Film Review: World War Z

This review was originally published on The Orange Post on 23rd June 2013.

Marc Forster’s World War Z (pronounced zee not zed) has more in common with 28 Days Later and its sequel 28 Weeks Later than the George A. Romero series of zombie flicks. These Z zombies can run, fast. They also leap and stack on top of themselves en masse to climb walls, like a heaving ant nest or a jenga tower. I’m not sure why becoming one of the undead transforms you into a super athlete. All I know is that with my lack of sporting prowess, I’d be a very hungry zombie.

Brad Pitt, complete with foppish nineties hairdo, is a retired UN investigator. When a mystery contagion outbreak occurs, turning millions worldwide into zombies, Pitt’s Gerry Lane must get his family to safety before traversing the planet (well, Korea, Israel and Wales) in search of the origin of the epidemic.

World War Z’s source material is the title of the novel by Max Brooks (son of Mel). Practically nothing of the book, which is written in an oral history style as told by multiple survivors, has made it into the screenplay of this troubled production. I’m not precious about these things. Look forward to a compendium of my movie reviews to be published under the title Dead Serious: Attack of the Zombies. Hey Hollywood! Buy the rights, use the title only, do what you like.

World War Z had a difficult gestation.  The original release date was pushed back to allow a seven week reshoot of the rewritten final third of the film in Budapest. Star Pitt also reportedly clashed with director Forster (Monster’s Ball, Quantum of Solace).

The good news is that the final product hangs together nicely. The thrill ride starts from the first moments of the film and doesn’t let off until the end credits roll. The action is unrelenting and doesn’t stop for anything, including character development. This is Pitt’s film. Supporting characters, such as James Badge Dale’s Captain Speke, appear briefly and are then quickly dispatched. At best, Pitt’s character can be described as an inquisitive investigator who does some investigating.

The zombies in World War Z are mostly of the CGI variety with little attention given to them as individuals. I would have liked just a little subplot involving the ramifications to those left behind when a loved one is turned. In this film, it is literally one bite, some convulsions and twelve seconds later you are one of the running dead, and on with the show.

Strangely, these zombies only seem interested in biting the living, not eating them. The final set piece of the film, set in a laboratory in Wales, takes a tonal shift from the earlier spectacles in the US and Israel. An effective cat and mouse style set piece (that would be one mouse and tens of zombified cats) with locked doors, long corridors and glass cubicles, it is only after the film ends that you realise that it makes little sense. Why are the zombies so intent on chasing the living down, if only to bite them?

On further thought, this would be pretty much the same film if you replaced the zombies with rabid bats, sparkly vampires, teen werewolves or killer tomatoes. The film isn’t so much about the undead, but rather how Brad Pitt saves the world from catastrophe.

Leave your brains at the door (the zombies aren’t interested in them anyway) and enjoy this action packed, not very scary action thriller. I would recommend experiencing World War Z in 2D. I cannot recall a single moment which would have been improved by the extra dimension, or annoying glasses.

Published in: on June 30, 2013 at 16:15  Leave a Comment  
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Walking with The Walking Dead

Walking Dead Promo

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 5th March 2013.

To celebrate the return of post-apocalyptic zombie drama The Walking Dead to Australian pay TV, series star Norman Reedus made a promotional trip in January to our shores. Besides a sold out Q & A session after a screening in Sydney as part of the ever popular Popcorn Taxi events (which I couldn’t attend), he also shot a live action promo for FX, the home of The Walking Dead.

To help populate the commercial, FX took to social media inviting fans to volunteer as extras by sending in a headshot. My dashing good looks must have served me well (or perhaps my resemblance to a rotting zombie), because I received an invitation to the shoot which took place in a studio in Alexandria on the Australia Day public holiday.

To be transformed into a zombie is every fanboy’s dream, however, it seemed that my wish wouldn’t be coming true this time around. Firstly, I was well aware that the actors portraying the reanimated dead for the actual show attend zombie school. Secondly, we were asked to bring along travelling clothes and a suitcase for the shoot which was to take place in an “airport” setting.

