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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Warm Bodies (2013)

Warm Bodies (2013)

You’ve got to hand it to creators when they decide to mash together two conflicting genres in the hope that it’ll be a smash hit at the box office. You’ve seen cowboys come into contact with aliens in Cowboys & Aliens, a straight-up heist movie become an all-out vampire fest in From Dusk ‘Til Dawn and Adam Sandler attempting to be funny again… in pretty much everything since 2002. All of these shouldn’t work, and typically don’t, but some do. So when you see February pop up on your calender you know what’s coming… romance. Yes, it’s the season of cupid, expensive dining and pricey roses, so the movie studios like to capitalise with some love-themed hits year after year. But this year, it appears they thought “hey, you know what kids like nowadays? Zombies… let’s do a zombie love movie”… and seemingly, Warm Bodies was born.

Warm Bodies (2013)

Warm Bodies is an interesting chimera. On one hand its horror… hell, it’s about zombies, and some of them look pretty damn repulsive (the so-called “bonies”). But on the other hand it tries to slam in a romance, as one of our shambling zombie friends, “R” (Nicholas Hoult) is conflicted, because beneath his vacant exterior is a mind questioning everything about his existence. He doesn’t remember his name, nor anything pre-turning into a zombie. But all of this changes when he meets Julie (Teresa Palmer) – a regular human who’s out scrambling together supplies for her father, the Colonel (John Malkovich), who manages the last bastion of humanity. You see, R falls in love with Julie… after he’s eaten her boyfriend’s brains. And so begins the most bizarre love story you’re likely to see in 2013.

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m a zombie purist. Maybe not even a “purist” per se, as I like my zombies to run around, as opposed to shambling around. I’m a huge fan of 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead – two films / shows that I really think have nailed the genre to a t. So maybe this is clouding my judgement of Warm Bodies. You see, these zombies are remarkable adept. They’re a bit like really clever velociraptors from Jurassic Park; not only can they open doors (clever girl), but they can also sit down, operate machinery and seemingly talk to one another. This isn’t what a typical zombie does. So any big genre fans in the audience will automatically feel a little awkward and uneasy. This isn’t the undead they’ve come to know and love. Hell, they show RESTRAINT. And feelings. What?!

Yeah, zombies can operate polaroid cameras with ease nowadays...

Yeah, zombies can operate polaroid cameras with ease nowadays…

Although the movie got a good deal of sniggers and laughter from the audience I was in with, I just failed to connect with much of the humour. Yes, there were certain lines from R’s best friend M (Rob Corddry) that made me chuckle, but overall I can’t say my thirst for brains humour was sated. This film tries to bill itself as a “rom-zom-com”… you know, trying to make out it’s the first to do this. Unfortunately, it’s clearly forgetting the existence of Shaun of the Dead – one of the most fantastic genre-mashes of the past decade. That film scored high in romance, zombies and comedy. Unfortunately, I felt that Warm Bodies was lacking in the “com” part. It had the zombies, that’s quite obvious, but it really lacked the laughter.

And let’s come on to the romance too whilst we’re at it. The more astute amongst you will notice something about those names… R, Julie, R’s best friend M… in a romantic story. Ringing bells? The original novel by Isaac Marion is a huge homage to Romeo & Juliet (hence Romeo, Juliet and Mercutio), but it doesn’t hit quite the same notes as the classic tale. Whilst I thought the romance between R and Julie was touching, I just felt that the dialogue coming out of Hoult‘s mouth was too jarring and awkward. The best dialogue of the film came from his inner monologues – they were touching and funny on occasion too. You’ve got to give credit to Hoult, as this is a very difficult role to undertake as it’s either going to come off as hammy or camp. There’s no way you’re going to come across as anything else when you’re trying to play the zombie role as “light and funny”.

Warm Bodies (2013)

The one thing that really kept me going was the plot – I was intrigued to see how they were going to finish off the film. Was it going to go the tragic Romeo & Juliet way, or are we going to see something entirely different? Obviously, I’m not going to blurt it out here, but I found the story quite interesting, having not read Marion’s novel. But that can only take you so far. I’m relieved that the acting from the core cast was of a good calibre, but it wasn’t winning me over to any real degree. As I say, I feel for Hoult, as he’s a fantastic young actor, but this isn’t the best showcase of his talents owing to the obvious limitations of his character.

Once I got over the initial shock of “these aren’t proper zombies are they?”, then the film became much more enjoyable. The film will try and bill itself as being for “fans of zombies”, but I’d dispute that. In fact, if you’re a die-hard fan of the genre, I’d probably tell you to exercise caution here, as you might not like what you see. Those brain-dead corpses in your mind aren’t really ferocious here, not are they brain-dead. If anything I’d recommend this film to casual fans of zombies, or those that don’t even have an opinion on them. You’ll get much more out of this than the more dedicated amongst you.

