World War Z (2013)

World War Z (2013)

Viruses. As The Phage, I’m pretty savvy on them. Those that know me outside of my alias will know this truth to permeate through my professional life too. So, any movie that deals with viruses and plagues best get its ducks in a row, because I’m going to be biologically clued up. As sad as it is, if something’s grossly wrong with the science, I won’t be sold on it. I know… such a geek. By a similar extension, The Phage is also a big fan of all things “zombie”. Ever since we clapped eyes on 28 Days Later we were sold on these creatures – these abominations. This is what’s led us to worship at the altar of The Walking Dead and glorify Max Brooks‘ incredible book, World War Z. So, when we heard about the big screen version happening… well, we were excited. Really excited. The book has such rich source material and is written in such a compelling manner that you can’t help but KNOW it’ll be a success, right? Right?

World War Z (2013)

Well, it would be if the film followed the book in any which way. World War Z (the book) is an oral retelling of “the war” by a journalist travelling the world and talking to survivors about their experiences throughout the outbreak that would ultimately wipe out a huge chunk of humanity. It was gripping, it was vivid, and it was varied. It still stands as one of my favourite books, and I encourage anyone out there to go and read it. World War Z (the film) eschews all of these ideas and goes with something entirely more… formulaic. Here, the film follows Gerry (Brad Pitt), his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and their kids as they try and escape New Jersey after the plague hits the US east coast. Gerry’s separated from his family as he’s brought back into the UN in order to try and track down the root cause of the disease and hopefully find a cure. None of this happens in the book. Not a word. But does this make it a bad film?

In a word… no. World War Z isn’t a bad film, far from it. It’s a big budget, globe-spanning zombie movie that will no doubt please many hoping for a different take on the genre. For instance, there’s remarkably little blood! For a zombie movie, that’s unheard of. It also features a lot of dialogue and piecing together what’s happened. It’s not all “run run run”, like so many others have been in the past. It’s entertaining. Having said that, it’s not without its flaws… mainly owing to the fact that it’d rather have a flurry of activity and try and overwhelm you with numbers than make you truly care about the protagonists or feel the personal intensity that it should do.

World War Z (2013)

Obviously, the star of the show here is Brad Pitt. There’s no two ways about this, as he’s the only listed name on the posters. It’s “his” movie. How’s his performance? Well, it’s Pitt isn’t it? Of course its solid. It just feels as though his character is a tad underwhelming. I never felt any empathy with him and never really cared for his family’s plight. I just wanted him to do his job and identify the cause of the plague. I mean, I already know the cause from reading the book (clue: it doesn’t follow the book at all), but I was keen to see how the movie would deal with it.

I’m very tempted to launch into a tirade here about how it’s “not like the book”, but I’m going to try and resist. Normally, I don’t like those purists who bemoan adaptations, so I’m going to try and not be one of them. But let me look at this through another set of eyes: zombie eyes. When I think of apocalyptic modern zombie horror I think of either The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later / 28 Weeks Later. Both of those movies show desperation and plight. They also do fantastic jobs of bringing the undead to life – particularly The Walking Dead. But that was lost for me in World War Z. Firstly, the majority of the horde are CGI. This isn’t a great thing. I understand they wanted to emphasise the scale of the conflict, which would call for a ton of extras, but the CGI just didn’t look too good either. But then… when you do get real zombies acted by humans? They’re still not that impressive. The final scenes in particular are laughable. Can someone please tell me why the creative team behind World War Z decided to model the zombies on parrots? Why do they make that weird caw-ing noise? Why do they randomly make biting noises with their jaws? And why do they look at you from the side, like they’re birds? I want my zombies making noises like in 28 Days Later – deranged, maniacal, angry grunts. If you’re going to do speedy zombies, at least get the noise right.

World War Z (2013)

Finally, I want to draw attention to the ending. The ending that was changed at the eleventh hour. As a virologist by training (damn, my secret’s out), a lot of what they were saying was utter nonsense. Complete. Nonsense. The biological leaps astounded me and appalled me. They could have hired me to do a better job. And the solution that’s reached for their problems in the film? Ouch… just pure stupidity. And also, nothing from the book too. At least they’ve left it all open for the sequel. The sequel that Paramount is now committed to making. Maybe they’ll up the gore quota? I just wish they’d gone with the original ending ideas (click here). How deliciously morbid does it sound? That’s how I like my zombie movie tone… dark.

So, maybe I am being a purist here. I can’t help it. I love the book and I love modern zombie movies when done well. World War Z isn’t a bad movie; it’s just struggling to be an effective zombie movie, which isn’t helped by the fact it’s ignored some splendid source material. I applaud the movie for skipping location a lot and trying to emphasise the scope of the problem, but it just felt rather hollow at its core. In the sequel, I hope they bring in some better prosthetics, a better overall plot and please… bring us some gore. Not excessive, but some of it. I want to fear these Zachs and Zeeks (zombies in the book)… it’s something I just didn’t have with the big screen version of my favourite book.