Upon arrival on set, my predictions were confirmed. The studio was set up as an arrivals terminal, complete with metal detectors and baggage scanners. There was little activity in the makeup room. Alas, this promo for The Walking Dead would be minus any walking dead.

I had done a little extra work when I was a teen. The novelty of being on a film set wore off pretty quickly and there was a lot of waiting around. I can report that not much has changed in the twenty years or more since I roamed the halls of Summer Bay High. It was, however, pretty fun to chat to other The Walking Dead fans and eat as much junk food as possible from the craft services table.

Pretty soon I was put to work walking through the airport set, wheelie bag dragging behind me, until they called for a cut. We’d then wander back to our “first positions” and do it all again. And again. And again.

Things became more interesting with the arrival of our guest star. Reedus plays fan favourite character Daryl Dixon, a Southern redneck with a penchant for killing zombies with his signature crossbow. Reedus is also known for co-starring in The Boondock Saints, a cult action flick infamous for its troubled production under first time director Troy Duffy.

The good news is that Reedus was a gentleman. Softly spoken, he was keen to interact with the fans between takes, joking (I hope) that he had very little idea about the storyline of the commercial. Although we weren’t allowed individual photos with him, we all had a group shot with the guest star and on my way out after the recording concluded he shook my hand at the door. I also took home a signed poster and a pretty awesome zombie t-shirt for my troubles.

I did get into a little trouble for posting a sneaky photo of Reedus on twitter during the shoot. I thought that was somewhat ironic considering that FX acquired their extras for free via social media. I took down my post and reposted it after I received my goodie bag. Heh heh.

The promo premiered in February and I am proud to say that you can see me (well, at least three quarters of my face) about 18 seconds into the commercial. Apply for my autograph care of the Central Western Daily.

Published in: on March 5, 2013 at 19:09  Leave a Comment  
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Sheep, Simpsons, Apple Factory Workers & Zombies

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 9th October 2012.

I don’t usually do community announcements, however, I have been asked to remind you that the Cumnock Quickshear is being held on Saturday 20 October. This is truly the must see event of the year for fans of sheep shearing. If seeing animals getting haircuts doesn’t float your boat, you can always stay home and watch that funny Korean music video for the fifteenth time.

I’m still awaiting the delivery of my new iPhone 5. Clearly, the children who work in the Apple factory need to work harder. All kidding aside, the environmental and ethical considerations of our overwhelming demand for new technological products seems to be forgotten every time an exciting new iToy hits our shelves. Apparently, as consumers, our good intentions extend only to coffee, cosmetics, cans of tuna and eggs.

Our shiny new gadgets are such an important part of our lives nowadays, I think it is important that no-one has been exploited just so I can play funny Korean music videos on my iThingy. I suggest you visit SumOfUs.org for more information on this and other eye opening consumer issues. Unfortunately, this doesn’t change the fact that my current phone is on its last legs.

Forget The Hobbit. My most anticipated film of the year has to be Cockneys vs. Zombies. Set in the East End of London, this action comedy focuses on a gang of bank robbers who must team up with the residents of a retirement home to survive a zombie outbreak. The trailer is a hoot and features an old man who just manages to outrun a zombie with his zimmer frame.

With the latest Resident Evil flick just departing our cinema screens, the zombie movie craze of the past few years seems to be dissipating. It’s possible that Hollywood may well be saving the best for last. Let’s hope that Cockneys vs. Zombies meets expectations and joins Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland as the best in genre. For the record, my pick for worst zombie film in the past few years is Zombie Strippers (yes, it actually is a real film).

Cockneys vs. Zombies does not yet have an Australian release date.

I’ve written several times about the disastrous launch of The Simpsons: Tapped Out game. Launched in March this year, the game was so popular on iTunes that after 3 days, it was pulled from the app store due to overwhelming demand on the EA Games’ servers. Unfortunately, those who had successfully downloaded the game began to suffer from game bugs and glitches with little or no response from the game creators.

