Posts tagged Steven Soderbergh
To call Marc Forster’s “World War Z” an adaptation, would be an injustice to the gripping zombie novel it’s supposed to be based on. The movie masquerades as a big-screen version of the popular Max Brooks book, but underneath that cheap disguise, it is a total stranger. Using the scummiest tactic possible, the filmmakers purchase a name that has credibility with zombiephiles in order to entice viewers. Then with everyone’s rapt attention, they betray the book’s reputation by creating a narrative driven in their own ineffective direction.
As a novel, “World War Z” is fascinating because it takes place several years after the zombie plague. Humanity has bounced back from the brink of extinction and a journalist is documenting extraordinary tales of how people conquered the outbreak. Each chapter represents a different story told from a single person’s perspective. What’s so engrossing about this particular narrative model is that it vividly depicts the scale of the horrifying experiences its subjects lived through. The novel also reveals the clever strategies that humans used to turn the tide in the war against the zombies.
Unfortunately, the rich perspective created by the book is totally lost with the movie. The writers Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof rob you of it all by only focusing on a single person’s point of view. In a storytelling strategy clearly based on the need to turn this movie into a Brad Pitt vehicle, “World War Z” follows Gerry Lane (Pitt), a former UN investigator and family man who becomes a key figure in the fight against the zombie outbreak.
After all hell breaks lose and the world’s population is swiftly overtaken by the disease, Lane is summoned to assist with stemming the outbreak. Due to his keen observational skills and ability to think on his feet, the powers that be task him with finding the source of the infection and determining a way to stop it. Lane is forced to leave his family behind, while he hops precariously from Korea to Israel and then to England in a desperate race against time, hoping to quash the global epidemic.
Sounds nothing like the book right? It’s actually a lot more like Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion” with its plot and its unsettling piano-laced music. And yes, it’s expected that some things might have to change with this story, given the nature of film as a medium. However there’s no need to butcher the author’s original intent when doing so, like this movie does. Pictures such as “L.A. Confidential” show that it’s possible to do justice to the source material, while still exercising creative license.
Aside from its deviations from the book, another annoying aspect of “World War Z” is its inability to decide whether it wants to be a horror film or a thriller. There are a few great jump scares and some frightening up close shots of zombies that look cool, especially in 3D. Plus there are horror-inspired scenes where noise at inconvenient times, attracts zombies. However, the movie largely relies on big action set pieces to maintain your interest, like its frantic foot chase in Israel and its unbelievable situation involving a hand grenade on an airplane. It probably would have better as straight horror, because a 3D zombie movie would have been epic.
There is one great aspect of “World War Z” that draws inspiration from the book: how the zombies are portrayed. Taking cues from nicknames like “rabies” that the novel gives the disease, the ghouls in the movie operate like rabid humans. They’re fast, their bites take effect within seconds, and they work collaboratively. The filmmakers make these zombies fascinating because they act like flocks of birds or schools of fish. They swarm in great numbers, climbing on top of one another, scrambling and leaping to reach their prey. To its credit, “World War Z” also does a good job showing how quickly society would collapse during an outbreak with intense rioting, looting, and mass hysteria.
Despite all the effort Pitt’s character goes through, “World War Z” has a disappointing anticlimactic ending, with a lot of buildup for very little reward. Frustratingly, it is neither a captivating zombie flick nor a taut thriller. The film is a big budget Brad Pitt vehicle that’s not terribly interesting or inventive, regardless of whether you’ve read “World War Z.” It’s sad the amount of time, money, and energy Brat Pitt sank into this movie, because it might be the most expensive misfire of his career.
My Grade: C…as in Come On! You Can Do Better Than That!
This week’s Weekend Movie Preview column has my review of Steven Soderbergh’s crime thriller “Side Effects.”
Summary: Psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) finds his happy marriage and successful career crashing down around him after he prescribes his patient Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) a new antidepressant, which has unanticipated side effects.
Director: Steven Soderbergh (“Magic Mike,” “Haywire”)
Writer: Scott Z. Burns (“Contagion,” “The Informant”)
Notable Supporting Actors: Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mamie Gummer
Click here to read my take.
Hollywood needs more action heroines like Mallory Kane. The protagonist in Steven Soderbergh’s spy thriller “Haywire” is strong and sexy like Lisbeth Salander, except she doesn’t have to show any skin to prove it. Portrayed by MMA fighter Gina Carano, Kane has the cunning of Jason Bourne combined with the fighting skills of Jackie Chan.
What really separates Kane from her sisters in the genre though, is her lack of emotional attachment. This isn’t to say that she doesn’t care about anyone, because she does love her father. However Kane doesn’t let her emotions cloud her judgment, in the usual fashion that many female characters do in Hollywood. Instead, she maintains an even keel and focuses on the tasks necessary to accomplish her mission.
Shot on a budget of less than 2 million dollars, “The Girlfriend Experience” looks and feels like a true indie, in the worst sense of the word. Soderbergh’s style of shooting looks more real, but also looks like a frat guy taped it with his video camera, forgetting to white balance it. His experimental style does not translate well as a whole, rushing through events in an order that is chronologically confusing. Scenes blend events happening in the recent past at an indiscriminate point in the seemingly present, rehashing the same events from similar angles.
The focus of the film is Chelsea (real life porn star Sasha Grey), a high-class prostitute who caters to a wealthy clientele. Chelsea prides herself on offering what’s known as “the girlfriend experience,” spending time with her clients outside the bedroom, allowing them to kiss her and to talk to her about their lives. At the same time, Chelsea tries to keep a serious relationship with a personal trainer named Chris (Chris Santos).
As a prostitute, Chelsea has aspirations of moving up to a wealthier more exclusive client base for greater profit. We follow her on her quest to cultivate business strategies and consult so-called experts in the field. Meanwhile, we also see Chris attempt to move up in the world of fitness, scoping out other gyms and opportunities for management. Unfortunately, neither of them meet with any significant success due to one main reason: the bad economy.
The struggling economy and the presidential election of 2008 were relevant themes when the movie was shot, and the economy remains relevant today. Use of the economy as a plot device partly brings down the fourth wall, tying the characters to real events. This makes the film more relatable to the average person, however as a device it becomes slightly overwhelming. Soderbergh beats you over the head with references to the country’s woes, to the point where you start to suspect him of a douchey liberal political agenda.
Acting as a window into the tough existence of a prostitute and the difficulties of having a normal life in the profession, the film is an interesting peek into a life most people don’t have access to. Almost as a metaphor for concept, Chelsea spends part of her time detailing her experiences to a reporter chronicling her challenges. Chelsea doesn’t make any headway against her problems, which makes this of a portrait of a high-class prostitute is incomplete; its elements painted in a bizarre chronological order, leaving the viewer with a large empty spot on the canvas where a resolution should sit.
Sasha Grey creates a realistic character that’s cold and emotionally closed off to her clients, yet vulnerable and open to people in her life she wants to know intimately. Chris Messina also does solid work as Chelsea’s boyfriend. He tries to understand and support her career, but like most men Chris has difficulty overcoming the jealously that comes with his girlfriend’s career.
In many ways Stephen Soderbergh embarks on a noble experiment with “The Girlfriend Experience,” striving to create a story about a person that most audiences could normally never identify with. His use of the economy as a side element should make his film more relatable, but instead it becomes so overbearing that it feels more like someone trying to make douchey liberal political statements than a movie for the average man.
If you’ve got an Netflix subscription and you’re bored, watching it through their streaming player is not a horrible way to spend an hour and ten minutes. The film’s short length and easy availability of it are slightly redeeming.
My Grade: C