Tuesday, 25 June 2013

World War Z (Film)

Well readers here I am critiquing the most recent zombie film of the year. That film of course is the same-title-of-the-book-but-different film called World War Z.

Now as some of you (but hopefully most) may know this movie is based of a book of the same name by author Max Brooks (and yes he is related to that other Brooks) and is a continuation of the mythos set up in the Zombie Survival Guide he wrote some years previously. The film however, is an in-name-only adaptation with the sense that the is a world wide zombie apocalypse going on.

A while ago I saw the first trailer and upon realising it wouldn't be a movie version of the book decided I would cease to put it past Brad Pitt and give the movie a second chance in my mind. I realised that the film would be a mythos unto-itself and felt that instead of criticizing the film for not being enough like the book I would decide to let bygones by bygones and watch it and enjoy it for what it is.

Though what is this film you ask? Well read on and find out!

First off though let me set down two of the films largest pre-showing failures. The first is that in a very controversial move for a zombie film it only has a rating of 14A which is well below the R rating most zombie films get. This of course removes any gore factor the movie could have provided and stops the idea of zombies eating people from being an issue on screen. These two things are bad in and of themselves as it removes the gore/cannibalism factor that is mostly essential to the zombie genre. The second is that the film right off the bat bills itself as more of another over the top action film which looks incredibly cheesy to say the least.

Now the film itself is something that opens up on a rather confusing note playing some very interesting music over a number of strangely irrelevent images of nature and humanity (some showing animals being eaten) but tells us nothing about the plot or where we will be seeing the story set. We then get a cut to a scene of Gerry Lane's (Brad Pitt) children jumping on him to wake him up. Then a thinly done spread of news reports referencing a very vague blink-and-you-miss-it rabies outbreak and the implimentation of martial law...somewhere? I really can't remember. We then cut to downtown Philiadelphia where Lane is stuck in traffic. His mirror is smashed off by a speeding police car and then another police officer is killed when a garbage truck driven by either a man who is turning or being attacked (you can't tell) is smashing through traffic.

Then zombies show up. And by show up I mean some people who you can barely differentiate from the running masses of people around them start attacking people. Due to the restrictions on footage of people being eaten we see the zombies bite people then run off to bite more people. In a 28 Days Later style fast turn the people die and reanimate into zombies (this using the loosest sense of the word) in seconds. They then turn into an unidentifiable mass of running people who tackle others so it is essentially impossible to tell attacking zombies from fleeing people.

The first ten minutes and already the film is looking like a disaster! You can't tell the zombies from their victims and you don't even understand where they came from! This could have been fixed with the whole walking zombie thing. They could be blood soaked shamblers wandering into the crowd and grabbing people forcing them down making for a confusing panic as people run away. That's a big detractor.

Next we amble on into some looting territory as Brad Pitt struggles to get supplies to his family and a UN administrator (Fana Mokoena) agrees to help him get out of dodge on a helicopter. He then stumbles upon a Spanish family who lets them hide in their apartment for the night. The next morning the family escapes and shows an astounding degree of common sense by improvising a bayonet for Pitt's rifle, tying ropes around their wastes to prevent them from getting lost, and having noise discipline. (All pretty survivalist if you ask me). This then leads to a truly great scene where they have to shuffle back and forth from hallways in a dimly lit building and make their way to the roof.

I will admit that even though I knew what was going to happen I was legitimately stressed out and sucked in. To that I give the director props since this will later be a staple of the movie. The scene was done well and you actually felt a sense of dread as the characters stumbled around not 100% sure of their destination. Accompanied by crazy music and wonderful direction this is probably one of the best scenes in the movie, next to the ending of course.

The stressful scenes, great lighting and actor coordination (though not acting) are probably the high points of this film with one scene being masterfully coordinated in each section, from the overrun US base in Korea to the rapid run through Israel, and the well done finale in the WHO research center in Wales. Each scene is a pump action thrill ride as you are kept guessing at which secondary characters will survive (since obviously Pitt can't die) and just how close Pitt will come to serious mutilation. Sadly the zombie killing is either kept to a minimum or is masked by dim lighting and good camera work or cut away shots.

