Sunday, June 23, 2013

World War Z (2013)

So I took advantage of an opportunity to go out and see the big new zombie movie that's out in theaters. After what I read about it, I was partly expecting it to be a jumbled, disjointed mess. As it was, it turned out to actually be a really good, coherent story. I'm not about to rate it the best zombie movie ever, but it's not the worst, either, and if you get a chance to see it, I recommend it.

One thing World War Z does is take a slightly different approach to the zombie apocalypse. In the beginning, it builds up a really convincing panic state as the shit hits the fan, and for a while, it feels just as much like one of those blockbuster disaster movies (like 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow or what have you). But, the disaster is zombies.

The narrative takes a very smooth and interesting path starting from one family's experience of the apocalypse. The father, Gerry (played by Brad Pitt), is an ex-UN agent, so he's at an advantage when it comes to having friends in high places who want to keep him alive. He and his family make it safely to a ship out in the ocean, but he's soon split up with them as he's put to work trying to fight this zombie outbreak.

The story then goes to various places as Gerry accompanies a brilliant young doctor to investigate an alleged patient zero, and try to figure out if the zombie 'disease' has a weakness. We also get to visit Jerusalem which, remarkably, has built a wall to keep out the zombies, and may well be the last human city to resist the outbreak.

From there, things get a little more personal, involving a plane ride, and a WHO (World Health Organization) facility, as Gerry desperately racks his brain to devise a way for humanity to fight back against the zombies. The solution he comes up with is actually pretty clever, even though it seems to highlight some of the premise's flaws.


Like, the part where the one doctor says they already tried to infect the zombies with known lethal diseases - but that it's impossible to get a dead person sick (because the disease agent needs a living host). But that, of course, leaves the question of what's causing them to reanimate. If it's a virus like everyone's saying, then how does it live in a dead host? They never get around to answering the question of what's causing the zombism, but unlike other films, this one is very scientific and down to earth which would seem to preclude a supernatural explanation.

Then we come to the solution itself, which I said was very ingenious. But the part where the zombies are somehow able to smell whether a person is infected with a terminal disease kind of stretches my suspension of disbelief. Still, the idea of using it as 'camouflage' is very clever and not one I think I've seen used in quite that way before.

End Spoilers!

Which brings us to the zombies themselves. As this movie is sort of a cross between a zombie movie and a pandemic movie, the zombies are not your typical shambling fare. They are fast and angry, like the zombies in 28 Days Later, but they move in what I couldn't help but consider unnatural ways. This is allegedly one of the movie's strengths - as it presents a new kind of zombie we've never seen before, one that swarms like insects - but frankly, I found it to be largely unappealing. As I said, it didn't seem natural, the way these creatures threw themselves around, they were more like indestructible supermen than reanimated corpses.

But, the rest of the movie has enough going for it that it doesn't totally spoil the experience. And as I said, it's interesting to see zombies that are different than the ones you've seen so many times before. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit; it has its share of tension and fear, and a good deal of intelligence, too. In fact, I feel inclined to read the book it was based on now, and feel kind of guilty for not having already read it several years ago when my friend tried to push it on me. Then again, if I had read the book first, I might not have been able to enjoy the movie adaptation as much (which is kind of what happened with The Hunger Games).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Black Sabbath - 13 (2013)

13 is Black Sabbath's new album. I didn't buy it based on hype. I didn't buy it because I'm a fan of the band's output from the '70s, either. If I went out and bought every new album from every band I liked in the seventies, I'd be broker than I am now, and, quite frankly, I'd have suffered quite a few disappointments. Good or not, few classic bands can put out material that actually rivals the stuff they built their reputations on. No, I bought this album on the strength of its hit radio single alone (which, I remark with gleeful satisfaction, is a heavy track clocking in at an epic nine minutes long, during which Ozzy contemplates the death of God).

Funny thing is, I'm pretty sure I heard the single a few times on the radio without really noticing it - it's one of those songs that grows on you. Which isn't to say that it doesn't have a lot to love right off the bat. But I didn't really hear it until I was browsing an FYE store in the mall, and it came on the store's speakers, and I fell right into the groove of Tony Iommi's distorted chords and crunchy riffs. I didn't buy the album right then, no - I went home and then listened to it over the next few days on YouTube. All the while, it was sinking in, and I found myself liking it more and more. And, even if he's not entirely convinced, the fact that Ozzy sings about the death of God - a pivotal moment in the history of civilization that I believe we are currently in the process of experiencing - took it one step further and solidified my resolve to buy the new album.

And it sounds really good. It's classic Black Sabbath, with even a few homages to their heyday. For example, the opening chords in the first song, End of the Beginning, recalls the style of the title track from their first album, Black Sabbath, a theme that is echoed by the tolling bells (which open the band's first album) at the end of the last track, Dear Father - which is a scathing condemnation of the Catholic church's child abuse scandal. Hell, there's even a song (titled Zeitgeist) that conspicuously adopts the style of Planet Caravan, the unsung track from the otherwise uber-popular album Paranoid, a song that I was certain I was the only one who remembered.

The only near misstep on the album is a song that seems to criticize loners, but I'll grant that - preachy though it is - it does kind of end on a frighteningly poignant note. Still though, I'm for more and not less understanding of social reclusion. But that's an interesting point about Black Sabbath. They have this big reputation as a Satanic band - and to that interpretation's credit, the band does adopt a lot of Satanic imagery. But the reality is, they're more devil's advocate than devil. Yeah, they sing about dark stuff, rather than God and purity and all that dreck, but usually it's from the angle of: look at how bad this stuff is, it screws up your life. It's pretty ironic, when you think about it.

Take bonus track number one, for example - Black Sabbath turns its eye to a modern poison (remember Snowblind?), but rather than glorify meth addiction, Ozzy sings about how much it fucks you up. Q.E.D. You know, I was debating whether to shell out a few extra bucks for three bonus tracks (curiously released on an entirely separate CD, despite the main album's length being under 55 minutes), but I'm glad I did. The quality of the bonus tracks (including one song about being a pariah) are comparable to the rest of the album. It's a queer way to release a CD, though, but I'll chalk it up to artistic license.

Either way, if you liked Black Sabbath's classic seventies output with Ozzy at the helm, then you're going to love this album. I know I do.