Archive | July, 2013

I ran with a zombie: World War Z (2013).

29 Jul

World War Z posterMuch like its subject matter, World War Z was presumed dead before its release due to a tirade of production problems and technical issues, yet has managed to revive itself and shuffle into movie theatres around the globe. Brought to us by director Marc Forster, this is yet another movie about the seemingly inevitable zombie apocalypse. Question: how does it fare against the likes of Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later?

Answer: not very well. As zombie films go, World War Z is without doubt the tamest, least threatening and certainly one of the most ineffective tales of the world’s end I’ve ever seen. Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former United Nations ‘investigator’ whose past job is never fully explained. Once the outbreak hits Philadelphia he must fly around the world, from Korea to Wales via Jerusalem among others. Can he (virtually) single-handedly ‘investigate’ and ultimately save civilisation from its impending demise?

These are definitely among the smartest zombies I’ve seen committed to film.  Piling on top of one another to overcome obstacles the same way ants do and patiently staking out walled citadels, at several points they even appear to hold doors for one another. Sprinting like the modern ‘infected’ incarnation of zombies, rather than stumbling about like George Romero’s creations, they bite and move on; they don’t waste time actually eating people, and thus behave like some sort of microbe rather than anything supernatural.

Gerry isn't characterised at all. He loves his family, and that's it.

Gerry isn’t characterised at all. He loves his family, and that’s it.

This brings us on to the subject of gore, or the lack thereof. World War Z features little to no blood and/or guts – people will swing an axe, and a chopping sound will be heard but not seen. Zombies chomp people, they fall over. This is a problem: I’m no gore junkie, but if you’re going to make a film about zombies taking over the world, then minimising the violence not only fails to generate any sort of catharsis whatsoever but also removes a layer of realism. Immersion is the intention, yet is rendered impossible by this obligatory suspension of reality. Not once did I forget that I was sitting in a cinema watching a movie.

Although the film is named after and supposedly based on the Max Brooks (son of Mel) book of the same name, the two mediums really only share the title. A more faithful filmic rendition of the novel would have been far more akin to 2011’s masterful Contagion, except with more zombies and less coughing. Had Forster gone in that direction, we not only would have gotten a more accurate depiction of the book, but also, strangely enough, a potentially more original film.

As it is, World War Z is a by-the-numbers zombie apocalypse movie that makes even less sense than its generic bedfellows usually do. Family-friendly, pat and in absolutely no way challenging or edgy, I was bored out of my tree the entire time. Don’t bother.

Simon says: More like World War Zzzzz…..

‘Pacific Rim’ (2013): the ultimate ‘popcorn’ movie.

28 Jul

Pacific Rim posterThat Pacific Rim even exists is nothing short of a miracle. Although the likes of Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich have proven that people will march in their droves to watch CGI robots and gratuitous destruction, their movies are usually bolstered by famous faces, massive run times and unholy amounts of product placement. But along strolls veteran director Guillermo del Toro with Pacific Rim, a movie featuring no high-profile stars, zero tins of Pepsi and finishes in an hour and a half. Oh, and giant robots fight giant monsters… A lot.

Summing up the plot is a futile endeavour: nobody comes to a movie like this for inspired storytelling or intense dramatic monologues.  But if you must know, some dude (Charlie Hunamm, of Sons of Anarchy fame) to team up with some other dudes (Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Robert Kazinski and more) to pilot a bunch of colossal robots, named ‘Jaegers’, to send a host of giant monsters, called ‘Kaiju’, back to the watery depths from which they came. Set in the uncomfortably near future, these implausibly enormous iron giants are humanity’s last hope against the impending monstrous apocalypse.

