Thursday, June 20, 2013

"World War Z" - -Well, At Least They Call Them Zombies

Let's get some stuff out of the way before we begin.

Yes, I have read the novel "World War Z" and yes, I knew going into this movie all that it really shared with the novel was the title. Slow zombies in the book, fast zombies in the movie. Several narratives in the book, one main character in the movie.

And going into the movie, I was OK with that. I read the book and enjoyed it so I don't always want two hours to go see the exact same thing I already pictured in my head.

What I'm not OK with is the way this movie completely ran out of steam in the third act. The final 30 + minutes stumbles like a zombie towards the finish line.

And on the other side of the finish line is one of the dumbest plot points I've ever seen in a big budget movie. Or possibly any movie.

From here on out, there's going to be spoilers so if you just want my quick spoiler-free review it's is: The movie starts off strong but ends so weak it's not worth seeing in the theater.

 Spoilers from this point on.

"World War Z" centers around a former UN investigator named Gerry played by a long-haired Brad Pitt. Brad Pitt is one of those actors that I really don't have a strong opinion about but this movie makes him look really, really bad performance wise. You just never believe that worried look on his face is any more than ingestion brought on by a bad catered lunch. He has to go globe trotting to find the source of the zombie outbreak (and yes, they do call them zombies) or his family gets kicked off of an aircraft carrier.

Just stay with me here.

The movie starts in the city of Pittsburg. Zombie attacks. Gerry and his family hide in apartments. Zombies attack.

Wait, let me back up here, in between zombie attack-city and zombie attack-apartment, one of Gerry's kids has asthma so they have this whole weird scene where he is looking for inhalers when a junkie at the pharmacy pulls a gun on them, then gives them inhalers, then gives Gerry a thoughtful look because Junkie's kid has asthma too. Too bad Junkie man is out ripping off pharmacies for Oxy while his kid can't breathe as he runs from Zeeks (another term they use for the undead.)

Ok so as Gerry is bonding with a armed drug addict, his wife is about to be raped. Why someone, two people in this case actually, would try to rape a woman in a crowded store as ZOMBIES ARE KILLING PEOPLE TWO BLOCKS AWAY is beyond me. I'm not a rapist. But it happens and Gerry shoots the rapists and then runs away with his family to the apartments.

Now that whole opening sequence is pretty cool. It's action packed, it's tightly edited, it works. The kids are annoying as hell and the "human moments" with the junkie and the rapist are kind of "WTF" but overall it works.

So they get delivered via helicopter to an aircraft carrier and Gerry is told find the origin of the disease or his family gets kicked off the aircraft carrier. Why they need him, specifically, is because he's "the best" which is usually the kind of lazy writing you get in Steven Segal movies rather than big tent pole pictures like this but whatever, at this point in the movie I'm realizing it's more about the set pieces than the plot.

We get to go to South Korea which has a cool action scene and a lot of exposition. We then travel to Israel which had an awesome action scene but it was prompted by the dumbest thing you could do during a zombie attack: Sing over a loudspeaker.

"Thanks for joining us here at Israeli Idol, as you can see the contestants are lined up and ready to show us what they got."

Yes, that now iconic image of zombies so bloodthirsty they climb over each others bodies to scale a massive wall is brought on by an impromptu concert. And as stupid as that is, and that's pretty dumb, even dumber is how those walls were built in the first place.


See, Gerry finds out that Israel starting building these huge wall around Jerusalem a week or two before the first zombie outbreak. Why? Well, the Israeli government intercepted a South Korean government email talking about zombies, so they built this massive wall over one of the most disputed cities in the world and no one asked why at the time. But Gerry asks and he gets some bullshit reply along the lines of "Well, we never thought we'd end up in concentration camps, so now we have this plan if we think something might happen we jump to the furthest extreme." Intercepting a South Korean email with the word "Zombie" in it and you seal yourself off from the world? Well then what happened when they got all those emails from Nigerian royalty?

Anyways, we're getting to the worst part and that comes after an awesome set piece in Israel, then an awesome set piece in a airplane, then Gerry conveniently passes out in front of the World Health Organization office building, and when he comes to he is in a completely different movie.

He wakes up in the office of the two most ambiguously gay doctors in film history who spend their first few minutes on screen either staring at each other or staring at Gerry. Then this is weird dick measuring contest (not literally, fortunately) where Gerry refuses to tell them his name or why he is there even though there's no reason for this. It's just to build fake tension.

Oh, and at this point Gerry realizes the people on the aircraft carrier thought he was dead and therefor failed his mission so they kicked his family off the aircraft carrier.

"I'm sorry, Gerry," his friend pleads, "I tried to help them . . ." and Gerry hangs the phone up in disgust.

They actually end up on an island though so I don't know what the big deal was. The whole movie they kept building it up that they were going to either make them walk the plank or waste the gas to fly them back to an infested city. Why didn't they just go to the island in the first place?

Anyways, at this point we find out that Gerry thinks he has a cure, well not really a cure, but a way to not be attacked by zombies.

You have to be terminally ill. The Zeeks need to spread the virus and for that they need a healthy host.

SARS, AIDS, meningitis, cancer. You name it. If it'll kill you, it'll save you.

