Overlord: Hell’s Bells

I was excited about Overlord as soon as I saw the first trailer. The trailer looks at first like a Dirty Dozen-style World War II movie about American parachutists on a mission behind enemy lines in the hours leading up to the D-Day invasion of Normandy. But then Hell’s Bells by AC/DC starts playing, and the trailer takes a dramatic left turn into horror-movie territory.

Images: Paramount

It turns out that Overlord is more reminiscent of Wolfenstein than Saving Private Ryan, and is the closest thing to a live-action Wolfenstein movie we’re likely to get. The Nazis committed so many horrible deeds that it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that they would have tried something along the lines of what they’re up to in Overlord.

The main character of Overlord is Private Boyce, played by an English actor named Jovan Adepo. He’s a paratrooper dropped into France on the eve of the Normandy invasion. He and his squad are tasked with destroying a German radio tower in an old church in order to allow air support for the beach landings. The movie starts out with a bang as the mission goes to hell before it even has a chance to get started and Boyce’s plane is shot down.

The plane sequence is extremely intense, and takes place almost entirely inside the plane itself, which increases the suspense because the viewer has no more idea of what’s coming than the plane’s occupants do. It ends with Boyce being thrown out of the plane and the camera follows him in a single shot as he struggles to open his parachute and lands in the water. It’s a great way to start a movie.

Fortunately, the rest of the movie lives up to that ferocious opening sequence. It would have been a huge bummer if the remainder of the movie hadn’t been able to live up to the high standard set by that thrilling opening, but it does.

Following his narrow survival, Boyce attempts to regroup with his fellow paratroopers, and is able to meet up with four survivors, one of whom is promptly killed by a landmine. Boyce and his three remaining compatriots take shelter in the village with a young Frenchwoman named Chloe, who is living with her brother Paul and their aunt, who is suffering from a mysterious and gruesome ailment after returning from the church that houses the radio tower that Boyce and his squad must destroy.

I don’t want to give too much away, but if you’ve seen the trailer you’ll know that the Nazis are up to some very bad things in the secret lab below the church. Overlord is not a movie for the faint of heart, and the horrors Boyce encounters when he infiltrates the lab are grisly and horrific, but also kind of awesome, like a severed head still attached to a spinal cord that begs Boyce in French to end its suffering. Boyce also discovers a mysterious red serum that lies at the heart of these nasty experiments, which is very important later in the movie.

The main villain is a sadistic Nazi Captain named Wafner, played by a Danish actor named Pilou Asbaek, whom you might recognize as Euron Greyjoy from Game of Thrones or last year’s adaptation of Ghost in the Shell with Scarlett Johansson. His Captain Wafner is a despicable character who is utterly unapologetic in his evil, even after being brutally beaten by one of Boyce’s squadmates and having half his face shot off, which only seems to make him worse.

That squadmate who beats up Wafner is named Corporal Ford, who is played by Wyatt Russell. If Russell seems familiar, it’s probably because he’s the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, and there were a couple of moments where he strongly reminded me of his dad. If you, like me, are a fan of Kurt Russell classics like The Thing, Escape from New York, and Tombstone, being reminded of a young Kurt Russell is not a bad thing. I like Wyatt Russell as an actor much more than Clint Eastwood’s son Scott, who has been in several high-profile movies despite not being able to act his way out of a wet paper bag.

The middle section of Overlord is fairly sedate in terms of violence. After that visceral opening sequence, the movie slows down and takes time to establish the characters and mood, as well as set up the rest of the plot. Despite the lack of action in the film’s middle section, it’s never boring, since the suspense is always high and the characters are never safe.

But lest you think the movie might come up short in the action department, rest assured that it does not. The movie’s final half-hour is a barrage of nonstop carnage and mayhem, and is more than worth the price of admission. It’s one ferocious battle and narrow escape after another, and it is vicious. Overlord pulls no punches in terms of gore. It’s a toss-up between Overlord and Shane Black’s Predator reboot for the title of Goriest Blockbuster of 2018. This is not a movie for people with weak stomachs. There’s dismemberment, disfigurement, impalement, and gallons of blood. One character even takes a meat hook to the chest in what has to be the most squirm-inducing thing I’ve seen in a movie this year.
It’s intense, gory, horrific, and absolutely thrilling. I thoroughly enjoyed Overlord, and even if it doesn’t make a ton of money at the box office, I can easily see it becoming a cult classic. It’s an over-the-top barrage of insane violence. But despite the considerable carnage, I also found myself caring about the characters. They’re not disposable slasher-movie victims, they’re actually quite likable.

