Z Nation: Batch 47 – Harvesting Z Weed

Murphy and the guys react to baby Murphy

After last week’s episode of Z Nation, where Citizen Z was conspicuous in his absence, Batch 47 sees DJ Qualls back on form trying to keep the group headed in the right direction. Along with Citizen Z’s return, this episode features not one but two guest stars and the return of Dr Kurian along with Pie Girl, aka Serena, who has been searching for her baby daddy.

The return to the more comic side of Z Nation sees Dileep Rao (Drag Me to Hell, Inception) as Odegard, (the one who stumbled across the z weed) and who discovered the existence of batch 47; a substance rumored to be a herbal cure for the zombie virus. Odegard works for the Zeroes, the cartel that funded Dr. Kurian (Donald Corren) and distributes the zombie grown marijuana.

Head of the “new more user friendly” Zeroes is Sons of Anarchy‘s Emilio Rivera who played Marcus Alvarez in the popular series and is Hector Alvarez in Z Nation. Escorpion’s former employee Kurian survived his “Indiana Jones” escape from the nuclear blast but not without some damage. As Murphy puts it:

“Why should I trust an irradiated mad scientist with an ear that looks like Elvis?”

As Warren and Murphy reach the complex, Odegard has harvesters competing to find and collect batch 47, a feat that is rather deadly in that the zombie compost is full of “Fido Zombies” which are all interconnected via the plants. At the start of the episode two volunteer harvesters die before the opening credits roll.

Doc gets another good line this week as the show enters back into black, and flat-out broad comedy, with his tired complaint to Murphy about having to keep running after the savior of humanity.

“Seriously dude, I’m getting tired of chasing your bony ass all over this apocalypse.”

However, Doc is not the only one chasing Murphy’s bony ass. Serena who appeared early in the season has been looking for her “Baby Daddy Murphy” and their “baba” seems pretty excited when they bump into the gang, and  Murphy at the end of the episode. For those fans who have waiting for more zombabies, their wish has been granted.

Although this zombaby is still in residing in Serena’s ever expanding tummy…for now.

Before Murphy’s Pie Girl returns, there are plenty of z weed gags. Cassandra inhaling from Odegard’s vape and after exhaling then sighing “This is some good sh*t” she offers the inhaler back to him. “That’s okay,” he says with obvious distaste, “you can have that one.”

Later, when Hector “Escorpion” injects batch 47 up Odegard’s nose, the future employee of the month feels no pain initially. “I feel good!” Unfortunately the feel good feeling wears off quickly and he becomes a fido zombie.

This episode sees the introduction of another type of zombie.  Last week had Blaster Zombies and this week we see Fido Zombies. As the second season continues we can be sure that more variations will be trotted out by series creator Karl Schafer.

The humor was, once again, brilliant. Murphy finding the plot where batch 46 is, holding the remains of more Fido Zombies. “I can still feel them,” he says. Another excellent touch was that every time one of the zombies were injured, Murphy felt it. When Vasquez leaps on the “head” Fido and stabs it repeatedly  in the head, Murphy feels it all.

There is a secondary story, in this week’s Z Nation, where a harvester is trying to find the herbal cure for her charge, a girl who calls her mom. Mariah is left behind at the end giving batch 47 leaves to the child to chew. Jessica Bork plays the role and the woman looks uncannily like a young Kate Jackson and despite the fact it was a cameo, she impresses in the part.

Murphy and Cassandra at the Z weed factory
Murphy and Cassandra about to become four…

Kurian is taken away by Hector and the Zeroes and Murphy is once again with Warren and the gang. When Serena shows up with a very active “baba” Murphy, he and the rest of the group are pretty freaked out by the “pushy” infant she is still carrying. As Doc says, Serena (Sara Coates) looks about 10 month’s pregnant. Whether  Cassandra (Pisay Pao) will  be  put out by the arrival of Serena remains to be seen.

Alexander Selling, who has been the cinematographer for 18 episodes of Z Nation  directed this one,  his first time  in the chair for the series, and he does an excellent job. This was a “busy” episode with a lot of gags, including the headless Fido’s on the table, and Selling acquitted himself admirably.

The Asylum continue to up their game with Z Nation.  The double dose of guest stars brought a lot to the zombie table and Rao ruled the episode.  The series airs as part of SyFy Friday and is an addictive experience.  Do not miss this alternative apocalyptic zombie setting to The Walking Dead.

Drag Me to Hell (2009):Campy Dark Humoured Horror

Cover of "Drag Me to Hell (Unrated Direct...
Cover via Amazon

Drag Me to Hell is pretty damn good for a film that sat dormant for over ten years. Sam Raimi and brother Ivan wrote the screenplay after the last of the Evil Dead films had been made. The original title had been The Curse (Hmmm, wonder why Sam didn’t use that title?) and it was meant to be a modern morality tale.

Unfortunately Sam had to wade through three Spiderman films before he could start work on Drag Me to Hell. so it’s no real surprise that the screenplay is over a decade old. This is Sam Raimi going back to his Evil Dead roots. And though he doesn’t have Bruce Campbell to torture, he does have Alison Lohman who proves that you don’t have to be Bruce Campbell to imitate a Timex timepiece.

