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DEAD ON ARRIVAL
Zombies have become more popular over the last few years with the success of things like The Walking Dead so it’s not surprising that Max Brooks’ World War Z book would have been picked up for a movie. The film, directed by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace) and starring Brad Pitt, has had a rather chequered genesis. The makers have done a lot of reshooting on it and its final budget is rumoured to be around the $300m mark. It’s hard to do something interesting with zombies: Danny Boyle succeeded with 28 Days Later, back in 2002, and Zach Snyder’s Dawn of The Dead (2004) made a decent fist of things. World War Z starts promisingly enough: UN employee Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) driving in Philadelphia with his family suddenly finds himself in the middle of a zombie epidemic. So he is forced to travel the globe to locate a cure for the apocalypse. Visually, the opening is very strong. But it all goes downhill after the first fifteen minutes. The problem is that Lane’s wife Karin (Mireille Enos) is just a cookie cutter, two-dimensional disaster movie figure, as are Pitt’s children, so you really don’t have any emotional investment in their wellbeing and the same is true of everybody apart from Brad Pitt. Lane manages to travel to Switzerland where he visits the World Health Organisation, meeting scientists Peter Capaldi and Ruth Negga (their characters are not named in the film) and comes up with a cure for the zombie plague. But nothing is suitably explained, mainly where the plague has come from, and it’s all tied up in a very neat little bow at the end. World War Z is a shallow, empty experience that feels like a vehicle for Brad Pitt. What is frustrating is that Pitt can be a very good actor and the makers here missed an opportunity to make an enjoyable monster disaster movie a la 28 Days Later. But what you end up with is a generic and pointless showcase of some nice special effects and a total absence of any depth or empathy with any of the characters except for Lane. The 3D is also totally pointless and adds nothing to what is already a very vapid experience. Worth watching on TV if you’re really desperate but not worth seeing at the cinema…

Megamind-Poster



FROM BOY WIZARD TO SUPERVILLAIN
I have been to see two films at press screenings over the past two weeks and, while they are two very different movies, I thought I would review them in the same blog post. First up is Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1. Now unfortunately with each Potter film that has been released, they make less and less of an impact on me as a viewer. Harry Potter is one of the few modern film franchises that seems totally impervious to critical response. As I write this, Deathly Hallows Part 1 racked up an opening weekend in the US of $125m and made over £18m just in the UK. So the audience for Potter is so huge around the world that it wouldn’t matter if every critic, every magazine and every newspaper slated it. So I am going to present my thoughts here knowing full well that it won’t make the blindest bit of difference. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1, directed by David Yates and starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, adapts the first half of the final Harry Potter novel. School Hogwarts plays no part in this story as villain Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has his firm grip on the magical world and so The Deathly Hallows deals with Harry, Hermione and Ron attempting to avoid his agents while working out a way of foiling the evil magician’s diabolical plans. There are several problems with this film and the most heinous crime it commits here is that there is no concession to anybody who hasn’t lived and breathed Harry Potter for the past decade. Alright, this is the seventh part of a film series but anyone who isn’t conversant with the canon or the characters would not understand or really care if they sat and watched this film. Additionally, the opening sequence, where Moody (Brendan Gleeson) alters the appearances of several of the other characters to look like Potter so that Voldemort’s agents are thrown off the scent, is a nifty idea but one that is thrown away after the first 15 minutes and replaced by what feels like hours of turgid dullness with Harry, Hermione and Ron wandering through the forests and fields of the country, while all of the grand battles and action seems to occur off-camera. Two-and-a-half hours is a long running time for this, especially when a large proportion of this feels like filler and time-wasting. There are a couple of nice scenes, namely the chase at the beginning and the animated sequence where we learn what the title means is visually very impressive. But perhaps the other scenes were more powerful on the printed page but it slows the pacing down significantly. If all of the key plot moments occur in the second half of The Deathly Hallows, then Part 1 cannot work as a film in its own right. If you are a Harry Potter obsessive, then you would have seen this film already and if you are not a fan or interested in the genre, then you won’t see it anyway. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a very frustrating film…
Megamind is the latest animated film from DreamWorks and stars the voice talents of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey and Brad Pitt. Megamind takes the Superman story (alien gets rocketed to Earth from a dying planet) and turns it a little bit on its head. Megamind is the lifelong nemesis of square-jawed Metro Man but when he gets his wish and wipes Metro Man out seemingly for good, his life becomes meaningless. So he sets about creating a new superhero adversary for himself but that’s when things start to go wrong. Ferrell as Megamind is extremely good and Pitt ( Metro Man) and Fey (as reporter Roxanne Ritchi) are very talented vocal foils for him. The animation here is fantastic, using 3-D to very impressive effect. The flying sequences are particularly effective but the whole film utilises the format very cannily. Its script is funny and sharp where it needs to be and its mild subversion of superhero and comicbook tropes make it a much cleverer film than you might expect. Its running time of 95 minutes means that it never outstays its welcome and holds your attention throughout. Dreamworks has been one of the only animation houses to truly challenge Pixar’s dominance of the modern market and Megamind is a worthy addition to that canon…


PUSHING THE RIGHT BUTTON
I haven’t seen that many films in December, apart from Che Part Two, which was for a review for Total Politics, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I won’t put a Che review up here but I will review Benjamin Button. Directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is loosely based on an F Scott Fitzgerald short story. Brad Pitt plays the eponymous hero who is born in his eighties and ages backwards while Blanchett is his on-off love interest, Daisy. The two actors dominate the film so entirely that while honourable mention should be made of Jason Flemyng, who plays Benjamin’s real father, Elias Koteas, the captain of the ship that Button joins as a member of its crew, and Tilda Swinton as Benjamin’s first real love affair, it is really Pitt and Blanchett’s vehicle. Fincher has been an odd director in his career: moving from pop promos to features, while his films have looked stylish, many of them have been an exercise in visuals over depth (see Se7en and Fight Club). But Benjamin Button succeeds in balancing the picaresque elegance of its production with a compelling and affecting two-hander from Pitt and Blanchett. Pitt is a great actor, who has transcended his pretty boy early roles to show range and depth. He was superb in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and he also shined in Babel, which he co-starred with Blanchett in back in 2006. Blanchett is also a very talented screen performer, as her pain and anguish on screen is often palpable. The film recounts the tale of the unusual life of Button, paralleled with the historical changes taking place in in the wider world, and even though its running time is over two and a half hours, it never drags but brings you into its orbit with grace, agility and a rare likeability. It is cut from similar cloth to films like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, where the sense of inevitability runs through it like a dark cloud but it never topples the production. This is a masterly film with spectacular performances from its leads and a simple humanity at its core that has you cheering for Pitt and Blanchett’s characters. It should certainly be up for a number of nods in 2009’s Oscars noms. Anyone with a love of classic cinema should run to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button…