As a mash-up of genres, Warm Bodies certainly is not a bad attempt. Whilst it’s not From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, it’s certainly not terrible. If this film takes off at the box office, I can’t help but wonder what abominations the studios will cook up to keep the audiences coming in for Valentine’s Day. Perhaps a romance between a woman and a ghost? Oh, that’s done? Erm, how about a romance involving vampires? Oh, they’ve done that too? They made how many of those? Wow. OK, maybe we should just have a romance between a boy and a boulder. That hasn’t been done before. It’s unique and edgy. Though hopefully it doesn’t end in quite the same tragic way as 127 Hours. A messy divorce.

Phage Factor:

3 Star

ParaNorman (2012)

It’s not unusual for a children’s movie to pander to adults as well as their target demographic nowadays. Gone are the times of cartoons that were simplistic and one dimensional. Now you can expect sub-plots, innuendo and pop culture references galore that are designed to amuse adults whilst the children laugh at an animal slipping on a banana skin, or whatever trite is passing as comedy in the newest Madagascar movie… probably something involving Chris Tucker talking gibberish. This brings us nicely to ParaNorman – a movie which on face value is for children: it’s animated, doesn’t contain bad language and stars a child protagonist. But after watching it I’m not entirely sure ParaNorman knows exactly who it’s for, or what it wants to be…

Just your typical American family. Two parents, two kids… and a spectral grandma.

The eponymous Norman is a bit of an outcast: he’s bullied at school, harassed by his father and sees dead people. Wait, what? Yes, Norman takes a page out of The Sixth Sense‘s play book insofar that he can see the deceased as ghosts. Not only this, but he can talk to them and yes, you guessed it – no-one else can. The premise of the film, once we get over the alienation pretense, is that Norman is tasked with preventing a witch’s curse from resurrecting the dead in zombie form. And I won’t be ruining anything by saying that the lack of belief by the townsfolk results in the dead rising and creating merry mayhem.

Now from first glance this should automatically be flagging up some issues for a “children’s” movie where there are ghosts and the undead at play. But the film gets incredibly emotional and poignant towards its climax too. Not in the Up way, but it still resonated strongly with me. It also brought up some rather mature “adult” issues in the closing five minutes too that provoked several youths to exclaim “WHAT?!” (when you see the film, you’ll pinpoint this moment fairly accurately).

All this being said… is the movie any good? After all, that’s why you’ve come to Film Phage isn’t it? Well it is a good movie (a very good one)… but it’s not a great one. Although the film runs in at just over 90 minutes, I felt that the first act took an absolute age to develop. Yes, we understand that Norman is an outcast that leads a sombre life, but it was very plodding. I’ll admit that this added a lot of emotional weight and poignancy to the film’s pay off at the end, but it still seemed laboured. The film never gripped me in a way that so many others (both animated and not) have this past month. And I bloody love zombies.

However, what the film does do right, it does in spades. Firstly: those visuals. The film employs an absolutely beautiful use of stop-motion to create a world that’s alive and bustling. This isn’t Wallace & Gromit “clunky” stop-motion – this is a seamless use of the technique. Every set and character looks lovingly crafted and created and there’s no doubt that a lot of effort has been spent making the world so rich. And if you’re recognising that “look”, then it’s because it’s come from the makers of Coraline – another movie that was marketed as a “children’s” movie, but dealt with much more mature issues. Less button eyes in this one though, and much more limb severance.

Painstaking work that contributed to a truly beautiful film.

In terms of voice work, it’s all perfectly suited to the film, though I’m loathe to comment on someone’s “acting” abilities when they’re contributing voices. If you’re looking for “big name” talent, then there aren’t any true A-list tent pole names to draw you in. There’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Casey Affleck and John Goodman, but there’s no single huge star, and for me that’s no bad thing at all. It allows the film-makers to focus on the entire cast as opposed to featuring one character heavily just to justify paying the A-lister’s fee.

“So the film looks good, it sounds good, but it’s got a stilted first act? Is that it? Is that why you’re not raving about it?” Well yes and no. I just failed to really latch on to the movie as a whole. The story is entertaining, but isn’t what I was expecting entirely. It was all a little too downbeat for me with too few smiling moments and even less belly laughs (though there were some to be had). Ok, I never expect a zombie story to be a laughter riot, but this film is clearly aimed at the younger demographic – and they weren’t laughing either despite me being in a packed screening.

So there’s your word of warning: it’s an oddball movie that I’m struggling to classify. It was a good, enjoyable film, but its sombre tone also dampened my happiness. I can’t yet say if it’s the best of the glut of “children’s Halloween movies” hitting cinemas right now, but I certainly doubt it’ll be the worst. It’s poignant, beautiful and bewitching, but just lacked that spark to really captivate me.

