Friday, June 28, 2013

The Case for Z

World War Z had a lot of good things going for it: Brad Pitt is almost always watchable, and Zombies.

Zombies are so hot right now – the ultimate brain dead baddie, not taken to shimmery sparklingness and fairly hard (though not impossible) to turn into romantic ideals (there has yet to be a Zombie that has fallen in love with Sookie on True Blood, but maybe that is next season).

And ever since 28 Days Later, they run and are so much the scarier for it.

World War Z starts with everywhere all at once being infected by a Zombie plague.  Quite how the virus spreads between continents considering the change takes about 12 seconds to occur is never really explained, nor how the only safe place on the planet appears to be Nova Scotia (surely a tropical island would be safer, and more appealing weather wise?).

Pitt plays Gerry Lane, an ex UN Special Agent (or somesuch), who seems surprised when, after being singled out for rescue because of his status, is then called upon to actually contribute to the planet-saving cause.  He then goes around the world to try and find a cure, encountering many a Zombie on the way.

As these Zombies do run, and bite, and overwhelm, and there are billions of them (overblown graphics show projected infection rates based on…?), they pose a lot of problems – which is all the fun in a Zombie movie.  Relentless, and stoppable only through acts of extreme violence, it is a lot of fun seeing them get mowed down, blown up, and otherwise incapacitated only to end up, eventually, victorious.

There is one huge drag factor to the whole film, and it is Lane’s family.  It is one thing to show him as a family man; it’s another thing to show the family as a burden, putting Lane into all sorts of danger even when they aren’t physically in his presence.  Once we are past the initial scene setting, they actually just become incredibly annoying, slowing things down and generally getting in the way of the action.

Elsewise, the characters other than Lane are all rather disposable.  Most are just cannon fodder, but some impart useful snippets of information that allow Lane to piece together an idea of what to do.  It is fairly clumsily handled to be honest, but it joins the dots in a way that makes it obvious to all.

Oddly enough, for a Zombie film, the movie refuses to show almost any blood on screen.  Limbs are hacked off, people (well zombies) beaten to bloody pulps, and there is much mastication on the bodies of the living, but almost none of this makes it on to the screen.  In fact, the whole thing seems a lot tamer than any episode of The Walking Dead, despite the much bigger budget and scope.

Nonetheless, it all comes together well enough to form a Zombie film that can entertain the whole family.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say completely enjoy it, as the family is just irksome and there are far too many zombie movie tropes in there to make this seem terribly original, but the final showdown is creepy and tense, and not even a terrible epilogue monologue (it is pretentious and awful and completely out of character with what came before) can spoil it.  Well, not much.

Verdict: World War Z is a solid, G-(ish) level Zombie movie.  Pitt plays Lane well, but then he has to as the only character who gets more than 10 lines.  It wasn’t worth seeing in 3D, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  6.5 Zeds out of 10.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Case for Earth Ever After

After Earth, the latest Will Smith movie, came with a lot of warnings, mostly to do with it being not that good and that it has overt Scientology references.  But I am a sucker for Science Fiction flicks (mostly) and so went along anyway.

As I can't claim to be well versed in the tenets of Scientology, I didn't really pick up on the emotionless bit and the stuff about volcanoes, but I could pick up on the "bad" bits that mainly revolve around Smith's son, Jaden.

He is the "hero" of the film and while he has been a leading man before in films I haven't really seen, he mostly fails to provide an interesting character for the audience to invest in.  He is, for lack of a better term, irritating, all whines and deaf to sense even when, one assumes, his reactions run counter to his basic junior ranger training that he was apparently so obsessed with.  So he ends up as another lead character that I actually want to die - I end up rooting for all the beasties trying to track him down.

But then, the ads for the film give a false impression of where the dangers lie.  Smith's serious tones indicate that Earth's biosphere has "evolved" to hate and kill humans, but the biggest animal danger is the one that these travellers from another planet bring with them, everything else either oblivious to them, treating them like any other creature, or else getting aggressive only when provoked.