Truth be told I am rather impressed the film manages to make it still feel stressful or the zombies seem scary without the gore and guts.

Though let's take a break to talk about the zombies for a moment. As stated earlier, in the beggining of the film you can hardly tell an attacking zombie from a running human, that isn't helped as time goes on. Sure they start to look more bestial and kinda sickly, but for all intents and purposes they are lame and don't fit the zombie mould other than a few hamfisted attempts at scary makeup.

I guess it could be a zombie, or a really angry hobo.

In the movie they emit cries similar to the necromorphs in Dead Space which while when you can't see them it's scary but when you can its underwhelming. They run, which as zombies go is a problem that deserves a whole other article to express, and they seem to be able to return from the dead in seconds. This isn't the only way they flout science! No they act like African Driver Ants and come in swarms which are able to clog entire streets, or in one infamous instance, form a less that human semi-pyriamid and scale a hundred foot wall...somehow.

Pictured: Zombies...I guess...

Let me now address the two worst sequences in the film. The first is a sequence which takes place in Israel and is basically ripped off part and parcel from the book with the character of Jurgen Warmbrumm and his entire speech ripped straight from the novel along with the whole giant wall section. This feels out of place and shoehorned in since unlike the rest of the film is has something to do with the novel. It was rather annoying to watch since it seemed to contribute nothing to the film (other than adding the character Segen and getting Israel eaten as the zombies come in) other than showing so much changed between even the trailer and the film itself with dialogue going from 'Russia is a black hole' from the trailer to 'India is a black hole' in the film (making an even larger change to seem that unlike in the book the outbreak starts in India, which shows that Hollywood is probably more sensitive about upsetting China and Russia than India).

The Israel sequence is doubly bad since the zombies impossibly scaling the wall is more irritating because the reason they eventually decide to scale it is ridiculous! The film establishes the zombies are attracted to sound, and yet the wall around Israel (not to mention the copious ammounts of traffic coming in) must be carrying sound for miles. Yet when people start singing on a loudspeaker that is when the zombies decide to scale it. It seems to have been added in for no other reason that to give us another thrill sequence, which I didn't enjoy as much mostly for the stupidity of it.

The second worst sequence is the plane incident where the zombies basically crash a plane after one infected soul gets inside and tears shit up. It speaks for itself how bad it is since I decided that it was so boring I could take a bathroom break and I was assured I missed nothing. The ending was basically just any other movie crash.

Then we have the contrived plot twist at the end which saves humanity. After that is some awesome sequences of people running from zombies. If the movie had been like that I would have loved the whole thing! However the amazing stresser sequences still worked perfectly well for my taste and made something that would have otherwise been unbearable, bearable.

Though let's face facts however, this is not a zombie movie. This is a movie where we see Brad Pitt go from one scene to another and run from faux zombies who you never really see. Sure there are some tense and fun moments, and you can get swept up in the excitement of certain scenes, but this isn't really a good movie and there are no characters other than Pitt's who stick out.

For characters there are his bland and mostly annoying family members, a young premier scientist who promptly dies, a semi-useless UN big shot, and a colorful cast of extras who don't do much with Pitt's character leading the way to victory each time. So yeah there never is any doubt that Pitt is the most important person in the world, and we never get to see anyone else do anything amazing save for screw up and leave Brad to save the day.

My final thoughts on the film are that it's ok. It's not great, not terrible, but not to good either. It has its moments, some fun action scenes, and a number of fun bits that can be interesting to watch. Hell I might even see it again when it's out of theatres. If a friend buys it.

Sadly it's not what World War Z could (or should) have been. We don't get the good zombie drama we should have, and we certainly don't get the world destroying apocalypse we were promised. Instead we see Brad Pitt running from place to place never doing anything.

