Friday, May 28, 2010

REVIEW: The Harder They Come

The Harder They Come
Director: Perry Henzell
Year 1972

The Harder They Come is an impressive and intimate film about a young Jamaican man named Ivan Martin, played by an outstanding Jimmy Cliff, who decides to move out of the country and into the city. He arrives in the big city of Kingston with dreams of making a name for himself in the bustling reggae music scene, but comes to find that life can quickly spin out of control and fame definitely has a price. This movie is one of Jamaica's most accomplished films and it really gives us an inside look into the poverty stricken life that Ivan struggles with on a daily basis. That's one of the most appealing aspects of this film. I love the raw nature of the piece as it revels in all its gritty detail and dire consequences.

Ivan day dreams of being a reggae star.

After coming to the realization that it isn't so easy to get your foot in the door in the music industry, Ivan is forced to deal drugs to make ends meet and he begins to get involved with a not so kind hearted group of friends. This effect that the darker side of society seems to have on Ivan, starts to fester as the film moves along and his once innocent persona begins to be tarnished by the corruption of the poverty filled society and the idea of doing whatever it takes to survive and make a name for himself. The struggles that Ivan endures throughout the film is a testament to the realism that director Perry Henzell brings to this story. Everything on screen seems believable and you don't question if this is indeed how Jamaican society had worked during the 70's. The narrative just seems to suck you right in and you accept the rules and details that are thrown at you.

Domino mother fucka!

Jimmy Cliff does an amazing job with his character of Ivan and you can really feel the longing that he has in wanting to be a musician and get his record played on the air. Cliff plays Ivan with a soft and curious exterior in the beginnings of the film, but as his character is tested and his moral fibers brought to the brink, we are given a deeper view into what makes Ivan tick and we're shown a man that is instinctively reacting to the constant threat of his dreams being destroyed. He's a sympathetic character, even if he later proves to have some darker tendencies and violent inclinations, because at the heart of his  beliefs he just wants to get his message across and place his name in history through the act of music. His intentions are so genuine and pure at the beginning of this film, that we forgive his many faults and understand that he is living in a hard world that is very unforgiving, even on the innocent souls that inhabit it.

Ivan finds the perfect accessory for his Rock Band party.

The locations and overall look of the film is absolutely outstanding. Some may think the gritty and washed out look of the film is amateurish and possibly pedestrian, but I think it adds to the charm of the film and helps us to be transported to this lifestyle that not many people are accustomed too. Like many films from the 70's, I'm really drawn to the washed out colors and abundance of warm hues that come from this era of filmmaking. With these kind of films, the believability of the tonal elements help bring the realism of the narrative to life and blows absolutely anything that has been recently filmed out of the water when it comes to replicating the feeling of real life.

The glossy look of the new films tend to bend towards the CGI aspects of filmmaking and to my eye, this is far from replicating life, so I've always felt that the 70's era of cinema always seemed like the most true representation of the gritty and imperfect world that we live in. This time period just produces films that are so substantial and steeped in realism. The Harder They Come makes good use of their locations and budget, by filming right in the heart of where their story is taking place. We have no sound stages or hollywood film lots, just the living breathing thing and nothing can be better then that.

Could you please pull over. My ass is killing me.

The violence that is portrayed on the screen is quite visceral and is thrown in your face, not for shock value or exploitive purposes, but to get the point across that this world that Ivan inhabits, tends to be quite violent and dangerous. The film shows that the danger is not necessarily in the threat of ones life, but the inclination that a person has to be drawn into a moral descent where their beliefs are being corrupted at the sake of their survival. We watch as Ivan becomes more and more like the people he hangs around with and the situations that he gets involved with are all the result of the company he keeps. His pivotal stabbing of a man shows this horrible descent in vivid detail and this one act helps propel his character into a realm that he never believed he'd be in both with fame and infamy.

I'll cut you man! I'll cut you!

The soundtrack to this film is phenomenal and if you're at all into reggae, you will be in heaven. Jimmy Cliff lends his expressive vocals to many of the tracks and we're also given some great songs by various reggae artisans. The music in this film, really paints a clear picture for the movie and sets it in its own setting and place in time. The tone and atmosphere are changed by the rhythmic beats and it truly sets the story apart from anything outside of the Jamaican culture. The music is so steeped in tradition and the native culture, that it helps with gauging the audience in the life of Ivan and helping us believe that he is a real person with a family and history like anyone else outside of the celluloid frame. Overall the music transports us to a place that feels tangible and gives an enormous amount of credibility to the narrative, setting up a world that thrives in abounding authenticity. 