The story itself is utter rubbish: mankind has fled a dying Earth to another planet where another alien race (who is never encountered or mentioned outside back story) didn't want them to be and so these aliens created a blind and deaf creature that tracks humans by smelling their fear.  A thousand years later, Smith and son are on a transport taking one of these beasties to another planet for training purposes (why the humans don't move to that planet and leave the beasties behind is never really explained) when the ship, for  no real reason, flies to close to an asteroid field and makes an emergency crash landing on Earth.  The two survivors need to find a beacon to save them, while avoiding the dangers - mainly the danger they brought with them.

The creature is a terrible creation on so many levels, its irritating to list them.  But on the bright side, I did find the idea of the humans' organic/hemp based technology quite interesting.  Smart fabric seems to be used for everything, and in clothing can change colour to match the conditions outside, though the fabric seems smart enough to detect danger that no human sense can, and while it will turn white in snow it won't actually provide any more warmth.

Considering how many things are wrong with this film, its probably fairer to lay blame with the director, the disappointing M Night Shyamalan, whose name has been stripped from almost every poster.  After a strong start with the Sixth Sense, Shyamalan's films have been fairly underwhelming - not awful, just uninteresting.  And his After Earth is definitely not a return to form.

For all that is wrong with it, the film kept me in my seat and didn't offend my cinematic sensibilities too much, even if I was rooting for the Ursa creature to rip off the hero's head.  The nonsensicality comes so thick and fast at the start that the rest of the film almost seems to make sense (the eagle... please...), and if people next to you speak Japanese for almost the entire film, you will find  (much like I did) you won't really mind too much.

Verdict: There was no reason for this to be about revisiting Earth AT ALL as the fact they are on a "future wild" Earth is almost completely irrelevant, but After Earth is a less than okay film that really should be marketed as a kiddie flick.  There is no real reason to see it on the big screen (none of the effects are that special), and even on the small screen, its viewability is questionable.  Perhaps on a long haul flight... 4 after dinner mints out of 10.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Case for Fantastic 6

It has proven a durable franchise, the Fast and the Furious films.  But then, perhaps that is not surprising: take ridiculously macho guys and trophy women, throw in some insanely pimped out cars, drive them very quickly and dangerously, add in quite a few guns and lots of bad boy behaviour (they are bad, but with a sense of duty and honour that puts them above the law), and you have the perfect macho nonsense film.

The franchise has also got better with the addition of the Rock, Dwayne Johnson, more pumped and pimped up than any of the cars on display, but allowing himself to be gently mocked, though only in a way that enhances his esteem as a large, well oiled bad a$$.  

I went to the sixth instalment after enjoying (for completely brainless reasons) the last flick, and this time I experienced in its natural home: in an Upper Hutt theatre surrounded by boy racers and an audience who found the “we’ll show you who is cool”, one upmanship attempts at humour rather amusing, though, if you think about them, they are actually rather racist (if you can consider making all Englishman stupid snobs worthy of taking down a peg or two a cultural stereotype).

The film itself is… well, nonsense.  It’s main aim is to show the authorities (in the man mountain form of a spectacularly ripped Rock, perpetually pumped and going for maximum macho) how wrong they were and that the band of car enthusiasts from the last film are a force for good, bound together by a love of family and loyalty to each other and, as already mentioned, their own strict code.

Except when it comes to women.  Sure, there are a few tough females in there, but the reappearance of Michelle Rodriguez as Vin Diesel’s old flame (her absence explained by amnesia) shows how token the females really are.  There is a girl fight scene or two, a tough girl seduction or two as well, and then they are disposed of one way or another.

Meanwhile, the guys are all stereotypes too.  Vin Diesel is tough and manly, his own impressive physique nowhere near as huge as the Rock’s, but then, he isn’t “trying” to be cool – he just is (or so the story says).  Paul Walker’s character (do the names matter?) is almost superfluous to this story, so he gets to go to prison for a bit to confront some rather boring demons and then come back to drive a car.  There are a couple of black characters, an Asian one as well, and their characters could be seen as insultingly stereotypical too, if they weren’t portrayed as “cool”.  

The baddies actually come off a lot better, seeming competent, professional and well-disciplined, even if they are doomed to fail/die.  Their nefarious plan is to steal components to a weapon that can do untold damage to computers.  They are driving experts so of course to protect these components everything is shipped by… road.  Air and sea would probably be too hard, I suppose.  They are always one step ahead of the goodies, but only just, and they have connections to Russian military planes and the longest runway in the world (running at least as long as Italy) to assist them in their evil plot.

