Talking Movies

July 24, 2013

World War Z

In a follow-on to his piece about Hollywood’s trouble with zombie movies last week Elliot Harris writes:

Marc Foster’s adaption of the best seller World War Z is a better film than expected but not as good as it could have been. Despite release delays and stories of re-shoots; WWZ is a watchable summer blockbuster.

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The film opens in the serene family kitchen of the Lane family where we are introduced to Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), his wife Karin (Mireille Enos, Gangster Squad) and their children Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) and Constance (Sterling Jerins) hours before the Zombie apocalypse reaches their home city of Philadelphia. Having witnessed firsthand the devastating effects and rapid spread of the virus, Lane struggles to get his family to safety, fighting both the already and soon to be infected. Faced with cities and whole nations across the globe falling to the ravages of Zombie hoards, Lane reluctantly answers the call from his former employers for help. With no clear information on the origin of the outbreak, and only rumours to work with, Lane is dragged across the globe in search of the cause of and possible solutions to this global pandemic.

What transpires is a globe-trotting race against time with the future of the human race at stake. Starting with little information, and only a small team of crack SEALS, Lane and Harvard virologist Andrew Fassbach (Elyes Gabel, Welcome to the Punch) are dispatched to the site of the first reported Zombie outbreak. As time ticks down, Lane is faced with an increasing array of seemingly unanswerable questions and very few answers. This coupled with the logistical nightmare of trying to not only stay ahead of the infection, but catch up with its source in a world falling apart helps build the tension. The tension never quite reaches the crescendo that it promises and the resolution seems to come about more through fortune and luck than the result of a Holmes-like investigation that Lane set out on.

The film, while not the utter mess that many predicted, definitely has a number of problems and certainly fails to live up to the book that it’s based on. These issues range from the join-the-dots narrative to some suspect decisions in the film’s storytelling and casting of some of the minor characters. Evidence of the much speculated and forecasted flop have survived the cutting room floor. Despite these issues, and the near complete divorce from the source material (which is quite jarring at times), WWZ is not without its charms. The reshoots manage to complete a fairly logically, if totally open-ended ending. Based on the film’s takings to date and the standard sequels clauses in most actors’ contracts these days, you can likely expect the announcement of a sequel in the next few months. Hopefully, any sequel produced will be a little more truthful to the book.

While WWZ neither lives up nor even sticks to the plot of the book that it’s based on, it delivers a solid zombie film worthy of the genre.

2.5/5

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July 18, 2013

Bitten By A Bug That I Love

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 4:24 pm
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I’m not a fan of zombie movies, especially movies with fast-running zombies; which I always consider cheating, they’re creepy enough already. So it’s only fitting that I shuffle aside to let a true zombie afficianado have a rant. Elliot Harris, who will no doubt be found holed up in Highbury with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost come the zombie apocalypse, writes:

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I suffer from an affliction. While widely known, it’s not understood. Sufferers are frequently a point of ridicule from the media, strangers and friends alike. What is this affliction, you ask? Simple, I love the idea of zombies. There, I said it! I read books and comics about zombies, I watch TV shows and films about zombies, I play computer games about zombies. I’m not some sort of apocalypse waiting/wanting nut-job. Nor am I some sort of society-hating gun-nut. Actually, I’m pretty sure that I’d fall in the first wave. I can’t run very fast or far. I neither own nor can shoot a gun and I’ve no survival skills. What interests me is one simple question, a question with no real answer: What would happen if zombies were anything other than a work of fiction – what if they were real and how would the society react?

OK, that’s really three questions, but, I believe, that they truly go to the essence of a great zombie story. Zombies can be and have been used as a metaphor for society ills – everything from consumerism to the idolism of celebrities. Deep psychological questions can be posed by an author, a film maker, even a song-writer using this metaphor. That’s not to say that everyone gets it. Some look at zombies as the perfect excuse to make shlock about Real American Heroes™ blasting the faceless, unrelatable villain away without having to consider the impact that the use of a gun or a weapon of any sorts can bring. There’s one major problem though; Hollywood simply won’t make a good Zombie film.

Hollywood doesn’t want to make an honest to goodness zombie film. The essence of a zombie apocalypse is that there is no going back. Society has collapsed. Zombiesm cannot be cured. The police, the army, the government can’t help – they’re gone. Numbers of infected way outweigh those who have managed to survive… and even the use of the word survive is a misnomer. Uninfected is a more appropriate word. Those uninfected left, those very few are like prisoners on death row, with no chance of appeal, no chance of pardon. What’s left is a bleak, far too bleak for Hollywood to ever make a film about. It’s simply unmarketable. People want the good guys to win out. Hollywood pushes it to the limit, having society on the very bring with only a 59th minute, 100+ yard ‘Hail Mary’ of a pass to pull things back from the brink.

