A glimmer of hope in the age of clones and do-overs…

Reading the film-related news every morning has been a struggle for me lately. Not that I don’t enjoy staying on top of things and even the sheer volume of articles to flick through is not the problem – the content of said news, on the other hand, usually is the problem. At this point in time I think my stance on the state of mainstream cinema is pretty clear and I just might tip my hat to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ prognosis that the industry is now speeding towards a brick wall. I might disagree with their premise of ‘if people like Spielberg and Lucas find it hard get money to make films, then the industry is in a pretty bad shape’, because what I think will bring about the inevitable is the obsessive sequelitis that has been going on in Hollywood for years now, and while the point they’re making still illustrates the problem, it lacks dimension. Additionally, the blind faith in throwing more money at established box office blockbusters and turning everything into trilogies is only going to speed up the process of decay. The recent news of green-lighting “Taken 3” and rebooting “The Terminator” franchise already into a stand-alone trilogy can only testify to the trend I find most repulsive. With these two titles being added to the 2015 release slate, that already includes a massive amount of high-profile sequels, like “Star Wars Episode VII”, “The Avengers 2”, “Independence Day 2”, or “Jurassic Park 4”, I think this might be the summer of apocalypse Spielberg was referring to, when we would all call the film-makers on their bulls**t and this house of cards would crumble to the epic tune of Hans Zimmer’s score.

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While I’d like to rant a bit more about that (and I actually might, but we shall see), the reason I’m here now typity-type-type-typing away is because for once somebody out there in the sunny California might have been listening to us, the movie-goers. This morning the news broke out that Pixar – the pioneering studio in the field of CG animation – has decided to scale back on the sequel production and focus more on creative new IP [standing ovation on my part]. Now, that’s just music for my ears, because it would seem that somebody in Pixar noticed that their audience needs more than just another “Toy Story”.

Believe it or not, but this is a business of making money and a film’s goal is to make a profit (that excludes the indie projects, so stay where you are). However, while the mainstream opinion in Hollywood might be along the lines of ‘diminish the risk, increase the reward’, it not always pans out, as illustrated by Pixar’s case. I don’t think these guys need much of an introduction past the fact they had single-handedly kicked off a major revolution in the world of animation back in the day. They have not been the most prolific of studios out there with only 14 titles released to date (starting in 2006, averaging one theatrical release per year), because they claimed to have been focused on the quality instead of the volume of releases… and good for them.

Nevertheless, right around 2009 they have fallen victim to peer pressure and have jumped on the sequel bandwagon hoping they would get filthy rich in no time. And so, out of all 14 releases in Pixar’s portfolio, 4 are direct sequels, or prequels (“Monsters University”, currently in theatres), and while their first sequel on record – “Toy Story 2” – was released in 1999 as both an attempt to make up for a disappointing “A Bug’s Life”, and a genuine answer to the demands of the fan-base, the remaining 3 sequels have been released nearly back-to-back starting in 2010.

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What I think stands behind Pixar’s decision to concentrate their efforts on new ideas, can be explained using pure calculations. If you have a look at how Pixar’s films did in the box office against their respective budgets, you should immediately notice the trend. Note that the worldwide box office is missing from the graph, as it only adds to the noise; however, it has to be noted that, in total, all Pixar films have made a profit. Upon examining Pixar’s financial results, I could make a couple useful observations that feed into their plan for future releases. First of all, it seems that the more money Pixar has dished out on a given project, the worse the revenue was (with a notable exception of “Toy Story 3” that breaks the trend). Additionally, in their case, attempting to recreate the financial result of a given release (again with the exception of “Toy Story” franchise that has made continually bigger profit, but on increasing budgets) with a sequel has not been all that fruitful; “Cars 2” required the non-US revenue in order to break even. Even a new IP – “Brave” – that was released the following year seems to have suffered from the bad rep Pixar has garnered in the wake of “Cars 2”. Therefore, with constantly growing budgets and dwindling revenues, Pixar has noticed they needed to go back to their roots and rake in the money with fresh ideas in order to stop the decline.

Much has been said about the apparent sad state of affairs in Pixar and their financial results I have shown here only corroborate other people’s observations. Quite recently Christopher Orr over at The Atlantic has published a piece that illustrates how bad things are going with Pixar films by plotting their respective Rotten Tomatoes scores. While the declining trend can be noticed if you disregard the concept of an outlying value, the whole idea lacks substance, in my opinion. I believe that an average score awarded by film are not always the most reliable measure of a film’s quality, because it’s the tickets that ensure its success in the long run (at least in the mainstream cinema). Such approach certainly is informative, but I wouldn’t draw any conclusions from it.