ParaNorman is that social pariah of a movie: too mature to be an all-out kid’s flick, yet it deals with issues relevant to youngsters. Except the “seeing ghosts” bit… that probably only affects like 1 in 10,000 children. And that’s probably just a sign of too much sugar in their diet. That or they genuinely do see ghosts. No doubt they’ll get their own “based on a true story” film in about 15 years time after they’re possessed with the ghost of Walt Disney…

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

Cockneys vs. Zombies (2012)

Zombies. If there’s one undead creature that’s as popular as vampires on television and cinema, it’s zombies. I’d also argue that they’re done rather better too. Zombies don’t have volatile love affairs. Zombies don’t even have true emotions. Zombies also don’t sprinkle glitter on their chest and fall for women that can barely crack a smile. Zombies are just all around better creatures and the better basis for a story. Then you have to factor in the fact that zombies can arise from all manner of origins and have different traits: from the speedy, enraged fiends of 28 Days Later to the classic shambling living dead from Dawn of the Dead. In summary, zombies are pretty damn cool, and in-vogue again thanks to The Walking Dead. So, why not pit them against something? We all love a good versus movie (apparently) – just see Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, Alien vs. Predator and Cowboys vs. Aliens. But who do we pit our zombies against to have a great slice of fan fiction… Wait… What?… Cockneys?!

Yes, the clue to Cockneys vs. Zombies is very much in the title. It’s a group of Londoners versus those shambling abominations. This time, the zombies emerge when one is disturbed in an underground crypt that’s unearthed on a building site. The infection spreads and the zombies infest the Earth. Did I mention this is a comedy too? I bet I can predict your thoughts now: “a comedy? Involving zombies? In England? Oh wow, is it as good as Shaun of the Dead then?”… well, the answer is unfortunately not. It’s not even in the same ballpark.

There are many things that made Shaun of the Dead the best zom-com in recent memory. It not only had a great script, and an assortment of the best comedic actors that Britain has produced, but it also featured zombies that were compelling and really looked the part. They didn’t skimp on the effects – it truly looked like a horror movie, but was funny. Cockneys vs. Zombies falls down on every one of those points, for the most part.

The film stars Michelle Ryan, Georgia King, Harry Treadaway and Rasmus Hardiker as the characters of the “main” plot (good hearted bank robbers that find the horde), which is countered by the more elderly cast of Alan Ford, Honor Blackman, Richard Blackman and others, who serve in the secondary story: the pensioners that are trapped in their home by the zombies. How was all this acting? Well, “not bad” is my verdict, but nor is it anything to write home about. The younger cast are serviceable, but it’s Alan Ford that shines. Mainly because I feel that the director’s instructions were “be yourself”, or “act like you did in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch“. He’s “cockney” personified… not an “‘orrible ****” like in his previous films (his words, not mine).

Geriatrics, guns and cockney geezers – this film has it all! If that’s what you’re looking for…

Let me also include another name in the actors list… The Phage. Yes, I’m actually in this movie. My (real) name’s in the cast list. You’d think this’d make me think the movie was magical wouldn’t you? But I’m pretty objective. Even when I was on the set I felt the humour was a bit juvenile and not really funny. I thought this would be different when I saw it on-screen, but wow – it still wasn’t funny. I laughed a couple of times (twice more than Keith Lemon: The Film if you’re counting), but overall it wasn’t to my tastes. The movie kept my attention, but didn’t truly entertain me.

So I’ve dealt with a) actors, and b) the lack of humour, but have yet to address c) the aesthetics – the three ingredients that made Shaun of the Dead so good. Now, as I was on-set I already knew that the zombies were never going to challenge The Walking Dead for truly amazing prosthetics and make-up. But what I wasn’t expecting was such shocking continuity with these zombies. In 28 Days Later you knew what to expect: red eyes, in The Walking Dead: torn flesh and gaping, jutting jaws. But here? A mix of everything. The zombies’ eyes change from normal to red to yellow, depending on which zombie you’re seeing, and the “effects” on the zombies are extremely weak. Oddly, some have full blown sunken eyes like in The Walking Dead, but the majority look like they’ve had talcum powder sprinkled on them and that was it. As I was there, I can say that that’s not far off the truth. Sure, we all have budget constraints, but the producers should have had ALL with full-blown make-up or NONE with make-up. Not the mish-mash you see on-screen.

Sure, this movie will tick some people’s boxes for a zombie film: lots of gore, guns and shambling wrecks, but I just want so much more nowadays. I’ve been spoiled by films such as Rec and 28 Days Later, as well as the almighty The Walking Dead, that this just doesn’t hit the same notes. Even if those films didn’t exist, this is still a pretty hum-drum film. It has the odd laugh, but is probably worth picking up in a bargain bin, as opposed to venturing out to find a cinema that’s showing it.

Despite the fact that I’m in the film, I just find it hard to love it. I was entertained and definitely wasn’t bored, but nor was I actively engaged with what was going on. The film appeals to a certain crowd with respects to humour – if you like all of Adam Sandler‘s movies for instance, you may enjoy this. But most of it was too basal to really register with me as “funny”. Thankfully Alan Ford really relishes his role and gets “stuck in” – his scenes are consistently the best. The rest? Let’s just say that I hope this film doesn’t rise from the dead for a sequel.

With the film hopefully now buried six feet under, with no chance of resurrection (I removed the head – we’re safe), I’m wondering what’s the next crossover we’ll get. Vampires vs. Zombies? Strippers vs. Zombies? Or maybe John McClane vs. Zombies? My money’s on John. He’ll probably deal with those zombies like he deals with helicopters: by lobbing a car at them. Yippe-ki-yay you undead mother—–s!

Phage Factor: