It's not that all movies need to be extremely gory, OK? I'm not an animal. I'm a respectable person — a Canadian person, for God's sake — who abhors real violence. But when approximately every other scene in your movie requires someone to kill a zombie with whatever happens to be at hand, then your movie shouldn't be PG-13, PERIOD.
That said: Now that I see that someone else agrees with me about all the squelchy dismemberments that were sorely missing from World War Z's theatrical cut, and that same someone has made an unrated cut available on demand, some of the weirder shots in the movie make more sense. Oh, that's why that one zombie seemed to be getting dispatched juuuuuust below the bottom of the frame, or why that other thing (no spoilers) happened juuuuuuuust to the left of the screen: Those moments were actually framed and shot properly, for adults, and then they got bowdlerized and cropped for all the parents who brought their 13-year-olds to see the zombie apocalypse minus the aftermath of heads getting smashed in. I mean, I'm guessing. Like I said: We didn't see it in the theater.
My unslaked blood lust aside, World War Z is OK. Brad Pitt does his best, and Peter Capaldi helped lift my flagging spirits in time for the fairly tense climax. But I have yet to see any zombie movie that has improved upon 28 Days Later … or the Dawn of the Dead remake, and this one certainly didn't.
A few weeks ago, after months of rumors about its hilarious on-set troubles — reshoots! rewrites! Accidental Hungarian anti-terrorism gun raids! — World War Z was finally released and … actually did really, really well. It pulled $66 million that first weekend, has ticked up to $158 million in the U.S. since, and has managed $366 million overall. And we all thought, Waaait a minute, wasn't this thing supposed to be a total disaster?
Right around the same time, White House Down approached, with all kinds of good vibes: the sterling record of disaster auteur Roland Emmerich, the unstoppable ascendance of Mr. Channing Tatum, that unmistakable "this is the good 'White House gets taken over by terrorists' movie" feeling. And then, fwoomp: $24 million its first week, $50 million so far in the U.S., and just $67 million internationally. Strange times, friends. Strange times.
But then here comes this weekend's The Lone Ranger, politely asking you not to lose faith in your ability to guess which high-profile, big-budget movie projects are going to spectacularly flame out just yet.
This week on the pod, Andy and I got our NPR voices on and (in a whisper) tried to figure out why this season's summer movies have been so dang loud. With White House Downunderperforming at the box office, we wondered whether audiences are experiencing some destruction fatigue. Maybe they want to go back to a kinder, gentler time, when Diane Lane spoke with a terrible Boston accent and George Clooney led Mark Wahlberg into The Perfect Storm. Or maybe they just would rather watch Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. That could be in play, as well.
We ended our chat with a quick look at Showtime's new drama, Ray Donovan. Shout-out to a high Jon Voight dancing in the club, but neither of us were particularly transfixed by this tale of a Hollywood fixer. You can't win 'em all.
Silver: A Roland Emmerich film about the White House being attacked and a 2:17 trailer that doesn’t reveal either of its leading men till 1:11. And these aren't just your run-of-the-mill Emmerich leads (i.e., John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Matthew Broderick, Dennis Quaid), these are two legit above-the-line talents. One is coming off his biggest worldwide hit (Jamie Foxx) and the other is arguably Hollywood’s next superstar (The Tatum). Ugh! This White House Down trailer should have been a layup. But nooooo, the part of my brain that should have retained actually useful information has instead made itself a receptacle for only the most inane entertainment-related info, taken over, and dragged me down a regretful “Teaser Trailers of Emmerich Past” spiral.
The chatter so far on World War Z, Brad Pitt's big splashy adaptation of Max Brooks's airport-bookstore front-stand staple, was mostly centered around how screwed it was. Behind the scenes, there were additional shooting days and high-level creative differences and even a brand-new Damon Lindelof–hatched, Drew Goddard–executed ending; meanwhile, us peons were treated to a steady barrage of preview material from the flick, chopped up into Entertainment Tonight segments and sneak peeks and teasers and teasers for the sneak peeks. Now, with the hullabaloo behind us, here comes a brash new full-length trailer, asking one primary question of America: Are you or are you not psyched to see Brad Pitt, and his luscious grown-man Tim Riggins hair, save the world from flying, climbing hordes of zombies?