What do I hope will happen in the sequel? Honestly? I don’t know. They’ve already ignored what made the book so special: the format. I defy anyone to not think that the book is spectacularly novel in its take on zombies. It’s also chilling. Chilling to think that when the war’s over, they’re still there. Think the ocean’s safe? They walk along the sea bed. Think you can freeze them to death? Well, they’re coming back. It spreads. So although World War Z wasn’t as accurate as it could be, my eyes now gaze towards the upcoming adaptation of Stephen King’s Cell – another fantastic tale of zombies… surely that can’t deviate? Surely!?

Phage Factor:

3 Star

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Thirteen of the Best for 2013

Gaze into the Phage's Ball...

Gaze into the Phage’s Ball…

Happy New Year one and all! We’ve all managed to survive the armageddon and hopefully survived the welcoming in of 2013 last night. So now you have just one question on your lips about the year ahead right? What are the best films of 2013! No? You’re telling me you want to know if you’ll get that promotion / girl / boy / revenge? Well, I’m afraid I’m just going to answer the query about some of the biggest films to come in 2013. Last week we had a retrospective look back at 2012 with the 1st Annual Phagee Awards and now, like Janus – the namesake of January, we’re going to look forward to what’s to come. So I’ve picked thirteen films for 2013 that should be on your radar. Whilst I hope they’re all going to be hits… I can guarantee they’ll be an interesting watch, for better – or worse.

1) 14th February: A Good Day To Die Hard

2013 Die Hard 5

Yes, Bruce Willis will once again be donning a dirty vest and reprising his role as the unluckiest man in the world: John McClane. We cannot wait for this film. Film Phage are massive fans of the others in the franchise, so we’re eager to see what happens in the fifth. Sure, Die Hard 4 can’t hold a candle to Die Hard: With A Vengeance, but it was still great fun and we’re hoping for more of the same. The only worry? Having John McClane Jr. (aka Jack McClane, aka Jai Courtney) running around with him. Whilst we’re sure Courtney will do an admirable job… we still wish it was Tom Hardy in that role. We can dream right?

2) 27th March: Trance

2013 Trance

This one’s coming in low and hard, because I don’t think many people even know that Danny Boyle‘s latest film will be hitting cinemas in the Spring. This is the guy that brought you Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours to name but four of his eclectic movies. Whilst he’s not released too many details, we know it has James McAvoy at its lead and deals with art, ripping off gangsters and hypnosis, which leads to a reality-bending story where you don’t know what’s real from what’s resulting from the trance. It all sounds ludicrously trippy and we’re looking forward to having our minds warped.

3) 12th April: Oblivion

2013 Oblivion

Whilst nerdy gamers worldwide may be rejoicing in the premise of a live action retelling of the Oblivion video game, that’s not the case. No, this is a post-apocalyptic film starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman. Whilst Cruise has been known to produce a dud once every so often, he’s a pretty bankable actor and only commits to promising films. This film puts Cruise as an engineer who returns to a war-ravaged Earth (we’ve been at war with aliens) and discovers a secret that turns the whole war on its head. Sure, Cruise has dabbled with aliens in the less-than-well-received War of the Worlds, but we’re excited by this. It has great potential.

4) 26th April: Iron Man 3

2013 Iron Man 3

Don’t tell me you couldn’t see this making my list? We’re massive Marvel fans at Film Phage and can’t wait for Robert Downey Jr. to don the red and yellow suit once more. Whilst it’s great to have Sir Ben Kingsley as a menacing Mandarin, we’re also very curious about Guy Pearce‘s role. If it’s true to the Extremis comic-book storyline then his character should have a nice meaty role. Pearce has impressed us in 2012 with his slimey performance in Lawless and we couldn’t help but like him in Lockout too. This could potentially be Downey Jr.‘s last outing as Iron Man in his own dedicated film, so we’re hoping that if it is – he goes out with a bang! We also get this a week before the US… which makes it even better.

5) 24th May: The Hangover Part III

2013 Hangover Part 3

The Hangover was a breath of fresh air for the comedy film world. It was rude, bombastic and totally absurd… it was great. So when Part II reared its head in 2011… well, we were all a bit disappointed. It was near enough a copy-and-paste of its predecessor. However, The Hangover Part III is promising to turn the concept on its head, with the guys (Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms) coming to the aid of Zach Galifianakis‘ Alan. At least, that’s what the rumours are indicating… we’ll see for sure come May.