The movie was directed by Julius Avery, whose only previous film was a 2014 crime thriller called Son of a Gun starring Ewan MacGregor and Alicia Vikander. Overlord is a much larger-scale production, and he handles it with aplomb. The action in Overlord is intense and well-orchestrated, and the makeup and special effects teams do great work in bringing the film’s grisly Nazi creations to vivid life.

If you’re a fan of war movies, horror movies, action movies, or the Wolfenstein series, you should definitely give Overlord a watch. It’s batshit insane in the best possible way, an ultraviolent B-movie made with skill and attention to detail, and absolute barrels of blood.

Highly recommended.

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The Mummy 2017: An Egyptian Zombie in London

Like many people, I have a great deal of affection for the 1999 film The Mummy and its 2001 sequel, The Mummy Returns. I rewatched both of them recently and aside from a few instances of bad early-2000’s CGI (looking at you, Scorpion King) they hold up well and are just as much fun to watch now as they were when they were first released. I was excited at the prospect of a new Mummy movie, since I have so much fondness for those first two movies.

But like many people I was disappointed. The new Tom Cruise-starring Mummy film takes itself far too seriously and fails to capture the old-school adventure-serial vibe that made the first two so enjoyable. The new movie starts out well enough, but after the first 20 minutes or so it stops feeling like a Mummy movie. It shifts most of the action from the desert to London, and the urban setting doesn’t suit the material nearly as well as the filmmakers clearly think it does.

Image: Universal

Tom Cruise plays Nick Morton, a rather douchey treasure hunter with an irritating sidekick. As soon as the sidekick opened his mouth, I wanted him to die. Nick says they’re “liberators” of antiquities, but their form of “liberating” seems to involve a lot of machine guns and hand grenades, not to mention the occasional airstrike. And people thought Indiana Jones and Lara Croft were destructive. Nick and the irritating sidekick whose name I forget manage to drop a bomb which reveals a hidden tomb, which contains…THE MUMMY. And then they bring it to London, which is an objectively terrible idea.

Sigh. It’s just bad decision after bad decision here. This movie had a whole team of screenwriters and this nonsense was the best they could come up with. The characters are unlikable and their actions are selfish and stupid. The plot also feels rushed. In the 1999 movie, it takes about an hour into the two-hour movie for the mummy to be resurrected, so there’s a lot of buildup and tension, and you get to know and like the protagonists. The new movie is mostly tension-free and the protagonists are jerks.

Another thing that made the 1999 movie so good was that it wasn’t trying to do too much. As far as I know, when it was released there were no immediate plans for a sequel, and it wasn’t until the movie came out and became a huge hit that the sequel was announced. But these days, we are living in the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (abbreviated as MCU), the massive success of which has led other studios to try their hand at creating shared movie universes, with decidedly mixed results.

Image: Universal

The newest version of The Mummy is Universal Studios’ latest attempt to create a shared monster-movie universe, their so-called “Dark Universe”, which is a pretty stupid name. But it sounds like they’re not planning it out very well. The next movie in the “Dark Universe” is Bride of Frankenstein, which is set to be released in…2019. Really, Universal? You’re hyping up your whole shared universe thing when the next movie won’t be out for two more years? That seems awfully optimistic.

One of the things that has made the MCU so successful is how well Marvel planned everything out. When the first Iron Man movie came out all the way back in 2008 Marvel already had more movies planned out for years (and they still do). Iron Man was released in May of 2008, and the next MCU movie, The Incredible Hulk, came out a month later. Marvel was on top of it right from the start. Universal’s attitude seems to be, “Meh. Let’s just release this movie, say it’s part of a shared universe, and we’ll make the next one when we get to it.” That’s doesn’t sound like a recipe for success.

The result of all this sequel-mongering is that the new film has no idea what kind of story it wants to tell. At first it seems to be telling a straightforward adventure story, which is perfectly fine, but once the action moves from the desert to London the story goes off the rails. It’s too concerned with setting up future movies and not concerned enough with telling a contained story. Russell Crowe is in the movie, playing (mild spoiler alert) Dr. Henry Jekyll, who takes injections to suppress his Hyde personality. This is fine, but it feels shoehorned into a movie that’s supposed to be about the mummy.

Speaking of which, the mummy itself is one of the movie’s few bright spots. This movie has a female mummy, played by Sofia Boutella, who was great in Star Trek Beyond last year. She plays Ahmanet, a cursed Egyptian princess, and is probably the best thing about the movie. Since Cruise’s character is the person who unleashed her, she kind of imprints on him and makes him the target of her nefarious purposes. She also smacks him around a lot, and it is admittedly fun to watch Cruise’s douchey character get his ass kicked.