Lohman actually endured some things at the hands of director Raimi that would have most folks gagging. She doesn’t doesn’t even like the horror genre, but she’s a game girl who did all her own stunts. Pretty impressive.

The film opens with a 1969 visit to a spiritualist who is trying to drive an evil spirit or demon from a young Mexican boy. she loses the fight and the boy is dragged through her floor, screaming all the way to hell. The film then jumps ahead a whole lot of years to the present.

We meet mortgage clerk Christine Brown (Lohman) who is competing for the post of assistant  manager against her creepy colleague Stu Rubin (played with a kind of smarmy charm by Reggie Lee). In an effort to please her annoying boss Mr Jacks (David Paymer) she turns down Mrs Ganush’s  request for an extension on her mortgage which will stop the bank from taking her home. Mrs Ganush is played brilliantly by the much younger Lorna Raver

Mrs Ganush flings herself at Christine’s feet and clutching her skirt, begs for her to re-consider. Christine ‘freaks out’ at this dramatic behaviour and calls for security to remove the gypsy woman. Before she is dragged away by security, she spits at Christine and swears angrily at her.

A shaken Christine leaves for the day and as she gets into her car in the banks parking garage she is attacked by Mrs Ganush. This is one of the funniest scenes in the film as the two battle tooth and nail. At one point Christine ‘staples’ the other womans head. Just when Christine thinks she has won, Mrs Ganuh  snatches a button from her clothes and places a curse on it and Christine. The woman then vanishes.

Christine enlists the help of her fiancée Clay Dalton (Justin Long in perhaps the ‘straightest’ role he’s ever done.) and they go to a fortune teller Rham Jas ( Dileep Rao) who tells her, initially, that there is nothing he can do. He explains that she is being  haunted by an evil spirit. Christine goes home where she is attacked by the spirit and she goes back to Rham Jas pleading for a solution.

Jas explains the the spirit is the Lamia and it is very powerful. He tells her to sacrifice a small animal to appease the spirit. Christine heatedly states that she could never kill and innocent animal. The next day she is attacked by the spirit again.  After she is pummelled and thrown about her bedroom like a rag doll, she kills her pet kitten. (Again one of the funnier moments in the film.)

The rest of the film is Christine’s battle to defeat the now dead Mrs Ganush and the curse. Sam Raimi could just as easily titled the film “Things That Make You Cringe with Embarrassment.”

Most of Christine’s ‘tortures’ are in public and excruciatingly embarrassing. Each set piece is a form of social gaffe that is so outlandish that it reaches the realm of slapstick. The nose bleed at the bank, the humiliation at the meal with Clay’s parents, the entire episode at Mrs Ganush’s funeral.

And that for me was what made the film fun and entertaining. What makes these social faux pas work so well is Christine herself. She is the epitome of the small town farm girl who feels out of her depth in the big city. Her insecurity is what forces her to cruelly turn down the pleading woman at the start of the film and this is what gets her in trouble.

Like his cult classic Evil Dead series and its hapless hero Ash, Christine gets the metaphorical crap kicked out of her, repeatedly. But like some kind of demented Weeble, she refuses to stay down and fights all the way to the end of the film.

This film made me laugh a lot. It also made me jump and squirm at some of the more ’embarrassing’ punishments meted out to the heroine. In short this was Raimi doing what he does best, making horror films that make you do all the aforementioned things while watching.

If they ever give out awards for Court Jesters of Horror, it should go to Sam Raimi and Wes Craven. Two of the best Schlock-Meisters in the business.

I would rate this film as a ‘two-bagger’ because you’ll lose half of your popcorn from jumping and the other half by doubling over in laughter.

Inception (2010): Matrix for the New Millenium **may contain spoilers**

Cover of "Inception"
Cover of Inception

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan Inception is a masterpiece of a movie. It features an all-star cast and has so much chopping and changing of plots and action that you begin to feel like you’re watching a movie version of the game Twister.

Starring in no particular order:

Leonardo DiCaprio

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Ellen Page

Ken Watanabe

Cillian Murphy

Tom Berenger

Marion Cotillard

Michael Caine

Pete PostlethwaiteDileep RaoTom Hardy, and  Lukas Haas. A pretty impressive group by anyone’s standards.

The budget for this film was 160 million dollars and the box office return was in excess of 825 million dollars making Inception a real blockbuster film with a capital B.

The basic (as basic as you can get in this film) is that Cobb (DiCaprio) is a dream thief. He is in exile from America as he has been accused of murdering his wife and he is unable to see his children in Los Angeles as a result. The irony is that this dream thief dreams constantly of returning home and seeing his kids.

Cobb has been offered a ‘clean slate’ by ruthless businessman Saito (Watanabe), which will allow Cobb to return home and wipe the murder charge from his record. What Saito wants in return is for Cobb to not steal a dream, but to plant an idea which is known as “Inception.”