The hills are alive, with the sound of reggae.

The Harder They Come also deals with the corruption that lies within the music industry in this region and place in time. The record company that allows Ivan to have a recording session, begins exploiting him for money and then later exploiting his infamous status as a cop killer and political hero. No publicity is bad publicity, is a perfect line for Ivan's situation, because the more crimes that he commits and the more his name is being thrown around in separate circles, the more his legend begins to grow until it begins to spin wildly out of control, allowing people to begin making their own depictions of his character and morality. It's interesting how the assumptions of others can change how the world views us and our actions, even if they were done out of pure survival and innocent intent. This film balances some pretty heavy concepts and pulls it off rather nicely while letting us follow the complicated life of Ivan Martin.

Ivan is one cool mother. Shut your mouth! I'm just talking about Ivan.

The metamorphosis of Ivan's character is very interesting to see unfold. He starts out as a quiet and almost timid country boy and then proceeds to change into a more outspoken and cocky individual as his record career begins to ignite. His appearance even changes as he ditches his old threads for a new and more flashy look, leaving his old life behind and embracing the new and robust lifestyle of a musician. This film can even be pegged as a coming of age tale for Ivan. He begins to mimic the artists that he idolized as a young and impressionable youth, taking on a larger then life persona. This same mimicry, is reflected in the closing moments of this film, when Ivan comes out with two guns in hand in a standoff against the police, like a scene that he saw earlier in the film at a movie theater where a gunslinging hero takes on an army of bad guys. I almost feel that by the end of the film, Ivan had lost all sense of reality and was living in some kind of fantasy world where in his mind he was practically invincible. It's interesting to think about and whether it's true or not, you can't deny that the filmmakers have done a wonderful job in making a film that can be taken in so many different ways.

Your beard is enchanting.

The beliefs and morals of Ivan's character are worn on his sleeve and embedded in his lyrics. He sings them with pride and gives such a charismatic edge to his potent words, that it's unsurprising that the community in this film take his lyrics to heart and find strength within them. Even when he accidently murders a cop while defending himself, the community rallies behind him. Not everyone is on his side though and people that he affiliated himself with in the early parts of the story decide on turning him over to the cops, in fear of repercussions from the powers that be. One man in particular that Ivan thought was his friend, betrayed him and this cowardice act effects Ivan in so many ways, and makes him into the person that he is by the end of the film. Ivan says in his hit song, "I'd rather be a free man in my grave than living as a puppet or a slave". With this statement, he makes it his mission in life to pay back the man that manipulated him and eventually sold him to the cops. It's a nice small dosage of a revenge film thrown into the mix and it plays off nicely, giving Ivan an injection of strength and pride throughout the community and thereby solidifying his supporters beliefs that he is truly a political hero.

Good, Bad.. I'm the guy with the gun.

As Ivan's infamous status begins to rise, the film shifts gears into almost gangster type territory, shadowing movies like Goodfellas, Casino, and even Scarface, where the main hero of the story isn't exactly a good guy but we root for them anyway. There's some valid points in comparing The Harder They Come with Al Pacino's classic film Scarface, because both Tony Montana and Ivan Martin come from poor backgrounds and then after involving themselves in the drug trade, they become infamous men. There's also a certain style that both films share that are only separated by the cultures that each film inhabit. Both are visceral films that thrive on the charisma of their main character and rely on the gritty content of the story to pass off as believable to the audience.

Ivan is styling and profiling.

Jimmy Cliff's portrayal of Ivan's descent into the crime world is played with stark realism and respectful affirmation to his characters validity. Never does he stray into campy trappings or over cliched stereotypes. He always presents Ivan as a grounded person who is dealing with the situations that are being thrown at him in a natural and believable way. In keeping the story centralized on Ivan's character, the director was able to allow Jimmy to focus in on what drives Ivan and also allowed him to flesh out the man behind the legendary status. Ivan's tale is larger then life, but we never feel like his character has outgrown the trappings of his environment or that he has unexpectedly fallen into a parody of his former self. The straightforwardness of Jimmy Cliff's performance is without question, one of the high points of this film and in my opinion, one of its many saving graces.

It's Ivan's yearbook picture. It was a tough school.

Like all good antiheroes who try to reach for the stars only to go too far, Ivan becomes his own enemy throwing caution to the wind and challenging the world to take him on. His larger then life ego has sent him on a journey that he cannot come back from and the only way out is in a blaze of glory. The climax is rather sudden in this film and you'll be kind of shocked that it ends on such an abrupt moment, but I think it works perfectly for the kind of story that was being told. We've followed with Ivan's character almost exclusively and it seems perfectly fit to cut to black after Ivan's story comes to a close. We need no explanation on what else happened or how everyone else's lives are wrapped up in the world. The only thing that matters is how Ivan's infamous journey ended and I think it concluded on a satisfactory note resembling the realism that proceeded up until that final point. It's a special tale and I wouldn't change a thing.

Quiet. Ivan is hunting Jamaican pigs.

The Harder They Come is a film that is in a class of its own. It has many elements from various movies, but what holds it all together and gives it a voice of its own is the amazing portrayal of Jimmy Cliff's Ivan and the miraculous soundtrack. Cliff's vocals resonate a sound of victory and hope, one that unfortunately for his character was never able to obtain for his life got caught up in the darker counterparts of society. The cautionary tale of obtaining fame and the consequences that come with it are seen and heard loud and clear and the filmmakers created quite a spectacle that still hasn't been topped in its native country. This classic film is a beacon to those who have a dream and have the desire and fortitude to follow through with it, even if it doesn't end up in the way that you'd hoped, at least you can say that, "I'd rather be a free man in my grave than living as a puppet or a slave." No truer words have been said to better summarize the essence of Ivan Martin's story of his quick rise and inevitable fall from grace. This is a must for any cinema fan.

4 out of 5 stars     Jamaica's Character Driven Masterpiece!

TITLE SEQUENCE: The Harder They Come

In honor of my upcoming trip to Jamaica, I've decided to talk about one of Jamaica's finest films, the 1972 masterpiece The Harder They Come. First up is the wonderful title sequence that gives us a beautiful look at the countryside of this unique nation that's abundant with culture and brimming with astounding visuals. The Harder They Come is directed by Jamaica native Perry Henzell and stars musical sensation Jimmy Cliff as an aspiring musician named Ivanhoe Martin, whose desperate to make it in the music business. I'll be putting up the full review later tonight, but for now check out the opening title sequence from The Harder They Come.

REVIEW: The Champions

The Champions
Director: Brandy Yuen
Year 1983

The Champions is a marvelously fun sports film with a huge emphasis on comedy, brought to us by Hong Kong director Brandy Yuen. The film stars Biao Yuen as an accident prone nobody that, because of a series of random events, becomes somewhat of a soccer elite among the ranks of a Hong Kong futbol league. It's abundantly enjoyable to watch Yuen's character, named Lee Tong, as he stumbles from one hairy situation to the next until he begins to master everything the film throws at him and in doing so establishes himself as a convincing lead and an expert player. I had a lot of fun with this film and truthfully wasn't expecting to be this blown away by this unknown soccer movie.

Biao Yuen walking the lonely streets of loneliness. Damn that's lonely.

The film starts out with Yuen's character, Lee Tong, performing in an event that asks the participants to run an obstacle course with their hands tied together while racing to the end of the gauntlet to obtain a small ball. During this exciting scene, Yuen's character accidently blemishes the honor of one of the participants and the entire crowd chases him home threatening to beat him silly. After his blunder, Lee is forced to flee his home and start a new life in another town, but things don't plan out like he hoped, for when he arrives he makes another social faux pas that sends his life into another chaotic mess.

Lee accidently makes a pro soccer player, Mr. Captain Fantastic or otherwise known as Mr. King, look like an ass when he clumsily runs into the famed futbol player and embarrasses him during a hilarious encounter that leaves King feeling like a fool. This random encounter soon sets up events that will come into play later on in the film. King is played by Dick Wei, whose character is a wonderful prick and the kind of person that is the complete opposite of Yuen's character Lee. Wei does an excellent job in playing a guy that you can't help but hate. He's been in a handful of great movies either playing a bit part or high profile character, but he always seems to give it his all. Some of his credits include The Prodigal Son, The Winners and Sinners films, Project A, Eastern Condors, and Mr. Canton and Lady Rose (otherwise known as The Canton Godfather or Miracles). These are all amazing flicks and it's quite an impressive resume that Wei has gathered throughout his career. In my opinion, his role in The Champions is by far his greatest effort and he really leaves an impression when performing the role of the total douche. 

Kwok Keung Cheung making Yuen an offer he can't refuse.