Image: Universal

There are some fun sequences in this movie. I liked the plane crash sequence, and there’s a fun chase scene through the woods in England. The movie as a whole looks good, and there are good zombie effects. (A mummy is an Egyptian zombie, after all. It was dead, then it came back to life. That makes it a zombie.) But a couple of fun scenes do not add up to a good movie overall, and the ending in particular is just terrible, the kind of thing where the only appropriate reaction is “Wait, what?”
This movie was a big disappointment. I love movies that are full of monsters and creatures, and while the 2017 Mummy does have good creature designs, the movie itself doesn’t add up to much, and it’s hard to see the whole “Dark Universe” thing getting very far. Skip this movie and go rewatch the Brendan Fraser ones, they’re a hell of a lot more fun.

2013: The Year in Villainy

2014 is almost here, and with it, the yearly “Best-of” lists from all corners of the Interwebs. Best movies, best books, best TV shows, best Tuesdays, you name it. But we don’t really go for that sort of thing here at thezombieroom. Instead, we prefer to reflect on the year in all of its evil cinematic glory. Here then, in no particular order aside from the first two, are my favorite movie villains from 2013.

NOTE: This is not a comprehensive list of ALL movie villains from 2013, just my favorites. Not included are any villains from movies I haven’t seen yet. Also, there may be SPOILERS.

Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness

 2013 villains khan

My favorite villain of the year was Khan, played so wonderfully by Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek Into Darkness. He was everything a classic movie villain should be: a smooth, suave, super-smart, creepy badass. It was a very good year for the Batch of Cumbers. He gave a great performance as Khan, and made him into a character you could feel sympathy for instead of just a two-dimensional bad guy. Even though it’s a character who’s appeared in other versions of Star Trek, Cumberbatch put his own spin on Khan, turning him into a guy you kind of felt sorry for (sort of), even as he was committing horrible acts of evil. It just didn’t get any better for cinematic villainy in 2013.

Kruger in Elysium

 2013 villains kruger

Coming in at a very close second is Kruger, played by the wonderful Sharlto Copley. In addition to having an awesome name, Copley is fast becoming one of my favorite actors. I’ve only seen him in three films (District 9, The A-Team, and Elysium), but in those three films he’s shown he has a lot of range as an actor. The characters he plays in all three of those movies are completely different, but he makes all of them work. The character of Kruger in Elysium isn’t as multilayered as Khan in Star Trek, which is a little unfortunate. Not much explanation is given for his psychotic evil badness, so he is admittedly a bit two-dimensional in that respect. You could also argue that the lack of backstory for him makes him even creepier, but what is never in doubt is that holy crap is he scary. Copley turns him into the kind of character who scares the crap out of you, but at the same time his performance is so magnetic he steals every scene he’s in.

General Zod in Man of Steel

 2013 villains zod

Zod is a classic example of a bad guy who is 100% convinced that what he’s doing is right. He’s motivated, and he’s committed, and that makes him scary. Man of Steel was a controversial movie among superhero fans, I still stand behind it as a good movie, although some of its flaws have become more apparent to me. Michael Shannon’s performance as Zod, however, is not one of those flaws. Shannon gives an intense, crazy-eyed performance that makes Zod a formidable enemy for the Man of Steel. One of the problems I’ve had with Superman as a character is that it’s hard to be concerned about him when his survival is never in doubt because he’s so much more powerful than everyone else, but Zod turns that into a moot point. When the hero is as powerful as Superman, you need a villain who is just as powerful, and Zod fits that description nicely.

Viper and Silver Samurai in The Wolverine

 2013 villains viper

I really like The Wolverine. It got a mixed reception, but the more I watch it the more I like it. When I first saw the movie, I didn’t really like the character of Viper, I guess I didn’t get what her purpose was in the story. But on subsequent viewings, something clicked for me. She’s extremely creepy, especially in the face-peeling scene above. I also understood more how she fit into the story, so that helped.

 2013 villains silver samurai

I am also a big fan of the Silver Samurai. He’s so fricking cool. There’s a plot twist involving him that I know turned some people off, which I can understand. But for me it worked. Two memorable villains in a movie that was, for me, the best X-Men related movie since X2, all the way back in 2003.

The Kaiju in Pacific Rim

 2013 villains kaiju

Guillermo Del Toro loves monsters. The monsters in Pacific Rim are of both the mechanical and biological kind, and they are all badass. They’re big, scary, and extremely powerful. The kaiju are the towering Godzilla-esque monstrosities that emerge from the sea to destroy us. Just look at that big dude up there. You don’t need me to tell you why he’s awesome. Del Toro’s monsters speak for themselves.

