‘WORLD WAR Z’ (2013). Cuddly Zombies?

World-War-Z-headerThe title doesn’t really work if, like me, you’re a Brit. World War Z is great if you’re an American because you pronounce it ‘World War ZEE‘ which rhymes with ‘World War THREE‘. If you pronounce it ‘World War ZED’ though, it’s clunky and meaningless. Not a good start. Luckily, the film itself does have a good start. Actually it has a great start. Actually the start is the best bit. Actually it’s one of the best action/horror movie starts ever!

It is an apocalyptic horror film directed by Marc Forster. The screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan is based on the 2006 novel of the same name by Max Brooks. The film stars Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane, a retired United Nations employee who must travel the world to find a way to stop a zombie-like pandemic.

I’d heard mixed reviews, some saying that the movie was too dissimilar to the book, some saying that it was predictable and the characters were one dimensional. I haven’t read the book so I can’t comment on whether it’s a good adaptation or not but I can see what people mean about it being predictable and the characters being a bit thin. Both of those charges are accurate. But I still loved it.

It is very conventional and doesn’t offer many surprises. The characters are a bit cardboardy although I was glad to get a hero who isn’t itching to get violent all the time like so many other action films offer. In all, Brad Pitt is good; understated and sympathetic. All of the other characters are instantly forgettable although I was sorry that Elyes Gabel got killed so quickly because he had potential to create a sort of quirky expert type like the one played by Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws.

It’s an exciting film with loads of suspense and planty of good set pieces. There’s no  boring bits and the pace was perfect. The zombies were okay especially the teeth-clacking creature in the final scenes. The monsters weren’t too horrific and some people might even think they’re a bit tame compared to, say, the zombies from Danny Boyle‘s 128 Days. Personally I was glad they weren’t too bad and that there wasn’t much gore because I’m squeamish and would have spent most of the film with my eyes shut. On the other hand, they weren’t exactly cuddly; they were genuinely eerie, I thought. Above all, the film-makers obviously knew how to do suspense and, judging by a lot of recent movies, that’s not an easy thing to do.

 

 

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JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013). Giant pot boiler.

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This film is based on the fairy tales Jack the Giant Killer and  Jack and the Beanstalk. The film is directed by Bryan Singer and stars Nicholas HoultEleanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy and Ewan McGregor with a screenplay written by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney. The film tells the story of Jack, a young farmhand who must rescue a princess from a race of giants after inadvertently opening a gateway to their world.

I didn’t like the opening much. It felt a bit ordinary. I’m sick of this craze for doing movies of fairy tales now and was waiting to see the usual shot of a big book and a hand turning over the page…. ‘Once upon a time…’ It started to get better when the giants appeared however. They’re really good. There’s extensive use of CGI but for once it seems natural. Each giant has an individual character unlike most of those in The Hobbit and they really carry with them an effective air of menace. The structure was good too with a clear beginning, middle and end (something a lot of films wrongly think they can dispense with). The script itself, though, is pretty average and helps maintain a feeling that you’re watching a bit of a pot boiler here.

Where the film excels is in the finale. The scene with the giants descending from above and chasing the humans is genuinely exciting. Ewan McGregor is good; Ian McShane is especially good; Eleanor Tomlinson is okay but it’s a boring role. Nicholas Hoult is terrible; he lacks any kind of charisma and just looks wooden and embarrassed the whole time. My favourite character was the chief giant’s extra head who stole every scene he was in with his gurning (he even had a little battle helmet of his own, bless)! Overall, I really liked this one with one or too reservations.

 

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LIFE OF PI (2012) Success against the odds.

lifeofpiThe odds were against it. It’s unlikely that I will like a film when I’ve already read the book from which the film was adapted. I read Yann Martell’s novel a couple of years ago and was blown away by it. So I fully expected to be, at best, disappointed by the movie. Also, I usually hate films with lots of CGI. The odds were definitely against it.

