World War Z

The Apocalypse, brought to you in part by Papsi

The Apocalypse, brought to you in part by Pepsi

There’s a blatant product placement late in World War Z that got the biggest laugh in our theater and there’s one humorous death early on, but this film is basically all business.  The end of the world is a pretty big deal, after all, and WWZ spares no expense showing us the damage done.  Brad Pitt may be a hearthrob in the tabloids, but the guy is also a solid enough actor to carry a film of this magnitude.  Here he plays Gerry, the man who is basically in charge of figuring out how to stop the zombie plague that is rapidly destroying life as we know it around the globe.  In fact, one of the film’s strengths is portraying just how massive an event like this would actually be.  Pitt travels from one exotic location to the next, barely staying one step ahead of the carnage as he tries to solve this medical mystery.

Putting the world in a movie with World in the title is pretty impressive, but it also creates an accesibility problem that I always find a bit distracting in disaster movies.  Pitt (and by extension, Gerry), is a likeable guy, but no matter how much I’m rooting for a hero, it’s hard to ignore the colossal damage being done around him and not feel stupid for cheering him on.  I understand that movies have to have characters in them, but why exactly should I be happy Pitt and his family made it out alive when thousands or millions didn’t?  The movie shows us the world ending, but doesn’t treat it with any gravitas.  I guess it’s hard to be sad when you have some heavy duty ‘main character invincibility.’  Pitt is SO not going to die in this movie that even the man he reports to shrugs off a plane crash with “that dude’s crafty, he probably survived.”  And he’s right.

The second half plays a little better when things settle in and get scaled down.  It’s much easier to root for a character fighting through an enclosed space with a clear goal in mind than it is to root for a guy to be the ONE guy who gets out of a falling city.  There’s nothing new here (I should know, since my own novel has some of the same basic scenes) but it’s well done, which is all you can ask at this point in the shelf life of “zombie movie.”

The zombies themselves, though obviously CGI in most cases, are more threatening and frightening than most, as they take ‘not giving a shit about their own well being’ to a new level.  The initial fall of Philadelphia is effective at showing how the zombies could gain the early advantage in this war, as it’s very difficult to tell friend from foe.

The dialogue is a bit clunky at times, with mostly unnecessary exposition coming in ways people just don’t talk to each other.  “You are Gerry Whatever!  You were in War Zone #2 in ’97!” to which the proper response would be, “I know who I am, duh.”   They even break out the classic, “There’s no time to explain!” when explaining is the only thing that could possibly matter to the fate of mankind at that point in the movie.

But I’m nitpicking.  Nobody’s going to the theater to see a Brad Pitt epic-level zombie flick for the dialogue.  WWZ delivers in every way you would expect an action movie to deliver and it’s a thrilling and effective romp through the apocalypse.  I groaned when I saw that this was PG-13 instead of R, but it’s actually a pretty intense PG-13.  A movie can be scary and action-packed without being overly gory.  There are no tits, so it’s all good in the MPAA’s eyes, I guess.

It’s not exactly hard for a theatrically released blockbuster to make it onto the first page of our rankings, but WWZ earned its spot.  It’s a solid zombie movie and even has enough action to satisfy someone who might not be into the undead craze.

Grade: A 

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Zombie Movie Night: June ’13

Only a couple of years ago, I was scouring lists of zombie movies, then checking the trailers on youtube to make sure something didn’t look too crappy.  Today, it’s more like, “ehh, that’s streaming so I don’t have to send for it.”  Part of it is laziness, yes, but the other part is that I’ve learned that bad-looking movies can be good and good-looking movies can be bad.  It’s all a crapshoot.

First up for June was State of Emergency, which thankfully does not turn out to be 90 minutes of an annoying beeping sound.  Although a test pattern might have been more compelling…  This is a paint-by-numbers zombie flick which goes out of its way to shoehorn in just about every cliche you can think of.  Yes, even the classic “ohhh, it was only a cat…OMGZ no, it wasn’t!”  The zombies are pathetically non-threatening, either standing around in a daze or giving up when they get injured.  Giving up!  The acting is mostly bad, escpecially the one guy who speaks in awkward sentence fragments with frequent pauses, which I presume were the line breaks on the physical script.  Character motivations and actions suit what said script needs them to do.  Bitch girl (stupidly named Ix, which is short for Alex) warms up to our hero so quickly, it’s puzzling why she was presented as a bitch in the first place.  Perfectly nice guy puts the group in danger and then gets irrationally angry about being saved from his own dumb-assery because it must have seemed like a good spot for a bit of conflict.  That said, State of Emergency isn’t horrible.  Most of it is the fun kind of bad movie, but it just doesn’t pack enough punch on the scales of good or bad to be very memorable.  I expect it will soon get lost in the sea of mediocrity that is the middle of our rankings.  Grade: C

state

Our second film of the night was Black Swarm, a fun little B-movie that would fit right in with Syfy Channel’s nature-gone-wrong movie line-up.  I didn’t intend “B-movie” to be a pun, but this film is about mutated wasps turning people into zombies, so there ya go.  I write about a lot of movies that are enjoyably bad, but Black Swarm takes it to another level.  This movie is ridiculous.  Yeah, it knows it is in most spots, but the places where it tries to play it straight somehow end up being more fucked-up batshit insane.  It really has to be seen to be believed.   The heroes try to defeat a swarm of bees by blowing them up and then act surprised when that doesn’t work.  The heroine has a backstory with the hero and his dead twin brother that would make Dr. Phil wash his hands of them.  And I haven’t even gotten to Robert Englund, who is supposed to be a creepy weirdo but ends up being the most normal person involved in the proceedings.  Yes, some movies are merely enjoyably bad, but Black Swarm is gut-bustingly hilarious in its badness.  Grade: B-

blackswarm

Finally, there was a bonus third movie this month, thanks to my birthday present to Zombie Shakespeare.  I’ve found Wal-mart and Target carry a lot of zombie movies I’ve never heard of in between the latest releases.  In this spirit, I picked up Mimesis: Night of the Living Dead.  The premise is intriguing.  Some kids attend a secluded backwoods party, then find themselves drugged and waking up in a living nightmare.  A Night of the Living Dead living nightmare!  Our intrepid heroes must then navigate their way through a reenactment of George Romero’s classic film as they try to remember not only what comes next in the movie but also whether it’s all real or not.  That is a gold star for ingenuity, I think.  Villains who want to create “real” horror movies has been done before, but to mimic a film that’s famously in the public domain allows this movie to mind-bend and play with reality that much more, as they can pay a lot more attention to the details of their source material.

Sadly, the premise is more ambitious than the budget allows for.  The acting is subpar and some of the character motivations make no sense.  (I feel like I should just auto-paste that line into every review from now on).  And of course, despite how impressed I was by the premise, it doesn’t, and perhaps CAN’T explain its biggest gaping plot hole.  Why don’t the victims ever try to leave?  Still, this is a fun little movie that is a nice homage to Night without being the total rip-off you might expect it to be.  Grade: B