Any and all Japanese cinema buffs out there must have suffered a collective heart attack upon hearing the word ‘Kaiju’; yes, much like the giant monster genre after which they’re named, the baddies gracing Pacific Rim are a varied bunch of hyper-evolved lizards, amphibians and crustaceans, of which none would look out of place next to Godzilla, Ghidorah and the rest. Clearly reminiscent of the director’s former work in Mimic and Pan’s Labyrinth, the behemoths are also distinctly Lovecraftian in appearance, rising as they do from the deep blue sea. Having recently opted out of an At the Mountains of Madness adaptation, the fact that Cthulhu remains absent is a missed opportunity.

So the monsters are cool, how about the robots? Well, they don’t disappoint either! Less shiny but oh so much more gritty and tenacious than their Transformer counterparts, they have that feel of being hastily cobbled together while remaining exceedingly badass. The fights are epic and, unlike Michael Bay’s toys, it’s actually possible to follow what’s going on. When people do open their mouths in this film, it’s consistently awful. In most other films, the diabolical dialogue would have sunken the whole ship, but here it’s forgiveable in the same way one would forgive the chatter those dreadful Syfy movies: less Shakespearean and more Shitheapean, the lines are so bad they’ve come full circle and become good again.

This happens a lot, and it's always thrilling.

This happens a lot, and it’s always thrilling.

When people bemoan films critics and others about being too pretentious for hating on franchises like  Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers, they must remember that the robot vs. monster genre appeals to nearly everyone on some level. But the difference between Pacific Rim and the aforementioned disasters boils down to awareness: this movie knows exactly what it is, and works hard to be the best yet dumbest action film possible. But Michael Bay and others repeatedly cram unsuccessful character arcs on top of innumerable MacGuffins amidst a host of actors totally phoning it in. Pacific Rim flaunts its status as a polished B-movie to perfection.

Yes, the dialogue is terrible, the story is non-existent, and the film is over the top in the extreme. But Pacific Rim is a movie about giant robots punching, clubbing, stabbing and otherwise assaulting giant monsters; nothing more and nothing less. If that’s not your cup of tea, then skip this movie, and go learn how to become a better person. If it is, then you’ll be in heaven.

Simon says: the most fun I’ve had at the cinema since Fast 6.

Go see ‘The East’ (2013) if you want, but leave twenty minutes early.

6 Jul

The East posterThe East is an example of a frustrating film. Why so? Well, the premise for one is interesting: a young but battle-worn female spy, Sarah Moss (Brit Marling), whose allegiance to the American flag has been plundered by the lure of private enterprise, must go undercover to investigate the mysterious anarcho-eco group who call themselves ‘The East’. Ah capitalism, you dependable seductress you.  ‘The East’ target massive multinationals responsible for subversive crimes against nature and humanity, such as energy and pharmaceutical companies,

Thus a character is introduced, is made conflicted, and, what’s more, is given genuine things to be conflicted about. The undoubtedly morally reprehensible acts of the corporations (polluting nature, poisoning water, indirectly killing children etc.) are contrasted with the ethically dubious methods the protesters use to get their message across, and as such Moss is pulled in two opposite directions. In doing so, The East forces us to reconsider our own position on such matters; while many would not dispute painting a CEO’s mansion with crude oil the same way he contaminated the ocean, how comfortable would you be knowing his life was at stake?

But before you could say “self-sufficient and sustainable anarchist hippie commune”, the movie flicks the autopilot switch and devolves from interesting character study to plodding action film. Instead of challenging the viewers with an ambiguous philosophical message and thus charging us with a certain amount of personal work, The East cops out in the most shamelessly blatant way possible. Rather than letting us make up our own minds on what is a fascinatingly complex issue, with the ending this film bellows “HERE IS THE ANSWER“.

This infuriatingly safe conclusion would be less of a catastrophe if the film hadn’t already gone into uncomfortable territory. The East frequents some rather dark and unexpected places, and as such could be described as a challenging film on many levels. One would assume, nay expect the movie to focus on and build the eventual direction Moss takes as a narrative totem from which the boiling tension of her loyalty spills over into either side, but it’s handled in such a pat, compromising way that instead of leaving audiences scratching their heads, they instead wipe their brows, relieved to be relieved of any expectations on their part.