I loved it. People had said that the book was un-filmable but they filmed it by simply playing it straight. The only changes they made were the addition of an extra character to whom the adult Pi could relate events and the slight clarification of the conclusion (much more ambiguous in the book). Neither of these detracted from the overall impact of the story. I loved the way there was no rush to get to the exciting, adventure element of the narrative. None of the early spiritual  and character-based content was jettisoned. Subsequently, the exciting stuff, when it came, was all the more exciting because we cared about the characters. Much of the credit for this must go to the bloke who adapted it, David Magee. And maybe a tiny amount of credit to legendary director Ang Lee.

The duel between the tiger and the boy on board a tiny lifeboat adrift at sea is compelling. The CGI is okay in a rubbish kind of way (you can ALWAYS tell when CGI is used in films!) and you almost completely forget that it’s CGI (almost) and I suppose the movie truly would be un-filmable without CGI so…. thank God for CGI (two things I completely don’t believe in!!) (a third would be good grammar – Ed). I also have to say how utterly brilliant Irrfan Khan is as the adult Pi. Apparently he is a Bollywood actor of note; I hate Bollywood films but Khan is superb in this, especially in the  later scenes. Honestly, I’ve rarely seen a better performance. When you see it, you’ll know what I’m talking about. As for the message of the film; I think it’s saying something about belief and faith and hope and all that stuff. It’s something I don’t necessarily agree with but at least it gets you thinking! See it and see what you think.

The weakest part of the film is the last ten minutes when the movie tries to depict the ambiguous ending of the book without making it unintelligible or, conversely, dumbing it down into a conventional movie ending. It basically comes down to a monologue delivered by the young Pi. And it doesn’t quite work. But it nearly works. And for a novel as weird and unconventional as Life of Pi to have a movie adaptation which nearly works is an amazing achievement.

 

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THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012). Dragon tale is really really long.

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For once I can say I have actually seen the previous films in this series; I’ve seen all of the first three Lord of the Rings films. I’ve even read all of Tolkien‘s L of the R books including The Hobbit! And I liked them all; movies and books alike. It’s a bit weird then that I’m not a big Peter Jackson fan. I haven’t liked much of his other stuff except for The Lovely Bones; it always seems over long and CGI heavy (King Kong especially was terrible).

The Hobbit starts off looking like it’s going to fall into the same traps. The scene in Bilbo‘s home with all the dwarves is horrifically long and dull. It felt like it went on for an hour and I reckon 80 per cent of it could have been chopped. You can almost hear the story being stretched so that there will be enough material to fill not only this film but the next two! It didn’t help that the awful cinema where I saw it (Reel in Widnes, Cheshire; name and shame em I say!) had broken heaters and the temperature was literally minus one degree throughout! (By the second hour, I had lost the use of major muscles groups!)

But then things warmed up. Not the temperature (freezing for the whole time!) but the film. It got better. A lot better. Once monsters start appearing it all starts to come together. There’s some really good sequences and some great interplay between the dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf. Martin Freeman plays a character that he always plays but he is truly brilliant at it. Ian McKellern does the same. Andy Serkis… does the same. Everyone is playing roles that they could do in their sleep but doing it superbly. The highlights, I thought, were the scenes between Bilbo and Gollum where the ring makes its first appearance and the final battle scenes which are genuinely exciting. The whole thing feels a bit like one of those Jason and the Argonauts type films where a band of misfits go on a quest and encounter a selection of weird beasts and monsters en route.

I think doing this as two films is stretching it. I think doing it as three films is stretching it to breaking point. I think doing it as three films each lasting three hours is stretching it even further than even Donald Trump’s hair has ever stretched! Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed the first one and it actually didn’t feel like almost three hours despite the fact that, by the end, my nose had turned into a Cornetto.

 

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RISE OF THE GUARDIANS (2012). Average. Believe it.

rise-of-the-guardians-2012-still1I’m finding that I increasingly feel the need for a little sleep during films. I don’t know if this is due to my watching a lot of boring films or me getting four hours sleep a night. In the case of Rise of the Guardians I felt like a sleep because the story meanders like hell.