Of course the Deadly Virus lab is on the other side of the complex and that's the side with all the zombies. So there's this stupid sequence of sneaking pass zombies (one literally turns around like a camera and they have to time it just right to sneak by. Terrible, just terrible.) and fight zombies and run from zombies but here's the thing: I just saw 20,0000 zombies scale a wall, eat a city, and attack an airport and I'm supposed to be impressed by being chased by ten zombies down a hall? It just doesn't work and the whole set piece ends with Gerry injecting himself with a deadly virus he pretty much picks at random ("Please don't be Ebola, please don't be Ebola") and then simply walks through a crowd of zombies with a box of vials containing the most deadly diseases known to man and gives them to the doctors. Better hope you don't trip!

It ends with him going to the island with his kids and then he delivers some dumb voice over as they show humans fighting the zombie horde back. Reclaiming the city! Taking back what belongs to the living! At least until they all die of SARS.

So does everyone get a deadly disease injection? I don't know. They show a montage of airplanes dropping vials and people injecting themselves so, I kind of guess they do. I could understand if I was cornered taking the injection because I'm dead anyways. But if I'm already safe on an island what's the point of injecting a deadly pathogen into me? The ending shows people beating up zombies and not being attacked but shouldn't those same people know they only have a few months before their internal organs liquefy and their nervous system shuts down? Maybe the moral of the story is "Man is the real monster, because we would have some of the people inject themselves with deadly viruses to protect the rest of us."

I, however, think the moral of the story is "Don't hire Damon Lindelof, writer of "Prometheus" to write the third act of any movie."

OK, I think I've said enough. Oh wait, no, I forgot to mention North Korea doesn't have the virus because in 24 hours everyone in North Korea had their teeth pulled out.

There. I've said enough.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"The Bay" - - The Future Of Found Footage?


First off, "The Bay" is not a zombie movie. Even though the trailer kind of implies it at the end, there are no zombies in this film so if you watched the whole movie waiting for zombies you will be disappointed.

That was my experience, and coupled with other shortcomings in the film, I was prepared to write a more harsh review than this one. But while I was prepping everything for this post, I found there was a "Director's Commentary" so I re-watched it with the commentary and something happened.

The movie got better.

I think the first reason I liked it better the second time was the fact I knew there was no zombies in it, so every time they showed a corpse or someone walking down the street covered in blood I wasn't like "Oh sweet zombies!" only for the scene to change to something else. Watching it the second time I knew what it was about and was able to appreciate on a different level.

The Found Footage genre tends to be low on the totem pole of narrative style. At least in a first-person story you get inside the head of the protagonist. In Found Footage it's first person with none of the inner monologue. That's why Found Footage movies are known more for their gimmicks than their plots.

"Paranormal Activity," "The Bliar Witch," "Cloverfiled," "Diary of the Dead," "The Zombie Diaries," the list goes on. Short on plot, big on events.

Then you get movies like "Chronicle" which is a film with a plot and interesting character development that uses Found Footage to tell the story rather than be constrained by the limitations of the genre. And that's the pedigree of "The Bay."

Using everything from websites, emails, Facetime videos, Skype, camcorders and news footage, Academy Award-Winning director Barry Levinson tells the story of an outbreak in a small town. It's not an original story, it has all the same clich├ęs as any SyFy channel disaster flick. It's one of those movies where the Small Town Mayor says stuff like: "What do you mean stop the festival? Do you know how much money we'll lose" as people are exploding in a shower of blood and bugs. We've seen this movie before but never presented in this way.

What apparently happened was the director was going to do a documentary about pollution in the Chesapeake Bay but for whatever reason scrapped the project. He then took all his notes and decided to make a fictional version telling the same story. The monster in this movie is caused by a mixture of steroids and chicken poop run off (millions of tons of each) as well as other contaminates. This soup turns the water into a breeding ground for cymothoa exigua, a creature that eats the tongue of a fish and burrows into it's mouth, becoming a new tongue.
Real picture, unfortunately
In the movie these parasites basically just make you do gross things. Sometimes they eat the tongue, sometimes they burst out of your stomach, or shoot through you like a bullet. They do whatever the script thinks will be the grossest thing.
The movie stutters along at points. There's about 7-8 different stories being told but only some of them are interesting. The Doctor's story, and his dealing with the CDC is by and large the best segments of the film. They seem creepily authentic and the acting in these parts are top notch.

This split screen is the most compelling thing in "The Bay"

The worst part of the movie, and when I say worse I mean "almost made the film unwatchable" is the main story of the reporter. The frame of the story is two years after the event, this reporter is doing a Skype interview to discuss the footage. She is basically the narrator and this wrap around is completely unnecessary.

We'll be watching a scene of a couple on a boat headed towards the danger zone of no idea of what is coming. They'll have some playful dialogue. Then the Narrator will drown them out and say "Look at them, they're so happy. They have no idea of what they are headed towards."

Really? Thanks for filling me in, I had no idea!

The Narrator does this throughout the film. The first time we meet the Doctor she says "He treated 300 people that night. Then he died." Why did you tell me that? What purpose did that serve.

I bet the director didn't think the movie had a strong enough narrative with just the spliced footage so he added the wrap around and overall narration. But it actually ruins the movie.  She will describe exactly what you are seeing or she will give you information that ruins the movie. That's not a narrator that's the person who sits behind me at every movie theater.

This movie is ambitious. It may be the future of found footage. But with a weak by-the-numbers plot and scene-destroying Narrator, I'd give "The Bay" a pass.