S.G. Browne

Movie Review Monday: Why I Thought World War Z Sucked

Yes, I know it’s Tuesday, but I only watched the movie Saturday night and was busy with the NFL all day Sunday and had my hands full yesterday. And Movie Review Tuesday lacks any alliterative quality.

First, let’s forget for a moment that the movie World War Z is based on the novel by Max Brooks and that for the most part, the only thing the movie has in common with the novel is the title.

Let’s also forget that in terms of a World War against zombies, that never materializes until the end of the film. I believe the only mention of any type of war is in the voice over just before the credits start rolling.

Finally, let’s forget that most Hollywood action films are no longer made for an American audience but for a foreign audience (since foreign revenues now make up more than 70% of Hollywood profits), and that special effects and action trump pathos and plot.

Instead, let’s focus on storytelling.

Stupid Human Tricks
Let’s start with the opening scene in Philadelphia. Good stuff. Lots of action and excitement right off the bat. I’m hooked. And I’m on board when Brad Pitta former UN employee and someone who comes across as smart and capablegets his family into an RV and suggests that they get out of the city.

Smart move. In the event of a zombie invasion, it’s best to avoid large populations. And although he doesn’t know it’s a zombie invasion at this point, he knows something weird is going on because he took the time to watch a dead man come back to life after twelve seconds and start killing people.

So yes. Get the hell out of this shit storm. Maybe head back home, which from the opening scene prior to the family trip into the city appears to be somewhere in the suburbs of Philadelphia. That might be an option. Or maybe head out to the country. Someplace less populated. Anyplace but the city. Instead, they end up going to…another city. Newark, New Jersey.

Granted, their oldest daughter is having an asthma attack and they don’t have her medication. They probably have some at home but apparently that’s not an option. So they have to find a pharmacist. But instead of going to a nearby pharmacy in one of the smaller nearby towns, which shouldn’t be a problem using smart phone technology, they drive 90 miles to Newark and end up in the middle of another fucking mess.

Having your main character, who has been established as a smart guy, put his family in danger by going to another city rather than going someplace safer seems like a contrivance to get the plot to go where you want it to go rather than having the story make sense.

Keep the Engine Running
Oh, and when you’re on the run from some kind of inexplicable riot where people are rampaging and killing and reanimating, I think it’s safe to say that if you pull over on the side of the highway to attend to your daughter who is having an asthma attack, you put the RV in park and keep the engine idling. You don’t turn off the fucking ignition. And if you are going to have the movie cliche where the car won’t start, at least give us an immediate threat that ratchets up the tension. Don’t just have it be an “uh-oh” moment and then have the engine catch a minute later.

Flying Zombies and World Building
After getting the requisite supplies from a Newark pharmacy and finding shelter for the night in an apartment building with a trusting Hispanic family, Brad Pitt and his family head for the roof the following morning to get airlifted to safety courtesy of Brad Pitt’s UN buddies. While on their way to the roof, they’re detected by a bunch of zombies in the apartment building and are chased up the stairs.

Prior to this scene, it’s been pretty well established that these zombies are able to run at superhuman speeds and even launch themselves through the air like zombie missiles, flying through windshields and other hard objects. Yet for some reason the zombies can’t seem to catch Brad Pitt and his wife and two small daughters running up a few flights of stairs.

Consistency, people. If you’re going to make your zombies into reanimated cheetahs, you need to give Brad Pitt and his family a bigger head start. Shoving an old refrigerator down the stairs isn’t really much of an obstacle when your zombies can fly. You can’t make the zombies go slower when it’s convenient to the survival of your hero.

How About a Little Pathos for the Orphaned Hispanic Kid?
After fleeing the apartment where they were sheltered by the Hispanic family, the zombies break into the apartment and kill almost everyone in the family off screen (which is usually also a no-no, but Pitt apparently wanted to make a zombie film his kids could watch, so no George Romero gore to be found.) The son, Tommy, escapes and makes it to the roof to get rescued by the helicopter with Brad Pitt and his family.

Yes, I know Brad Pitt hugs the kid close in the helicopter, so maybe that’s enough sympathy. But nowhere in the film does anyone in Pitt’s family mention anything about the fact that the kid’s family is dead or offer any form of condolences. When Pitt says goodbye to him on the aircraft carrier before heading off to save the world, he calls Tommy a champ or something to that effect. No, “Hey, I’m sorry everyone else in your family is dead.”

