STREAMING REVIEWS: Zombie, slavery and sci-fi redux

Published May 18, 2021, 3:43 PM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

While some would say these three take us back to ‘roads well-traveled’; I’ll still give credit to the filmmakers involved with these projects. Zack Snyder revisits the zombie genre, while Barry Jenkins takes on slavery via the award-winning Colson Whitehead novel, and there’s Season 2 of Love Death + Robots.

Army of the Dead (Netflix USA) – This drops on our favorite streaming platform on May 21, and after Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of the George Romero classic Dawn of the Dead, I can bet this will hit the roof as Most Watched of the Week. If you recall, DotD was primarily set in a Milwaukee mall; and in typical Snyder-style, now with budget to spare, he locates this film in a post-zombie apocalypse Las Vegas. And he makes full use of the setting, with zombie showgirls, Elvis impersonators, and from out of nowhere, a zombie tiger that’s a refugee from Siegfried & Roy’s exotic menagerie. It’s all a trip and a half, and each shot is crammed full of detail and little touches that showcase the trademark flamboyance of the Snyder-universe.

Dave Bautista plays Scott Ward, our protagonist and lead mercenary; as a Las Vegas casino bigwig proposes a heist on his own casino that’s been overrun by zombies. So here we have what we may think could be Snyder’s big conceit, blending two distinct genres, the zombie film and a heist film. Safecracker Ludwig (Mathias Schweighofer) and Scott’s daughter Kate (Ella Purnell) are two of the more interesting members of Scott’s team. I mention Kate because halfway through the film, we find Snyder trying to slip in a third genre, the family reconciliation genre. It’s because of this third genre that Snyder somewhat stumbles on this film, juggling more than necessary. The middle portion is rather clunky, and we’re grateful when the zombies go crazy, and the action scenes are reignited towards the last quarter of the film. Interesting to see what Netflix will throw Snyder’s way to extend this new zombie universe.

The Underground Railroad (Amazon Prime) – After much anticipation, the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winning novel finally comes to Television, as directed by renowned African-American Barry Jenkins (of Moonlight fame). This early, I’ll say it’s not a disappointment, but I will confess that with the depth and texture of the screenplay, this is not a Series that lends itself to binge-watching. You will almost wish it was released with one episode weekly, to allow us the opportunity to reflect and savor each episode before having to tackle the next one. If you read the novel, this was Whitehead tackling 19th century historical events while imbuing it with magical realism elements that heightened the Black experience, and reflects on today’s situation.

It’s 10 episodes, and it’s pretty faithful to the book, chronicling the odyssey of Cora (South African star Thuso Mbedu) and Caesar (Aaron Pierce). Both hyper-realistic about slavery, and yet, also full of hallucinatory sequences, the chapters here are broken down into the states that Cora would travel to as she headed North. Starting in Georgia, we move to South and North Carolina, Tennessee and Indiana, etc. Special mention goes to the casting of Joel Edgerton as the bounty hunter Ridgeway, accompanied by his pint-sized Negro sidekick, Homer. They may be the ‘villains’ in the piece, but they’re fascinating to watch. Expect this to figure in the TV Awards races later in the year. To be honest, it’s not an easy watch, but immeasurably rewarding.

Love Death + Robots (Netflix USA) – Back in 2019, this was one of the surprise delights of Netflix, Season 1 of Love Death + Robots. Brimming with imagination, a creative use of different styles of animation, and exciting narrative threads, a good number of us were looking forward to a Season 2. The big difference here is that Season 2 consists of only eight episodes, as opposed to some 20 of the first season – so not as much variety. Blame that possibly on the pandemic, as I hear that Season 3 is set to drop first quarter of 2022. Tim Miller and David Fincher are still the main producers behind the Limited Series, and they’ve tapped creators from all over the world.

If you’ve not watched this show, I’d recommend Life Hutch of Season 2 to get you started. It ‘stars’ Michael B. Jordan and I’m certain you’ll be confounded as to whether you’re watching live action or animation. For a sly sense of humor, go to Automated Customer Service. You see how they play with the notion of robot vacuums, extending the concept to Vacuubots and wondering what if they went berserk or out of control. Once again, it’s enlightening to observe the diverse styles of animating, and how seamlessly they marry this with the narratives. If the first season was like opening a box of assorted chocolates, this one is like being treated to a Limited Edition. Still ‘yummy’, but I have to admit, it left me wanting more.