The car action pieces are spectacular, it has to be said.  It’s nice when there is no (or very little) CGI to get in the way of a good car chase and explosion or seven.  Pedestrians (well, innocent ones) never get in the way of the vehicles as they tear around the inner city streets, though other cars are not always so fortunate. 

The storyline and dialogue are nowhere near as well choreographed, but then, all they really do is set up the car chase sequences, get the Rock to physically impose himself over the local authorities, and show what a strong moral code the gang of crooks lives by.  And there are the odd weak/cheap jokes thrown in as well, and while Walker and Johnson are mocked for their looks (model and baby oiled “Samoan Thor” respectively), theirs are back handed compliment types of jests that obviously met with their approval before the final script (such as it is) was completed. 

All in all then, the film is utter bollocks, but it never made any pretentions that it would be otherwise.  I was a little surprised by how poorly treated the female characters were (accepting whatever crumbs their macho male counterparts sprinkled their way with a subservient smile on their toned and tanned bodies), but perhaps that was more an assumption on my part than a promise broken by the film itself.  And then the film ended with a teaser for the next film in the franchise.  And you know what?  I may have to go to that one too.
Verdict: Fast and Furious 6 is big, dumb action, and it loves itself for it.  I think critics would label this kind of fun “pure escapism” and it is, if you are of the petrol head or action junkie persuasion.  The film doesn’t stand close scrutiny, but if you intend to scrutinise a film like this, you wouldn’t go in the first place.  Enjoy the action sequences for what they are, and try and grimace your way through the “linking”/”acting” scenes as best you can.  6 Mr Furiouses out of 10.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Case for Tencious 2

I went to Tenacious D in concert a couple of weeks ago, having last seen them 10 years ago.  After about an hour's warm up acts (an okay comedian, followed by an incredible one man band called Sasquatch dressed up as, well, a Sasquatch), the dynamic duo came out about 9.30pm and started belting out their acoustic hits.  Jack Black is an incredible vocalist, and their incredible skills on the guitar were impressive as well, though they stuck rigidly to their routine and, while amusing and entertaining, completely ignored any heckling or comments from the audience which I found surprising.  At one stage, someone threw a pink pair of bloomers up on stage and some females in the audience urged the duo to pick the pair up, a recommendation which they assiduously ignored.  That didn't stop the encouragement though, which got really irritating after a while - eventually, some other audience members scowled and shot "just give up" daggers at them.

Also amusing/irritating was one guy who was so into the music he was standing up and clapping away the whole time.  As we weren't sitting behind him, it wasn't a huge problem for us, but it can't have been thrilled for those on the other side of the Opera.  He kept turning towards the back and encouraging people to clap and got really into the songs, though after a little while it looked like he was more interested in being the centre of attention than of letting people see the band.  Eventually, those next to him seemed to abandon him before the end, about 6 empty seats visible beside him that were not vacant at the start of the show.

The funniest audience member (well, up in the gods with us; some people tried to rush the stage keeping the guards busy, though I only saw one of them, inferring there were others by the way people in front of us kept standing up to take a look) was in the row in front of us who was flanked by his parents.  It looked like his Dad had introduced this young lad to this music, with both of them pretty into it, while the Mum sat on the other side a little bewildered when all the swearing and references to the act were made.  However, when the boy (well, young man) went away during a song about moving home to live with the parents to pursue an artisitic dream, the Mum and Dad exchanged meaningful looks which cracked both Maria and myself up.  I needed a little distraction as there was a guy in between the guys and me who had big hair, and so who obscured my view most of the show, though he either didn't like the act or was feeling queasy as he went away regularly and missed the final song and "encore" round altogether, which suited me.  Though I was impressed by his do.

Verdict: Tenacious D provided an incredible performance, full of energy and enthusiasm, and were completely professional throughout.  It seems a bit mean then to say that their lack of interaction with the audience made the concert a little... flat, but that is a very minor gripe.  Tenacious to the D.  4 picks of destiny out of 5.