Silver: Forget the Oscars (Seriously. We should. It’s gotten to the point where the hype in/around awards season is more appealing than the telecast. Which at this point feels more like required DMV orientation-video viewing.) Each year, I look to the Super Bowl to be my cultural shepherd, guiding me toward a transition from the pomp, circumstance, and elevated significance surrounding six minutes of Anne Hathaway singing and Daniel Day-Lewis’s beard to the glut of (mostly) vapid movie theater butter–glazed summer tentpole movies. The overmarketed celluloid morsels crammed down moviegoers' throats by studios, if even remotely entertaining and able to garner a reasonable three-day box office gross, are considered successful. But also on rare occasions they get stamped as genuinely good cinema. So enough talk about Tommy Lee Jones’s scowl let’s start debating which, if any, Marvel Phase 2 characters will be showing up in Iron Man 3, or how Wolverine will play into 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Browne: It's like Party City on my keyboard right now. Let's do this.
Silver: Item no. 17 in my work in progress, Guidelines to Successful Movie Consumption: Theatrical Edition, reads as follows:
“Relatively unheard of, quaint-feeling, and seemingly silly science fiction films should never be disregarded outright. That said, they can, more often than not, be accurately judged by their trailers. Don’t let a solid cast fool you. Look specifically to see if the high-concept conceit appears to live organically in or get swallowed up by overly stylized visuals. Sometimes you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised with a film like Equilibrium. But more often than not you’re going to be sitting through a film like Ultraviolet or Paycheck. So look at the trailer carefully.”
With this in mind, Upside Down’s trailer leads me to believe this film is going to be a disaster. The visuals are trying way too hard to make up for a story device that would have been better suited for a short film. And even though I like both Jim Sturgess and Mary Jane Watson; they’re simply not enough to get me into a theater. Pass.
Browne: I really prefer movies that don't have half the characters walking on the ceiling for two hours. Beyond the plot, this just seems like an unpleasant viewing experience, unless somehow I can lie on my side at the theaters, which usually isn't a thing.
Silver: This is almost unbelievable. World War Z is a $100 million-plus major studio summer tentpole staring one of the world's biggest stars, and there isn’t a single original or unique moment in its first trailer. The drama around the release date delay and extensive reshoots aside, this film appears to be a greatest-hits version of Roland Emmerich’s filmography:
This week, The Hollywood Reporter brings word of two massive, star-studded Hollywood productions experiencing some, um, technical difficulties. One of the pair, The Lone Ranger, is no surprise: The re-teaming of Pirates of the Caribbean power duo Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski has already been grounded once, when its budget escalated beyond $250 million. Eventually (and surprisingly) the project got back on its feet by slashing its budget all the way down to $215 million — but, now, amazingly, costs have crept right back up to the original mark. Meanwhile, World War Z — an adaptation of Max Brooks's postapocalyptic zombie novels whose star/producer Brad Pitt was hoping would be utilized as a "Trojan horse for [depicting] sociopolitical problems" — has been unmoored.
The stars of AMC shows that aren't Walking Dead are getting their piece of the zombie action: Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston is negotiating to join the already cast Mireille Enos (The Killing) and James Badge Dale (Rubicon) in Marc Forster's World War Z, the Brad Pitt-starring adaptation of Max Brooks' zombie-apocalypse novel. Not much is known yet about the role Cranston would play, except that it's "small but flashy." Translation: He will play zombie food. Grade: A [HR]
As if Batman didn't already have enough loathsome villains to deal with in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers shot a scene for the movie on Saturday. Grade: C [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]