The Mandarin (sort of) in Iron Man 3

 2013 villains mandarin

Ok, so, everyone knows by now that Ben Kingsley’s character wasn’t actually the Mandarin, right? He was just a decoy and Guy Pearce was the real villain. It’s a weird plot twist, and (as with much of the plot of Iron Man 3) I’m not entirely sure where it came from. The reveal that Kingsley’s character was just a drunk, washed-up stage actor was kind of funny, even if it didn’t make much sense. Guy Pearce is a great actor who plays a great bad guy, even if his character’s motivation in Iron Man 3 also didn’t make much sense.

You know what? Let’s just move on.

The Zombies in World War Z

 2013 villains zombies

This movie caused a bit of a furor among fans of the book when the first trailer was released, showing the movie’s unconventional take on the undead. This is another movie I like more with repeat viewings, and I think the filmmakers deserve credit for putting a new twist on the zombie-apocalypse subgenre, even though the movie’s zombies are pretty much the polar opposite of the book’s zombies. The movie and the book may share the same title, but I think they should each be taken on their own terms.

Space in Gravity

 2013 villains space

This one is a bit existential, since the villain of this film wasn’t an actual physical entity. But was any other villain as relentlessly committed to killing its film’s protagonist as outer space was? Seriously, space really, REALLY wanted Sandra Bullock dead. Gravity is a harrowing 90 minutes, and makes you grateful to be standing on solid ground.

Owen Shaw in Fast and Furious 6

 2013 villains shaw

Fast Five was a fun movie, but its villains were a bit boring. Drug cartel bosses and corrupt cops are boring. With Fast Six, they fixed that problem with Owen Shaw, a thoroughly dastardly fellow played by an actor I like named Luke Evans who always kinda reminds me of Orlando Bloom only, you know, manlier. He kidnaps the wife of one of the protagonists and runs over a bunch of civilians in a tank, so you know he’s not messing around. When you can hold your own in a fight with Vin Diesel and Dwayne “Samoan Thor” Johnson, your bad guy cred is pretty high in my opinion.

The Blanks in The World’s End

2013 villains network

The World’s End was my favorite movie of 2013, and its glowy-eyed robots were both funny and creepy, much like the villains in the previous two films of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright’s epic Cornetto Trilogy.

Butch Cavendish in The Lone Ranger

2013 villains cavendish

The Lone Ranger was the weirdest movie I saw in 2013. The WTF factor of this movie was higher than both Iron Man 3 AND G.I. Joe Retaliation, which for me is really saying something. I still don’t know what to make of this movie, but one thing I do know is that William Fichtner gave a great performance as Butch Cavendish, the cannibalistic outlaw whose gruesome visage is way too scary for a kid’s movie.

Loki and Malekith in Thor: The Dark World

 2013 villains loki

Loki is a great character, he’s got to be one of the most charming villains around. He’s so popular that fans want him to get his own movie. Who knows if it’ll ever happen, but it would be fun to see. You can tell that Tom Hiddleston has a blast playing this character, and it’s not hard to see why. He has so much personality and is always fun to watch. You’re never quite sure what’s going on in that scheming head of his, and an unpredictable character is an interesting character.

 2013 villains malekith

Malekith doesn’t have as much personality as Loki, but he’s still a badass villain with plenty of equally-badass henchmen, and he proves to be a formidable opponent for The Mighty Thor. You probably wouldn’t guess that he’s played by former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston, which is also pretty cool.

So there you have it, thezombieroom’s annual roundup of the cream of the crop in cinematic villainy. Who knows what dastardly evil awaits us in 2014?

Happy New Year, everyone!

Five Fun Fright Flicks

I like monster movies and the occasional scary movie, but when it comes to straight-up horror movies I’m a bit of a wimp. For my Halloween movies, I prefer entertainment over scares. Here, then, are five flicks I always enjoy watching around this time of year.

The Wolfman

 fright flicks wolfman

This remake got panned when it came out back in 2010, but I always kinda liked it. Sure, it’s not particularly memorable, and sure, some of the acting is a bit flat, especially from Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins, both of whom seem a little bored. Honestly, the reason to see this movie is for the gory killing sprees that ensue every time the big furry fellow makes an appearance. The movie is even rated R for violence, which is perhaps a little surprising. It also boasts some fantastic creature effects from legendary makeup artist Rick Baker, and there’s even a wolfman-on-wolfman fight scene at the end of the movie. And if that right there isn’t enough to recommend it, then I simply don’t know what is.

The Woman in Black

 fright flicks woman in black

Okay, this movie scared the hell out of me. It got mixed reviews when it came out, some people criticized it for having cheap jump scares, which is true enough I suppose. It may be cheap, but it is also undeniably effective. Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe gives a really good performance as the protagonist, the naïve young lawyer Arthur Kipps, who doesn’t realize he’s bitten off more than he can chew until it is, of course, far too late. The movie is based on a very creepy novel by Susan Hill, although the movie is quite a bit darker than the book. Still, it’s a good, creepy, well-acted ghost story.