This film is carried by the more then capable shoulders of Yuen, but he's not alone in bringing this story to life. He's accompanied by an unlikely friend in the form of a young man named Suen, played by a charismatic Kwok Keung Cheung. Cheung does a tremendous job in this film playing the reliable companion and he presents some highly entertaining moments and comedic driven performances that really stand out in this film. I haven't seen too many films of his, but I'm looking forward to searching through his canon of roles and finding some more outstanding performances like the one he gives us in The Champions.

Both Suen and Lee meet after a misunderstanding that occurs when Yuen first arrives into town. They later clash again and surprisingly become friends after Suen encourages Lee to join his amateur soccer team. This is where the film really begins to pick up and we're treated to some spectacularly entertaining sequences that show one of the most brutal soccer games in the history of the sport. The match turns into a prison brawl where anything goes and penalties are a forgotten concept. The action is filmed superbly by Brandy Yuen and you really get a sense of being there, right in the thick of the confrontation. This is achieved by director Yuen's decision to film very low to the action and get right in to the fray. Legs and limbs flail, as random bodies struggle to reach the ball first and place it past the goalies impenetrable hands. The sequence is a gem and just one of many in this fantastic and unfortunately unknown film.

Let's get ready to RUMBLE!

The mixture of comedy and action throughout the film is a refreshing blend and it's all executed in an extremely entertaining way. I found myself having a permanent smile plastered on my face as each sequence played out. I give most of the credit to both Yuen and Cheung, because they work so well with each other and they have such a great report with one another that it makes every sequence that they're involved together, worth the price of admission. Their stand against the entire opposing team, after their own teammates abandon them, is just great and shows the early stages of their friendship and how they will watch each others back later on.

Things go a little to far when the skins team decide to drop their pants!

This film has many intricate aspects to it, giving us various events that effect the outcome of the future in unsuspecting ways.  When Suen and Lee decide to try out for the local professional futbol team, Lee is met with a shocking realization that the same man that he had bumped into earlier in the film, is in fact the captain of the squad that he is trying out for and one of the main judges at the tryouts. After another misunderstanding during the practice, Lee is mistakenly chosen to be on the team, even without showing any of his skill with a soccer ball. King is furious with this decision and vows to make Lee's life a living hell as long as he's on his team. There are so many misunderstandings that Lee's character gets himself into, but this reoccurring theme never gets stale or outgrows its welcome. The filmmakers always seem to introduce the mishaps with fresh and new approaches and we as the audience never get the impression that they're beating a dead horse with this repeating concept.

Well don't you all look spiffy in your sailor themed soccer uniforms.

After being banished to the position of the team ball boy, Lee begins to study the other players as they practice and he starts to build up his skills on his own. There is an especially wonderful scene where the rest of the team has ended their practice and Lee is sent to pick up the field and gather all of the balls. He does this, but in the most dazzling manner as he proceeds to kick all of the balls into the basket with some rather impressive moves. I know a lot of these tricks can be created with some premeditated camera work and editing, but some of these moves take a great amount of skill and Yuen pulls them off with ease. After watching many of his films where he displayed his acrobatic skills with such prowess and commanded such an impressive fighting style, I had no idea that he also had some sweet soccer moves.

Biao Yuen has the skills to pay the bills.

The plot begins to thicken as we're shown that captain fantastic isn't all that he's cracked up to be and we're shown that he participates in fixing the matches, even going so far as to fake an injury so that Lee can be substituted into the match. At this point in the film, no one on the team has witnessed Lee's skills, so they all assume that he sucks pretty bad, but you know what happens when you assume. You make an ass out of U and Me. Lee ignites on the soccer field and quickly scores his first goal, sending the rest of his teammates to stand and stare in shock. These moments when Lee is unleashed onto the field are special and are plotted out with such magical glory filled moments, that parallel the fantastic sights of the 2001 film Shaolin Soccer, only scaled down to reality. 

Bench-warmer Yuen craps his pants in anticipation of being put in the game.

After surprising everyone with his tremendous skill and winning the game for his team, his teammates are less then thrilled with his antics. They all have a stake in the fixed game and they thank Lee appropriately enough with a full on beating in the locker room after the game. Lee fends off his attackers and escapes with his life only to now be a player without a team. The film tackles some pretty interesting issues like for instance the corruption that can turn a great game like futbol into a political farce of scoundrels and betting fools. I love how they approached this material, starting out with a fairly light comedic flavor and then they slowly begin delving into the unpleasantness of fixed games and false heroes. It gives the film a meaty structure and provides the narrative with many layers for it to work with in the entire scheme of the story. It's rather impressive for what seemed at first as a fun comedic sports romp.

We want you! We want you! We want you for the new recruit!

Yuen's character, once cast from his old and corrupt team, finds another club that will take him in and this one seems to be the real deal and plays for the sheer love of the game and not for the politics and money of it. They even recruit Lee's friend Suen and the two of them become renown in the league and begin racking up the goals, propelling their team to the number one spot. At the heart of this film is a believable underdog story, following the rise of both Lee and Suen as they prove everyone wrong and slowly become one of the most respected soccer players in their junket. The growth and journey that the two main characters take is inspiring and it's a joy to watch.

Alright, let's stop meditating and get to practicing some soccer.

Even though the film steps over into some darker territory, as things begin to heat up with several attempts on both Lee and Suen's life in the wake of their success, we are given some memorable comedic scenes in which the light hardiness of the film begins to shine through again. The contrast between these opposing moments are quite interesting and should be rather jarring for the audience, yet they seem naturally placed and never appear to displace the viewer from the story.

One of these comedic turns occur when Lee and Suen decide to barge in on King's turf at a disco that he often frequents. They proceed to outshine him in every way possible, by smoking bigger cigars, having more women around them as entourages, and even sporting the bigger bling as they reflect their diamonds, blinding King as he tries to ignore their attempts to fluster him. This all leads up to an epic dance off that even Dancing With the Stars would praise for its effort and flare. The comedy is spot on and works so well in this scene that you can't help put get caught up in the goofy fun. It's just one of the many things that seem to work so well in this film.

Step up bitch! Bring it! (Insert cliched dance off quote here.)

Tensions flare as Lee and Suen's team face off against King's team in a grudge match to prove once and for all, who the better team is. This is a pretty good finale as sports films go, with all the characters putting it on the line in the name of pride to show who can come out on top. The film's done a tremendous job in building our anticipation for this match and as all sports movies go, we wait for the big payoff and we're fortunately not let down. There's some pulse pounding sequences in this pinnacle match where we aren't sure who is going to win and how they're going to pull it off. There's also many twists and turns which send the audience in a loop over what the outcome will be. It's a testament to the director's patience in being able to weave this story that we are now so invested in and a commendable and believable performance by the two lead characters that have made us believe in them up until this point. Needless to say the film succeeds in making us care for the outcome of this climactic match.

Who just farted?

It naturally comes down to just one moment in time, where everything hinges on one play that could make or break the team of our two heroes. The filmmakers do an excellent job in making us feel the impact of this moment and we really get a great sense of urgency that is essential and strongly needed for this suspenseful moment. The entire film is a perfect balance of so many diverse elements. The comedy, the action, and the drama are so expertly balanced that I was quite taken aback at how well they pulled it off. For a film that I had never heard of in my life and one that I had to hunt down over a course of many days, I wasn't expecting much in the form of cohesive narrative and emotional pull, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a film that delivered on all fronts. This is definitely a movie that rewards the viewer in every way possible and projects a sense of fun that is few and far between in this cinematic age.

Suen admits that he did indeed fart.

The Champions is an excellent portrayal of the classic underdog story with enough essential elements within the narrative to satisfy any discerning sports film fan. I went into this film, just hoping to see a few random moments of fun and maybe a single scene of greatness, but what I came away with was a completely fleshed out story that had depth and heart, and enough entertaining qualities that it makes the entire run time of this film fly by. Biao Yuen and Kwok Keung Cheung are the heart and soul of this film and their friendship portrayed in this film is reminiscent of some of the classic buddy films that have come out throughout the years. Their honest approach to the material and straightforward performances make their characters and their intentions both intriguing and sympathetic, giving us someone to truly root for and believe in.

This is one of the finest comedy sports films that I have witnessed in recent years and I'm putting it right up their with Shaolin Soccer as one of the most entertaining soccer movies out of China and even the world. I highly recommend this one for any futbol fan or asian cinema lover, because their truly is something for everyone within this film.

