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Review: World War Z by Jamie

The best Zombie fiction is, at heart, about humanity. The zombies themselves are a containment system, a way to keep people trapped together and come into conflict with each other. Of course if a storyteller is really good, the zombies can represent much more than a barrier. They are a force that look ostensibly human but they cannot be fought in ways that you would fight people. They cannot be reasoned with and they know no fear. They will keep coming, wave after wave. Some of them may even have once been people you know. People you loved. The psychological horror of having to smash in a loved ones head before they start munching on your intestines is quite intense. Zombies are death, zombies are disease. Zombies are the hopelessness that humanity feels at the hands of both these things, the unstoppable force that will claim us all.

No person got this balance between the humanity of the zombie narrative and the psychological horror of fighting what is essentially death itself better than Max Brooks in his 2006 novel ‘World War Z’. By writing the book as a series of interviews performed around twenty years after the initial outbreak and ten years after the end of World War Z, Brooks was able to explore the politics of a global zombie apocalypse as well as the smaller, more human stories. From Israel’s closed borders to starving survivors turning on each other in the frozen North, he managed to give us glimpses of what would occur on each level of human society. He also gave us an insight into the impact of fighting a horde of zombies and how ineffective modern military tactics would be against them such as in the disastrous battle of Yonkers.

It was a book that lifted zombie fiction as a whole so, of course, they decided to turn it into a movie which, after many problems during it’s development was finally released yesterday. Holy fuck, is it awful. I must say that congratulations are in order. It takes some massive balls to strip both humanity and zombies from World War Z and these filmmakers clearly have them. Huge swinging brass balls.

Ok, first to the zombies. These aren’t zombies. The creatures in this film are velociraptors in zombie form. They run, the scream, they jump. They also don’t eat people so I guess maybe they are vegetarian velociraptors. They still bite though. They bite and run off and the people who are bitten turn instantly. Instantly. So you have a creature that can run without getting tired, leap like a grasshopper and only thinks about biting other people so that they can turn them into creatures like themselves, essentially giving them an unlimited and insanely fast reproduction rate. Do you know whtat that is called? It’s not a zombie or an epidemic, that is an extinction. Pure and simple. After the initial outbreak in all major US cities, we see the family stop to raid a supermarket which has been stormed by a good hundred or so others. No. Just no. There is literally no way that, given the type of enemy humanity is facing, any unarmed person should be able to step outside, let alone large groups of noisy, panicky people. It’s just so fucking stupid.

This insanely fast breed of whatever the hell these are also manages to eliminate one of the more interesting aspects of the book. Without the traditional slow-moving zombies, we don’t get a build up to World War Z. We don’t get to see the political ramifications as countries either take the threat seriously, ignore it or try to calm their population with placebos. Israel still walls itself off but the explanation as to why and how they did it so quickly is pretty fucking stupid. The only other time that we get a glimpse of any kind of political strategy that any country has for dealing with the outbreak is being told that North Korea organised a program where it pulled the teeth of it’s entire population because no bite means no infection. Other than that, there is no political strategy, no military strategy. Nothing going on globally except for Brad Pitt trying to find a cure, going all around the world to do it and finding everyone largely receptive to his visits. You’d think that people would be more suspicious of anyone travelling anywhere given the state of the world but seeing as people turn instantly I guess there’d be no need to worry that someone might have been bitten and snuck on to a plane. Thank fuck they completely closed off that possible avenue of dramatic tension. We wouldn’t want things to become interesting in any way, would we?

So that’s the zombies, what about the humanity? Well Brad Pitt really cares about his family. It’s a good thing that after the first half hour they are literally never in any danger again. Then Brad Pitt is off travelling around the world, meeting folks. Some of them get killed but we never get to know them well enough for anyone to care. There is a female character he befriends, Segen an Israeli soldier but she is as characterless as the CGI hordes chasing them. We don’t ever get a moment where someone has to feel conflicted about killing a zombie who, moments ago, was a loving member of their family. We never even really get to see anyone conflicted by the fact that the monsters hunting them were ever humans at all. Like I said, there is no military strategy here. There’s no moment where they realise that the creatures can’t be fought like you would fight people. There is just soldiers firing into waves of velocizombies as they hurtle towards them. There is nothing deep here. There’s barely even anything shallow.