Instead of this:

We get this:

For two hours.

In the end though we just have to remember this film is possibly going to have sequels, and that is the real apocalypse.

2 stars out of 5, and that's being generous.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Purge

Well dear readers after a long hiatus I come back to you now at the opening of the summer blockbuster season. I start though with a film that many have been writing about in the corners of the net I visit, and that film is The Purge. This is the first horror film of the season that I've looked at and the first I've seen in a long time in theatres, so to do this review I will be doing it in the traditional review style and examining it from the perspective of a home defense analysis, since this movie is about a family supposedly prepared for a home invasion.

Now without further ado let's dive in and look at the interesting horror/thriller, The Purge!

The Purge is set in America in the near future of the year 2022, and is 'a nation reborn' and having had a new Constitution put down by the 'New Founding Fathers' who seem to run the country (who also appear exempt from the Purge) and in this new nation the pent up rage and anger at the world is unleashed annualy on a night known as The Purge where all crime (though that appears to exclude political assassination) is legal for twelve hours and all emergency medical, fire, and police services are suspended. It would also seem that since everything on the night of the purge is legal then you can't sue anyone for damages incurred because of a person's actions on the purge.

The film though, starts out showcasing a number of violent crimes and murders being caught on 'purge cams' and showcased to the audience with violent murders seeming the norm for the purge and roving death/rape gangs killing people all across America. There is also the very casual reference to people going 'hunting' on the purge night (which is heavily implied to be hunting other people) and is evidenced by both shots of people armed to the teeth wandering the streets and the films primary antagonists being a roving gang of masked students carrying weapons looking to kill a homeless guy.

Actually they almost look as though they're trying to offer you a copy of the Watchtower.

Now the movie seems to be trying to shove some political commentary into the mix by taking pains to point out how affluent the main characters are and having various radio announcers comment on how the purge seems to target the poor and homeless who are less capable of defending themselves, while others defend that as a 'natural course of life' or a 'survival of the fittest' style of living. In fact in the opening shots the Sandin's wealth is commented on quite a bit by other characters on how they can afford to defend their home and are in fact wealthy because they have a business centered around the selling of home security systems which protect homes and deter maurauders. More on the home security issue and social commentary later.

Questions of that aside the film introduces us to the Sandin family who have a very typical suburban life with a stay at home mother, a teenaged daughter and a younger son who has questions about the nature of the purge and whether it is a good thing or not.

Here we are clearly establishing an obvious suburban family with obvious issues as the teenaged daughter is dating an older boy and is very rebellious, the son looks as though he is going through coming of age issues and the parents are having vague and unspecified reactions in dealing with them.

Now we get a clear family dynamic as the father James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) is shown being personable for the neighbors while the mother Mary (Lena Headly of Game of Thrones and Dredd fame) deals with the kids while having a conversation with her clearly not psychotic and jealous neighbor Grace (Arija Bareikis) who comments on how all their success has paid for a new addition on their large home. This is interuppted by shots of Zoey Sandin (Adelaide Kane) and her boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller) getting frisky and talking about their relationship issues.

The opening of course establishes the setting of the Purge as well as the house of the Sandin's which will be the main focus of the plot as a typical siege style film is. However almost immediately the film begins introducing a number of painfully obvious Chekov's guns in Zoey and Henry's relationship issues as a point of contention between the father and the boyfriend, the fact that Grace seems like a babbling psychopath who seems incapable of taking the wide eyed crazy look of her face while making passive aggressive comments about the Sandins wealth and home, and that the son Charles (Max Burkholden) has a little remote control robot named Timmy which has a laundry list of useful functions such as night vision, being able to play music, use a camera to spy on people, ect. This of course makes a number of upcoming plot twists rather predictable.