4 out of 5 stars          A Great Unknown Soccer Gem!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

REVIEW: Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead
Director: George Romero
Year 1985

Day of the Dead is as near to perfection as you can get in the zombie genre. The setting for this morbid tale of the rising of the dead is placed in a time period well after the first initial corpses began coming to life and now the entire world has become one great big tombstone. The direction, acting, and tone of the film is played deadly straight and it pays off in so many ways. In his commendable efforts, George Romero brings us a film that never falls into camp and is infused with such darkness and despair that it never lets go of its death hold on the audience. It also doesn't hurt that Romero provides us with a stunning cast that fit perfectly within their roles. By the end of the film you won't be able to imagine anyone else playing their individual iconic parts and you wouldn't really want to for that matter. The world that these characters inhabit is a dismal one to say the least and each actor steps up to the plate to drive that concept home. This is not a world that you would want to live in, but one that you'd love to visit on the cinematic screen.

Now that's what I call some scary ass 3D!

Right from the start of this film, we are shown the frightening reality of what the world has become under the death ridden reign of the zombie hordes. The beginning sequence that George Romero plots out is absolutely stunning and it instantly brings you into the story and into these characters lives. We watch as a single helicopter sets down upon a desolate street, filled with the debris of a world torn in two, and out come two people as they desperately begin calling for survivors. They are met with silence, but as they call on they are answered by the mournful moans of countless zombies, starving for their flesh. The tone is very present with this beginning sequence and we are introduced, right off the bat, on what to expect throughout the entire run of this film.

This is one of my absolute favorite scenes in any film and if the movie would have stopped after this epic introduction, I would still hold Day of the Dead as one of the best zombie films around, it's that good. The way the characters react to landing on the outskirts of the city limits and how they are so on edge, is just beautifully portrayed and the build up that Romero creates with the empty streets slowly being filled with the walking dead is just breathtaking to say the least. I went through the trouble to collect most of the iconic shots throughout this sequence, because anything I type wouldn't be able to do this scene justice. Check out one of the most accomplished zombie scenes in horror cinema history.

Characters are an essential key in the success of this film and one of the most interesting and original ones of the bunch is the character of Sarah, played by Pittsburgh native and all around kick ass chick, Lori Cardille. In fact the majority of the cast and film crew consisted of Pittsburgh filmmakers and if this was just a taste of what they were able to accomplish with such unknown talent, I wonder what other gems they could have churned out given another chance. With the character of Sarah, we are given a strong female lead that is dealing with the recent zombie epidemic in the only way she can without losing her mind. She comes off as a hardened woman after the audience is given an inside look into her personal life, when a verbal fight breaks out between her and her male companion Miquel, played by the nicest guy in the world, Anthony Dileo Jr. He drives the fact home that she's the only one that seems to not be cracking under the pressure. At the time he seems right, but as the film goes on we come to find that Sarah's character is as human as the next person, scared shitless at the prospect of a world filled with all but the dead.

I actually had the pleasure of talking with Anthony for a bit about his role in this film and I even got a chance to recite some of his classic lines from Day of the Dead like, "Collapsing from stress. This whole fucking unit is collapsing from stress." and "Everyone but you. So what! So fucking what!" and the ever immortal line "Let go of the goddamn pole!" The guy is modest as hell and he couldn't believe that people actually remember his lines and hold his character with such high regard. I for one love what he brought to Miguel's persona and I believe the film wouldn't be the same without is tremendous efforts in making an incredibly exciting and wholly believable character. Anthony Dileo, you rock!

Anthony is the man! So what... so fucking what?!?!

Here's me meeting the man! Let go of my goddamn neck!

The old saying, "location, location, location", never rang more true then with this film. That idea of, location is everything, is displayed with an absolutely surreal and isolated real world set, scoring the film an otherworldly underground military facility as its backdrop. This real life mine, called Wampum mine, is a now debunked limestone mine that is located on the outskirts of the Pittsburgh area. This location is a perfect setting for the overbearing isolation that the characters must deal with as they struggle to survive in a world that is not longer theirs. The vistas within this mine are amazing and the sheer size of the underground complex is mind boggling. The combination of the imagery of the mines and the post apocalyptic concept of the zombie outbreak is a perfect fit and melds into a very believable location for our story to take place.

Steel, played by a pissed off Gary Howard Klar,
calls for the zombies to come out and play!

The caliber of characters in this film is unparalleled by any horror movie of its kind. This is one thing that George Romero does so extremely well and that is to create some interesting and cherished characters that leave an impression on you, compelling the story to move forward. One of just many of the standout performances in this film, is brought to us by a man by the name of Captain Rhodes, played by another Pittsburgh native, Joseph Pilato. Here he plays the role of the biggest asshole in the world and he does it with absolute perfection. He's the guy that you love to hate and he performs his role with such zeal and ravenous fury that it's hard not to be swept up in his impassioned speeches about shooting the mothers in the head and blowing this popsicle stand. Captain Rhodes represents the military might of the two separate groups of people that inhabit the dark caves of the underground facility. Like most of Romero's dead films, the main threat to the survivors are each other, and this film doesn't stray from that tried and true method.