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What will better illustrate the problem than simple numbers again? If you divide film’s box office revenue by its budget, you should theoretically obtain a numerical value that shows this film’s financial potential, with best results being produced by the films with the smallest budgets. Applied to all Pixar films, the trend clearly shows that only “Toy Story” (made 6 times the budget domestically and 12 times worldwide) and maybe “Finding Nemo” (4 times the budget domestically and 10 times worldwide) have been at all successful, but the general trend is headed towards disaster.

I find it most welcoming that the guys over at Pixar have noticed they need to listen to us – people who buy the tickets – if they want to be successful. Positive reviews are crucial as well, but for the most part (unless your name is M. Night Shyamalan) good reviews are usually reflected in the box office. So, how long before the rest of you, people, wake up and smell the coffee? I, for one, don’t want to live in the world where every single release has a number on it and I count on Pixar to lead the crowd towards improvement.

Rant over.

Saturday Fright Night Fever #1 – “The Last Exorcism” and “The Last Exorcism Part 2”

After a quick look through the reviews I’ve written since I started this blog, it occurred to me that one of my favourite genres seems to be wildly under-represented within the general population. It appears that out of 45 articles only 4 refer to horror movies and I think I’d like to do something about it.

I have always been a huge fan of horror (both books and films) and as it stands, my output does not reflect that at all. Well, I couldn’t really do much about the fact that horror seems to – strangely enough – be missing from the mainstream cinema with the bulk of the titles being released either as direct-to-DVD, or as limited theatrical runs with VOD on the back of it. Since I have been mainly focusing on what goes on in the cinemas, then no wonder scary movies have been left out of the loop.

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In order to alleviate this scathing inequality, I decided to start (yet another) more-or-less frequent column specifically devoted to films of the scary variety. However, in the interest of integrity I believe certain ground rules are required. No, I refuse to score films arbitrarily, as I find it stupid and redundant; I can’t say that based on some sort of numeric value I like a certain film more than another. There’s more to it than putting the titles on a scale, and even if it was possible, the scale wouldn’t be one-dimensional at all. Nevertheless, since herein I will be only focusing on horrors and nothing else, I decided to review them and talk about them in the context of the genre they represent – much like I would do with Sci-Fi or actioners. While for the science fiction the task would naturally be a bit more laborious (with the complexity of universes, mythos and so on) horrors do present themselves as slightly more accessible due to their one single trait – their job is to scare you. Well, scare, disturb, or disgust, but the bottom line is that if you leave the screening unaffected and indifferent, then the film didn’t do its job and it should go down in history as a poor horror. And this is where I step into the fray…

This little column looks to me as a perfect opportunity to do a few things: first, write about one of my favourite genres that has been with me since I can remember (yup, I started reading Stephen King when I turned 10, and right around that time some horrors watched illegally on late night TV had already scarred me for life); secondly, catch up on films that have somehow slipped through my fingers, but would otherwise never end up on my ‘Blind Spot list’; and third, get back in shape as the horror jock I once used to be.

Right, that would be enough introductory waffle… Therefore, I should really kick this thing off by talking about a film (or a whole franchise, to be exact) that has brought me here in the first place. A couple of weeks back I wound up watching “The Last Exorcism” so that I could go to the cinema and watch the sequel (that took months to travel across the Atlantic), and what better way to watch a horror than in the middle of the night, by yourself, with headphones on and so forth…

I have to be honest here: I have never been a huge fan of the ‘found footage’ plot device (regardless of the genre), as for the most part, the idea of watching a shaky image for 90 minutes tends to be a nauseating experience for me; I barely survived “Cloverfield” keeping the contents of my stomach to myself. The same happened to me years ago whilst watching “The Blair Witch Project” – a film from which, I believe, all other found footage flicks originate, and while the experience was scary in general, it was kind of spoiled for me by my infuriating sea sickness that prevented me from engaging into what was transpiring on the screen.

And this is where “The Last Exorcism” got me really well… (the shaky image didn’t disturb me all that much, but the film did) For those who still haven’t seen it – it’s a story disguised as a fake documentary about an exorcist (Patrick Fabian) who has come to understand there are no such things as demons, but only people with mental problems. Thus, he is bent on exposing the phenomenon of demonic possession for the hoax it is. He comes in contact with a family that seems to be bothered by some sort of a malevolent spirit, so he takes the camera crew with him and drives all the way down to the middle of nowhere to perform his last exorcism.