The target, a business conglomerate, owned by tycoon Maurice Fischer  (Postlethwaite) who is dying and leaving it all to his son Robert (Murphy). Saito wants Cobb to plant the idea through Robert’s dream state that his father really wants him to sell the conglomerate off and make his own fortune.

Cobb’s ‘business’ partner Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) says it is not possible. Cobb maintains that it is. He and his deceased wife Mal (Cotillard) had practised this. Unfortunately it is very dangerous and we learn that this was how Mal died. Although Arthur decides to help Cobb he is not convinced that they can do it safely.

Cobb must now come up with a new powerful dream ‘architect’ because this was Mal’s job before she died. Ariadne (Page) is recruited via Miles (Caine) Cobbs father-in-law. He then gathers the rest of his team; Eames (Hardy) an identity forger, Yusuf (Rao) who controls the sedatives required by the team, Arthur and Saito as the mission observer.

In order for the idea to be planted, the team must go into several dream states, each deeper than the previous one, in order to evade the target’s defences.

And evade they must for Robert has had his brain ‘trained’ by a security company. This training allows his dreaming state to be patrolled by security guards who can spot intruders and terminate them with extreme prejudice. This is not the only hurdle the team have to overcome. It seems that Cobb’s dead wife, Mal, is alive and well in his sub-concious and she will try to sabotage their mission.

The last ‘danger’ the group face is being in the dream world too long. If you go too deep and cannot be brought back, via a drop or your dream self getting killed, you will remain in the dream state forever. You can also become confused as to what is ‘real’ and what is a dream, to help each team member keep track, they each have a personal totem that behaves differently in the dream state. Cobb’s is a top that spins perpetually.

So the  team must go into a dream and then go into another dream and into another dream. Each dream state requires a team member to stay in that level and watch over the remaining members as they go deeper.

Confused yet?

This film looks amazing, you can see where the 160 million went. Nolan masterfully helms the many twists and turns of the verse and at no time does he leave one string dangling. My daughter and I went to see this at the cinema. We both were on the edges of our respective seats through the entire film.

What The Matrix did for cinema combat, Inception does for cinema environment. Two of the film’s set pieces, ‘the exploding room’ and ‘the anti-gravity room’ were real sets. The mountain fortress was real as well, just in miniature so it could be blown up.  CG was used at a minimum to help sell the shots. Nolan created these set pieces by taking a step back in the world of special effects. 

But where CGI was used, it worked beautifully. When Cobb is interviewing Ariadne, the scene begins with the two of them at a Parisian Bistro. They are seated with drinks in front of them. Cobb is explaining how dream architecture works. He then looks at Ariadne and says, “Do you remember how we got here?” When Ariadne starts to respond, items from the ‘busy’ set start exploding. *On a side note here, the scene has so many props in it, that if it were not computer generated it would have set Nolan back a large part of that 160 million.*

After the set explodes, they then start walking the streets. Ariadne starts practicing her architecture and literally bends the streets and buildings, while Cobb explains the rules of the ‘dream verse.’

CGI is used for the world that Mal and Cobb created that resulted in Mal killing herself in the mistaken belief that the created world was the real world that she desperately wanted to go back to. The city in the parallel world is almost Dali-esque in it’s depiction. When Cobb and Ariadne go there to deal with Mal, it is decaying and falling into the ocean. It is like the place is eroding from lack of use and it looks disturbing.

But two of the most impressive scenes that did not rely on CGI were the exploding room at the beginning of the film and in the hotel scene later on.  Using an ‘anti-gravity’ room, which in essence was a ‘room’ that was suspended in mid-air and rotated. The actors were attached to wires in some cases, but for the most part they really were working in ‘free-fall.’

And free-fall is how Nolan sells the film so well. Remember the “dream within a dream within a dream” bit? Well, this tier system that requires a team member to stay behind in each level, starts with the first team member, who actually has everyone else with him but in a dream state, drives a van they are all in off a bridge. Cue the first free-fall. And it has a effect on the next team member who is in the hotel portion of the dream.

The film only had  about 500 visual effects. A very small amount for a film with so many special effects and such a huge budget.

The film moves almost seamlessly between the real world and the dream world. But it does this so often that is almost like a cinematic shell game. By the end of the film you have to decide what was real and what was a dream. What ever you decide is based on your interpretation of the series of events.

When the film ended (prepare yourself for the controversy) two things happened almost simultaneously, we both looked at each other and said, “Blu-ray.” We also immediately started discussing the ending and how we saw it. We weren’t the only ones either.

For the first time in years, I saw a room full of people discussing excitedly the film they had just seen. The room was full of laughing, talking, and arguing people. I really can’t remember the last time I’ve seen an audience act that way after a film.

As we left the cinema, my daughter turned to me and said, “Wow, that was ‘The Matrix of the new millenium.”

I think she’s right. Just like The Matrix, Inception changed the rules and bent the rules it couldn’t change. It went so far outside the box, that the box ceased to exist.

If Inception is not on the list of  films to see before you die, it should be.

Right at the top.