Joseph Pilato's performance is outstanding, and his character of Rhodes has since gone down in history as one of the biggest pricks to ever grace the living dead series of films. I'm a huge fan of his and I've enjoyed all of his various roles throughout his career. The highlights are his starring role in the Pittsburgh horror film Effects and his bit parts in George Romero's other films Dawn of the Dead and Knightriders. The guy is a class act and I only wish that he had more credits to his name because he really deserves to be seen more often.

Are you reading this review or are you all just jerking each other off?

Another aspect of this film that makes it a full blown zombie classic, is the atmospheric music provided by John Harrison. He brings some surprisingly unorthodox themes and sounds to the soundtrack of Day of the Dead, combining caribbean style instruments with haunting synthesized ambience that works with unexpected and often marvelous results. It should be no real shock because he's churned out some similarly spectacular soundtracks for George Romero in both his Creepshow films. He was also the man responsible for creating the atmospheric tracks heard in the Pittsburgh horror flick Effects, the same film Joseph Pilato starred in, so he knows his way around a horror film and he knows what works and what it takes to create that creepy vibe. The compositions that he has built for Day of the Dead, vary in their complexity and style, yet all of these diverse themes blend within the context of the story and definitely set a tone for the film to place its foundation on. I absolutely love what he came up with for the sound scape of this movie and it is a rather interesting listen that expertly compliments the images that Romero has so diligently crafted. 

Well that's just mean man. It's mean.

There are so many memorable characters in this film, like I said before, and another fine addition to the cornucopia of survivors is Dr. Logan or otherwise known as Dr. Frankenstein, played by a delightfully mad Richard Liberty. This isn't the first time that he's been in a George Romero film. He played a fatherly figure to a young Lynn Lowry in the 1973 film The Crazies. Richard did a great job in that film, but his performance in Day of the Dead puts that one to shame. He plays one of the most demented scientists in the history of cinema, experimenting on zombies by lopping off their limbs and tinkering with their brains, he's one sick puppy. The scenes where he shows up are entertaining as hell and he really has a commanding presence in this film. He always seems teetering on the brink of madness, with an excited and jittery manner to his expressions, always eager to get his point across. Richard Liberty does an amazing job, going above and beyond the normal shtick of a mad scientist and gives us a frighteningly intimate portrayal of a genius mind that has snapped under the pressures of trying to understand a phenomenon that can't be understood.

Oh Frankenstein, you mad bastard!

The real treat of having all of these interesting and diversely unique characters is having them interact with each other and Romero never wastes the opportunity to let them butt heads over what to do about their horrible predicament. We're given some highly entertaining conversations and conflicts between the two factions as they argue over whether to stick it out in the underground facility or take their chances above ground. It's intriguing to see tempers flare as the tension between the group threatens to overtake their senses and plunge them into a battle of the living against the living. That always present theme of the living are more dangerous then the dead, runs rampant in these heated debates and it's easy to see that this current style of living is going to end badly for everyone.

Romero really did an amazing job with the direction and editing of these scenes and in my eyes they are done to perfection. I have even payed homage to this very scene by reenacting one of the main branches of conversation while playing all of the characters, I'm that impressed by the scene. It's below the image of the tensioned filled meeting scene. It's one of those moments that everything seems to fit into place and you can find no faults with what you are seeing on screen. It's just really enjoyable and well paced and I believe it is one of George Romero's greatest accomplishments to date and quite a milestone in his career.

Everyone dreamed of sitting at the cool table with John the Jamaican. 

If you thought that I'd covered all of the iconic characters in this film, you'd be dead wrong, because I haven't even covered one of the main stars of this film, Bub. Bub is a zombie unlike any zombie that we've ever seen in a George Romero movie up unitl this point. Romero has decided with this character, to switch up the formula a bit and add a little something different to the equation. He gives us a zombie that isn't in the same vein as the normal type, by giving him a unique personality and fleshing out what actually happens to the undead after they pass over to this other more hideous form. I for one wish that he would have stuck to the old concepts of zombies are dead walking corpses that only get dumber and more decomposed as the years carry on, but what he did with Bub actually doesn't bug me at all. He gives us enough reasons to care about Bub, that it only feels natural for us the viewer to want to see him succeed in breaking his ravenous ways and have his savage heart tamed. Even if it does all seem futile in the greater scope of all things.