In essence, World War Z is a Roland Emmerich disaster movie. It’s ‘2012’ except that the tidal waves are made out of people instead of water. It’s a CGI-fest with dull action scenes plastered between dull scenes of exposition. It is dull. Still I can understand why they decided to make this so different from the book. I mean, framing the film around something like interviews in order to tell a story about undead creatures through flashbacks would be impossible and certainly nothing in Brad Pitt’s past would suggest otherwise…

Still, this was completely the wrong way to go about adapting this book. Not that they did adapt the book, they just bought the rights to the title and slapped it on this. The only way that World War Z could ever really be brought to life is with something akin to a miniseries and hopefully one day we’ll see it. Until then, avoid this piece of shit like the plague. Zero pints out of five. Laterz.

World War Z? More like World War GO FUCK YOURSELF!

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Review: Man of Steel by Jamie

Superman. There was a time that when someone said the word superhero, the big blue boy scout was the image that would pop into your head. That might not be so true nowadays what with the proliferation of superheroes as a whole in the pop culture milieu nowadays. Sure, there were some who’d think Batman but those people would be wrong. Batman isn’t a superhero, he’s just an awesome detective in a bat costume. Would you call Sherlock Holmes a superhero? Probably not, not even if you dressed him as a small flying mammal.

Anyway, my point is that Superman is THE Superhero. He was the one that kicked of an entire genre of comic books and set the standard on which later heroes would be based. The cape, the spandex, the secret identity? All a result of Superman. Still, Superman himself has had a rather spotty record when it comes to his cinematic outings. Sure, the first two Superman films starring Christopher Reeve were great if perhaps a little too campy when looked back upon now. Then came the third which inexplicably starred Richard Pryor as someone who’s good at computers for some reason. The less said about Superman IV the better.

Supes finally returned nineteen years later in well, Superman Returns. It was not considered a success. It’s been a while since I’ve watched it myself but I don’t think I hated it. It was just a thing that kind of happened and that was that. And it’s not surprising that it was a failure to be honest. The cinematic superhero genre had come a long way since the first series of film. This was film was released not long after the first two X-Men films and the first two Spider-Man films had come out and kind of redefined what a comic book movie was. People wanted deep characters with deep motivations. Superman was not these things.

Let’s be honest for a moment. Superman is a boring character. Yes, I’ll admit that he deserves a little respect for being the first but an indestructible, flying man with lasers for eyes who only has one weakness is just not interesting. Throw in the fact that his motivation never really developed much further beyond “Truth, Justice and the American Way”. That kinda shit just doesn’t fly anymore.

So DC recently relaunched their entire universe (sort of) in 2011 and I bought each of the new number ones. I liked the stuff that they did with Superman. He was no longer specifically on the idea of the law but rather a Superman of the people, doing what was right not necessarily what the government wanted. He was a Superman for the Occupy generation. Also his powers had been toned down somewhat since he was a younger character still developing his them. It was an interesting concept and one that I enjoyed even though I didn’t stick with buying any more of them.

So could Zack Snyder, David Goyer and Christopher Nolan bring the world’s first superhero into the 21st century on the big screen? Well…

Look, I didn’t hate this movie. I want to get that out of the way right up front. It’s just that I can’t say that I really liked it either. So let’s get into what I did like first. One of my biggest problems with Superman has always been that Lois Lane is supposed to be one of the bet journalists on the planet and yet she can’t tell that someone is the same person when they remove a pair of glasses. I’ll suspend disbelief that Supes is from an alien planet where evolution has resulted in a dominant species identical to ours and that being from said planet grants him abilities such as invulnerability, flight and laser eyes. Fine. But that Lois Lane thing is a step too far and this movie solves that problem brilliantly in a way that resonates with the character.

