Sunday, June 23, 2013


Sorry, Virginia... despite the swell concept art that was all over the 'net at the beginning of the process, we don't get our Battle of Yonkers. Actually, there’s no trace of Max Brooks’ clever zombie novel World War Z to be found here, other than some echoes in the dialogue. And the name. They could have just labeled it Brad Pitt vs. The Zombies

Of course, I doubt that anyone who enjoyed the book expected even a rudimentary adaptation. It's not the kind of thing that lends itself to a summer tentpole. Written as a pastiche of Studs Turkel's oral histories, the novel obviously calls out for a HBO project in the style of Ken Burns. That wouldn't pull in the teenagers, though. Although contemporary teens are probably more inclined to stream episodes of The Walking Dead or play some Left4Dead instead of wasting ten bucks on what's essentially a tweener movie with zombie sprinkles.

The Bradster here is a retired UN spook (and pancake-flippin’ all- around family guy) who has his loved ones put on hold by a former boss unless he re-ups and does something about all these damned zombies. Which he does in a handful of noisy set-pieces loosely linked together to serve as story, all of which are just variations of “Shit! Someone just made a noise and here come the zombies! Run!”

"At least I'm running manlier than Leonardo DiCaprio would have!"

And here the infected come a’running, as director Marc Forster emphasizes the swarming aspect of insects or even the disease itself. Or Teapartiers. It’s a neat approach, although pretty much just a cranked-up version of 28 Days Later that aims for adrenaline over the dread. There's not much in the way of suspense, because that would slow down the action. But as established with that one really bad James Bond flick, Forster still doesn't have a good eye for action either. 

So what we get instead is a barely capable thriller in zombie drag, with shaky-cam and muddy editing to keep you confused when the shit hits the fan... ‘cause that’s the way it’d look in real life, man.

But not too much blood ‘cause it’s PG-13. 

So the running time is mostly that, with Pitt and other folks just run- ning about dodging zombies, screaming or shooting. Or just talking and reiterating in between the running about what they were talking over earlier so that no one in Beijing gets confused by the already very basic story. Because this is the new brand of multiplex filler, any complexity is homogenized into a simple noisy package calculated for mass international consumption.

 "Don't fire until you see the pixels of their eyes!"

But World War Z isn’t as epic as the title promises. A few flashes of promise, but not 200m worth of promise. But it isn’t boring... it’s just not compelling. Things keep moving but there's no one home. If the best zombie films are about the subtext, the closest WWZ gets is as a metaphor for the current Hollywood paradigm. The industry is getting radioed and the suits are eating anything that gets in the way on their mad dash to the final cashout.

In the darkest hour of the civil rights movement and Vietnam, out- sider George Romero used Night of the Living Dead as a howl of outrage over the spilled blood of good people and a society bent on autocannibalism.  While Romero's allegory isn't all that subtle, it is still tone perfect. Even adjusted to today's dollar, NOTLD cost less than a million to make, but still held the allegorical power to make the horror film grow up overnight and along the way established the zombie genre as a vehicle for sociopolitical commentary and even philosophy. We have met the undead and they are us.

45 Years Later... 

...and we have Hollywood dropping almost a quarter of a billion dollars into the genre to shill how refreshing an ice cold Pepsi can be after the hero saves his family — oh, and the humanity — from the zombie apocalypse. Pop will eat itself, given that Romero’s Dawn of the Dead used the genre as a pitch black send-up of consumerism.

Which I suppose makes WWZ the first meta-zombie movie, made by zombies for zombies.

WWZ has been an openly troubled production, with things going further south as Damon "I Haz Keyboard" Lindelof was brought in to double-tap the ending. Here Pitt wears the resigned air of wanting to finish already with the grief and just get to the wrap party. Maybe the breaking point came after reading one of his co-producers explain WWZ to Vanity Fair: “It’s a zombie movie,” said Ian Bryce. “They go around and bite people.”

 "Okay... maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all..."

Max Brooks’ novel is a lot more than that. The movie... well, that’s pretty much it. But if that’s all you want out of your movie time then, hey... you might like this. Or that. Hollywood product is pretty much interchangeable at this point.

Monday, February 4, 2013


A forgotten film with John Agar and Anne Francis? And written by Lenny Bruce? Well, sort of. It's before Anne Francis stars in Forbidden Planet and John Agar as he transitions from Shadow of The Duke to fighting monsters. And Bruce was only brought in to punch up a weary script by Jack Henley, the scribe behind some of the Ma and Pa Kettle things...

...and it shows. The world of The Rocket Man is aggressively provincial. Everyone is chirpy in that Eisenhower-era sort of way and a boy can still get away pointing a gun at a politician and no one bats an eye.

The gun is a raygun, slipped to froggy-voiced seven-year-old Timmy (George 'Foghorn' Winslow) by some teleportin' space perv. I mean, look at this guy eyeballing Timmy outside the orphanage:

No reason given why Rocket Man gives a child a raygun. Must have been bored.

Then Timmy is temporarily signed out of the orphanage by the matronly Justice of the Peace (Spring Byington) to stay over at her house in order to set up some narrative nonsense about saving the orphanage from a crooked pol's landgrab. Agar drops by on some business for the sleazy pol, but is charmed out of participating in the scheme by Anne Francis. Every rare now and then Timmy points the raygun at things, but 95% of the running time is spent on domestic matters.

A raygun in the hands of an orphan in Mayberry, RFD has some dynamite potential but the film can't be bothered. The high concept is lost in all the unrelated subplots. Basically, the MacGuffin-with-cheese just gets used to wrap things up in the end, albeit pulling double duty as a deux ex machina. And although Lenny was called in to to polish some gags, aside from occasional Daddy-O phrasing you wouldn't know it.

Granted, it's a kids film, cranked out to make a matinee dime and then discarded. But I'm guessing there were more than a few of the target demographic pretty unhappy with the bait-n-switch. The film couldn't afford even a half-assed rocket for the eponymous dude. He just appears in a puff of smoke, pulls his Smiling Bob face and then disappears. But then, its cheapness is also sort of endearing. Shot in someone's house and surrounding Bible Belt burg, it has a nice paint peeling clutter to it...

I suspect the producers were so tight they even had the actors use their own cars. I wonder how many kids they went through...

But, no...this is not some forgotten gem. It's kind of a chore, especially if you go in expecting some Bruce satire to creep in (although he might have gotten away with a stealth STD joke). But as a snapshot of 1954 and how sci-fi was still regarded, it's interesting.