Shaun of the Dead

fright flicks shaun of the dead

And here we have my Number-One favorite zombie movie ever, likely never to be equaled. A perfect mix of humor, horror, romance, heart, and lots and lots of zombies. It’s hilarious, endlessly quotable, and surprisingly intense. The final zombie assault on the pub Shaun and his pals are holed up in is really intense, and features one of the most memorably disgusting disembowelments I’ve seen outside of a George Romero flick. I am firmly convinced that this is the perfect zombie movie. Remember a couple weeks ago, w

It’ll even provide you with a foolproof zombie contingency plan.

fright flicks keep calm

How’s that for a slice of fried gold?

The Cabin in the Woods

fright flicks cabin in the woods

I really love this movie. It got put on the shelf for a few years when its original studio was facing bankruptcy, but was eventually released to a very positive reception. It’s a fantastically clever and wryly funny send-up of all those classic horror-movie clichés (see above poster). It’s also well-directed, well-acted (Chris “Thor” Hemsworth plays one of the leads), well-written (Nerd Hero Joss Whedon co-wrote it) and incredibly gory. The final fifteen minutes or so of this movie are so spectacularly gory it should be more than enough to satisfy hardcore horror fans. Picture every imaginable kind of movie monster all being unleashed at once. Seriously. Zombies, killer clowns, giant snakes, killer robots, masked knife-wielding killers, ghosts, demons, giant bugs, winged bat-creatures, unicorns (yes, unicorns), and the most hideous merman imaginable. I sound like kind of a psycho saying this, but The Cabin in the Woods is a hell of a lot of fun.

Van Helsing

 fright flicks van helsing

And here we have what I consider to be the ultimate Halloween flick. Does it get any more Halloween-y than a movie with a nine-figure budget that features Dracula, Frankenstein, Dracula’s Brides, multiple werewolves, and more winged vampire babies than you can shake a stick at? (“Winged Vampire Babies” would be a good name for a rock band.) Sure, the plot holes are big enough for a horde of winged vampire babies to fly through, the acting is campy as hell, the accents are inexplicable (seriously, what kind of accent is Kate Beckinsale’s character even supposed to have?), there’s some groan-worthy dialogue, and it’s longer than it really needs to be by a good twenty minutes.

But who cares? All of those things are what give the movie its charm. It’s over-the-top fun, and I look forward to watching it every Halloween. As a matter of fact, I have it on in the background as I’m typing this.

So go grab a couple of those kid-sized candy bars, kick back, and have some fun.

Happy Halloween!

Zombies Have Feelings, Too

Why do I like zombies?

People ask me this sometimes. It’s a reasonable question. What’s the appeal of watching flesh-eating monsters devour people? Is the fact that I enjoy zombie movies/books/video games/TV shows etc. indicative of some form of mental illness?

 zombies first image

Possibly, but that’s neither here nor there. I actually have thought about this quite a bit. The conclusion I have come to is that zombies are versatile. This is going to sound weird, heck, it still sounds weird to me, but you really can use zombies to tell just about any story you want.

Think about it. You’ve got straight-up zombie horror…

 zombie-movie-poster-1981

Zombies as social metaphor…

Dawn_of_the_dead

Zombie comedy (or “Zomedy” if you prefer)…

zombieland poster

Epic zombie survival stories…

 zombie walking deadposter

And even zombie romantic comedy…

 zombies warm bodies movie

See what I’m getting at here? Zombies can be anything. They can be scary, they can be funny, they can be a metaphor for the ways we live our lives.

Case in point: Warm Bodies. I’m writing this mere minutes after finishing the movie, based on a book by Seattle-based author Isaac Marion. It was a great book, I really loved it.

zombies warm bodies book

Not to be childish or anything, but people who think it’s nothing more than just “Twilight with zombies” are big fat stupid idiots. This book is remarkably moving. It’s an exploration of what makes us human and of how, deep down, all of us just want to be loved.

Most zombie stories are, unsurprisingly, pretty grim. Many of them end with most, if not all, of the primary characters being dead (or undead, as the case may be). Things don’t turn out very well for most people in a zombie story.

Without giving too much away, Warm Bodies is different. It’s a really encouraging and uplifting story. Yes, it is occasionally gruesome, but ultimately I found it to be a really inspirational story.

Allow me to blow your mind:

From Warm Bodies, page 113:

“There’s no benchmark for how life’s ‘supposed’ to happen…There is no ideal world for you to wait around for. The world is just what it is now, and it’s up to you how you respond to it.”