The scenes involving the group are easily the best the movie has to offer.

The scenes involving the group are easily the best the movie has to offer.

Compounding this dramatic failure is the fact that the first two thirds of the movie are actually quite enjoyable, if themselves a little flawed. Brit Marling is a promising actress who plays a convincingly blank former FBI agent here, while Alexander Skarsgård steals the show as the charismatic and inherently sexual group/cult leader. However, as per usual Ellen Page did little other than annoy the hell out of me; speaking of ‘hell’, Moss is introduced early on as a Christian – she prays, listens to Christian radio, twirls rosary beads and so on. But the film sort of forgets about this, as it never impacts the story or influences her actions in any way.

This movie reminds me of 2012’s Flight in that it’s a interesting, well-written and  competently-acted film whose train is completely derailed by a devastatingly ‘safe’ third act. The East unfortunately strays from its promising path, and nullifies its audience’s minds with a Disney Channel ending.

Simon says: go anywhere else but East.

‘This Is The End’ (2013), my only friend.

3 Jul

This Is The End poster“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I’m feelin’ fine!” the godly Michael Stipe once sang. But among those who may not be feeling so great include James Franco, Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson and a host of other movie stars and celebrities. Why? Because it’s the end! The apocalypse is nigh! But what’s surprising is that the whole situation is really rather funny.

In what must be tiringly common practice for such A-list names, Seth Rogen and his buddy Jay Baruchel are invited to a house party, at the behest of none other than James Franco. Upon reaching the eccentric man’s eccentric mansion, the guys don’t have long to wait before fissures open up, cars burst into flames and people are sucked up into the sky. Rogen, Baruchel and Franco are forced to team up with Craig Robinson and Jonah Hill in a desperate effort to fend off Balrogs, mythical demons, and Emma Watson. How long can they survive?

I had a blast at this movie. The star-studded cast is tough to criticise – the film itself even jokes about how impossible it is not to like Jonah Hill. All of the actors have wonderful chemistry together, and each one of them is hilarious for different reasons; Franco is the uptight yet petrified homeowner, Rogen is armed with a battalion of toilet humour jokes, Baruchel is the introverted, misanthropic hipster, Hill’s boundless optimism demands laughter and literally everything Craig Robinson says or does had me in hysterics.

This Is The End is undoubtedly geared towards a particular audience: namely, those who enjoy apocalyptic horror-comedy, movie trivia nerds and, most importantly, fans of the lead actors themselves. Much of the film’s humour derives from self-deprecating pokes at the stars’ own filmography. Between Hill introducing himself as “Jonah Hill… From Moneyball” and Franco knocking his own Oscars presentation skills, that these guys are more than willing to make fun of themselves adds a refreshing layer of honesty that many similar films lack.

Every single one of this men made me laugh.

Every single one of this men made me laugh.

While the comic aspect of the film is obvious given the cast and subject matter, what surprised me the most about This Is The End is the fact that it is actually scary at times. The claustrophobic setting feels very Night of the Living Dead at times, while the unsettling feeling that bad things are lurking in the hazy fog brings to mind The Mist or Silent Hill. The movie straddles that fine line between horror and comedy with perfection; it manages to be funny without being too horrifying, while also definitely tense throughout.

At its core, This Is The End is a study of male friendship, and the anxiety that results from having to maintain a macho, alpha-male charade in a world where gay people exist. Although their huddling together in one tiny cubbyhole of the house out of pure terror is played for laughs, one gets the impression that virtually any other close group of male friends would do likewise in a similar situation.

You can read this far into it if you wish, but regardless This Is The End is a hilarious yet quite frightening film with great music (Black Sabbath and Cypress Hill fans should be pleased) and superb acting from all fronts. As apocalyptic films go, this one is a hoot.

Simon says: if this is the end, at least we’re going out with a bang.

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