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It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what goes next, but I can tell you that much – that film was absolutely and definitely scary. So scary, in fact, that it made me want to rant about it… While the whole concept might be considered stale with all the “Paranormal Activities” and such (which I have yet to see, by the way), however this time round “The Last Exorcism” has struck a near perfect balance of jump scares, unrelenting threat, practical special effects and the inherent traits of the ‘found footage’ device. You see, the whole thing being shot with a single camera and in continuous almost non-edited takes lends a helping hand to scare the living s**t out of you. Plus, the actress portraying Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) – the possessed teenager – managed to pull off quite a performance without any special effects and gave a refreshing makeover to the whole concept of how a person enthralled by demons would behave.

I don’t know what it is about the satanic variety of horrors… Maybe they get into your head much easier than anything else, because as Westerners, we are culturally more prone to believe that and thus we subconsciously fear biblical-type demons more than anything else… I don’t know, but there’s something really creepy about “The Last Exorcism” that made it work for me really well. Plus, watching it alone at night could only crack up the gain on the horror this film can serve to a viewer. And I don’t even mean the jump-scares here, because for the most part they are somewhat predictable, but anyway the single-camera shots really help to keep you on the edge of your seat. On top of all that, there is a couple of really well-crafted takes on the act of demonic possession in “The Last Exorcism” that I haven’t seen anywhere else and they will surely remain lodged in the back of my brain for years to come.

Quite sadly, everything that the first film was, the sequel was not (why am I not surprised?). And to think I actually went and bought a ticket to see this… Anyway, the sequel picks up where the first “The Last Exorcism” left off and we get to follow Nell in her struggles to incorporate herself back to normality. She doesn’t quite know what had happened to her (and I shan’t spoil much), but the visions she is experiencing make her think that the demon might still be around somewhere nearby.

Yeah, as I said, everything that made the first film a fantastic treat was completely absent here. With the found footage gone completely, “The Last Exorcism Part 2” was just another run-of-the-mill substandard horror flick – and a sequel at that, with all its flaws. I don’t know why, but some people think that a sequel has to just be more of everything, and I find it completely untrue, especially for horrors. What had made “The Last Exorcism” so good was not the abundance of jump scares, but the overall tone of uncertainty and constant threat. Those never made an appearance in the sequel… If anything, the jump scares have gotten more elaborate, but other than that – there is nothing this film has to offer. Additionally, because the viewer gets to see Nell all the damn time, I didn’t feel anything uneasy about her character any more. If anything, I sympathized with her a little… which made the ending a bit awkward. But then again, the ending was horrible in its own right, so I can’t do much about it, can I?

If I had to boil down the sequel to its bare essentials, it was basically a string of boredom with occasional scares, some chicks with black eyes, and random contortionist pedestrians. If I had to do the same for the first one, that would include the sense of mystery (but that would be understandably gone from the sequel due to the viewer’s knowledge of what had happened before), threat and an underlying arc that put the whole possession in proper context. Plus, the actual scenes of exorcisms and/or the scenes where the demon took control of things were flippin’ scary and no-one can take that away from me now…

In the end, “The Last Exorcism” was a film that I thoroughly enjoyed due to the horror factor it carried. It was seriously scary and engaging, whereas the sequel was just sad. The scary part was that I paid money to see it…

Shortcake #15 – “Dr Easy”

Note to self: if I ever need to be reminded why I like Sci-Fi at all, I shall simply watch a short like that one – “Dr Easy”. It has been released a couple of days ago and its story is based on a chapter from an apparently fantastic novel “The Red Men” by Matthew De Abaitua. By the way, now that I have seen the short, I think it is vital for me to go and read the book. Why? Because, simply put, this might be the kind of sci-fi I love the most – the dirty kind.

While I enjoy any type of science-fiction, what “Dr Easy” has to offer is pushing just the right buttons for me. In short, it’s not so much of a story, but a sequence, in which a medical robot (Dr Easy) attends a crime scene of some sort where an armed man has barricaded himself in a house and the police has siege’d the building up. What Dr Easy tries to do is ensure the man comes out of it alive, by tending to his wounds and trying to calm him down, while the heavily armed SWAT units are just outside waiting to strike. And that’s pretty much it.

What the makers of “Dr Easy” are trying to accomplish here by presenting the world with this beautifully crafted short is to create enough buzz to get their full project funded. I don’t know, how this will pan out, but if they attracted attention of some major studios, we might see a proper feature adaptation of “The Red Men” in the cinemas. I, for one, cannot wait for it to happen, because both stylistically and in terms of story-telling, “Dr Easy” places the bar very high. The special effects are subtle and complement the story perfectly without overshadowing it. While the dialogue is sparse in the film, the whole story is suspenseful and compelling. Therefore, if the makers –once funded – deliver the full feature to the standard set by “Dr Easy”, we might have a blockbuster on our hands.