Wow.

Have you ever had that feeling where you feel like something was written exactly for you? Where you encounter something written by someone you don’t know and will probably never meet, and yet it’s like they’re talking to you directly? And you find it at the exact moment in your life when you need it most?

Warm Bodies came to me at exactly the moment in my life when I needed that message the most. I read the book last year, and I needed that message then. I still need it now. I missed the movie when it was in theaters, and only finished it about an hour ago (around 9 pm on Saturday, October 05, 2013).

And just like the book, the movie came to me exactly when I really needed it. It came to me with another very important message, one that I need more than ever with so much uncertainty in my life.

And that message is that everything is going to be okay.

It’s not a message you’d expect to get from a zombie movie, but it’s there, loud and clear.

Warm Bodies, the book and the movie, encapsulate everything zombie stories are capable of being. They’re gory, scary, funny, thought-provoking, and ultimately very moving.

And it is never an unwelcome reminder that everything is going to be okay.

So go out there and give somebody a hug. Because as Zombieland reminds us, without other people, you might as well be a zombie.

And, seriously, everybody likes hugs.

 ZOMBIE POWER

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go read Warm Bodies again. And you should too. Seriously, it’s only 241 pages.

The Best Apocalypse Ever

I’ve been looking forward to The World’s End since 2007.

Why 2007, you ask? Because 2007 was the year of Hot Fuzz.

hot_fuzz_poster_usa_release

A while back I posted about my top five favorite movies of all time. Hot Fuzz was either number three or number four (I could go back and check, but I’m too lazy). It’s hilariously funny and endlessly quotable, it’s action-packed and even has a lot of heart. It was also a personal milestone for me, in that it was also the first movie I ever saw in theaters twice in two days. I saw it the Friday it came out and loved it so much I saw it again the next day with my Dad, who loved it every bit as much as I did. We still quote it to each other all the time.

I’m also a huge fan of Shaun of the Dead, which has the distinction of being my number one all-time favorite zombie movie. I love it for many of the same reasons I love Hot Fuzz: it’s hilariously funny, surprisingly scary at times (since it’s a zombie movie), and it has loads of heart. Both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are brilliant sendups of their respective genres (zombie movies and 80’s-era action flicks), which pay tribute to their inspirations while also creating something entirely new and unique in their own right.

 Shaun-of-the-dead-vertical-poster

It’s been a while since the writing/directing/acting team of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright last teamed up. Their last film together was of course Hot Fuzz, and fans of their previous efforts (myself very much included) had been eagerly anticipating their next collaboration, which was, I have to say, quite a long time coming.

Which isn’t to say that Pegg, Frost, and Wright haven’t been busy in the intervening years. Pegg and Frost made the hilarious sci-fi spoof Paul…

 paul poster

While Wright directed the surefire cult classic Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World…

 Scott_pilgrim_vs_the_world

And Pegg also scored a couple hits with a few little series you may have heard of called Star Trek and Mission: Impossible.

But at long last, 2013 brings us The World’s End, the epic conclusion to the trilogy that has come to be known as the Cornetto Trilogy, as fans have dubbed it, or the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy, as Pegg and Wright (who wrote all three films together) refer to it.

And I for one am pleased to report that it was well worth the wait.

 worlds-end-poster

The World’s End is the most fun I have had at the movies all year. And I’m not just saying that because I’m such a huge fan of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The World’s End is a tremendously entertaining film, and while I for one have enjoyed this summer movie season (despite the near-constant bitching on seemingly every other corner of the internet, I think it’s been a top-notch year for blockbuster summer entertainment), I don’t think I’ve enjoyed any other movie this year as much as I enjoyed this one. It’s 109 minutes of sheer, gleeful entertainment, and while it only came in 4th place in the box office over its opening weekend, I have no doubt that it will be remembered every bit as fondly as its esteemed predecessors.

The plot revolves around five friends: Gary (Simon Pegg), Andy (Nick Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine, who co-starred in Hot Fuzz), Peter (Eddie Marsan, Inspector Lestrade in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies), and Oliver (Martin Freeman, aka Bilbo Baggins). There is also Oliver’s sister Sam (Bond girl Rosamund Pike), whom Gary had a dalliance with back in the day, and whom Steven has always had feelings for.

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Back in the day, the five school friends failed to complete a legendary pub crawl, and now that they’ve all grown up and moved on, ringleader Gary is determined to get the gang back together and finish that pub crawl.