That’s to say that Hollywood has never made a zombie film, they have. Plenty in fact, but almost all of them suffer from Hollywood’s ‘don’t worry, the good guys won. Now go buy our merch’ shtick. A look at the zombie films of recent years backs this up: 28 Days Later – the zombies starve to death; Shaun of the Dead – the zombie outbreak is quelled; Warm Bodies – zombies start to regress to humans; World War Z – a vaccine is designed to dissuade zombies from attacking the inoculated. The few exceptions of note are Zack Snyder’s early 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead and Zombieland, which was originally planned as and later remade into a TV series, are far outweighed by the junk pumped out year after year.

Good and original Zombie content that that genuine ask the “what if” question, or that play with zombies as a metaphor rather than gun fodder is sadly a rarity. It’s such a shame, because without those “what if” questions, we’re little more than zombies.

February 14, 2013

2013: Fears

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Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell’s 2004 novel is one of the most bafflingly over-rated books of  the last decade. Six novellas stitched together, and wanting a medal for  referencing their own sub-Stoppardian structuring, it comprises pastiches of  Golding/Melville, Huxley/Isherwood, 1970s Pakula, Amis, and even The Matrix; small wonder then that it’s the  Wachowskis who’ve filmed it with co-writer/director Tom Twyker. But they’ve  added another layer of inanity, not since Zelig have people played other races so  ridiculously. February 22nd sees Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Jim  Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, and Ben Whishaw being racially insensitive in the  service of a misguided interpretation of the novel as in thrall to  metempsychosis rather than meta-textuality.

 

Oz: The Great and Powerful

James Franco achieves every stoner’s dream when listening to a certain  synched Pink Floyd album and floats his way to Oz. Or rather to a greenscreen  warehouse where Sam Raimi promised he’d CGI Oz in around his roguish Kansas  magician later. The rights to Baum’s novels are out of copyright but don’t  expect to see any innovations made in the classic 1939 film because it’s not out  of copyright. Raimi’s not directed anything truly impressive in ages but his  witches are quite a triumvirate: Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, and Rachel  Weisz. Incidentally did you know that Wicked is coming to Dublin in November? Go see Wicked

 

The Host

Saoirse Ronan has been on a bad run of giving performances better than the  film that houses them, and this looks like another example. In Time auteur Andrew Niccol adapts and  directs the latest Stephenie Meyer franchise. Ronan is Melanie Stryder, whose  body has been claimed by an alien but whose mind resists the parasite. Liam  Hemsworth is her love interest and William Hurt and Diane Kruger are Melanie’s  relatives put on the spot by her reappearance. On March 29th we’ll  find out if Niccol has managed to find a method to convey the struggle of two  minds in one body that is any way, shape, or form visual.

 

Gatsby

I venerate F Scott Fitzgerald’s  masterpiece, and the trailers of Baz Lurhmann’s suspiciously postponed splashy  film bespeak a totally disastrous adaptation. Leonardo DiCaprio is a good choice  to play the enigmatic titular old sport, as is Joel Edgerton as his  nemesis Tom Buchanan, but the blanker-than-thou Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway  may narrate us all into a coma, while Carey Mulligan has the eternally thankless  role of Daisy. Lurhmann has a remarkable inability to handle subtlety; Gatsby is not about swooping thru raucous  parties and zeroing in on high camp comedy scenes. And as for the delay, ‘allegedly’ for a Jay-Z score; Aliens  was scored in less than a fortnight…

 

The Hangover: Part III

May sees the latest instalment of the inexplicable comedy franchise spawned  by a crude film with a handful of good gags and a not nearly as clever structure  as it thought it had. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis this time  head to Mexico. So, more racist stereotypes, idiotic cameos, and crass humour.  But at least a different plot as we’re promised a character death… The Hangover is largely responsible for making  Galifianakis a star, and, given how dispensable he is from Bored to Death say, that’s an awful lot to set  against getting Cooper in the position where he could star in Silver Linings Playbook.

 

Man of Steel

On June 14th 300 director  Zack Snyder will unveil his first PG-13 film deliberately scripted as such.  Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Laurence Fishburne as Perry  White, Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as Martha and Jonathan Kent are all solid  casting choices, while Michael Shannon as General Zod is truly inspired. Against  that Henry Cavill as Superman is a gamble. The first non-American to don the  cape, he’ll struggle unless David S Goyer’s script eschews angst and that  doesn’t seem likely. Maybe this’ll be the origin story we didn’t know we needed,  but trying to Nolanise such an optimistic character seems like a folly.