So, if you have 10 minutes to spare, give “Dr Easy” a go. It’s a lovely little Sci-Fi short that reminded me that the genre is still in good shape – alive and kicking. Let’s just hope “Dr Easy” becomes the full feature it deserves to be. If “Mama” could do it (see the short here and read my review of the feature here), I see no reason why this project would not get funded. Enjoy.

“Snitch” – Parenting 101 by The Rock

How far would you go to save your son, the poster asks…  How many laws would you break? Those sound like really redundant questions, because of their seemingly rhetorical nature… Of course, you’d do anything within your powers to shield your offspring from danger and cinema is full of just such stories. From tear-jerking dramas, redemption stories, through uplifting feel-good comedies, all the way down to gritty morally ambiguous dramas, popcorn actioners, sci-fi summer blockbusters, and even horrors. Therefore, watching a flick about a father turning to the dark side to save his son should in theory reek of stale and rotten material – especially when a muscular Dwayne No-Longer-The-Rock Johnson stares at you from the poster.

Thus, with expectation level set adequately low I proceeded to see “Snitch” and I have to say I was rather pleasantly surprised with what I saw. Speaking as a person who cannot say ‘no’ to a solid action movie (with real people, that is – not gods or superheroes), I have to say that “Snitch” is a modern-day hybrid of a down-to-earth drama with a solid actioner worthy of the 80’s that not only provides solid entertainment, but touches on some delicate problems.

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“Snitch” is supposedly based on a true story (not quite, I believe, but anything goes in Hollywood, right?) and in it, we meet John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson), a trucker-turned-businessman who has built a successful transportation company, owns a nice house, has a lovely wife and everything a man could ever wish for. One day, however, his teenage son Jason (Rafi Gavron) brings a metric tonne of trouble upon himself by getting involved in a drug deal. Well, technically the only thing he does is he accepts a package full of drugs from his friend, so that someone else could pick it up; nothing major. What he doesn’t know is that the whole drug deal is a sting operation led by DEA and he quickly ends up in jail sentenced to a decade behind bars. When his father learns about it, he tries to pull some strings with the DA (Susan Sarandon) – unsuccessfully.She reveals to John that his son has fallen prey to the DEA’s new and brilliant program of fighting the drug crime, that involves busting little school kids with sizable quantities of controlled substances and bullying them into setting up someone else in exchange for reduced sentence. Because Jason’s friend didn’t know any better, he ‘framed’ Jason instead – a boy with neither criminal record, nor any connections to the underworld, and made him up to be a gang-banger or something like that. Seeing that his son would not go down the same road and destroy someone else’s life, John offers the DA a deal, in which he would do the snitching instead of his son and if his work results in a major bust, Jason would get out of prison with a slap on the wrist; and he proceeds from there.

So, why again was I surprised? First of all, the action in “Snitch” is not at all overwhelmingly explosive – and that is a definite plus, because in the end, the film’s psychological level has a chance to surface a bit more and the characters are more colourful in return. “Snitch” is not a 2013 Commando-type revenge film, where a big and muscular ex-wrestler takes matters into his own hands, disregards the law and single-handedly brings down a powerful cartel. Instead, we see the more believable every-man character who doesn’t quite know, how to do what he needs to do, but his determination and a ‘particular set of skills’ have to suffice him in order to save his son’s life.

For once this summer (a four-month delay in relation to the US notwithstanding) I got to see some action drama with actual substance in it. While “Snitch” has its flaws and leaps in logic, I think it is fair to turn a blind eye on them and enjoy the positives. The film is paced rather well and the slow-down periods are few and far between, but the main reason I like this film has actually little to do with the car chases, gangsters, or shootings. The fact a pile of muscle like Dwayne Johnson can shed his image of a macho superhuman and go above and beyond to breathe life into his character is more than enough to buy me over. After all, when all the gunshots are fired and all the cars destroyed, we are left with ordinary people in extra-ordinary circumstances, and that’s vital for a good action drama.

 

About those circumstances: I have a reason to believe that the usual ‘based on a true story’ nonsense is about as accurate for “Snitch” as it is for any run-of-the-mill found footage horror flick. However, the only thing that was taken from real life was the fact DEA was (or is) running a huge scale game of “you’re it” where tagging a person ensured one’s freedom or reduced his sentence. Take it or leave it, but in general, the whole idea of the film hinges on something not even remotely possible (or even illegal) according to the rule of law. Therefore, “Snitch” doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what could potentially be a very different (and very political) commentary, if done right. What it does, however, is take this highly illogical concept and makes it a canvas for some grit, tears, blame and penance – all the goodies that come with a family.