Most of them have done pretty well for themselves in the intervening years: Peter works for his dad selling high-end Audis, Oliver is a high-end real estate agent (Bluetooth firmly in ear), Steven builds houses, and Andy is a partner at a law firm (his name is on the door and everything). Gary is, well, still Gary. He’s pretty much exactly the same person he was back in school. He even drives the same car. (Peter: “Wow, Gary, that looks a lot like the car I sold you back in 1989!” Gary: “That’s because it is the car you sold me back in 1989! Best 300 quid I ever spent!”)

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But, in the grand tradition of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, things in the small town of Newton Haven are not as they seem.

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I won’t say too much more about the plot, aside from saying that many pints are consumed, many hilarious British F-bombs are dropped, and many gallons of blue robot blood are spilled (actually it’s more like ink).

The World’s End represents a role reversal for Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, since in this film Frost plays the straight-laced one and Pegg is the troublemaking man-child. Both actors play their roles extremely well, and Pegg in particular looks like he has never had more fun in his life.

The World's End

But at the same time, Gary’s outlandish behavior masks a troubled soul underneath. Gary is the exact same person he was when his friends all knew him back in school, he hasn’t been able to move on and is determined to relive the gang’s glory days. It is clear that Andy harbors some deep resentment towards him, and a gradually-revealed betrayal from their past together really hits home. Gary’s inability to move on is his coping mechanism for dealing with the fact that his life isn’t all he thought it would be when he was younger. Gary’s friends have all dealt with this and moved on, but Gary hasn’t.

These sorts of character touches make The World’s End a surprisingly poignant and ultimately very heartfelt film, just like with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. I always get a little choked up during the scene in Shaun of the Dead in which Shaun has to shoot his zombified mother. Sniff.

At their core, all three films in the Cornetto Trilogy are about friendship, and learning how to grow up and become a better person when you realize that your life maybe isn’t what you wanted it to be, and how sometimes it takes a hell of a jolt (like a zombie invasion, for example) to help you realize it. All three of Wright, Pegg, and Frost’s collaborations do this while at the same time being riotously funny and effortlessly mixing in the requisite genre elements. It’s a tricky balancing act, but the trio of Wright, Pegg and Frost make it look easy.

Wright brings the same sense of fun that he brought to his previous directorial efforts, and he stages the film’s chaotic bar brawls with the same sort of hyperkinetic energy he brought to the many fights in both Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim (one fight where Gary tries desperately to finish his pint while chaos roars around him is particularly funny). The acting is also excellent from the cast of outstanding British actors, and just like Timothy Dalton in Hot Fuzz, another former James Bond makes an appearance.

Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg wrote all three films together, and they write zippy, hilarious dialogue and create really great characters. You feel like you know these guys, and despite the far-fetched sci-fi elements, you always feel like you can identify with them. Gary, Andy, Steven, Peter, and Oliver all feel like truly different people with real personalities, and all of the actors make you believe without question that these guys have all known each other for years. There’s a real sense of shared history between them which feels really genuine.

But enough talking! Why are you still reading this? Seriously, go see The World’s End! You’ll be hard pressed to have more fun in a movie theater this year.

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch. Who knows, I haven’t watched Hot Fuzz in a while…

From Zero to Zombie

I did not come up with that title. I wish I did, but I didn’t. It’s from a review I read of World War Z that said something along the lines of “things go from zero to zombie in about five minutes.”

It’s a very accurate assessment of the opening few minutes of the film. The fit hits the shan (if you know what I mean) in about five minutes flat. Ominous opening credits, then we meet Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family (wife and two daughters), and then it’s zombie invasion time.

It is no secret that World War Z had a troubled production history. In many ways I’m amazed it even got made. There were many script rewrites and reshoots, the film was delayed several times and the budget, originally around $125 million, ended up ballooning to around $200 million. There is no question that World War Z is the most expensive zombie movie ever made.

This interests me because a big-budget film adaptation of Max (son of Mel) Brooks’ 2006 novel wasn’t exactly a sure thing to begin with.

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I love this book. I’ve read my fair share of zombie fiction, and World War Z is probably my favorite zombie novel. The main challenge of adapting it into film is its structure. As you can see from the subtitle “An Oral History of the Zombie War”, Brooks’ approach to telling the story is somewhat unconventional.

Instead of a straightforward, linear narrative, Brooks frames the novel from the point of view of an agent of the UN Postwar Commission, who is conducting a series of postwar interviews with survivors from around the world, who recount their often-harrowing encounters with the undead. Brooks paints a frighteningly convincing portrait of mankind on the brink of extinction, and he grounds the story in reality in a way many zombie stories don’t. For example, one former soldier tells how he survived the catastrophic Battle of Yonkers, and how the military’s high-tech weapons and tactics proved useless against the undead (wounding them was ineffective, various heat-seeking technologies were useless because zombies have no body heat, and zombies have no self-preservation instincts and don’t care when their fellow zombies get killed).