THE LONE RANGER

 

World War Z

June 21st finally sees Brad Pitt’s UN worker try to prevent a  global zombie epidemic in an adaptation of the seminal Max Brooks novel by  Matthew Michael Carnahan, writer of the inert Lions for Lambs. The studio ordered massive  reshoots and the third act was rewritten by Drew Goddard so we’ll see if that  and the presence of Matthew Fox and David Morse can save proceedings. Director  Marc Foster was handpicked by Pitt, but reports have it that they ended up  communicating only by messages to a studio executive; perhaps because of small  mishaps like how production started before there was an agreed make-up design  for the zombies.

 

Pacific Rim

Guillermo Del Toro hasn’t made a film since 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Talking Movies was rather hoping he’d never  make another one, and just stick to writing novels with Chuck Hogan, but  somebody has relented and financed a giant aliens versus men in giant robots  blockbuster. So, the last 5 minutes of Aliens but supersized and with bad CGI instead  of great VFX… Oh, and clockwork. It’s great to see Rinko Kikuchi’s stellar  turn in The Brothers Bloom rewarded with  a leading role opposite Charlie Hunnam as the mind-melding pilots fighting the  Kaiju water monsters in IMAX 3-D, but, even with Clifton Collins Jr, can this  work?

 

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

This film should have been released last  year but was pushed to this year (in one of the funniest stunts ever pulled by a  major studio) because Channing Tatum had some major hits just before its release and so they  wanted to do some reshoots, as he died in the first act. So a Superbowl ad,  warehouses full of toys, and Jon Chu’s original directorial vision be damned!  Here comes a completely different G.I. Joe:  Retaliation in which The Rock, Bruce Willis and Adrianne Palicki tackle  Cobra’s evil Jonathan Pryce, Arnold Vosloo, Lee Byung-Hun, and Ray Park in a  script from Zombieland’s writers – now  with added Tatum!

 

The Lone  Ranger

Pirates of the Caribbean shipmates  Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp lurch aboard a tremendously over-budget  revisionist take on the Lone Ranger character. It has the same release slot as  the first POTC, August 9th,  but the self-indulgence involved in this movie’s budgeting farces makes you  think it’s more of a POTC 3 endeavour.  Armie Hammer is the masked avenger who’ll be playing second fiddle to Depp’s  super-authentic Native American tracker Tonto.  Helena Bonham Carter also  appears, even though Tim Burton is not directing. Mind you, Verbinski does share  some traits with Burton; he also gets fixated on quirkiness and loses sight of  his story and his bland heroes.

 

Elysium

August sees District 9 writer/director Neill Blomkamp make  his Hollywood debut with a sci-fi that pits the 1% in the shape of Jodie Foster  against the 99% in the shape of a bald Matt Damon. Blomkamp’s South African  colleague Sharlto Copley is also in the cast as is I Am Legend’s Alice Braga. This is set in a  2159 world where the poor live in overcrowded slums on Earth while the rich  orbit above in an immaculate spaceship. The concept sounds not dissimilar in  feel to the Total Recall remake. But  that could be because this film’s been much delayed by reshoots and  rescheduling; which might suggest grave studio concerns.

 

Gravity

Alfonso Cuaron hasn’t made a film  since 2006’s Children of Men, perhaps  because he’s returning in October with another film which is more about its own  shooting style than anything else. It’s in 3-D, it’s incredibly CGI heavy as it  tries to grasp weightlessness, and the opening sequence is shot in one  continuous silent 17 minute take. Sandra Bullock stars, with support from George  Clooney, as astronauts who survive a catastrophic incident aboard a space  station and have to find a way to return to Earth. Every actress in Hollywood  seems to have been interested in this script, but not to the point of committing  to it; which raises suspicions…

 

The  Counsellor

The 2000s were marred by two notable  co-dependencies; Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott;  which hurt all involved. Let us hope that poor Michael Fassbender is not  getting sucked into the sinkhole that sunk Crowe’s leading man career as he  reunites with his Prometheus director  Scott for a drama about a lawyer getting in too deep with his drug-trafficking  clients. The cast includes Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris, logically enough,  and Javier Bardem, also logically enough; as this is No County for Old Men novelist Cormac  MacCarthy’s first original screenplay. Expect terse dialogue, stark amorality,  brutal violence and no catharsis.

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