And that is what elevates “Snitch” together with Dwayne Johnson from the crowd of action-packed mindless strings of explosions. Apart from it providing adequate entertainment value, this film is a decent story in its own right and I think I’m OK with Dwayne Johnson dipping his toes in something more than just action films, because he has what it takes to create a character, make it his own and sell it to the audience. As much as I hate to say this, Dwayne Johnson proved here to me that he could make me forget it was ‘The Rock’ I was watching. And that’s a feat Arnold Schwarzenegger could never accomplish. Try as he might, he always remained himself.

“Behind The Candelabra” you can find only pain…

I seem to remember certain Steven Soderbergh announcing that “Side Effects” was going to be his last directorial effort. I also seem to recall, how much I loved “Side Effects” and quietly wished he would change his mind. Well then, for once my prayers have been answered (or maybe I just missed the memo), as he apparently changed his mind and directed “Behind the Candelabra” – a ‘kinda/sorta’ biopic about Liberace – a living proof it was possible to cross-breed humans with glitter (not Gary…).

Well, Mr Soderbergh, you have broken your own word and thus you are not much of a gentleman, I must say. Nevertheless, I am certainly glad you came back to your senses and I shall try and ignore your promises that this time you’re done for good.

Clearly, Soderbergh’s attempts at parting with cinema resemble the way I usually eat Pringles. I would usually pop the lid, get a handful and savour the delicious crisps before deciding to save the rest for later. Well, maybe one more… Ok, that one is definitely going to be last… Perhaps one for the road… And minutes later I would wake up to a sudden realization I find it difficult to squeeze my big fat sausage fingers down the devilishly narrow tube in order to fish out what are now the surviving remnants of my Pringle binge. So, if this is how Soderbergh is going to play out his retirement, we can be safe, because he’ll be back in no time with yet another fantastic film.

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It turns out it has been Soderbergh’s fleeting dream to direct a film about Liberace’s life since as far as 13 years ago, when he casually pitched this idea to Michael Douglas whilst filming “Traffic”. Fast forward until now and there we are: HBO dished out the funds and Liberace – the human Christmas tree – is now gleefully parading on the big screens… in the UK. The US has seen it on HBO, which we don’t have here in the rainy British Dominion, but that’s not a problem.

The reason “Behind the Candelabra” is not your usual biopic is quite simple: the film covers only the last decade of Liberace’s (Michael Douglas) life and even that would be a bit excessive, because the major arc of this film is the violent and bumpy relationship with Liberace and his much younger lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), while everything else seems to be sidelined. We meet the two in 1977 when young animal trainer Scott meets Bob Black (mildly camouflaged Scott Bakula) – a producer – in a gay club and the latter introduces him to Liberace after one of his sparkling and glamorous shows. The two quickly develop chemistry and not long thereafter, Scott moves in with Lee(berace) for good. We are then allowed to dip our toes in the decadent lives of Vegas performing artists and by the end of the film we are fully submerged in the sex, drugs, abuse and everything Hollywood is notorious for. By the way, not knowing who Liberace was (apart from the general knowledge of pop-culture, for anything else I was simply too young to remember) I am puzzled at how long he has managed to keep his gay nature a secret. Probably all the credit should go to his agent, Seymour Heller (Dan Aykroyd), because compared to Liberace, even Elton John looks macho.

Anyway, the film meanders through the ups and downs of Scott’s relationship with Liberace, who with each minute of the story becomes more and more possessive and very quickly reveals his dark and toxic side that would eventually bring the nature of their relationship from lover-to-lover to overlord-to-slave. In an amazing display of superb acting I got to see that Liberace surely had more than one face – a gentle lover, a caring guardian, an obsessive tyrant, and vindictive asshole; all encased in a body of a piano virtuoso dressed in sparkles.

 

Continuing on the subject of acting in “Behind the Candelabra”, I have got to give a hand to the whole ensemble for wonderful performances, especially Michael Douglas and Matt Damon who so convincingly embodied the two protagonists in the gayest possible way – and that’s a compliment, I’ll have you know. Also Dan Aykroyd, Scott Bakula and super-tanned long-haired Rob Lowe (who portrayed Liberace’s plastic surgeon) deserve to be commended for their efforts, as they have all contributed to the powerful picture the film creates.