It’s an American animated fantasy-adventure film based on William Joyce‘s The Guardians of Childhood book series and The Man in the Moon short film by Joyce and Reel FX. Set 200 years after the books, it’s a story about the Guardians (Jack Frost, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and the Sandman), trying to stop villainous Pitch from engulfing the world in darkness.

I know it’s not a film aimed at me but I just found it pretty long-winded in the first half. The animation is dazzling, no question about that, and some of the scenes are totally magical. But the WOW factor wasn’t enough in the absence of a proper story. The aforementioned mythical creatures get together to defeat a baddie. That’s it really. There’s a lot of stuff about how you have to believe in something and I suppose that’s what made me a bit peed off. I re-watched the remake of Miracle on 34th Street on TV recently and it made me really angry especially when Richard Attenborough dressed as Father Christmas says something like ‘if you can never take anything on faith then you’re destined for a life dominated by doubt and fear’. Preachy, syrupy, corny and just plain wrong! Yes Father Christmas is great for kids to believe in because it adds an extra thrill to the festivities. But actually HE DOES NOT EXIST! Are you telling me to believe in something which doesn’t exist so I don’t live in fear and doubt?!! Something like Father Christmas or erm…. God? Rise of the Guardians has strong undertones of that kind of garbage and I’m really getting sick of it. Sorry.

The voices were all OK but nothing special; by the way why do we ALWAYS have to have a Brit playing the villain (Jude Law)? That’s another thing I’m getting sick of. It wasn’t funny at any point, it wasn’t suspenseful, it wasn’t touching. In all, this is pretty standard, lazy stuff. It occasionally came to life in the confrontations between Jack Frost and Pitch but mostly it was a bore.

 

 

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TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN PART TWO (2012). Thrilling finale or cure for insomnia?

Yet again I have to start with a disclaimer. I’m not a fan of the Twilight series; in fact I’ve only seen the first one. I haven’t even seen the first part of Breaking Dawn. As for part two; I can’t say it was the complete disaster I was expecting. It nearly was, though.

For the biggest part of the movie I was pretty bored. The idea of having this group of vampires as the good guys, I thought, was good. Unfortunately none of the carnivorous clan living in the woods had any kind of personality. Maybe I missed something which had been shown in earlier instalments but these characters seemed utterly characterless to me. They were just a bunch of American teens living in a commune with a communal character. They’re all the same! Annoying! Good-looking, slim, tanned, brain-dead and the same! Couldn’t one of them have been a cross-dresser or a kleptomaniac or a vegetarian or something?! Couldn’t they have made those endless scenes in the cabin in the woods a bit more interesting by giving the vampires different personalities. As it was, they all had EXACTLY the same personality (or rather LACK of personality) so there was no tension, no development, no conflict, no point. And it was all filmed like a TV movie. Average. Samey. Familiar. Great cure for insomnia.

I understand, of course, that the film is not aimed at me. It’s aimed at fifteen-year-old girls. But I think even some fifteen-year-old girls are going to be a bit bored by this. They’ll swoon over Robert Pattinson of course but then what? Because, BREAKING NEWS FOR MAKERS OF TWILIGHT; fifteen-year-old girls do have brains. Some, no most, of the dialogue is unbelievably moronic. My favourite terrible line was; ‘you named her after the Loch Ness Monster?!’ When you hear this line spoken you will know without doubt that you are watching nothing more than an expensive B-movie.

BUT! When we got to the final scenes especially those involving Michael Sheen things picked up a bit. Actually, I admit that I did enjoy the big, bloody battle scene. I’ll even go as far as to say that it was really well done; there was tension and horror and excitement. It’s hard to make battle scenes interesting (ask Peter Jackson!) but this battle scene is really good. I didn’t even know the characters but I still loved it. It’s paced beautifully and concentrates on individuals which is really clever and actually pretty brilliant which seems… well… at odds with the rest of the film. I was completely changing my views of the movie as I watched this superb finale…. but then it turns out that it’s all in the mind of one of the characters! Everyone gets a sudden attack of morality and goes home. The entire climax of the movie never actually happened. The only part I liked turns out to be a dream sequence!!! Clever twist? No.