I also really enjoyed the opening scenes on Krypton though they were somewhat rushed and involved characters yelling exposition at each other but you know what? I can live with that. It’s a movie and, as important as Krypton is to the Superman mythos, it’s not the main focus of the character. Still it might have been nice to flesh out the character of Zod a little better during these scenes. Despite this, like I said, I enjoyed the sequence though it did feature one of the oddest design choices I have ever seen in a film. Zod and his followers are sealed in stasis pods. Here, I done a rough art of what these pods look like:

Kneel Before Zod’s Giant Bronze Space Penis!

I’m not kidding either. Zod and his followers are literally locked away in giant, bronze dongs. They even have the beginnings of little scrotal sacks at the bottom. I get it. You want something that will fit a human being standing to attention inside it. You have to account for the feel and the rest can be a long pole-looking structure. Fine, that would have resembled a somewhat cartoonish penis, I would have giggled and we all could have gotten on with the movie but to actually put a bulbous head at the top of the shaft… I mean, seriously? Did nobody notice this during production? They had to have, right? So does that mean that this was entirely done on purpose? It’s just… Wow.

Anyway, where was I? Oh right, giant bronze penises. I mean Man of Steel. Ok. Another thing I enjoyed was the action. You know what, it was big, it was loud and it was awesome. I’ll admit that by this point I’d completely lost interest in the story. The villains motivations were inexplicable which is kinda becoming a theme in blockbuster movies lately but the action scenes got me through it. It was the first time I got a sense of just how powerful the Kryptonians on Earth. Obviously this is a little unfair to the previous films since didn’t have the kind of effects that this film does but it really is cool to see Superman creating sonic booms as he flies or to see one the villains leaping and crashing into things. There’s weight behind it all, it feels physical and there is mass devastation as a result. It’s pretty sweet.

I’ve also gotta say that I can’t really single any actor out as being bad. Everyone was pretty much bringing their A game with Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner playing Jor-El and Jonathan Kent respectively. Also Christopher Meloni is in it and I always have respect for a man whose IMDB bio begins with “With his piercing, blue-eyed glint, brawny looks, cocky “tough guy” stance and effortless charisma, TV’s Christopher Meloni drew on his sexy Italian heritage to grab audiences attention, male and female alike, finding breakthrough stardom playing on both sides of the law.” Well played Meloni’s IMDB bio. Well played.

So what about the bad, though I’ll admit that there’s a fairly decent amount of bad listed in the stuff that I supposedly liked about the film. Well, the story is a major concern and it also has a lot to do with the way the film is put together. After we see Kal-El’s pod crash land on Earth there is a cut to Clark working on a fishing boat. It is one of the worst cuts I have ever seen in my life. It was so jarring and unnatural looking that I actually thought that there might have been a problem with the projector and the film had skipped ahead. The middle of the story then is mostly made up of flashbacks as Clark tries to find out exactly what his role in human society is. The young man is torn and conflicted due to his pa telling him that he must hide who he really is until the world is ready to accept him.

He’s a tortured soul you see, someone with amazing and incredible gifts who must hide who he is because revealing himself would terrify the people he wants to protect. He’s an X-Man, you see. Ok, that’s a little unfair. In actuality this is gritty Superman. This is tortured Superman. This is Batmanified Superman. And it doesn’t work. The problem is that I think it could work. I think that the basic core idea is a solid one. I just think they went about it in totally the wrong way. The flashbacks suck any sense of development out of the story. Showing me an adult Clark getting in a situation and then flashing back to a scene of young Clark explaining why he reacts to this situation in the way that he does is one hundred percent less effective than having the story and my understanding of the character develop naturally and organically.

Then there’s the “romance” between Superman and Lois. It just sort of happens because, you know , that’s what happens in superhero movies, right? The hero needs a damsel in distress to save and so they are forced together and are making out in a devastated city on top of what must be the corpses of literally thousands after only really meeting each other a couple of times. It’s another symptom of the fact that there just isn’t any real development going on in the characters or story taking place in the present. All of the character development is shown a having taken place in the past in flashbacks relevant to the current situation and, again, that’s a really shitty way of doing things.