Other than that, I think “Behind the candelabra” gives us a very important opportunity to peek behind the curtains and see that the same people we’d normally see in full drag, make-up and all, are made of flesh and blood as well, contrary to what certain religious circles would like us to think. All the gay stuff aside (and there’s a lot of it), “Behind the Candelabra” is a very solid drama that takes on a subject of toxic relationships, sacrifices, submission and undisputed dominance. As seen through Scott’s eyes, I saw that what these people had is no different to what you’d see in far too many so-called ‘normal’ relationships. We all know at least one couple with similar issues to the ones shown in this film, where one party would assume full control over the other by slowly tightening the leash around their neck.

This is how Liberace is portrayed in this film – not as a glamorous little icon in make-up behind a piano, but as a vengeful bully who would strip his partner off of any humanity and free will and make him his little boy toy, a doll to be dressed and played with. Sadly, very little is said in terms of explaining how Liberace became a domestic monster, but it doesn’t belittle the film as a whole – it is rather a trade-off for the narrow scope of the film.

In any way, the reason I think Soderbergh has done a fantastic job in “Behind the candelabra” has to do with the fact that underneath the gay coating there’s a real tragedy there. When all is said and done, nobody cares whether two guys are kissing on the screen, because Soderbergh wants us to see past the gender, right where the general problem lies. In the end, “Behind the candelabra” is a story about a sad pathetic lonely little man who was incapable of developing a healthy relationship due to some deep-seated unresolved issues. Words and actions cannot be undone, therefore by looking at Liberace’s choices and the price he paid in the end, we should be reminded to love and respect the people we share our lives with before it’s too late. After all, you can never step in the same river twice…

What’s with the obsession with 3’s?

It didn’t take too long – a couple of days perhaps – for the head-ups in Paramount to announce they would be dishing out money for a sequel to this weekend’s “World War Z”. I will try and stay ‘zen’ about all that, because every single time I hear that a good financial performance is enough for some people in Hollywood to plop a number two on a film (not that kind of ‘number two’), a little part of me dies. Seriously, how many decent films ended up ruined, due to being pointlessly over-extended? I think I might sit down and list a couple at some point in time, but for the sake of argument, think about “Die Hard”, or “Planet of the Apes” and how pathetically ridiculous it was to keep them going until the viewers called the producers on their bulls**t.

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But that’s not the problem here. What bothers me nowadays, and I know I’m not alone in this, is the fact that potential blockbusters and/or surprisingly well performing underdogs are already planned out into trilogies. I mean – what the hell? What makes you think it’s right to take any story and extend it into two additional films? Especially that a trilogy by definition cannot consist of three random stories, that share protagonists, or the universe all jumbled together under the same banner; it simply doesn’t work that way. A trilogy needs to be carefully framed to have each of the chapters as their own separate entities bound together into a larger design that only the three stories together can unravel. The same rules apply to any framework, be it a set of four, five, seven or twelve parts. Quite simply speaking, for a trilogy to make sense, one cannot be allowed to pick up any randomly chosen part of it without creating gaping holes in his knowledge of the story arcs.

And in Hollywood nobody seems to care, because it is apparently sexy to apply the rule of three to anything that moves. Seriously, is it at all necessary to take “Prometheus” and already plan it out to be a trilogy? And how does any of this work for shameful duds like “The Hangover”? Really? Just because the first one was quite funny, does it mean we need more of the same dressed up as a ‘trilogy’? It just doesn’t make sense… And it’s not about the idea of making a sequel, because it is a totally separate matter. It seems that every time a film does well in the theatres, I might as well start counting down until I see the remaining ‘parts of the trilogy’ be released. Whatever happened to telling stories within the same universe? If you really have to, please make it easier on yourselves and skip the rule of three because half the time it doesn’t look right and the only thing that it would share with an actual trilogy would be the amount of volumes that it constitutes.

I seriously doubt we need to see “World War Z” as a trilogy. I know that the book contains countless arcs and peripheral stories, but confining oneself to three parts cannot be a good solution at all here. You can turn it into a collection of shorts, or a miniseries, or even a TV show if you must, but extending everything into trilogies is downright wrong and repulsive and there is no logical explanation for it.

While I might understand that a new set of “Star Wars” films is being planned as a trilogy, but the precedent states the previous came in threes as well, and were mostly proper trilogies anyway. What I will never understand is stretching something like “The Hobbit” into three films; there’s no need for it, the book is short enough and it looks stupid, thank you very much. Is it only because three films make more money than one?