Months later, I am pleased to inform you that the game has been relaunched. Existing players such as myself had our towns restored and received bonus Donuts (the game’s currency) as compensation. Last week, a new Halloween update was made available and I’ve been having fun squishing zombies and sending the residents of Springfield trick or treating. Rest assured, I’ve learnt my lesson and will try to avoid spending my hard earned dollars on premium game items.

Published in: on October 9, 2012 at 00:48  Leave a Comment  
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Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!

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One of the hottest new shows from last year’s US television season is sadly yet to find a broadcast home on Australian television. The Walking Dead has been universally acclaimed by both critics and viewers, with strong ratings both in the US and the UK. Developed by Frank Darabont, director of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Mist, and co-produced by Gale Ann Hurd of The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Aliens fame, the series is based on a popular comic book series of the same name.

So why isn’t The Walking Dead sitting in our TV guides alongside Hawaii Five-O and Blue Bloods? Probably because it is a post-apocalyptic drama focusing on a small band of survivors following an outbreak of zombies.

Zombies are nothing new to popular culture. Originally appearing in films such as I Walked with a Zombie (1943), zombies were originally intertwined with voodoo and witch doctors. It was George Romero’s landmark black and white feature Night of the Living Dead (1968) that introduced the idea of zombies being the flesh eating undead.

Romero continued his zombie series with four further Living Dead films: Dawn of the Dead (1978); Day of the Dead (1985); Land of the Dead (2005); Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2010). Each film features civilisation falling apart as the world is overrun by zombies but none are direct sequels to each other in terms of characters or storylines. The entire series is gore-tastic and gets two half eaten thumbs up from me.

Romero’s co-writer on the original Living Dead film, John A. Russo, wrote a book, The Return of the Living Dead, which was also made into a film in 1985. This time, the zombies have a taste for human brains, and a further four sequels were spawned, all of variable quality. A scene in Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988) depicts a zombie dressed in Michael Jackson’s Thriller costume being electrocuted and hilariously recreating the iconic choreography.

Of course, Jackson’s famous long form music video, directed by John Landis in 1983, has probably been seen by more people worldwide than all zombie movies put together. In the video, the living dead arise from their graves to dance and sing to Jackson’s music. That’s far more frightening to me than any brain eating zombie.

The zombie world is not without controversy. Fans were upset when Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead (2005) featured running zombies. The argument is that as reanimated corpses, zombie ankles are probably too decomposed and unstable to sustain running. I guess that rules out my Zomba™ latino dance exercise program for the undead.

The excellent post-apocalyptic films 28 Days Later (2002) and 28 Weeks Later (2007) also feature zombie-like creatures. A debate still rages over the internet about whether these films can be considered of the zombie cannon. In my opinion, they can’t be included, as the creatures depicted are actually infected living people who can starve to death if they don’t feed.

Zombies have also slowly made their way (walking and moaning) into other motion picture genres. The action horror franchise Resident Evil (2002-2010) features Milla Jovovich fighting hordes of zombies. Peter Jackson’s Braindead (1992), Andrew Currie’s Fido (2006) and Zombieland (2009) are laugh out loud comedies. Even the romantic comedy isn’t safe. The excellent Shaun of the Dead (2004) was the world’s first “zom-rom-com.”

Reportedly in pre-production, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies should hit our screens in 2013. I can’t wait to see literary heroine Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters battle the walking dead.

My favourite zombie movie title has to be the rather subtly named Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! (2007). Surprisingly, it focuses on an unorthodox speech therapist helping King George VI overcome his stammer.

But seriously, zombies are now firmly a staple for modern film audiences. Why shouldn’t they be on our small screens too, especially in a dramatic series as acclaimed as The Walking Dead? With the plethora of free-to-air and pay TV channels out there, surely someone should purchase the rights and air it before some of the more technically gifted amongst us obtain it by “other means.”