6) 7th June: After Earth

2013 After Earth

When Will Smith releases a film, the world raises its head and takes notice. He, like Cruise, has released some dud movies, but he’s another incredibly bankable actor and generally has a fantastic number of releases under his belt. In After Earth we see him reunited on-screen with his son Jaden Smith, which is great… but isn’t the reason we’re excited about this. The film also marks the return of M. Night Shyamalan to the director’s chair some 3 years after the disaster that was The Last Airbender. All we really know is that it sees Big Willy crash land on a planet that’s not been inhabited by humans for 1000 years. We just hope that “the twist” isn’t that he’s time travelled and this IS Earth… A bit like Planet of the Apes, but without the damn dirty apes.

7) 14th June: Man of Steel

2013 Man of Steel

Although Batman’s done and dusted, Christopher Nolan‘s dabbling with the DC superheroes isn’t over. With Zack Snyder in the director’s chair, and Nolan as producer, we see the return of Superman. Whilst the trailers have been suitably vague, we’re excited to see what they’ll do with this franchise. Could it be the next Green Lantern, or will he be the new Dark Knight… or a Light Knight. With laser eyes, who can fly… and spin the world backwards. How they manage to ground such a ludicrously powerful hero will be interesting. Because as we know, all Hollywood cares about nowadays is making heroes “gritty” and “realistic”. We’ve high hopes for Henry Cavill though – he certainly looks the part, and with the main villain touted as Zod (another superpowered guy), we’re expecting fireworks.

8) 21st June: World War Z

2013 World War Z

This could be fantastic… but it could also be awful… This film worries us and excites us in equal measures. I’m a massive fan of Max Brooks’ original book by the same name. It’s utterly fantastic. But the Brad Pitt-led film deviates heavily from the concept of the book (an oral retelling of a war against a plague that turns people into zombies – told by the survivors). Instead, this film opts to follow Pitt -who works for the UN, during an onslaught in Pittsburgh. The trailer looks a bit of a mess, with the zombies somehow forming a tidal wave – they move like a liquid. An odd choice. I’d rather we saw the runners from 28 Days Later… but we’ll see how this turns out. We’re curious, to say the least.

9) 12th July: Monsters University

2013 Monsters University

Finally we get the follow up to 2001’s Monsters Inc., which is one of my favourite animated movies. We’re hoping that Monsters University goes beyond what was done back then and creates a truly funny and imaginative film. The original gang is back, so we can look forward to seeing Sully (John Goodman) and Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) in their University of Fear days. We know that they weren’t necessarily friends back then, so it’ll be an interesting plot. Let’s just hope the sequel / prequel is at least as good as the original so that it doesn’t sully (ha – that’s his name!) what was a great original film.

10) 26th July: The Wolverine

2013 The Wolverine

The most popular X-Man reappears on-screen this year – once again courtesy of Hugh Jackman. This one should be interesting. Apparently it’s going to skip over X-Men Origins: Wolverine and actually pick up from where X-Men: The Last Stand left off. Very interesting. Incidentally, it’s set in Japan and sees Logan coping with his losses and dealing with his life. Naturally, he’s going to have to pop those claws too to deal with some samurais. We’re also intrigued to see whether this somehow links in with 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, which should feature Wolverine quite prominently. Hugh Jackman‘s signed on for it, so we shall see…

11) 20th September: Elysium

2013 Elysium

This is probably our most anticipated film on the list. Why? Because we’re seeing Neil Blomkamp returning as the writer and director. Who’s he? Only the guy behind District 9 – one of our favourite films. We’re still waiting on District 10 though – get on it Neil – we want to know what happened to Wikus! Why else should this be great? 1) the actors: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley, 2) the story: rich folks live on a spacecraft, poor folks live on the wrecked Earth… and Matt Damon‘s going to equalise it! We’re very, very excited.

12) ??th October: Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

2013 Sin City 2 A Dame To Kill For

2005’s Sin City was a beautiful piece of cinema. In every sense. It was pulpy, gritty and looked sublime. It was Robert Rodriguez at his best, adapting a great Max Miller story. Can he do it twice? Well we’ve got a hell of a lot of the cast back for events that are set just before the original film. That means Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Michael Madsen, Clive Owen etc. It’s a shame Bruce Willis doesn’t figure in this story, as his character was great. But hey – if we’ve got more of Mickey Rourke‘s Marv back up there smashing things, then we’re happy. It also features some bizarre cameos… Lady Gaga anyone?

13) 30th October: Thor: The Dark World

2013 Thor The Dark World

Rounding out our list of the thirteen most anticipated films is everyone’s favourite Norse God: Thor. Yes, Chris Hemsworth will be back at his ripped best and fighting a new evil… one that isn’t just Tom Hiddleston‘s Loki again! Hurrah! This time we’ll see him squaring off against Christopher Eccleston‘s Malekith in what should be a refreshing new angle – not all God vs. God again, or Thor landing on Earth in the middle of nowhere doing his best impression of Crocodile Dundee… minus “y’call that a knife?” routine. Oh, and again… UK beats the US release by one week. We may have lost the battle for Wreck-It Ralph, but we’ve not lost the war yet my friends.