Because of that excellent battle scene at the end I have to upgrade my rating of this film which was otherwise utterly grim and unimaginative. That scene really is great and elevates the movie to the heights of…… still crap.

 

 

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SKYFALL (2012). More than the usual shoot ’em up?

 

 

This review of the latest film in the James Bond series does not come from a James Bond fan. Usually I don’t like Bond films. The ones I’ve found most bearable have tended to be the ones that most Bond fans don’t like (e.g. The Living Daylights). The reason I’m not usually a fan is because most of the films seem camp, old-fashioned, predictable and just plain boring. I don’t want to watch some cardboard spy shooting corny villains who always want to take over the world and sleeping with dull bimbos who haven’t even got the decency to show a nipple to make up for their vacuousness. I’d heard great reviews of Skyfall though so I made a big effort to go in with an open mind. Was it worth the effort?

The traditional opening action sequence was quite exciting but nothing particularly new. As the expected swirly opening titles appeared I was not convinced I was going to see anything different to the usual Bond stuff. And, to be honest, for most of the first hour I was bored to tears. I felt the old drowsiness coming back which means that the choice between having a sly snooze or watching the rest of the movie has become a close call. The most yawnsome scene is the one in the casino. Oh God that is so long and creaky it hurts!

Then… salvation! It got interesting. I think things perked up from the arrival of the villain. Firstly, the villain (Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva) actually didn’t want to take over the world. Well, not much. He was more of a simple, no frills psychopath in the Hannibal Lecter tradition. The scene where he takes his teeth out was positively sinister (never thought I’d write that sentence!).

And things continued improving. The scene where Silva enters the chamber in which M is facing questions from a Government enquiry is extremely suspenseful and probably the best in the film. Suddenly the characters are put under the spotlight instead of pointless shooting scenes. Yet this isn’t done in a cheesy, overly touchy feely way. It still fits into what people generally define as a Bond film but manages to flesh out the characters of M, Q, and even Bond himself.

Bond’s childhood is explored but it’s not mawkish (that would have been truly embarrassing). The relationships between long-established characters are highlighted. It made me wonder how the hell this series has survived so long without ANY character development whatsoever! EVERY good film NEEDS good characters! Rule number one. Shooting people, on its own, isn’t enough.

Daniel Craig relaxes into the role superbly. This might be because the character is fleshed out in the script for the first time. Maybe Craig feels more comfortable doing cheesy Bond quips now because he knows they’re balanced out by proper character development in this one. (By the way, there’s even a homo-erotic moment with the bad guy! That really is character development!!)

While all this is going on, a few moments of nostalgia are thrown in as a nod to the fact that it is the 50th anniversary of the release of the first ever Bond film; Dr No. These moments highlight what is the theme of the film; old versus new; which is best, do we need both?, how do they inter-relate? Yes this is a Bond film with a proper theme! This must, MUST be the influence of Director Sam Mendes. Mendes has done some amazing movies with grown-up themes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, Road to Perdition). He wasn’t going to be interested in doing an ordinary shoot ’em up. And of course it must chiefly be down to the writers  Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and especially newcomer John Logan. Purvis and Wade have written all the Bonds since The World is not Enough and they’ve all been ordinary. I don’t know what playwright Logan has brought to the mix but whatever it is, it works. Maybe original writer Peter Morgan (who left the production during the 2010 suspension due to MGM’s financial difficulties).

I have to mention my couple of little quibbles of course. These are; the first hour is boring (quite a big quibble actually) and Albert Finney attempting a Scottish accent (if so it’s a disaster). Everything else works great. This was a great Bond film but, more importantly, a great film.

 

 

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