Sherman Howard plays the intellectual zombie of sorts and does it with such compassion and delicate charm, that it really is hard to not believe in the practices of Dr. Frankenstein, even if he is crazy as a loon. Through Howard's performance, he has created a character that has reached cult status among the horror crowd and one that should stand the test of time as being one of the most memorable and misunderstood monsters alongside some of the greats like Boris Karloff's legendary monster himself.

Go ahead Rhodes, make my day!

I really believe that Sarah's character was way ahead of her time. The things that she goes through and the emotional roller coaster that she endures throughout this film is exceptional. Her character has been through so much, even before the main credits began to pop up, and I've always wondered what her and Miguel had been like before the shit hit the fan and the zombies began rising up. The very fact that I ponder that is a rather large statement on how well they developed her character and how intriguing they have made her.

When watching the film, I always felt that she was a real flesh and blood person, and Lori has some amazing scenes in here that really seem ahead of its time in places. She's both tough as nails yet so fragile, having been put through hell and trying to be strong for both her and her broken boyfriend. Sarah's character is not a but kicking bad ass in an action movie, but a normal highly intelligent woman put in extraordinary circumstances and dealing with them the best way she can. This humanistic struggle makes her all the more compelling and sympathetic. She's been pushing herself to the limit trying to figure out a solution to the epidemic and all the while fighting the ever nagging notion that it's all really for nothing in the end. It's great to see her struggle with all that is put in her way and we as the audience really get a sense of authenticity in her performance and in doing so it lifts up the believability of their situation and the entire premise of the film.

Nothing like barbecuing your boyfriends infected arm to get the blood flowing.

Now let's not forget about the zombies! The zombie effects in this film are top notch and rivaled only by the masterfully creepy effects of the Night of the Living Dead remake from 1990. It's like a night to day comparison when glancing at Romero's previous zombie film, Dawn of the Dead, where they just had blue faces and not a scratch upon their decomposed flesh. In this film, we've got scabs and opened wounds, and zombies completely covered in filth. That dirty and aged look to the clothing really brings these dead things to life and makes it more believable then the clean cut comparisons in Romero's mall invasion opus. Though I love Dawn of the Dead with a passion, the zombies never really hit that dead walking corpse look, but in Dawn they perfect it and it has never been topped since.

Suddenly things go horribly wrong at the set of Michael Jackson's Thriller.

And what would a Romero zombie flick be without some good old gory special effects, brought to us by none other then Tom Savini the gore master himself. This is probably one of his greatest effects work to date and he really doesn't hold back on bringing on the red stuff. The climactic finale falls head over heels with slippery intestines, splitting torsos, and ripping flesh in an orgy of zombie feasting goodness. It really is quite a sight and it's a perfect ending to a perfect film. I've never come across a film that seems to hit all the marks while delivering such a consistent story, filled with great acting, sets, effects, characters, and everything that comes with this beautiful package of zombified epic proportions. There really isn't a weak spot in the film and the best part about it all is that the world that Romero depicts in this film actually feels tangible and lived in for that matter. Nothing seems artificial and out of place and I think that's what it has best going for it. Romero played this film serious and to the point and it shows so well in the final product.

Choke on it you sons of bitches! Choke on it!

Day of the Dead is one of my absolute favorite movies and in my opinion it has everything that you need to make a solid zombie film. We are given so many memorable characters, even ones that I've left out, that all have tremendous pull in the overall story and credible clout that fleshes the world out for the audience, helping us to be swept up in this dark tale. The locations chosen for filming are just extraordinary and especially unique to anything that we've seen before. The direction by George Romero is impeccable and masterfully crafted with a strong eye for detail in balancing all of these vibrant characters and relating their individual stories. 

I've never viewed a more balanced film in my life, one that felt so complete and succinct in its execution. The painstakingly complex elements that it took to create this film seem effortless when it all appears to meld together so perfectly and naturally. Without a doubt, if you're a George Romero fan or a zombie fan at heart, you owe it to yourself to see this movie. Even if you've already seen it and didn't enjoy it the first time around, give it another go and just try to let go and enjoy the ride. There really is so much to love about this film and Romero hit it out of the park on this one, which he has said is his favorite among all of his dead films. I'd have to agree with you on that George. Job well done.

5 out of 5 stars                The Best Zombie Film Ever!