Now the siren sounds for the Purge to begin reminding everyone of the rules (no government officials of Class 10 can be harmed and Class 4 level weapons are allowed) and the Sandin's immediately lock down their house (which all it seems to involve is the lowering of a number of heavy metal plates over doors and windows and Mr. Sandin getting a snub nosed pistol from the gun safe in the ludicrously badly secured security room) as Charlie contemplates why they don't participate in the Purge. Mary then notes that contrary to Grace's previous statements her house is hosting it's annual Purge party (which seems to be a nice little ice cream social with guns).

Then the drama begins as it is discovered as Henry has snuck back into the house and a bloodied man is seen running down the street screaming for help. Charlie immediately takes pity on him and opens the doors to let him in before his father can lock them and keep him out, right afterwards Henry convinces Zoey he wants to talk to Mr. Sandin. It immediately becomes clear Henry only wants to talk using 9mm bullets as he tries to kill James with a concealed pistol but is a terrible shot and is killed by an abdominal wound when James fires back. The Bloody Stranger (as he is billed in the credits and played by Edwin Hodge from Red Dawn) disapears in the confusion and hides somewhere in the massive house.

Meanwhile a roving murder gang of well dressed white kids appears wearing masks hunting the stranger whom they refer to as a homeless parasite piece of filth. He is their target for this years purge and since he has taken refuge in their house they offer the Sandin's a deal, give them the hobo by an unspecified time before their means of breaking in arrive or they will bust in and murder everyone. Then, inexplicably, they cut power to the house.

Because it's so much easier killing people when you can't see anything

Here the social commentary bludgeons you over the head as the roving murder gang is made of well dressed students (who are apparently only wearing masks to be terrifying rather than avoid repurcussions) who are chasing after a black homeless man shown wearing dog tags and weilding a combat knife. Clearly America before this was such a terrible place that it must now be preferable for the rich to hunt the poor with impunity. You can tell that the film is trying for some commentary on the American lifestyle, how there is a divide between rich and poor and even the divides across neighborhoods as success and wealth collide with petty jealousy, now instead of merely making snarky comments and spreading malicious rumours about your neighbors, you can kill them to vent your frustration at your own inadequecies!

That might not necessarily be the point of the film however, but it is maddeningly unclear what kind of message the film is trying to send. The rich want to hunt the poor? That man doesn't have to act like animals in order to vent its frustration? That if you cave to social pressure you become that which you disdain? Now on the last one the Sandins nearly do as James almost tortures the hobo into submission so he can turn him over to the murder gang. Mary also displays that when in the last act after they are saved by the very homeless man they are originally trying to hand over to the murder gang when her neighbors show up and save them only to try murdering them because they are jealous of the Sandins wealth.

However, here I have to point out one issue which ruins any suspense the film might have, the fact that while James Sandin sells a security system that is supposed to keep people out, right before the crazy kids break in he points out a number of rather obvious flaws in the system that is supposed to defend his house. Now that wouldn't be so bad if the gang set out to kill them had actually used any of those weaknesses, instead they simply rip the armored plates out of the house and waltz inside like they own the place.

Thank God I had the foresight to install this useless system

What follows is a number of unexciting fight scenes where the Sandins have to either defend themselves or hide from the insane student murderers. Now there is one very well done scene in here, a piece where James has to fight off three students who he catches in the game room of the home. It's actually fairly fun to watch if only because you can scream 'yes!' as you see him gun down or bludgeon mask wearing crazies. There is also a blink and you miss it moment where he sees one of the kids he's killed not wearing a mask and gets a look of remorse on his face, which contributes nothing to the film as he then shoots their bodies to make sure they are dead.

Now the film itself is described as social commentary/horror thriller. It fails at both of those since it sends a garbled message about social values and has people forming roving murder gangs because why not? Seeing a trailer before this film came out I actually had a lenghty discussion with friends about what I would be doing in the Purge. We all honestly decided we'd rather hunker down and protect ourselves, or at least move countries to escape such weirdness. That and roving murder gangs seems unlikely since it would probably be more like large scale riots every night with an increased murder rate as people plot out murders for that time of year.