Oh Dramatic Tension, Wherefore Art Thou?
Once Pitt and his family land on the aircraft carrier and Pitt goes off to save the world in search of a vaccine, the dramatic tension disappears,  like the film has had an orgasm and everything that follows is just an extended refractory period. There’s not even any cuddling. The film just rolls over and goes to sleep.

This happens because there is no real concern for the safety of Brad Pitt’s family or of Brad Pitt. While throughout the rest of the film he’s under an almost constant threat, we know he’s not going to die, so there’s no dramatic tension. How do we know he’s not going to die? Because he’s the fucking star, that’s why.

Yes, I know Brad Pitt has died in films before. And I know sometimes the main character dies in films. But this isn’t Sunset Boulevard or American Beauty. And it’s not Troy or Kalifornia or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, either. This is a PG-13 film that Brad Pitt wants his kids to be able to watch. So Daddy is not going to die.

What About That Airplane Elevator?
Pitt and an Israeli solider he’s saved flee Jerusalem on an airplane which is diverted to Wales at the urging of the UN (I won’t even go into the issues of how Pitt and the Israeli soldier were allowed on to the plane). Miraculously, no one on board is infected with the zombie virus. But as the plane is making it’s final descent to Cardiff, one of the flight attendants hits the button on the airplane’s elevator, which is used to carry meal service carts and personnel between decks. A zombie has stowed away on the plane in the elevator and is now loose in the first class cabin.

Class warfare commentary aside, Israel and Wales aren’t exactly geographic neighbors. It’s a 14-hour flight from Jerusalem to Cardiff. And during those 14 hours, we never see the elevator operated before this moment. If you’re going to use a device like this, it’s a good idea to introduce it earlier before you get the payoff. But since they only show the elevator being used the one time, the implication is that this is the first time the elevator is called up from the lower level.

So over the entire course of that 14-hour flight, apparently there was never any reason to call up the elevator before the airplane made its final descent into Wales. Considering that these elevators get used multiple times throughout a flight, especially one of this length, I have a hard time believing the elevator wouldn’t have been accessed earlier, which would have allowed the zombie to find its way into the main cabin not long after takeoff.

Instead, it seems the writers found a convenient way to introduce the zombie late enough to allow the plane to crash while at a lower altitude so Brad Pitt is more likely to survive. Or else they cut out an earlier scene showing the elevator being used earlier and this is a case of bad editing.

That’s A Wrap
Now come on, Scott, you might say. Aren’t you nitpicking just a little bit with this last complaint? And aren’t you being kind of a dick about some of these other points you make? After all, it’s only a zombie movie. It’s just mindless fun.

Maybe it is only a zombie movie. But as a writer, things like consistency and believable storytelling matter to me. If my main character is going to make a decision that seems  stupid, it needs to make sense. If I’m going to do world building, it needs to be consistent. And if I’m going to introduce plot elements, they need to arise as part of the natural storytelling rather than deliberately inserted for the sole purpose of getting the story where I want it to go.

When convenience and contrivance conspire to move the plot forward, that’s lazy writing. And it’s bad storytelling.

If you’d like to see another take on World War Z, check out the Honest Movie Trailer below:

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Filed under: Movie Review Mondays,Zombies — S.G. Browne @ 6:45 am

Movie Review Monday: Dark is Better

Welcome to another edition of Movie Review Monday. What? This is Thursday? How the hell did it get to be Thursday already? Well, let’s just pretend that it’s Monday because the alliteration works better.

Today is a double barrel entry of dark comedies, which is appropriate because they’re both about killing people. And if you know anything about me, you know that the darker the comedy, the more likely I am to enjoy it. Your mileage may vary.

Killer Joe (directed by William Friedkin) is one of those films with a cast of deplorable characters that is just so much fun to watch you can’t look away. Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church are great as the son and ex-husband of a woman they want to kill so they can cash in on her insurance policy, so they hire Matthew McConaughey—a Texas cop who kills people for money on the side. If you’re not a McConaughey fan, don’t let that keep you away. He’s delightfully disturbing as the titular anti-hero. And if you’re a fan of fried chicken, you might not want to eat it for a while after the climactic scene.

