Sunday, June 23, 2013

Review: V/H/S 2

It's a rare sequel that surpasses the original.  The original V/H/S was a mostly solid horror anthology film that suffered mostly from have 1 too many segments (I personally would have cut Tuesday the 17th), a weak wrap-around, and not enough explanations of what and why the hell certain events were taking place.  Its strengths were greater than its weaknesses though, and I eagerly awaited the announced sequel (originally titled S-VHS, which I wish they had kept).

As often the case with anthology films, some were better than others, but by reducing it to four segments and the wraparound (down from 5 in the original), we got more story to the segments, and a bit more time to 'world build' before shit hit the fan.

The wraparound segment (titled Tape 49) is probably the weakest of all of the tales, but it hints at a greater mythology for the series - hinting that the tapes themselves are somewhat supernatural in origin (thus explaining how so many modern-day recordings made it onto tapes).  It gets the job done, but I wish it hadn't required the characters to be straight-up stupid - they are private investigators hired to find a missing college student, yet once they get into his place they don't watch the final video he recorded on his computer.  Otherwise, I like it for the mythology building and the somewhat creepy ending.

The first segment is called Phase 1 Clinical Trials.  The setup is that a man has a new eye implanted after an auto accident.  The eye has a camera in it so that the doctors/developers of the technology can see how it works.  The rub is that the man very quickly starts seeing not-so-friendly ghosts in his apartment.  A formerly deaf woman who can now hear thanks to the same company can now hear the ghosts and tries to help him.  I won't reveal more except to say that this segment suffered from a problem the majority of the segments in the first film suffered from:  not enough understanding of why this is happening.  It's slightly more tolerable in this film (this is the only segment that has that problem), but the not-deaf girl never explains why the ghosts are there besides a vague question ('Have you ever done anything bad?").  I don't need every last detail, but the ghosts seem to have a specific bone to pick with the guy, and we never learn why.

The second segment (A Ride in the Park) has probably the single greatest 'Why are we recording this?' concept:  A guy is recording himself while riding his bike on a trail, then gets bitten by and turns into a zombie.  So we basically get a zombie movie recorded from the perspective of the zombie.  It's a novel take on the genre, and the segment goes just long enough to satisfy.  We don't know why there are zombies, but we don't need to know as it is ancillary to the main story (unlike the previous segment, where the ghosts' motivations are kind of a big deal), so the zombie's journey is the focus.  This segment also has the only moment of pure humor in the entire film, and I won't spoil it except to say that it involved a married couple.

The third segment (Safe Haven) is by far the best of the bunch, and I wish they had ended with it so that the final segment didn't suffer so much by comparison.  It involved a documentary crew going to visit a cult's headquarters on what turns out to be a very important day.  They wear hidden cameras on their persons, plus it cuts between the cult's security cameras and the actual camera used by the documentary team.  They throw so many things at this segment, and it all works and builds beautifully.  In the trailer, a section of it is shown where a room full of men all shoot themselves simultaneously while saying 'amen' and it is probably near the bottom of the list of creepy/fucked up things that happen during this part.  The only minor quibble is that some of the cuts between the hidden cameras of the documentary crew confuse you as to who we are with, but otherwise this segment kicks monstrous ass, with the best ending out of this and the original film.

The final segment (Slumber Party Alien Abduction) suffers so much from merely following Safe Haven.  It really should have been after A Ride in the Park to keep with the ever-building creepiness of the segments, but it still works well for what it is.  The title really explains the entirety of the segment, and it is recorded by a camera attached to the family dog while the slumber-partiers prank each other.  The aliens are uninspired, but the pitched panic of the teens works well (how well would you keep your head if aliens started attacking you?).  This segment will probably be called the weakest mostly because of what it follows, but I'd rate it above Phase 1 Clinical Trials.

All in all, a solid sequel that improves in almost every way over the original (although I do hope they get a female director for the third one).  Fans of horror could do worse.

My rating:  7.5 out of 10

Friday, June 21, 2013

Review: World War Z

I wanted to love this movie.

Having just read the book (which is brilliant) and being a big fan of the zombie genre in particular, I thought it would be a nice change of pace to see the 'Zombie War' unfold from beginning to somewhat-end in cinematic form.  Most just drop you into the action, without any buildup into how the world got infected, and the book overcomes this neatly and realistically.  I figured liberties would be taken with the movie, but was still hopeful of getting to see the beginning of the outbreak.  I was disappointed in that regard.

I had certain doubts about it to be sure.  The focusing on one person for the narrative instead of skipping around to different viewpoints as the outbreak spread seemed to be a misstep, as was the decision to go for a PG-13 rating.  While I think they overcame the first concern, they never really saved themselves from the second:  this is a Zombie movie that is not only bloodless, but dickless as well.

We open up on Brad Pitt and his family eating breakfast and planning a trip.  Then, ZOMBIES!  No real buildup, I don't know why they just didn't start with the car scene from the trailer, since everything before it is rushed and devoid of any emotional heft.  They escape to a ship in the middle of the ocean along with the son from a Hispanic family they briefly hid with - since this movie didn't have the balls to even show blood after a plane crash, it sure as hell isn't going to kill a child (although the rest of his family bites it) (though we don't see it, and he doesn't seem to suffer any emotional turmoil over it whatsoever, other than to hug Brad Pitt in the helicopter immediately after).  So there's that.

From then on the movie is basically the Brad Pitt show as he rushed to find the source of the outbreak and a possible cure.  This part of the movie moves along at a good pace, but frankly it just a standard action flick (only with ZOMBIES instead of some other cookie-cutter bad guy) with the occasional brief interlude of the ship.  There's some tension hinted at during a scene with his wife and a couple of soldiers on the ship, but since they don't bother to follow up on it in any way, I don't know why the even bothered with the cuts away.

I won't give away more of the plot other than to say I found the 'solution' to the outbreak to be rather trite and a huge step down from the book.

Most of the actors do a passable job, but since most aren't in but a few scenes before disappearing, this is mostly the Brad Pitt show, and he anchors the film well.  It's just that the picture isn't asking much of him.  Danielle Kertesz is a rather quiet badass that joins him in Jerusalem onward (making her probably the third largest part after Pitt and Mireille Enos - who played his wife and wasn't given much of anything to do).  I couldn't help but hope that Kertesz might make an appearance in the rumored female Expendables movie just because she seemed so much better than the little she was given to do.  Pretty much everyone else is window dressing, but at least they don't fuck up the acting.

The sets for the various locales were good, if standard.  They existed for the Zombie attacks, which weren't terrible either, if a little too overtly CGI.

Really, my biggest problem with the movie is the removal of all blood from a fucking ZOMBIE INVASION!  People are getting bit and eaten and I doubt more than a few drops of blood are shown throughout the movie.  And understand that someone's hand gets chopped off to prevent the infection.  No blood whatsoever.  It's frankly ridiculous, and it cuts the narrative stakes down to their knees because how in the hell is anyone important going to die when they barely show the Random Faceless suffering?  There are other problems with the movie (hint:  if you hang around Brad Pitt and aren't 'mostly' white, prepare to not last long), but frankly, it lost me fairly early when it didn't show any of the results of what such a violent invasion would actually cause.

Rating:  4.5 out of 10.