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All this brings us to a point wherein we would be anticipating a trilogy virtually out of every little piece of crap that ends up bringing money. Even intellectual duds like “Transformers” ended up a trilogy. Yes, I know Michael Bay is making a fourth instalment, but it is leaving the original three with their characters and arcs alone and starting everything anew. And so, we will have “The Avengers Trilogy”, “The Independence Day Trilogy”, “Man of Steel Trilogy” and many more… And I could bet money that once “Pacific Rim” does well, we will see another two – exactly two, because it is not enough to bastardize decent films by proliferating them pointlessly. To please the average popcorn eater, we need to serve them their franchises in sets of three. Therefore, I cannot wait to see things like “Insidious 3 – the final whatever” (because why not), “Bridesmaids 3 – the fat one gets married”, or “Wall Street 3 – money goes camping”. And yes, sometimes I actually count on the big potential blockbusters to flop, because for once nobody will turn them into trilogies. Could you imagine what “28 months later” could possibly be about?

“World War Z” – It turns out that dropping the Z-bomb isn’t that bad after all…

Although I was initially convinced that writing up “World War Z” should present itself as rather straightforward, in reality it took me a while to get my thoughts right in order to do that. Perhaps I didn’t have my own mind quite made up about it in the first place, but more so because there is so many things this film is not, and it seems to bother the general public. I, on the other hand, had a good time watching it and I believe I ought to address these points of contention whilst reviewing.

What I think is the major problem with “World War Z” is the fact it suffers from a major case of ‘shyamalanitis’ with so many people having an opinion about it without even having seen it in the first place; and no wonder if it flops big time, because that’s what happens to films that are superseded by vindictive gossip. Therefore it is all the more difficult to write something coherent about it without falling victim to any such nonsense.

In that spirit, I think it wise to start with the facts. “World War Z” is a very loose adaptation of a best-selling novel by Max Brooks and the reason I (as much as everybody else) say ‘loose’ is because the book as it stands is virtually unfilmable. I have to admit I still have 80 pages to finish it myself, but I think even at this stage I am qualified enough to say that no-one in their right mind would even attempt to adapt this fantastic book verbatim and expect a return on their investment. For those of you who don’t know (and you should know because it’s a terrific read) the book is not a novel per se, but more of a fictional collection of interviews with various people who lived through the zombie war, where the author assumes the role of a UN analyst tasked with preparing a report on the war and its implications nearly a decade after it had ended. In short, reading “World War Z” provides an ultimately immersive experience where we see the war and its atrocities through the eyes of survivors without much help from the narrator. Thus, slowly but inevitably unravels the horrifying picture of the world struggling with the undead and once the pieces fall into place, the emotional impact of the book is truly magnificent.

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Maybe the book needed to be left alone… But we all know this is not how the game is played. If a book sells in millions it is simply a matter of time before someone picks it up for a film. And whoop-dee-doo, wouldn’t you know, the script had to undergo a string of re-writes, overhauls and what-not before the filming could start. And not only that: after the film had been basically done and paid for, Paramount halted the post-production and the entire ending was re-shot. I’ll divulge more details on that a bit further on, but in the end “World War Z” cost way more money than expected (the re-shooting itself took nearly $30M) and as far as 6 months before release the buzz on the grape vine was pretty damn clear on how much of a stink-bomb it was going to become.

Nevertheless, the final product directed by Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball”, “Finding Neverland”, “Quantum of Solace”) and written by a gazillion people has finally hit the screens and – thank heavens – is nothing like the book. Side note, I wonder how many book adaptations are there which completely disregarded the source material and still got away with it… Now that I think about it, I think I would have been seriously disappointed in “World War Z”, had it remained true to the original with the documentary style and fragmented narrative, because it would have certainly lost the impact and failed to convey the book’s message. What it is instead is a story set in the greater world outlined in the book (with only a handful of scenes or characters taken from it). In it, a former UN investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family find themselves in the midst of a global outbreak of a deadly virus that turns people into bloodthirsty ghouls. After they seek refuge on an aircraft carrier, Gerry is asked to help solve the origin of the pandemic (in exchange for his family’s safety). If he can find the ‘patient zero’ or what’s left of him, then the dwindling humanity might have a fighting chance in developing a cure. And off he goes, surrounded by a garnish of NAVY Seals he travels the world to look for answers, but in reality to give us – the viewers – a chance to see how a zombie apocalypse would look like on global scale.