Aside from that the film wasn't even very scary. There was no suspense as characters were saved at the last moment from dying or being wounded, the plot twists were tragically predictable, and the fact that they purposely dehumanized the antagonists made them much less scary than they could have been. I probably would have been more scared had the murder gang simply shown up in their school uniforms and declared their intent to kill everyone inside very casually and for no reason. Then we have the neighbors who show up and with absolutely no emotion kill all the students before trying to kill the Sandins themselves. If you didn't see that coming well clearly you weren't paying attention.

The film them ends on a downer note as the siren signalling the end of the Purge sounds and emergency sirens sound in the distance as presumably police, fire, and ambulances pour in to ensure that the people participating actually stop and to help those still alive. The Sandins then realize their jealous neighbors are out to kill them and hate them, and the bloodied hobo walks off into the morning.

All in all the film was a rather big let down which could have been done way better. I wasn't scared at all and saw the film as predictable and bland. There was no solid acting, but I can't blame the actors for that (barring Arija Bareikis who couldn't wipe that psychotic look off her face for five seconds) since the script was weak and garbled with contradictory purposes.

So I'd reccomend people purge this film from their to watch list and look for something more straight forward instead. I give the film 4/10 stars.

But now for the second part of the review as we examine the Sandin's so called security system!

Pictured: State of the art security
James Sandin is supposed to be a man whose company thrives on selling people state of the art security systems to protect them and their homes from the violence of the purge. Sandin makes assurances to people that his system is good, his system is reliable, and that it will keep people safe from attack.

The fact that it fails to do that is the entire premise of the film ought to tell you something.

I understand personally that there is no fool proof defense system in the world, and I also understand that you can't protect your home from every conceivable threat there is but when your entire business runs around this kind of thing you should probably have a more realistic understanding of its strenghts and weaknesses.

For instance let's look at the defences of the house. They basically appear to be giant sliding metal plates which cover all the doors and windows making them essentially impenetrable. That's about it for the security system really. In fact other than this rather superficial and showy device the house has no other security features. No panic room in case the house is actually breached, and no interior system of defence.

In fact the family has no coherent plan in place of what to do if the unthinkable should happen, which considering the level of violence that takes place every year, is ludicrously short sighted!

In film when discussing the possibilities of whether they can defend the house James says testing has shown the system can stand up to attack 90% of the time, and that a determined attacker can get in through a number of ways (tunneling, smoking them out, devising a battering ram). Now to address each of those, tunneling is the most wildly impractical and unlikely to occur so not big deal there. Now setting fire to the house is a big issue so why a large and well stocked fire proofed panic room isn't a staple of the design is beyond me. Finally we have the issue of a battering ram. The plates seen in the film are very thick and they cover every easily enterable entrance and seem to slide down and lock in place from inside the house. It would take a very serious battering ram to smash its way through that!

However, in the film none of these items are used. Instead the roving gang uses a jeep with chains and cables to pull these plates off. Now where they attach the plates to the hooks and how they manage to pull them out of a shutter system inside the wall is beyond me, but that's just poor planning by the writers.

Now how the family reacts to the sudden storming of their home is even more inexplicable. Instead of trying to hold any specific point in the house, or even shooting to inconvenience the attackers while they come in, the family opts to let them just walk in the house and tries to hunt them down despite being outnumbered and seeming to not even know their own house that well. This is simply ludicrous as it gives the initiative to the attackers and doesn't stall for time, and since there is no saferoom/hardpoint for the family to defend it leaves them and their dependents horribly exposed.

When the family splits up and hides in ludicrous places in order to try and hunt down their hunters I just about gave up on the film entirely.

So in the home defence category not only is Mr. Sandin's business bad at what it does, but how the Sandin's survived so many years of purges is beyond me.

Until next time readers, until next time!