Overall it’s really a shame. To have such great acting, such great action and little flashes of brilliance here and there just to have it fall down on the single most important aspect of a movie, in my mind at least, the story is the biggest disappointment of all. Still, I left the cinema feeling somewhat hopeful. This could provide the background for a really nice sequel. It almost feels as though that’s exactly what they were thinking too. Rush through this film to retell the one superhero origin story that literally every human being knows, because at this point he’s been around since before many of our grandparents were born, and we can really focus on making the next film a great one. It is Batmanified Superman after all so why not just completely follow the formula of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films? Batman Begins had the advantage of having a vastly more interesting central character than Man of Steel but it still has to be admitted that The Dark Knight is when people sat up and paid attention and so I can see it being the same way with this.

Will they be able to pull a truly epic sequel off? Only time will tell and I hope that I’m proven right. It’d be nice to see Superman reinvented properly for a new age. Of course The Dark Knight had the advantage of having the Joker as the villain. A Man of Steel sequel will have to settle for Lex Luthor and it will be Lex Luthor.

And that's terrible...

And that’s terrible…

So I come to the end of this review a little disappointed. If indeed it was their plan to get through an origin movie just to provide the backdrop for a better sequel, did they need to waste Zod on it? It’s a shame but as I said, despite this disappointment I do remain hopeful and I feel it’s right to feel that way. After all hope is what the on Superman’s chest stands for.

Oh one last thing. Zod has one line, Snyder, Nolan and Goyer. One line that he is famous for. I know you’re trying to be all gritty and serious but c’mon, you couldn’t have thrown it in?

Two pints out of five. Laterz! Giant bronze penises to you all!

(In case you’re worried, that “And it will be Lex Luthor” line isn’t a spoiler for some post credits scene. There isn’t a post credits scene. It just will be Lex Luthor in the sequel obviously.)



Review: Byzantium by Jamie

The vampire craze doesn’t seem quite as strong as it once did. Twilight is over, True Blood has essentially become a parody of itself and the Underworld movies… are they still making Underworld movies? I dunno. My point is that there is perhaps a waning in the interest in stories about Vampires whilst their undead brethren, the Zombies, continue to shamble on triumphant (though I honestly think that could change is World War Z is as bad as I think it is going to be). Still the effect of the popularity of these big budget Vampire efforts is that we’ve also seen some far more interesting, smaller films be released. Films like ‘Let The Right One In’ and it’s American remake ‘Let Me In’. It is with those films that Byzantium resides.

Let me start of by saying that this film is directed by Neil Jordan, director of 1994’s ‘Interview With The Vampire’ and it’s pretty clear why he was hired to direct. The main thrust of the plot of Byzantium, adapted from the play ‘A Vampire Story’ by Moira Buffini, is all about a 16-yeat old (well, technically 216 year old) girl, Eleanor Webb (Saoirse Ronan) who wants to tell the story of her creation and two hundred year existence as a vampire but being unable to because of the rules that she lives by in order to remain safe. She just wants to live and love and considers herself a monster. It’s, well, it’s a story that’s almost identical in that regard to ‘An Interview With A Vampire’. In tone, however, this film shares far more with Let The Right One In especially as the story focuses more on her developing relationship with a young boy named Frank (Caleb Landry Jones)

So yeah, it’s fair to say that in some ways this film feels like a mish-mash of two different vampire films but that’s certainly no bad thing when both of those films are great and you can’t help but give them a little leeway since the director of one of those films is also the director of this one. And despite this the film remains an original story. There are also a number of tweaks to vampire mythos which purists may find annoying. These vampires can go out in the sun and rather than fangs, they pierce their victims skin with a retractable claw-like thumbnail. However, they also seem to able to be killed in ways that would kill a normal human, though may be able to take a little more punishment before death would occur.

I don’t really have a problem with that in this film. The reason that the sun thing annoys me in Twilight is that it’s obviously done just to make the Vampires look pretty. It’s also not balanced with any weakness to anything else. It seems, pretty much, as though the only thing that can kill another Vampire in Twilight is another Vampire or a Werewolf. By all rights, we should be living in a vampire-dominated world in those films.