And that’s it – just a selection of thirteen of our picks of films to watch in 2013. We’ve not even touched on the new Fast & The Furious movie, which again has Dwayne Johnson in it, so it should be pretty good. Then there’s Gangster Squad, the eventual release of Wreck-It Ralph, and Spielberg‘s Robopocalypse. But hey – it’s thirteen films for 2013… I’ll do more films next year. Probably fourteen. If the world doesn’t end this year either.

Killing Them Softly (2012)

Have you ever read the title to a film and had a thought that has nothing to do with the film itself? Maybe it’s an inappropriate one? Oh come on – you’re saying you haven’t read the title Debbie Does Dallas and wondered how she managed that feat, or who the hell Dallas is? How about Blow, Snatch or Free Willy? Let’s get one thing clear – the title of Killing Them Softly doesn’t make me think of an innuendo. I’m not some weird deviant. Maybe Ted Bundy would find it appropriately inappropriate. No, Killing Them Softly just makes me think of that damn Fugees song from years ago with a very similar name. I was disappointed when the film didn’t open with this tune… but I certainly wasn’t disappointed with the film itself.

Killing Them Softly tells the story of the aftermath of a gambling den robbery carried out by two money-hungry guys: Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn). The robbery goes well… but you can’t let bad guys get away with a robbery like that now can you? Cue the hiring of Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to dispose of the problem. And by dispose, I truly mean it.

If the plot sounds fairly generic and simplistic, then that’s probably because it is, but don’t let this deter you from the movie. The whole vibe of the film reminded me a lot of a hybrid of Killer Joe, Death Proof and Drive. It had the malice of Killer Joe, the extended, witty, well written dialogue that Tarantino favours, and the occasional bouts of brutal violence that Drive employed.

All of this is held together by the main man: Brad Pitt. Now, he may be the biggest name on the poster, but he doesn’t appear for quite a while. This leaves the film to be driven primarily by McNairy and Mendelsohn. I thought their dialogue was fantastic. It was rough – maybe too rough for some, but grounded. It felt believable. Sure, it may not have contributed much to the plot but it coloured the characters perfectly. You quickly felt that Mendelsohn‘s Australian character was scummy – a real low life, but you noticed that McNairy’s was less obtusely offensive and more reserved. Real kudos has to go to writer / director Andrew Dominick (Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James…) for adapting George V. Higgins’ book so well. The lines really pop off the screen. Similarly, James Gandolfini picks up where The Sopranos left off to deliver another delicious slice of mob mentality. His performance was particularly noteworthy just because he’s such an abrasive, unlikeable character.

I’m sure you’re yearning to know how Pitt performs and he’s his usual reliable self. Possibly giving his best performance of the past few years. His take on this role wasn’t as jaw-dropping as Matthew McConaughey in Killer Joe; namely because you didn’t expect such a performance from McConaughey. But with Brad Pitt you’ve seen him play the good guy and the crazy guy before. That takes nothing away from his performance though, which was as mesmerising as ever.

What I liked less about the film was it’s idea of supplanting the story against the backdrop of the global recession and the 2008 US election. It was just a peculiar way of shoehorning in some political agenda. You’d have lengthy pieces of the film which consisted of nothing more than George W. Bush or Barack Obama talking about the recession. I appreciate the fact that the dialogue was semi-related to the plot point of the film, but it just seemed jarring and removed me somewhat from the movie.

This scene is pure Tarantino when not directed by Tarantino.

That being said, at 97 minutes in length, the film rips along at a fair pace. For some, the use of long dialogue scenes will be off-putting. If you’re not a fan of Tarantino‘s reliance on similar scenes then you may not be in for a thrill ride. This film is much more Reservoir Dogs and less of a bang-bang shoot ’em up of a film. If that appeals to you, as it does to me, then I heartily recommend you get yourself a ticket. It’s not one of Pitt‘s tent pole films, but nor is it one of his surreal indie flourishes. Yes, I’m looking at you Tree of Life

Killing Them Softly isn’t this year’s most cerebral film, nor does it ever seek to challenge you intellectually. That’s not to say it’s a mindless effort like Transformers, but it doesn’t require that much energy to compute what’s going on. However, it’s one hell of a ride to be on. All actors, both big and small names alike, are really firing on all cylinders here.

And you’ll be glad to know that the film no longer makes me think of Killing Me Softly. That song is way too mellow and peaceful to embody Killing Them Softly. If I had to pick a song to convey the film’s message it’d be Slayer’s Raining Blood, because oh yes… there will be blood. Ted Bundy would bloody love that too the basket case!