a former New York City police detective with a cool name and plenty of oneliners. CCH Pounder plays his disapproving superior Marge and Kevin Pollack plays his unlucky partner Bobby. Despite the religious nature of his most recent case, Jericho is a suicidal alcoholic who lost his faith when he lost his wife and daughter. Of course Arnold is tasked with protecting someone.
In this case, it’s Robin Tunney as the unfortunate child bearer Christine York. Miriam Margolyes plays her adoptive mother who grooms her for the returning Devil. The same year he appeared in Stigmata, Gabriel Byrne played a nearly unstoppable Satan who leads an army of followers. Respected actors like Mark Margolis and Rod Steiger play the Pope and a priest who protect Christine rather than sacrifice her. Jericho would rather shoot his way through trouble. Over-the-top action scenes include a helicopter chase and a crashed subway train. It wouldn’t be so bad if the CGI was better and the editing was less obnoxious. For all its sins, I do commend the movie for saving Jericho and sacrificing him at the same time. End of Days is only saved at the end.
Jericho Cane protects Christine in the church
Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins is lightyears better than Lightyear. Pixar is known for quality, but Toy Story 2 was originally meant to be direct-to-video like every other Disney sequel at the time. When they refused, Disney threw together a traditionally animated feature length pilot for the in-universe cartoon Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. It may be a cheap Saturday-morning cartoon, but at least I believe Andy would love the movie enough to want a Buzz Lightyear action figure. I know my brother and I enjoyed the movie when we were kids. Though it was never released on Disney+, it’s worth tracking down a copy. The Adventure Begins begins with a computer animated Toy Story opening with the toys gathering around to watch the VHS tape.
Wallace Shawn, R. Lee Ermey, and Joe Ranft return to voice Rex, Sarge, and Wheezy respectively. Director Andrew Stanton strangely replaces John Ratzenberger as Hamm, but the most interesting change is Jim Hanks filling in for his brother Tom as Woody. Most of the cast consists of professional voice actors who were also part of the animated series like Wayne Knight now voicing Evil Emperor Zurg. Patrick Warburton actually voices Buzz in the cartoon, but Tim Allen was brought in for a redub. The Adventure Begins is exactly the kind of adventure Buzz should be having. It’s fun, fast paced, and comedic with imaginative aliens, robots, and planets. We actually go “To infinity and beyond!” Buzz Lightyear is a confident space ranger with working wings and a laser. He reports to Star Command and fights alongside his partner Warp Darkmatter.
Zurg is a larger than life megalomaniacal villain who uses a Uni-Mind to control the galaxy. He’s aided by the robots seen in the Buzz Lightyear video game, intelligent brain pods, and lowly bug assistants. Agent Z is Zurg’s personal henchman with a not so surprising identity. The claw worshiping Little Green Men (or LGM) have a prominent role as an alien race that assists Star Command. Commander Nebula is Lightyear’s loud commanding officer who demands he have a partner. So he’s given three potential candidates. Mira Nova is an equally confident alien princess with handy ghost phasing powers. Booster is a large kind hearted alien janitor with dreams of joining Star Command. XR is a small robot built by the LGM’s who develops a snarky personality after he breaks. They aren’t particularly deep, but at least I remember them. When they save the day, Team Lightyear is born. Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins is Andy’s real favorite movie.
Spin-Off of: Toy Story 2
Snowpiercer is a bleak high speed adventure. In the post-apocalyptic future of 2031, a new ice age has forced all remaining survivors to occupy a never ending train. It’s a unique concept that makes a lot more sense when you read or watch it play out. Snowpiercer (or Le Transperceneige) is a French graphic novel adapted by a South Korean director and filmed in English. This was actually the English language debut of future Oscar winner Bong Joon-ho. The high concept story and all-star cast ensured Snowpiercer would be one of the most expensive South Korean films. Although The Weinstein Company nearly ruined it by making too many cuts, Snowpiercer earned Bong Joon-ho major recognition in America. The film has all of his usual trademarks like class struggle and jarring tonal shifts. The Snowpiercer is a massive train consisting of many unique sections separated by class. The tail section is an impoverished section that lives off protein bars and is oppressed by the wealthier front section.
Curtis Everett is the first man in 17 years to successfully lead a revolution hoping to kill the train’s enigmatic creator Wilford. Although this was between Captain America appearances, Chris Evans disappears into the role of the reluctant leader. His monologue about being forced to eat humans for survival is truly disturbing. Curtis is joined by Jamie Bell as his young partner, John Hurt as their respected spiritual guide, Ewen Bremner as a desperate father who faces the bitter cold, and Octavia Spencer as a desperate mother who proves herself. When they reach a prison section, they’re joined by 2 of Bong Joon-ho’s previous South Korean collaborators. Song Kang-ho plays a specialist who opens doors and Go Ah-sung plays his clairvoyant daughter who translates for him. Since guns may or may not be extinct, the best action scene involves the tail section fighting masked fishmongers in the dark with axes.