God Bless America (directed by Bobcat Goldthwait) stars journeyman actor Joel Murray (currently in Mad Men) as a modern day Clyde who teams up with a teenage Bonnie (Tara Lynne Barr) to rid society of reality television stars, rude talk show hosts, and generally repellent citizens. While it’s pretty heavy on the social commentary, it does make some valid points about the lack of common courtesy and the decline of manners in a society that values celebrity for the sake of celebrity. If you don’t get some pleasure out of the scene where they gun down four rude people in a movie theater who keep talking on their cell phones, then maybe this isn’t your cup of tea.

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Filed under: Movie Review Mondays,Movies and Books — S.G. Browne @ 6:23 am

Movie Review Monday: The Best Films You’ve Never Seen

I realize whenever anyone makes a Best Something List, it’s somewhat skewed by the personal tastes and opinions of the person making the list. But since I have impeccable taste and my opinions are the only ones that matter, then we’re all in agreement.

Below are my Top Five Films You’ve Never Seen. Why just five? Because one, I realize you have other things to do other than read this blog post. And two, I’m lazy.

In no order that matters :

Monsters (2010)
This thoughtful science fiction film set half a dozen years after a NASA space probe crashed to Earth with alien life samples takes place in a quarantined infected zone that straddles the U.S.-Mexican border. You don’t see much of the monsters who inhabit the quarantined area, but that’s not the point of the film. Just watch it. You’ll thank me. (Worldwide box office: $4.2 million).

Gentlemen Broncos (2009)
A comedy film from the writer and director of Napoleon Dynamite, this story follows the plight of an aspiring fantasy writer whose novel gets plagiarized by his idol. The scenes from his novel “Yeast Lords,” which are enacted with Sam Rockwell as the main protagonist, are ridiculously sublime. ($118,000)

Intacto (2001)
A Spanish psychological thriller about an underground luck trade where the main characters steal luck from others and engage in games of life or death chance with one another to determine who walks away with all of the luck. This film gave me the idea that would become my next novel, Lucky Bastard. ($307,000)

CQ (2002)
Set in late 1960s Paris, this film-within-a-film homage to European spy/sci-fi spoofs stars Jeremy Davies as a young film editor thrust into the director’s chair of the sci-fi adventure Dragonfly, where his infatuation with the film’s sexy star starts to affect his ability to separate fantasy from reality. ($414,000)

Hamlet 2 (2008)
Steve Coogan plays a failed actor turned high school drama teacher who tries to save his job and the drama program by writing and staging a controversial musical sequel to Hamlet that includes time travel, child abuse, and a toe-tapping number called “Rock Me Sexy Jesus.” A fun and irreverent riff on the inspirational teacher film. ($4.9 million)

Okay. That’s my list of the Best Films You’ve Never Seen. Or maybe you have seen them but you disagree. Or maybe you have your own films you’d like to share. Be my guest. We’re all friends here.

On Friday, I’ll share my list of the Best Books You’ve Never Read.

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Filed under: Movie Review Mondays,Movies and Books — Tags: , , , , — S.G. Browne @ 7:49 am

Movie Review Monday: Halloween Edition

To celebrate Halloween, I thought I’d throw out my Top 10 Favorite Spookiest/Scariest Films of all time. You’ll notice that the majority of the films listed were released in 1980 or earlier. I guess I just don’t scare as easily as I did when I was younger. Either that or they don’t know how to make scary films like they used to.

In no particular order…

Halloween (1978)
I watched this one at home alone on cable when I was fourteen-years-old and I stayed up until three in the morning pressed up against the wall in the corner of my bed with my baseball bat, watching my bedroom door. Not my finest hour.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
This film is the reason I had nightmares about zombies growing up. The opening sequence is as creepy and terrifying as it gets. I still think it holds up after more than forty years. They’re coming to get you, Barbara.

The Exorcist (1973)
I haven’t watched this film in thirty years because it freaked me out so much the first time I saw it. Don’t ask me to watch it again.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Yes, the girl gets kind of annoying (who yells out “hello” when you hear something making noises in the woods out in the dark?), but you never see what’s chasing them and when it comes to doing scary right, I’m a firm believer that less is more.

The Haunting (1963)
The book by Shirley Jackson is better, but this one is the classic haunted house film. A little dated, but still creepy and spooky. In the night. In the dark.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Just. Plain. Scary.