I think it’d be fair to say that this film will not be everybody’s cup of tea. It’s slow and ponderous as a meditation on immortality perhaps should be. There is also the problem that all Vampire films seem to have ever since Interview (though that film manages to avoid this problem itself) and that’s that there isn’t really a character who seems to enjoy immortality. It’s possible that Eleanor’s progenitor Clara (Gemma Arterton) does though it’s never really made one hundred percent clear. It seems as though all modern vampires are made in the mould of Louis. They’re all so mopey. Don’t any of you enjoy the fact that you’re going to live forever? So you lost your soul? You don’t need one if your never going to die.

Despite all this, I still really enjoyed this film and found myself hooked as more and more of Eleanor’s story was revealed. Like I said though, it’s not gonna be for everyone. It does have Gemma Arterton dressed like a hooker throughout most of it so, yeah, there is that as well. Four pints out of five. Laterz.

Byzantium.



Review: The Purge by Jamie

One of the problems with being a film fan in the 21st Century is that I often find myself unable to avoid knowing everything about a movie before it’s released. Twitter, Facebook and the internet in general have all left me with knowing perhaps a little too much about something before I see it. There are still, however, movies that slip through the cracks. The Purge was one such movie. I think I saw one trailer for it which I obviously didn’t really take much away from and then largely ignored its existence until it’s release.

On a week that I thought was pretty light on releases, I checked the Cineworld website on Friday and noticed that once again I had overlooked The Purge. I booked my ticket and decided to watch the trailer again. It was an interesting concept, I’ll admit, but nothing I was particularly excited about. Maybe something from a sub-par episode of Charlie Brooker’s brilliant ‘Black Mirror’ series. So it was with pretty much no expectations that I headed off to the cinema.

Now for those of you that don’t know, the premise of the movie is thus: It is 2022 and America has become a practically crime free utopia. The reason behind this is The Purge, one night of the year when all crime is legal. It’s a night which people look forward to with a mixture of excitement and fear, some relishing the chance to give in to their baser animal desires whilst others choose to lock themselves away behind state of the art security systems until the night has passed. The film follows the Sandin family who have made their fortune through selling said security systems. They have a normal night of waiting it out ahead but things go awry when their son lets a man who was being attacked into their home. Will they be safe with the man in the house and what will happen when those who had been hunting him show up to finish the job?

So what did I think of it? Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised. Things are perhaps a little too slow to start off with but once the plot really gets underway, the movie becomes increasingly tense to a degree that I don’t think I’ve really felt since the first ‘Rec’ movie. And while that first act of the movie is slow, it does set the characters up as a believable family which serves the movie well during those tense scenes later.

Now the film is not perfect by any means. There are aspects which have no real explanation. The son, for example has a watch with which he monitors his heartbeat but no reason is given for this and it seems as though it’s only there to serve as a prop for something which happens later during the scene. I get the feeling that the movie is trying to say something about society as well. The man who is attacked is homeless and wears dogtags around his neck, something which I thought would be addressed, like a kind of “Oh, isn’t it ironic that this veteran is being hunted after fighting to preserve the freedom these people enjoy” kind of thing, but it never is. The people hunting him are privileged kids just looking for a thrill and hoping to purge, an act which they see as their right as American citizens. So the message of the movie is something about the rich using the poor as an expendable resource and whilst the film certainly hammers at this message, pretty much saying that outright at points, it’s never one which really feels as hard-hitting as I’m sure the film makers intended.

Another problem with the film is that it’s overly predictable. Without wanting to give too much away, as soon as certain characters reappear during towards the end of the film, you know exactly what direction it’s going to go in. Still, to the film makers ‘credit, the ending plays out well and with a good deal of humour, particularly regarding just how awkward things would be once the night is over.

Still, over all this a strong thriller with a somewhat original concept and even in a crowded theatre filled with loud, noisy teens, the tension came through the screen. God, I feel old having just typed that last sentence… Anyway, I really recommend this film, though perhaps give it a little while or try and see it in a cinema which you know will be a little closer to empty. Three pints out of five. Laterz.

The Purge.




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