Aside from an unstoppable henchman and a ruthless eggman, most of the movie is spent taking in the unique sections of the train. The CGI on the outside isn’t the best, but the greenhouse and aquarium are impressive. Really it’s the villains that leave the strongest impression. Tilda Swinton reaches peak weirdness as Wilford’s androgynous right hand Mason who has a random Yorkshire accent and buck teeth. The biggest juxtaposition is seeing the colorless tail section in a bright classroom full of kids being brainwashed into worshiping Wilford. It’s easily the most unsettling scene, but Alison Pill makes it creepier as a pregnant teacher who sings an upbeat song about freezing to death if the engine stops. When they finally reach the front, Ed Harris is revealed to be yet another seemingly average creator. No matter how important a character might seem, don’t expect too many survivors. Snowpiercer proves the journey is just as important as the destination.
Citizens of the tail section
Red 2 didn’t age as well as its predecessor. I don’t think Warner Bros. regretted not adapting the obscure DC comic, but it was just as rare for a sequel to come out of it. Red was successful enough for Red 2 to come out 3 years later. Bruce Willis had three major action roles in 2013 including A Good Day to Die Hard and G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Frank Moses is still Retired Extremely Dangerous, but he’s forced back into the game after his friend Marvin Boggs fakes his own death. Although crazy John Malkovich appears throughout, Helen Mirren is mostly left off the team. She’s still on their side, but Victoria Winslow is one of several assassins hired to kill Frank.
You’d think Brian Cox would have a bigger role as Victoria’s lover, but he’s limited too. Red 2 is just as funny with lots of mindless action, but there’s too much going on. The main objective is stopping a catastrophic red mercury bomb. Neal McDonough plays a smug intelligence agent who first attacks Frank and David Thewlis is a deadly dealer called the Frog who also attacks. Like Retaliation, Willis makes an ally out of an enemy played by the charismatic Byung-hun Lee. Han is easily the most interesting assassin who attacks with martial arts and a gatling gun.
In one of her last movie roles, Catherine Zeta-Jones played an untrustworthy Russian agent with a passionate love for Frank. If I had to single out a performance, it would be Mary-Louise Parker returning as Frank’s girlfriend Sarah. Sarah is either overeager, overly silly, or over exaggerated in her willingness to join the action. This time the oldest actor in the cast is also the villain. Anthony Hopkins hams it up as the scientific doctor behind the bomb who pretends to lose his mind. Red 2 made the most out of a premise with so much more potential.
Frank fights Han
Preceded by: Red
Red is an action flick for the older generation. Much like The Losers, Red was based on another obscure DC comic. Although it was originally published under the WildStorm imprint Homage Comics. I’m not sure who keeps asking for these adaptations, but Red was apparently too much for Warner Bros. Making Red a rare DC comics film not distributed by the company. Since I never heard of the 2003 comic, I completely overlooked Red. Even though it looked like another fun action vehicle for Bruce Willis and several other senior celebrities. Since his role in The Expendables was just a cameo, Red was a bigger role for Willis as retired CIA black ops agent Frank Moses. I had no idea Red was an acronym for Retired Extremely Dangerous.
The renamed Moses character was the only carryover from the comic along with the general idea of an older agent getting back in the game. The movie Red is funnier since the idea has too much comedic potential. Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren are all given over-the-top action scenes despite their advanced age. Although their varying screen time is falsely advertised. Moses lives a boring life where his only highlight is calling a call center to talk to his attractive crush Sarah Ross played by Mary-Louise Parker. She gets involved when an attempt is made on his life. Willis’ most crazy action scenes involve walking out of a spinning car and blowing someone up. Freeman has the most limited screen time since Moses’ former mentor Joe Matheson is believed to be dead.
Malkovich is of course the more insane CIA agent Marvin Boggs who is paranoid about the government. He stops a rocket launcher with a bullet and straps a bomb to his chest. Deadly MI6 assassin Victoria Winslow is a late arrival, but nothing beats seeing Mirren casually use a mounted machine gun. Karl Urban is the much younger current CIA agent William Cooper tasked with taking them down. His actions seem villainous, but he’s not the true villain. Doctor Doom himself Julian McMahon is a corrupt Vice President, but really it’s Rebecca Pidgeon as a high ranking CIA supervisor or Richard Dreyfuss as an arms dealer. This was a rare appearance from Dreyfuss alongside fellow older actors like Ernest Borgnine, James Remar, or Brian Cox as a retired Russian agent. Red proves you’re never too old to kick ass.
Victoria and Marvin lock and load
Followed by: Red 2
The Losers is either generic action or dumb fun. Between The A-Team and The Expendables, 2010 was practically the year of elite special operatives. The difference is The Losers is based on a lesser known Vertigo comic book series. The 2003 storyline was also a reimagining of an even more obscure 1969 war comic of the same name. The Losers were originally a patriotic Military unit before being changed to a more diverse Special Forces team. I’m not sure who was asking for a movie, but it did nothing to boost their appeal. I didn’t go to see The Losers, because I had no idea it was in any way connected to DC comics. The Losers uses comic book visuals in the opening and has an overall light hearted feel with a fast pace.