In light of the film’s sub-par score on Rotten Tomatoes and some dreadful reviews, I shall say the following: “World War Z” is actually not that bad, especially when put in context of the zombie genre in general. There’s nothing more stale and overworked than the zombie horror and up until lately I think there was very little to be done with it without being overly repetitive. It has gotten to a point that introducing a small gimmick in a zombie film was deemed perfectly enough for it to be considered fresh, modern, or even visionary. Need I remind you, how the world collectively wet itself after Danny Boyle had introduced the fast, rabid zombie? In terms of genre freshness, “28 days later” was basically that with a healthy amount of Boyle genius, but apart from being just a very good movie, “28 days later” was just a zombie horror with fast zombies. Then, you might recall “Zombieland” – another fine addition to the genre, as regarded by critics, but the only thing it did, was to introduce good comedy. Finally, you have “Warm bodies” that turned the genre into a rom-com, but nothing more… As I said, a good gimmick was enough…

Now, “World War Z” is not your generic zombie film. First of all, it is not a horror. It has some decent jump scares, but it is not its purpose to instil fear or disgust. Probably partly due to its PG-13 rating (15 in the UK), the camera shies away from the gore in favour of the grand scale and epic feel and – hands down – you haven’t seen a zombie film like that before. What you’d usually see in zombie genre are closed sets, claustrophobic interiors, flickering lights and moaning undead.

Secondly, “World War Z” is by far one of the very few (if not the only one) zombie films that is actually self-aware. Normally – and it is quite annoying if you think about it – the characters in zombie horrors have no idea what a zombie is, what it wants, how dangerous it is, or how to fight it. Of course they’d most likely figure it out quite quickly, but they have to do the dance anyway. And no-one ever calls the zombies ‘zombies’ as if it was taboo or something. At times you’d find that the characters come up with colourful euphemisms like ‘biters’ or ‘walkers’ (as exemplified in “The Walking Dead”), but with a few exceptions, the Z-word is seldom used. And to think that the living dead and the concept of a zombie apocalypse are so deeply ingrained in the modern pop-culture that it seems ludicrous to come up with film characters that are oblivious to it all. Come on, even children know what zombies are.

 

“World War Z” calls things as it sees them and the Z-bomb is dropped quite early in the film. ‘Ok, so these are zombies, right?’ And everything is clear!!! With that comes a natural extension of ‘only head-shots do the trick’, and we are good to go without dancing around it…

Finally, the film-makers seem to know very well what they want from their zombies. Contrary to the book, the undead are Danny-Boyle-fast and fearless, they have some sort of a swarm mentality, (Minor spoiler) they don’t attack the people out of hunger, but rather to spread the virus (/Minor spoiler), so the gore and flesh-eating sequences are ultimately unjustified by the film lore, and it only takes seconds for the virus to kill the host and turn him into a zombie. And I think it’s perfectly acceptable. This way, the massive scale is guaranteed and nobody needs to dwell on the gore, because it is not an issue at all.

So, why the hatred, dare I ask? Most critics will point out that “World War Z” starts off with a bang and keeps the pressure pumping for a good while, but it withers down in the final act, and thus the ending is supposedly anticlimactic.  In addition, the original ending (before the overhaul) of the film was supposed to include a massive grand-scale epic battle between the zombies and the remnants of the human race in order to settle the score once and for all, and it seems that a great deal of people are of the opinion it would have been better that way. Wouldn’t that have been dumb? I personally believe that the third act in the final version of “World War Z” turned out to be much better in the long run. Sure, it loses the epic feel, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, does it? It still remains very interesting and makes a bit more sense than a battle against zombies. I wonder whether there is any correlation between the critics, who would have preferred the epic CGI-ridden ending to “World War Z”, and the critics who wrote sonnets about “Iron Man 3”… I’m sure it would make for an interesting Venn diagram.

I’ll ask again: what is it that you all find so repugnant in “World War Z”? Surely, the [air quotation marks] anticlimactic ending cannot be a deal-breaker here. Could it be again the case of group hate that is driving you to dress the film down? Or is it the notorious Damon Lindelof, who helped with the re-writes of the script? After he had rehauled “Prometheus”, everything with his name on will be ridiculed in the internet by the community of hate-spouting trolls with too much time on their hands.

I, for one, actually liked “World War Z”. Brad Pitt’s character fits perfectly into the ‘action hero’ pigeon hole and there’s nothing wrong in it – after all it is an action movie and get over yourselves!  Action hero’s family needs to be special, he needs to be the only one in the world who can save the day and he has to come out alive out of more than one clusterf**k. That’s just how the genre works, and don’t mistake this film for a zombie horror, because it’s not and I think I said that already. It’s a zombie action movie and a quite good one at that. And while I think one can have a problem with many things about it, “World War Z” definitely stands on its own two feet within the genre, especially in terms of the special effects, the sheer scale of events, the pacing and the volume of action. “World War Z” fills in the space left by virtually every zombie film, as it shows the prelude to each and every zombie horror story.