Brooks portrays the zombies as a truly unique enemy, and in so doing provides a vivid depiction of what an actual, global zombie pandemic would really be like. The personalities of the book’s many different narrators really shine through, some are sarcastic or bitter, others are quieter and more reserved. It really gives the book a lot of variety and sets it apart from myriad other tales of zombie apocalypse.

The movie, on the other hand, is a far more conventional one-man-saves-the-world kind of thing.

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This doesn’t really surprise me, since the novel in its original format would be pretty close to being unfilmable. I mean, I suppose it would be possible, but telling the story in film the way Brooks does on the page would be more suited to a TV series where you can take the time to really hash out each individual story. In two-hour film format, that would be extremely difficult to achieve.

Apparently realizing this, the makers of the movie opted for the more accessible route of ONE MAN SAVES THE WORLD. It’s an understandable decision, but a little risky.

I really want to emphasize how amazed I am that this movie even got made. Zombie fans are something of a niche audience, and some of the best zombie movies ever made were made outside of Hollywood (George A. Romero’s first couple zombie flicks were mostly independently financed). Although I suppose that the success of The Walking Dead TV series has proved that there is a wider audience out there for the good old brain-munchers, but a big-budget summer blockbuster zombie film is definitely a risky proposition.

It’s even riskier when you consider how changing the book around as much as the movie does risks alienating fans of the book, who you have to figure will represent a pretty decent percentage of the target audience. And then you make the film PG-13 instead of R, which is understandable from a studio perspective (PG-13 ratings are far more commercially viable), but risks further alienating the target audience, who (reasonably) expect their zombies to be pretty R-rated (I mean, zombies DO eat people).

So what you’ve got with the film version of World War Z is a big-budget film adaptation of a book that strays heavily from its source material, that had a somewhat niche audience to begin with, and that also dumbs down the violence inherent to the subject matter (the book was frequently pretty graphic, as is customary to zombie stories).

All of this combines to make World War Z the movie a pretty tough sell in this day and age, which is why I am still a little flabbergasted that this movie exists.

Perhaps even more perplexing are the facts that the movie made $66 million its opening weekend (the best opening weekend gross of Brad Pitt’s career) and is actually pretty good.

It’s not perfect, mind you. The plot is a bit slapdash (the movie’s four credited screenwriters didn’t give it much of a coherent plot) and I kind of wished it had been more violent but it was still an entertaining and exciting film.

Is it weird that I wished for more violence? The action scenes in the film are intense and well-executed, but the film overall is almost entirely bloodless. It’s telling that the most expensive zombie movie ever made is also probably the tamest in terms of gore. There’s a scene near the end of the film where Pitt’s character is looking through a zombie-infested World Health Organization building, and the walls are squeaky-clean. I couldn’t help but think that in just about any other zombie movie, the walls would have been drenched in blood.

In an odd way, I kind of wished they were. Is that weird? I think that’s a little weird. Help me out here zombie fans, am I alone in hoping that the eventual Blu-Ray release of the movie will feature a more violent extended cut?

But like I said, it’s still an entertaining movie. Brad Pitt is likable and endearing in the lead role. I found him easy to root for, and the appealing performance of the actress who played his wife (Mireille Enos of AMC’s TV series “The Killing”) even made me care about his family.

I even liked the zombies pretty well, despite the lack of gore dripping from their eye sockets and the fact that these are FAST zombies instead of the more traditional slow, shambling, Romero-esque flesheaters of Brooks’ novel.

The film’s signature visual, the ZomPile (as I am calling it) also looked pretty cool.

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I thought it looked kind of hokey in the trailers, but for whatever reason it looked better to me in the finished film than it did in the trailers. It’s a weird portrayal of zombies but it’s certainly unique. I’m pretty sure the brain-chompers have never done anything like that in a movie before.

Again, the movie is very flawed. The plot feels pasted together and to me it didn’t have the same sense of scope as Brooks’ novel did. The origin of the zombie virus is never really explained and the film also never really bothers to explain why Brad Pitt’s character is so important to begin with.

But it is well-made and certainly never boring. I find it hard to hate a movie that launches into full-on zombie mayhem in about five minutes flat, and to its credit the movie does have a LOT of freaking zombies (see above photo). As a movie it was good fun. If you’re a fan of Brooks’ novel you should still check it out. It’s worth seeing for zombie fans and Max Brooks fans, as long as you don’t go into it expecting a completely faithful adaptation of the book. I’m amazed and actually pretty happy that it got made.

Here’s hoping for that unrated Blu-Ray.

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.