Although PG-13, the explosive violence and sexuality might’ve worked better with an R rating. Fantastic Four director Tim Story was initially committed to The Losers, but the job went to Sylvain White instead. The Losers include the Comedian, Bloodsport, Captain America, and Gamora. Sometimes I’m surprised just how many actors continue to take comic book roles throughout their career. The Losers actually consist of: Clay, Roque, Jensen, Pooch, Cougar, and Aisha. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the laid back leader Clay, Idris Elba is the volatile knife specialist Roque, Chris Evans is the computer hacking comic relief Jensen, Columbus Short is the vehicle driving family man Pooch, and Óscar Jaenada is the sniper who rarely talks Cougar.
When the Losers are declared dead, they seek revenge on corrupt Government arms dealer Max played by a very annoying Jason Patric. Out of all the team members, Evans stands out the most with his hit or miss jokes and moments like singing along to “Don’t Stop Believin’.” The second most stand out character is the untrustworthy Aisha played by a tough and sexy Zoe Saldaña. Aisha joins the team and has a steamy romance with Clay, but there are a surprising amount of twists and turns. Although I can appreciate the non-stop action, The Losers is more loser than winner.
A History of Violence packs a lot of violence in a short amount of time. In only 1 hour and 36 minutes, David Cronenberg manages to show the nature of violence and how it affects everyone differently. There’s no body horror, but deaths are just as gory and realistic as anything in Cronenberg’s early work. Surprisingly, it was actually my parents who recommended A History of Violence. They quote the movie a lot, but I was just as interested in the fact that it’s another unconventional film based on a graphic novel. Just like Road to Perdition, A History of Violence is based on a gritty black & white comic from the DC comics imprint Paradox Press (and later Vertigo). The movie was such an improvement that it was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. A History of Violence is also notable for being the last movie released on VHS.
Like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, A History of Violence is distributed by New Line Cinema, scored by Howard Shore, and stars Viggo Mortensen. Mortensen plays unassuming family man Tom Stall from a small town in Indiana. Maria Bello plays his devoted wife Edie who memorably spices up their marriage by wearing a cheerleader outfit. Ashton Holmes plays his good natured son Jack who gets pushed around at school by bullies. The most his youngest daughter Sarah has to deal with are nightmares about monsters. The opening introduces two depraved criminals who make the mistake of holding up Tom’s diner. Mortensen can play the nice guy, but I buy him even more as a tough guy. Tom’s ability to kill without hesitation reveals a history of violence that he’s kept hidden.
When he becomes a local hero, it gains the attention of a Philadelphia mob boss from his past. Ed Harris is both mysterious and sinister as the one eyed Carl Fogarty who reveals Tom’s true identity to be violent gangster Joey Cusack. Jack chooses violence like his father at school and Fogarty is killed not long after threatening their family. Edie grows distant, but her hatred for Joey ends in passionate lovemaking. The final loose end is Joey’s wealthy gangster brother Richie. In only 8 minutes of screentime, William Hurt gives a Best Supporting Actor worthy performance. Richie shows a wide range of emotion and his frustration is surprisingly funny. It’s a pivotal scene that leads to an ambiguous ending where no dialogue is necessary. A History of Violence is refreshingly simple with a thought-provoking message.
Tom Stall kills two criminals in his diner
Undercover Brother 2 is all kinds of awful. This is a blaxploitation parody of an early 2000’s comedy set in the late 2010’s. It still feels PG-13, but they only make it R by dropping at least 2 F bombs. Undercover Brother is a forgotten gem, but no one was begging for a sequel 17 years later. Which is why Undercover Brother 2 was released direct-to-video with no returning cast members. After Black Dynamite, Michael Jai White seemed like a good replacement for Undercover Brother. Except the sequel is complete false advertisement with White in a coma almost the entire movie.
Instead Undercover Brother’s brother is his far less interesting replacement. The B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. is equally uninteresting with generic substitutes for the original characters. There’s the female Chief Honey, the smart Harvard Brother, conspiracy spreading Sarcastic Brother, white Military Brother, and less easy Unattainable Sistah. Like an unfunny Austin Powers, Undercover Brother and his brother are frozen in 2003 and thawed out 16 years in the future. Social satire worked in the original movie, but there was far too much stupidity in the year 2019.
Whether they’re making fun of it or not, Undercover Brother 2 makes the mistake of incorporating the former and current Presidency, millennials, hipsters, gender politics, modern slang, and a “woke” drug into the plot. Barry Bostwick is revealed to be “The Man” who lost his organization to his gay son Manson who wants the world to be overly sensitive and easily offended. The ending is made anticlimactic in order to make a statement about the police. Undercover Brother 2 is the furthest thing from solid .
Undercover Brother and his brother
Preceded by: Undercover Brother