28 October 2008

Shaun of the Dead

Originally written in October 2004.

Shaun of the Dead

I have seen the best comedy and the best horror movie so far in 2004. Guess what? They're the same film.

Simply put, I loved virtually every frame of Shaun of the Dead. Possessed of a crackling British wit and sharp social commentary, it simultaneously gets big laughs and is a credible entry in the recently revived zombie subgenre.

Many horror films these days play more like comedies, but in those cases we're usually laughing at the movie. In Shaun of the Dead, we're laughing with it.

24 October 2008

The Devil's Rejects

Originally written in July 2005.
The Devil's Rejects

As I write this, it has been about a week since I saw The Devil’s Rejects, writer-director Rob Zombie’s follow-up to his 2003 debut House of 1000 Corpses. The thing is, I liked it—quite a bit, actually—and that thought is a little unnerving and nearly as disturbing as the movie itself.

The Devil’s Rejects is a gritty, mean, violent film in which the only truly sympathetic characters meet horrible ends. The words “protagonist” and “antagonist” are irrelevant. People on both sides torture, kill and mutilate. The only difference is some do it with a smile and one does it out of a bloodlust fueled by vengeance.

22 October 2008

Secret Window

Originally written in March 2004.

Secret Window

The tone of Secret Window, one of the best psychological thrillers in years, is set in a complicated early shot.

The camera glides across a lake, heading toward an isolated cabin in the woods, reaches the shore and continues forward, entering the cabin through a window. Meandering about, it gazes at various rooms and objects, including a laptop computer with a decidedly dull paragraph written on it, before settling on a large mirror. The camera pulls in ever closer until the reflection of a man asleep on a couch has become a real room.

The elaborate staging instantly brings to mind the slick stylization of David Fincher, not surprising considering Secret Window's writer-director, David Koepp, wrote Fincher's Panic Room. The transition through the mirror pulls us inside the world of the film, a world that seems slightly off-kilter compared to our own.

20 October 2008


Originally written in May 2003.


The “twist movie” is always risky. The director and screenwriter must sprinkle it with clues or the twist will come out of nowhere, causing more confusion than surprise (Basic). That's no good.

There should be clues, but they must be subtle enough to elude the audience the first time around. If they are too overt, you and I will put it together and beat the movie to its big reveal (The Life of David Gale). That's no good either.

Ideally, the movie will draw viewers in, make them feel comfortable and appear to be heading in some definite direction. But then it goes somewhere completely different and provides that rare moment of clarity where everything leading up to it comes together in a logical, though unanticipated, conclusion (The Sixth Sense).

14 October 2008


Originally written in April 2006.


With awards season finally in the rearview mirror and some time remaining before the summer blockbusters hit, this is the perfect time for the slimy fun of a movie like Slither. It’s not for everyone, but those who don’t mind a little splatter and gore should find it to be a hoot. It’s noteworthy not just for its lack of scares but for its refusal to try to make moviegoers jump out of their seats. Slither is more comedy than horror, though on some level it is a satisfying entry in both genres.

James Gunn, writer of the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake and both live action Scooby-Doo adventures—how’s that for range?—makes his directorial debut, crafting a love letter to movies like The Thing, George A. Romero’s Dead films and the infamous, campy Troma pictures. As the screenwriter, Gunn also displays a sharp wit executed by a fine group of actors led by Serenity’s Nathan Fillion.

11 October 2008

House of 1000 Corpses

In honor of my favorite holiday, I'll be taking a look back at some of my favorite recent horror/suspense films. This review was originally written in April 2003.
House of 1000 Corpses

“Rated R for strong sadistic violence/gore …” And that’s the MPAA-approved version.

After being dropped by two studios and threatened with an NC-17 rating, Rob Zombie finally welcomes us to his spookshow, House of 1000 Corpses.

Zombie’s directorial debut was shot nearly three years ago on a modest $7 million budget. Universal Studios was first up, but dropped it due to graphic content.

Next was MGM, which picked up the film in early 2002. But by midyear, it had been dropped again, this time because of a comment Zombie made about MGM during an MTV interview. (“Apparently they have no morals over there,” he said. “They're happy for some blood.”)

06 October 2008

The Happening

The Happening

The honeymoon has long been over for filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan. Take a look at the reviews of his latest movie, The Happening, available tomorrow (Oct. 7) on DVD.

With 163 reviews counted, the Web site Rotten Tomatoes calculates only 18 percent are positive. Just 12 percent of 33 "top critics" gave positive reviews.

That's down even from Shyamalan's poorly received fairy tale—and box office flop—Lady in the Water (2006), which has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 24 percent.

The Happening is far from a perfect film, but it's hardly deserving of the vicious reviews it received when it opened in theaters back in June. Many critics seemed to take delight in attacking both the movie and Shyamalan himself:

03 October 2008

Interview: 'Flash of Genius' director Marc Abraham

Marc Abraham, a producer with a long list of credits that includes Children of Men, The Rundown, Bring It On, The Hurricane and Air Force One, makes his directorial debut with Flash of Genius. The movie, starring Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham and Alan Alda, is based on the true story of Dr. Robert Kearns, a college engineering professor who, in the 1960s, created and patented the intermittent windshield wiper only to have Ford and other automakers steal his design. Undaunted, he took them to court and, though it took years and the strain on his family was great, he eventually won millions.

I had the opportunity to interview Abraham last month when he was in Easton, Md., for the movie’s premiere on opening night of the first-ever Chesapeake Film Festival.

Marc Abraham

Greg Maki: You’ve been a producer for a number of years. Were you looking to direct a movie or was it this in particular that made you say, “I want to direct?”

Flash of Genius

Flash of Genius

Were it fiction, Flash of Genius would be a hard movie to wrap your head around. But that’s a problem it doesn’t have to face and its true story, filmed and acted with great skill, has an uncommon poignancy.

In 1967, Dr. Robert Kearns (Greg Kinnear), a college professor, family man and part-time inventor, creates and patents what would seem to be the most mundane of inventions — the intermittent windshield wiper.He takes the invention to Ford, which immediately strikes a deal with him and brings him on as a consultant. Eighteen months later, the deal is off.

A few years go by before Kearns sees a car—a Ford—with windshield wipers obviously using his “Kearns Blinking Eye Motor.” Without hesitation, he takes on the daunting task of suing the Ford Motor Company for patent infringement.