REC (2007)
This one delivers the scares almost from the start and once it gets going, it doesn’t let up. More intense than moody, but heavy on the creep factor.

The Shining (1980)
Admittedly, I find the book far superior, but on its own this is arguably the best haunted house film, scare for scare.

Psycho (1960)
Hitchcock set the standard with this one. Everything that followed pales in comparison. Anthony Hopkins creeps me out to this day.

The Ring (2002)
I admit, I have a thing for Naomi Watts, which is probably why I liked this one more than the original Japanese version. And I will NEVER watch an unmarked video tape in a cabin. NEVER.

Okay, that’s my Top 10 List of creepy movies that scared the hell out of me. What are some of yours?

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Filed under: Movie Review Mondays,Movies and Books — S.G. Browne @ 6:20 am

Movie Review Monday: Stupid Movie People

I don’t normally blog about films or books that I don’t enjoy because I know what it’s like to hear bad reviews. But if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s stupid movie people. So I felt like I had to speak up.

Now I realize that in some films people do stupid things because they’re stupid. That’s just the human condition. We do stupid things. We cheat on our spouses. We drink too much at parties. We believe politicians actually care about doing what’s best for the country rather than what’s best for their political party.

So I’m fine when people do stupid things in movies because that’s what reasonable humans do. But there’s a difference between doing something stupid in a movie and being a stupid movie person. A stupid movie person does something unreasonable that no one with any intelligence or common sense would do.

In the supernatural horror film Insidious, there’s a moment early on when the married couple, Josh and Renai Lambert, are talking in bed late at night while their son, Dalton, sleeps in an unexplained coma in one of the bedrooms. His brother, Foster,  doesn’t want to sleep in the same room as Dalton anymore because, as he explains to his mom, it creeps him out when Dalton gets up in the middle of the night and walks around.

(The fact that his mother doesn’t follow this up with something like: WHAT? HOW COULD THAT BE POSSIBLE? or YOU MUST BE IMAGINING THINGS bothers me, but that’s another issue.)

So while their infant daughter and sons are sleeping, one naturally and one not so much, there comes a knock on the front door downstairs. Once. Twice. Three times. Josh goes downstairs in his pajamas to investigate and turns on the outside light, which flickers and goes out. Unable to see who is outside, and hearing no response from whoever knocked on the door when he calls out to them, he does what any sensible husband and father of three would do: he opens the door.

But wait, it gets worse.

Josh checks the front porch, then closes the door, chains it, and turns on the house alarm. Moments later, when the couple’s infant daughter starts crying, Rose gets out of bed and goes in to check on her, only to start screaming when she sees a man behind her daughter’s crib. Josh runs upstairs to see what’s wrong, Rose insists that she saw someone standing in the room even though no one’s there. Then the house alarm goes off.

Good stuff. Except for the fact that these are stupid movie people. Or at least Josh is.

After telling Rose to take their daughter and son and go into Dalton’s room and lock the door, he goes downstairs to find the front door wide open and the chain dangling on the doorjamb.

Yes, this is a movie, but if this is real life, if this is you or me or Rain Man, we turn around and run back up the stairs into the bedroom and call 911 on the cell phone. Or we take our family and get the hell out of the house. Instead, Josh walks downstairs, closes the front door, then proceeds to search the downstairs with a fireplace poker or some kind of weapon, leaving his wife and children unattended and vulnerable upstairs.

While the film does a good job of building up the suspense, I didn’t care about Josh anymore because he was too stupid to deserve to survive the rest of the film. It didn’t help that the next day no one talks about the incident. No one calls the police. And then Josh stays at work/school grading papers late into the evening, leaving his wife and children at home alone after a traumatic evening. Yeah, like that’s going to happen. I smell a divorce. The incident felt like something that needed to be addressed but instead the main characters just ignored it. To me that’s either bad writing, bad editing, or both.

In The Big Lebowski The Dude abides, but when it comes to stupid movie people, I am most definitely not The Dude. Not if you want me to care about the characters.

And I won’t even mention the fact that the demon looks like a Cirque du Soleil reject.

Oh wait, I just did.

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Filed under: Movie Review Mondays,Movies and Books — Tags: — S.G. Browne @ 2:50 pm